Dimbulah Coffee's founder sues new owners for $500k
He alleges he was constructively dismissed; firm files countersuit.
The founder of the Dimbulah Coffee chain is claiming almost $500,000 after the new owners allegedly took actions that amounted to his constructive dismissal.
Mr Christopher Wanden - who built the firm into one of Singapore's most successful coffee chains with 14 cafes - claims that a resolution by the board sought to remove much of his day-to-day duties as managing director, and it amounts to a constructive dismissal. The resolution was passed by the directors appointed by the new shareholders.
He claims that this, among other things, breached his employment pact with the firm.
Dimbulah disputes the claims, arguing that Mr Wanden was warned for acting outside his job scope.
It is also countersuing him for allegedly abandoning his post.
A High Court pre-trial conference on the case is due next week.
Mr Wanden was once the company's major owner but he sold half of his 40 per cent stake in August last year to two entities - Fonz and Plan Do See.
The other Dimbulah shareholders sold all of their shares to Fonz and Plan. That left Fonz and Plan as majority investors with an 80 per cent stake.
On the same day, Mr Wanden signed a shareholders' agreement with Dimbulah, Fonz and Plan to regulate their relationship, given he still held a 20 per cent stake.
Three months later, Mr Wanden signed an employment contract to serve as managing director for three years from Nov 30 last year.
But the relationship allegedly soured earlier this year when Fonz chief executive Takuya Yoshii got involved in Dimbulah's business.
Mr Wanden's design for a new Dimbulah outlet in Republic Plaza sparked a tussle with Mr Yoshii, who allegedly said it was not the official plan and pitched an alternative design. The outlet opened in September as scheduled.
Mr Wanden also claims Dimbulah and its nominee directors ignored his opinions and undermined his role to the point where he was unable to carry out his duties.
He claims in court papers that they appointed two executives to assume his duties, making his position redundant.
Mr Wanden also alleges that acts instigated by the firm breached the terms of mutual trust and confidence that had existed between Dimbulah and himself.
He claims these actions breached his employment contract and that he had been "constructively dismissed" by Dimbulah.
Mr Wanden is seeking $486,000. This constitutes his salary from Sept 1 this year to Nov 30, 2021 - the end of his three-year contract. It also includes bonus payments, costs and other items.
Dimbulah contests the claims.
It alleges that Mr Wanden believed his experience and leadership were superior to other senior executives and that he became "uncooperative and obstructive" in performing his duties and complying with directions from the board.
The warning letter, sent to him in September, made clear that any further breaches of the job pact could lead to dismissal or a final warning.
Dimbulah claims Mr Wanden's suit is an attempt to cover up the way he had been carrying out his role and was aimed at engineering an exit from the firm.
The firm is counterclaiming damages, alleging Mr Wanden breached the employment agreement by abandoning his position.
Mr Wanden is represented by Mr Daniel Chia from Morgan Lewis Stamford. Dimbulah's legal team is led by Mr Kesavan Nair of Bayfront Law.
Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.