Martin Sorell in legal battle with former employer WPP over payout

Sir Martin Sorrell has called in the lawyers after his former employer WPP said it was refusing to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds in share awards, alleging he leaked confidential information to the media following his bitter departure from the advertising firm he founded.

Sorrell resigned from WPP three years ago following a public and acrimonious dispute with the company after an investigation into allegations of personal misconduct.

WPP, which warned at the time it could look to block payouts to Sorrell, has now delivered on that threat, saying in its annual report published on Thursday that it is refusing to honour awards payments to its former chief executive.

“Awards granted to Sir Martin Sorrell, the former group chief executive, will lapse as a result of Sir Martin Sorrell’s disclosure of confidential information belonging to WPP and certain of its clients to the media during his tenure as a WPP director,” the company said.

Sorrell described the company’s decision to withdraw the awards as a “petty” move driven by anger. “It is a bit rich that they’re accusing me of leaks, given their own over the last three years,” said Sorrell. “They’ve had to go back several years to try and find an excuse to deny me what’s mine. I’ve left it to my lawyers to deal with.”

Sorrell was due a payment of about £200,000 relating to WPP’s 2016 long-term incentive plan, which vests after five years and only paid out at 5% of the maximum possible based on the company’s performance. WPP has also cancelled a payment relating to the 2017 plan, which could be worth more than double the £200,000, but the exact amount will not be known until the performance of the company this year is factored in.

Sorrell has received more than £3m in payouts relating to share awards in the first two years following his departure, for award schemes relating to company performance in 2014 and 2015. WPP only inserted malus and clawback provisions that enable the company to halt payouts for schemes relating to 2016 and later.

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