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Menards founder wins case against former girlfriend/employee

What happens when you don't have an employee contract and you mix work and pleasure? Apparently, nothing good. The founder of Menards building supply stores, John Menard, and his ex-fiancée would probably both attest to this. Unfortunately, when in a relationship, people often overlook the tedious little things like a business contract when they begin working together.

Menard apparently allowed his girlfriend to contribute her professional time and services to his business during their nine-year relationship. The couple broke up in 2006. In 2008, two years later, the former girlfriend filed a lawsuit for compensation for promises she claims Menard made to her but failed to keep. According to the former girlfriend, she was promised ownership shares in his business for work and services tendered.

The former girlfriend also claimed that she did legal work in the amount of $4.3 million for Menard and his businesses. In an interview, her attorney claimed she worked day and night taking care of his business and his personal life. Menard denied he made the alleged promises to her. He also denied that they ever lived together.

The final result of a Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling this past Friday was that Menard didn't owe any compensation to his former girlfriend for work done for his business. Per the alleged legal work, the court affirmed that she was not licensed to practice law in Wisconsin.

Menards building supply company is a multimillion-dollar business, the third-largest home improvement chain in the U.S. It is preceded only by Home Depot and Lowe's. Menards has more than 300 stores scattered throughout the Midwest, and Forbes listed its 2016 revenue at $9.5 billion.

Two liberal judges disagreed with the decision, stating that the former girlfriend did have a legitimate claim, and the case should go to trial. The former girlfriend's attorney believes the Supreme Court ruling is a disservice to other couples in the future who are unmarried co-habitants and working in a business together.

One thing this scenario brings to light is the importance of having a contract when you lend your professional services to a business. An employment agreement can stand the test of time if it is clearly and descriptively written. Relationships, on the other hand, are never certain. Employee agreements should be all inclusive, and most importantly, reviewed by your attorney before being signed.

Source: The Detroit News, "Court sides with Menards founder in ex-fiancee’s suit," Associated Press, Dec. 29, 2017

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