Tony Hsieh, the former CEO of the online apparel retail company Zappos, was killed in a house fire in November 2020. Since his untimely death, Hsieh’s estate has been hit with multiple claims, including $93 million in creditor claims filed by his longtime friend and assistant Jennifer “Mimi” Pham, consisting primarily of a large claim for anticipated profits from a streaming service venture of Hsieh’s. Most recently, another longtime friend of Hsieh’s (and his financial manager), Tony Lee, sued the Hsieh estate in Las Vegas for breach of a $7.5 million contract.
In his lawsuit, Lee alleges, pursuant to the contract, Hsieh agreed to pay Lee $1.5 million per year for five years in exchange for Lee’s helping Hsieh revitalize a ski town in Utah. Lee, a financial consultant, claims he quit a secure, high-paying job in reliance on the contract. Lee further alleges the contract specifically required Hsieh to buy out of the contract if Lee was terminated without cause. In January 2021, Lee received a letter from the administrators of Hsieh’s estate notifying him that the contract was terminated, effective immediately, due to changed circumstances related to the death of Hsieh.
Whether Lee will prevail on his breach of contracts claim remains to be seen. Nevada, like North Carolina, is an at-will employment state, which means, absent an employment contract, an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any non-discriminatory reason or for no reason at all. However, where, as in Lee’s case, an employment contract exists, the employee can sue for breach of that employment contract as he could any other contract. In addition, North Carolina law provides that certain civil actions, like Lee’s action for breach of contract, survive the decedent’s death and can be made against the decedent’s estate.
If you believe you have a claim for breach of contract, or if you are the personal representative or executor of an estate and need assistance in maintaining or defending a civil action against that estate, please call us at (704) 457-1010 to discuss what claims you may have in North Carolina. For more information regarding our firm, attorneys, and practice areas, please visit our website at www.lindleylawoffice.com.