PulteGroup Inc. has fired its incoming chief operating officer after the grandson of the company’s founder sued the executive this week, alleging he harassed him on Twitter.
Brandon Jones, senior vice president of field operations, will leave the company “effective immediately,” according to a news release issued Friday, after “an independent investigation” determined he’d violated the company’s code of ethical business conduct. Jones was set to become the Atlanta-based homebuilder’s second in command next month.
The announcement comes after Bill Pulte, the grandson of the late William J. Pulte — who started the firm in Detroit in the 1950s — sued Jones on Wednesday. In the defamation lawsuit, he accuses the defendant of holding a grudge against him and using several fake Twitter accounts to harass him and other Pulte family members.
Attempts to contact Jones by phone on Friday were unsuccessful. CEO Ryan Marshall is assuming Jones’ responsibilities on an interim basis.
Pulte sat on the company’s board from 2016 to 2020 and is CEO of Pulte Capital Partners LLC investment firm. He’s known as a Twitter philanthropist, frequently giving away money on the platform.
In a statement on Friday, he said the company board “took a necessary, first step” in limiting the firm’s liability and says the termination was an acknowledgment of a “defamatory Bot Network ran on Company time” by Jones.
“While management is threatening layoffs and failing to diversify the management team,” he said, “some of them have found time to run secret Twitter accounts whilst enforcing PulteGroup social media policies on employees at the same time.”
Pulte said he had attempted to settle the matter privately with board members earlier this week before filing the lawsuit “to get justice for the shareholders and my family.” He is urging the board “to honor their fiduciary obligations” and hire a white-shoe law firm unconnected to the management’s existing contracts to conduct an “independent investigation to determine which SEC regulations, federal law and other company policies were molested.” The initial investigation that resulted in Jones’ firing was done by King & Spalding LLP, which is an existing contractor, he noted.
The Detroit News left phone and email messages seeking comment from the PulteGroup on Friday afternoon.
Pulte sued Jones as an individual, not in his role at the company, in circuit court in Palm Beach County, Florida, where Pulte now lives. He requested between $30,000 and $74,999 as a remedy.
Pulte’s lawyers said in the filing that the accounts on Twitter have accused the Pulte family of arson, elder abuse, breaking securities laws and more. Some of the insults included “non-public, confidential information from PulteGroup Inc.,” they wrote. They alleged one of the fake accounts used the name and photo of a dead man.
An account run by Jones, according to the suit, suggested that his father, Mark, was involved in a fire at the Oakland Hills Country Club in February.
In response to Pulte’s Feb. 17 statement of condolence on the fire, Jones allegedly wrote: “Are you insinuating your father had something to do with the fire? Was Mark Pulte involved in the fire? Mark Pulte recently bought a competitor course. Is that a coincidence?”
Pulte’s lawyers wrote in the suit that his grandfather asked him to help “turn around” PulteGroup Inc. in 2016, when then-CEO Richard Dugas implemented a strategy recommended by consultants at Boston Consulting Group that Pulte’s grandfather deemed ineffective. That was the year the company relocated its headquarters to Georgia from Bloomfield Hills.
Pulte joined the company’s board of directors to bring the company “out of this state of distress,” according to the suit. During private board meetings, Marshall, the CEO, proposed that Jones be promoted from Michigan division president to COO, a move that Pulte deemed “bizarre.”
Jones had been a supporter of Dugas and Boston Consulting Group’s strategy and a “confidante” of Marshall’s, Pulte wrote, but wasn’t qualified for the position. Pulte opposed the proposal and the board agreed with him, rejecting Jones’ promotion, according to the suit.
He alleged Jones still received “preferential treatment” and rose faster than other qualified managers across the country. He believes Jones somehow learned of the private deliberations not to promote him to COO, “which appear to be the source of Jones’s false allegations and half-truths,” the suit says.
Jones started at the PulteGroup in 2004, according to his LinkedIn profile, holding positions at MIT Financial and Intel Corp. before that. He has a master’s degree in business information systems from Brigham Young University.
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