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Gildan CEO Vince Tyra in Toronto on Feb. 1, 2024.Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

The battle for control of Canadian T-shirt retailer Gildan Activewear GIL-T has taken a bitter turn, with the company publicly accusing one of its largest shareholders, U.S. investment fund Browning West, of planting a misleading story in American media about the company’s new chief executive, Vince Tyra – something the shareholder has staunchly denied.

At stake is the hearts and minds of Gildan’s remaining investors, whose support will be instrumental amid an increasingly vicious fight over who will lead the company.

Browning West is a key player among a group of nine dissident investors who hold an estimated combined 35 per cent of Gildan’s stock. These shareholders want Glenn Chamandy reinstated as CEO. Mr. Chamandy had served in the top job for two decades before his ouster in December.

On Tuesday, The New York Post reported that when Mr. Tyra was running a different company two decades ago, he was involved in an affair with a female subordinate, who currently holds a senior leadership position at Gildan. The allegation, the Post said, was contained in a report from New York-based Paragon Intel.

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In the article, the Post quoted an unnamed Gildan shareholder as saying: “If a CEO behaves like this again, we will get MeTooed. That is not good for us.”

But in interviews with The Globe and Mail, Mr. Tyra and the female executive – a woman named Patti Lambert Simetz, who is Gildan’s vice-president, distributor sales – said this is a deliberate mischaracterization of a brief relationship between two consenting, unattached adults.

The story, they say, is an uncalled for personal smear designed to score points in a proxy war, as activist investors attempt to reinstall Mr. Chamandy as CEO.

Gildan, which owns the American Apparel brand, has been engulfed in an intense power struggle since the board dismissed Mr. Chamandy after a 40-year tenure, including his two-decade stint running the company he also co-founded. The Montreal-based clothing manufacturer named Mr. Tyra, a former Fruit of the Loom executive, as his replacement.

That Mr. Tyra’s past romantic relationships are under scrutiny marks a new level of disparagement in this battle for control of the T-shirt company.

In one corner is Gildan’s board, which has worked to characterize Mr. Chamandy as an increasingly unfocused CEO, who was bent on staying in power. In the other is a group of dissenting shareholders, who have tried to portray Mr. Tyra as a corporate lightweight who is unqualified for the new job.

On Wednesday, Gildan went after Browning West directly for the Post article.

“This false tabloid story is a reprehensible attack, peddled by Browning West as part of its activist campaign supported by Glenn Chamandy and other collaborators, to hurt two good people in an attempt to win a proxy contest,” Gildan spokesperson Simon Beauchemin said in a statement. The company asked shareholders to question whether they should associate themselves with “activists who traffic in this kind of disgusting character assassination.”

In an e-mail to The Globe, Mr. Chamandy said he had not spoken with any investigation company, “nor did I have any involvement in the independent research report issued recently.”

Meanwhile, Browning West released its own statement, accusing Gildan’s board of presiding over “an egregious failure of due care and judgment” by overlooking Mr. Tyra’s relationship with Ms. Simetz. Browning West, which owns approximately 5 per cent of Gildan’s outstanding shares, asked the board to consider if the relationship between Mr. Tyra and Ms. Simetz “creates undue conflicts and risk for Gildan shareholders and employees.”

In response to questions from The Globe, Browning West spokesperson Greg Marose denied any involvement with the Paragon report. The company declined to say whether it had read the document or paid for a copy.

When asked if Browning West had anything to do with the Post article, Mr. Marose said in a statement: “When The New York Post contacted Browning West for comment after the outlet obtained the report from another party, Browning West declined to comment in an on-record or off-record manner.” He would not clarify further if Browning West or a representative was involved in the story beforehand.

Paragon says it is a management-focused data and analytics company, which prepares reports on things such as CEO changes and business-model transitions. The reports are available through an annual subscription.

The company’s director of research, Bill Campbell, told The Globe in an e-mail that none of Gildan’s shareholders, including Browning West, or Mr. Chamandy had anything to do with its report. Paragon added that it did not send the file to the Post, although it did respond to comments from the news outlet.

The report, which The Globe has viewed, is 34 pages and contains partly redacted interviews with six former executive colleagues of Mr. Tyra, who gave positive and negative feedback. Some of those interviewed discussed Mr. Tyra’s relationship with Ms. Simetz and characterized it as an “affair.” A disclaimer on the report notes that Paragon cannot guarantee the accuracy or reliability of the information contained in the report.

Both Mr. Tyra and Ms. Simetz spoke to The Globe about their three-month relationship and told a similar story of how it came to be. The pair met in the mid-1990s, when Mr. Tyra owned an activewear company called T-Shirts & More, which carried, among other brands, Hanes. At the time, Ms. Simetz worked for Hanes and managed the T-Shirts & More account. She and Mr. Tyra became friends.

In 1999, Ms. Simetz began working for a company called Broder Bros. A few years later, after Bain Capital bought that company, it recruited Mr. Tyra to run it. At that time, Ms. Simetz was working as a national sales director. She did not report directly to Mr. Tyra. The pair become close and some time in the spring or summer of 2002, they began dating.

Both were in their mid-30s, had recently split from their partners – Ms. Simetz was divorced and Mr. Tyra and his wife had separated – and both had young children.

“We went out and then I think we quickly realized we were better friends than trying to be in a relationship and we literally went right back to being friends,” Mr. Tyra said. “We didn’t hide it, but we didn’t rub it in anybody’s face either.”

Both said that there were no policies against interoffice relationships then, although each emphasized that the relationship would not be considered appropriate today.

“Even though I don’t think I did anything wrong at the time, is it acceptable in today’s world? No,” said Ms. Simetz, adding that being dragged into a proxy war has been very upsetting. “I’ve busted my butt for Gildan. I’ve never missed a quarter. I’m a high performer. I want people to see me and think: she hit her numbers. And now I’m worried this just kind of sours my name – even though I don’t think I did anything wrong.”

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Mr. Tyra said when he took the CEO position, he was hoping for a friendly transition period between himself and Mr. Chamandy, a man he had considered a friend. He was not expecting the fight to turn personal.

“Obviously, when you’re the CEO of a public company, you expect there’s going to be challenges and people questioning your decision-making, and if you’re the right candidate. But this is unusual. The tactics to take the personal stuff, there are innocent victims – my family, my children, Patti and her family – it’s really unfortunate,” Mr. Tyra said.

“Frankly, I hate it for the employees of this company, who have to deal with it. They don’t need that distraction.”

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