Michael Wekerle is being sued by his former personal shopper who alleges Mr. Wekerle fired him from a snazzy high-end Toronto clothing store last year without cause, and failed to pay him profits in the store he says he was a part-owner in.
Peter Halpin also alleges the star of CBC's Dragons' Den and CEO of Difference Capital Financial Inc. had him forcibly removed from the Da Zoo clothing store in May, 2014, and assaulted him. Mr. Halpin is asking for $1.3-million in damages, including $100,000 for assault and battery.
In court filings, Mr. Wekerle refutes Mr. Halpin's account and says he was fired for cause, and that he mismanaged the store and misappropriated funds.
None of the allegations have been proven in court.
The now-defunct Da Zoo sold "avant garde" clothing and accessories for men and women in the King St. West neighbourhood of Toronto.
A Toronto Life review of the store in Nov. 2013 featured this description: "With Zeppelin pumping over the speakers and Bay Street wild-card Michael Wekerle as executive director, the shop exudes the swagger of an aging rocker."
In June, 2012, according to court documents, Mr. Halpin alleges that he, Mr. Wekerle, and a third party, Gerald Doren conceived the idea to start an upscale clothing store. It was agreed that Mr. Wekerle would raise most of the money for the store, while Mr. Halpin would be responsible for finding a suitable location, purchasing inventory and overseeing day-to-day operations. Mr. Halpin claims to have 35 years of experience in the fashion industry and is Mr. Wekerle's former personal shopper.
Mr. Wekerle alleges that he invested around $625,000 into the business. Mr. Halpin did not invest any of his own capital. He claims, however, that he was an equal partner and shareholder with Mr. Wekerle in the business. The store opened in Oct. 2013.
In May 2014, Mr. Halpin says Mr. Wekerle came to Da Zoo and informed him that he was changing the locks and the only key would be given to an individual called Igor. Mr. Halpin alleges Mr. Wekerle then had him forcibly removed him from the store. He also claims Mr. Wekerle assaulted him during that process and as a result he "suffered emotional trauma and humiliation." Mr. Halpin says he attempted to negotiate a reasonable severance but that Mr. Wekerle refused to co-operate. He also claims he was not rewarded for his 50 per cent ownership in the company.
David Milosevic, a lawyer with Milosevic Fiske LLP who is representing Mr. Halpin, said, "The allegations will be proven in court. We have confidence in our client's case." Mr. Milosevic also says he is in possession of security video footage of the alleged assault.
"Mr. Halpin's lawsuit is completely frivolous and without merit, and Michael will defend it vigorously." said Kelly Pullen, a spokesperson for Mr. Wekerle, in an emailed statement.
In a statement of defense filed in court, Mr. Wekerle said the suit is an "opportunistic attempt... to capitalize on the wealth and renown of the defendant Michael Wekerle."
Mr. Wekerle's statement says Mr. Halpin was fired for cause. He claims Mr. Halpin mismanaged the store by failing to pay rent, maintain proper books and remit taxes. He also alleges that Mr. Halpin misappropriated funds by "making unexplained and unauthorized cash withdrawals" and "taking clothing from Da Zoo for his personal use."
He argues that, as sole shareholder, he was entitled to terminate Mr. Halpin's employment, to ask him to leave the premises, and change the locks. Mr. Wekerle also denies assaulting Mr. Halpin, and claims that Mr. Halpin was never a shareholder and only an employee and therefore not entitled to any profits in Da Zoo.
Mr. Wekerle claims that as a result of Mr. Halpin's actions the business was never profitable, and that he was forced to shut the store in January, 2015. Mr. Wekerle says he has lost the majority of his investment.