Late Friday night, we broke the news that Kevin Brittingham had prevailed in his lawsuit against the Freedom Group. The interest in that bit of news has been high, from both consumers and people within the industry. Saturday afternoon Kevin gave me a call and wanted to discuss what happened in a little more detail than can be expressed through a screenshot of an email . . .
The lawsuit itself clearly took a toll on Kevin and his family. Starting with being thrown out of a company that Kevin founded, the entire experience has been emotionally draining. “I can’t imagine worse than a big corporation screwing with you and your family,” Kevin said. At the time of his dismissal Kevin was still owed millions of dollars from the sale of Advanced Armament to Remington, plus millions more in back pay and other financial obligations. Freedom Group failed to pay any of that and by the terms of his contract, he was barred from working in the industry for a number of years under a non-compete clause.
The reason for the firing, according to Freedom Group, was that Kevin had some of his personal firearms on premises at Advanced Armament which was against company policy, as well as other ATF policy violations. As Kevin points out, it was “complete bullshit” and he sued Freedom Group, alleging that the termination was trumped-up, that Freedom Group was in breach of their contract and that they owed him a considerable amount of money.
It took nearly a year and a half for the suit to make it to trial. Throughout the whole process Kevin was waiting for them to offer to settle for a lesser amount, but the offer never came. Instead, Freedom Group cranked up their legal department and tried to muscle him into dropping the suit. FG even went so far as to hire a private investigator and watched his family in an attempt to discredit him personally in court rather than fighting the allegations on their face. The amount of money they threw at the suit was staggering. “I spent $2 to $3 million on my lawyer,” Kevin said, “and they had 20 attorneys.” Add in the private investigators and other costs and Kevin estimates that FG spent upwards of $10 million on their defense.
The suit was heard during a bench trial in which a judge would decide the case and could question the witnesses brought by each side. As Kevin puts it, “Freedom Group’s lawyer was the only one not to realize that the judge was the smartest person in the room.” He was truly impressed by the speed at which this New York City-based judge picked up on firearms law and saw how untenable Freedom Group’s position was. “When she started questioning them, it became apparent” that the jig was up for FG. “She was shocked that they fired me two or three days before Christmas, and I don’t think the timing of this ruling was an accident.”
Under New York law, Kevin is entitled not only to the lump sum of cash that was contractually due him, but also 9% interest per year on the unpaid funds. Add to that the fact that Freedom Group has to foot the bill for Kevin’s legal defense and it’s a very pretty penny.
Still, the ruling isn’t final — Freedom Group has the option to appeal. According to Kevin, “I hope that they appeal until my kids have to go to college. Because interest keeps ticking.” Kevin added with a chuckle, “I feel more like a Remington executive than ever, sitting around doing nothing and being paid for it.”
Kevin says that the response has been enormous since news of the ruling broke. Someone from almost every major firearms company has been on his phone talking to him about opportunities for the future, from jobs to venture capital funding. But Kevin hasn’t made up his mind on what he wants to do yet. “After sitting on the sidelines for two years, I’m ready to get back to work. I want to get back into the culture, where I can be creative and useful. I’m an entrepeneur, I want to be creative. Making a lot of money was great, but that wasn’t the reason I started AAC.”
The more he talked, the more he seemed drawn to the idea of starting over, not being constrained by old ideas and choices. “Having a fresh start somewhere, I can’t imagine a better feeling.” When he was first fired from AAC, he talked a lot about starting a new silencer company in the warehouse next door to AAC and driving them into the ground. “In 12 months, I can be bigger than AAC. Guaranteed.” But he’s softened on that idea a bit since.
In the end, Kevin seems to be taking a more wait-and-see approach to job hunting. “I could have gone back to work yesterday,” he says, “and I want to go back so badly.” But having been once-bitten by Freedom Group, he’s cautious about getting into another relationship that could end badly. We discussed a couple of options, but in each case he kept coming back to the idea that he needed it to be the right fit, a “marriage” as he puts it, that lets him do what he wants to. Somewhere where he can “understand the customer, value these relationships, work with the team and develop things that will really help.”
Making a good product concerns him more than a title. “I don’t have to have ‘president’ on my business card, I don’t mind not being in charge.” The ability to be creative seems to be valued higher than making money. “I don’t have to work another day in my life” he says, “but I want to. I want to understand and create products that they write solicitations around.”