Menards founder’s ex-fiancee doesn’t deserve ownership, court rules

Keywords Law / Legal Issues

The Wisconsin Supreme Court says the founder of the Menards building supply stores doesn't owe his former fiancee an ownership interest in the company.

Debra Sands filed a lawsuit in 2008, alleging that John Menard promised her an ownership share in exchange for her work at the company while they were involved in a romantic relationship and during their engagement.

A state appeals court ruled in 2016 that Sands didn't deserve an ownership share in the company or damages. The Supreme Court upheld that decision Friday, ruling that Sands and Menard weren't engaged in a joint enterprise. The court also says Sands failed to show her contributions increased Menard's assets.

The ongoing legal dispute between Sands and Menard once ensnared two prominent Indianapolis-area businessmen, Steve Hilbert and Rollin Dick. The former Conseco Inc. execs and entrepreneurs at one time operated MH Equity, a $500 million, Menard-funded private equity firm. Menard also had a big stake in locally based Haverstick Consulting, an IT and military contracting firm also owned by Hilbert and Dick.

Sands claimed Menard promised her a 20-percent interest in MH Equity.

Menard and Hilbert had a major falling out a few years later, with Menard accusing Hilbert of losing almost 80 percent of the money in the MH Equity Fund and Hilbert filing a lawsuit accusing Menard of sexual extortion. The suit alleged Menard ditched Hilbert as retribution after his wife, Tomisue, spurned Menard's repeated sexual advances.

Sands' attorney, Daniel Shulman, says he disagree with the ruling. He says plenty of evidence shows she worked "day and night" for Menard's business ventures and took care of his personal life.

According to Forbes, Menards is the nation's third-largest home improvement chain. The chain operates nine stores in the Indianapolis area.

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