A new court filing in the lawsuit between two generations of Marriotts lays bare more intricacies of a family drama that has unfolded out of public view for years.
In a motion to dismiss his son John Marriott III’s lawsuit against him, Marriott International chairman Bill Marriott claims John’s allegations are false, and that his son’s drug and alcohol abuse is to blame for the family rift.
In October, John—the one time heir apparent to the Marriott hotel empire—sued his father, alleging that Bill Marriott disowned him, cut him off from his trust fund, drove him out of the family business, and is attempting to push him into financial ruin, all triggered by John’s 2015 divorce against the wishes of his devout Mormon parents. Until the lawsuit, the Marriotts had maintained a largely unblemished, wholesome public image.
John also named his uncle, Richard Marriott, in the suit, claiming that as another trustee of the family fortune, Richard had the power to stop Bill’s retaliation.
In the latest court filing, however, Bill and Richard say John does not have grounds to sue over access to his trust fund. They say they are well within their rights as trustees to decide whether or not John receives distributions from the trust.
“The Trust Agreement…expressly grants the trustees uncontrolled discretion with respect to whether, when and to which of the Trust beneficiaries distributions are to be made,” reads the motion to dismiss. “[It] gives no beneficiary a legal right to receive any particular distributions or any distributions at all.”
In his lawsuit and in an interview with Washingtonian, John describes what he says were a series of punishments from his father, arising from his divorce—including allegations that he was forced off of Marriott International’s board, and forced out as CEO of another family hotel business called JWM Family Enterprises. Not so, say Bill and Richard Marriott in their new court filing. Rather, they allege John’s own “damaging behaviors” stemming from his addictions are the cause of any “professional consequences.”
During the first quarter of 2014, while John was still CEO of JWM Family Enterprises, Bill and Richard allege that “John went missing for weeks. At times, no one could reach him: not his co-workers, not his family, his wife or children. As it turned out, John had been spending much of that time overseas in France and Switzerland.” (John’s girlfriend, whom he began seeing prior to his divorce, lives in the French Alps.)
Only after John returned and his brother David Marriott “personally accompanied him to a rehabilitation facility in California” did the family come “to appreciate the depth of John’s disease and the disconcerting lengths to which he was going in order to obtain the drugs that fueled his addiction.” John left rehab early and continued to behave erratically, Bill and Richard claim. (John alleges that his father has known about his addiction for decades, but didn’t care as long as John didn’t publicly tarnish the family’s wholesome image.)
Bill and Richard say John was offered a set of terms under which he could remain as CEO of JWM, continuing to receive average compensation of $3 million a year, but he declined. The terms included submitting to random drug testing and being in the office or on business travel Monday through Friday.
John says that he built JWM into a 16-property operation with more than $30 million in profits. As another act of retaliation for his divorce, he says his father severely slashed his equity in the JWM hotels. But Bill and Richard allege that several of the hotels were failing financially, and “approximately $100 million” in loans were in jeopardy of going unpaid. The financial mess, they claim, is what led to the restructuring of the JWM hotels’ financing and the reduction in John’s equity.
Bill and Richard Marriott have retained two high-powered attorneys to defend them: Donald Verrilli Jr.—who served as US Solicitor General during the Obama administration—and Michael DeSanctis, both partners at Munger Tolles & Olson.
John Marriott is represented by veteran trial lawyer Mark Hansen of litigation firm Kellogg Hansen. Asked for comment on the motion to dismiss, a spokesperson for the firm and John said, “John Marriott’s complaint speaks for itself, and the merits will be judged by the court.”