Chef Sues His Millionaire Boss's Lover for Giving Him the Heave-Ho
UPPER EAST SIDE — The private chef of an investment guru worth hundreds of millions of dollars claims he lost his job — and a nest egg — because his boss' money-hungry domestic partner wanted him out of the picture, a new lawsuit charges.
Joseph Ouellette, 49, claims that for nearly two decades he worked for Christopher H. Browne, the late managing director and scion of storied investment house Tweedy, Browne Company LLC, cooking at his employer's $25 million Park Avenue apartment and $75 million, 18-acre East Hampton estate.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in Manhattan Supreme Court, Ouellette said during that time he shared a close bond with Browne, acting as a confidante and even advising the multimillionaire on the suitability of boyfriends.
Browne in turn showed his affection by purchasing a co-op apartment on East 57th Street for Ouellette and his family to use, the lawsuit said. And in lieu of providing a pension, Browne allegedly promised to leave Ouellette "a tiny fraction of his fortune" in his will.
But the agreement began to crumble in 2003, when Browne began a relationship with Andrew Gordon, whom Ouellette described in the lawsuit as "a cross between an American gigolo and Claus von Bulow."
The ex-chef is now suing Gordon and the estate of Browne for $4 million, bellyaching that he was canned without cause just weeks before Browne died at 62 in 2009. The dismissal allegedly came without any warning and severance, with Ouellette losing his spot in Browne's will and being forced to leave his East 57th Street home within two weeks.
"The only reason given by Mr. Browne for abruptly firing [Ouellette] from the only job he had known for his entire adult life was that it was on Mr. Gordon's say-so," the lawsuit said.
Ouellette bitterly describes Gordon in the lawsuit as a self-employed landscape architect "who had aspired to the opulent lifestyle enjoyed by Wall Street tycoons like Mr. Browne, and enjoyed it himself on occasion in prior sundry relationships with other monied, older gay men."
Messages left for Gordon were not returned Monday.
When Browne and Gordon became lovers, Ouellette alleges that for a while he continued to play a major role in the investment tycoon's life.
The chef chaperoned his boss to the hospital when he had minor surgeries on his knee and eye. He also accompanied Browne to the veterinarian when his beloved pooch Bertie died.
Browne also allegedly reserved land on his East Hampton estate — where his neighbors were Jerry Seinfeld and Billy Joel — to build a home for Ouellette. The finance magnate even asked "how many children [Ouellette] and his wife planned to have so he could design the house accordingly," the lawsuit said.
And when Ouellette brought up concerns about establishing a retirement plan, Browne allegedly calmed his fears.
"I'm going to be so f------ rich when I die, don't worry," Browne responded, according to the lawsuit.
In October 1999, Browne drafted a will that left Ouellette $4 million, the lawsuit said. But the chef's piece of the pie allegedly shrunk in January 2003, when Browne made a provision for his new partner, Gordon.
In the revised will, Ouellette would get to have the East 57th Street apartment and a share of Browne's residuary estate. Another revision required that Ouellette must be working for Browne at the time of his death to get the bequest, according to the lawsuit.
Meanwhile, Gordon, who was 15 years younger than Browne, would allegedly get an allowance of $10,000 per month, his choice of one of Browne's lavish properties and 70 percent of the residuary estate. That amounted to an estimated $100 million, according to the lawsuit.
Ouellette said his share of the estate was reduced even more in 2007 after Browne, who had a heart condition and suffered from dizzy spells, struck his head in a fall and was in a coma for weeks.
The lawsuit claims Gordon seized on the opportunity and prevented Ouellette from visiting his employer in the hospital.
"Mr. Browne's crisis was Mr. Gordon's opportunity, and it signaled the beginning of Mr. Gordon's campaign to cement his role in Mr. Browne's life beyond that of a mere companion," the lawsuit said.
Ouellette said that in a revised 2008 will, he and other Browne employees saw their bequests drop to a flat $100,000. Ouellette also received six months free rent in the East 57th Street pad, but would no longer own it.
However, when Browne died on Dec. 13, 2009, Ouellette received nothing because he was no longer an employee.
The lawsuit claims Gordon got him fired for "reasons other than performance issues, and instead did so only to deprive him of his benefits of the bargain."
Messages left for Ouellette and his lawyer were not returned Monday.