Suing for separation of church and beans

Son launched lawsuit against father. Ouimet Sr. preached godly management techniques, but Ouimet Jr. begged to differ

Baked beans and Jesus just don’t mix.

So says the president of Les Aliments Ouimet-Cordon Bleu, Jean-Robert Ouimet Jr., who launched a lawsuit late last year against his own father for preaching godly management techniques.

According to court records, the $250,000 lawsuit has been put off indefinitely – if not eternally.

But not before it sparked an existential crisis within the father-and-son company, Quebec’s own Chef Boyardee since 1933.

It all started when Jean-Robert Sr., then president of the company, visited with Mother Teresa in India 20 years ago and decided he had to combine his two passions – God and canned meatballs.

(The holy sister later returned the visit, coming to one of his offices in Anjou herself.)

Ouimet Sr. began to introduce spiritual aspects to the company’s management: prayers before board meetings, meditation rooms in canning factories, even a holy letterhead, featuring a gold-foil cross with the motto “Pray to manage in God” in both official languages.

In an interview with Canadian Business in 1999, Ouimet Sr. said these tools were nondenominational – but they did require faith.

“Directors and executives must start placing greater emphasis on human well-being and dignity,” he said. “And that’s not possible unless they call upon the help of some superior being.”

Ouimet Sr., 69, quit the company in April last year and sold his shares to his son. But he didn’t quit preaching the gospel to business groups, conferences and the media, the lawsuit says.

Filed in Quebec Superior Court on Oct. 30, the suit asks the court to order Ouimet Sr. to stop making any statements or speeches associating himself directly or indirectly with the company – and to stop associating the company with any principles of the Catholic faith.

It also asks the court to condemn the defendant to pay the plaintiffs $250,000 in damages.

In a statement released yesterday, Ouimet Jr. softened his wrath.

“There is no religious conflict at Aliments Ouimet-Cordon Bleu, because the nature of our business is to make quality food products based on authentic Quebec recipes, not to promote one religion or another.”

Ouimet Jr. says he and his father reached an out-of-court settlement just before Christmas, the contents of which are confidential.

But he also defended his actions. “As a businessman and the head of a company, I have to defend the interests of my company,” Ouimet Jr. said. “I consider religion to be a personal choice that has no place in the management of a commercial enterprise.”

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
The Gazette, Canada
Jan. 7, 2004
Catherine Solyom

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday January 9, 2004.
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