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Ann Taylor Parent’s General Counsel Departs Amid Store Closures

April 13, 2020, 3:39 PM

The top in-house lawyer at Ascena Retail Group Inc., the owner of Ann Taylor and Lane Bryant clothing brands, has left shortly after the company furloughed most of its employees as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

Ascena said in an April 10 securities filing that senior vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary Wendy Hufford would leave her role as an executive officer of the company that day.

“Upon execution and non-revocation of a separation agreement and general release with the company, Ms. Hufford will be entitled to severance benefits under the company’s Executive Severance Plan,” Ascena said in the filing.

Hufford did not respond to a request for comment. Nor did an Ascena spokesman when asked whether her departure was a layoff stemming from the Covid-19 pandemic. After the coronavirus outbreak within the U.S., Ascena, like many other retailers, was forced to shutter most of its stores.

The Mahwah, N.J.-based women’s clothing retailer also currently owns brands like Justice, , having shuttered its 650-store DressBarn chain last year. In mid-March, Ascena reported a $97 million quarterly loss as S&P Global Ratings declared its debt buyback a default.

Ascena announced in a March 30 securities filing that it would implement base salary cuts of between 10% and 40% for certain executive officers, including a 35% pay cut for Hufford, whose annual base salary at Ascena was $400,000.

The company also said it planned to furlough all its retail workers—many of whom are part-time store associates—and about half of its corporate staff. All furloughed workers are still eligible to receive their health care benefits.

While Ascena did not provide specific numerical breakdown for each class of employees affected by the coronavirus-related cutbacks, the company disclosed in an annual report filed last year that it had 53,000 total employees as of Aug. 3, 2019, about 40,000 of whom work on a part-time basis.

A New Addition

A 2019 proxy statement filed Oct. 30 by Ascena shows that Hufford earned $788,200 in total compensation, including $678,461 in cash, during her first year at the company.

Hufford’s base salary was $378,461 and she received a $100,000 signing bonus and two supplemental bonuses each valued at $120,000, per Ascena’s 2019 proxy. Bloomberg data reveals that Hufford owns a small amount of Ascena stock currently valued at about $308.

Hufford heads an Ascena legal department of 37 professionals, most of whom are based in New Jersey, New York, and Ohio, according to her LinkedIn profile. Hufford inherited the leadership of that group from Duane Holloway, who left the Ascena in April 2018 to become general counsel, corporate secretary, and chief ethics and compliance officer at United States Steel Corp., where he earned $2.97 million in total compensation in 2019.

Ascena hired Hufford on Oct. 1, 2018, after she spent more than three years as chief legal operating officer and vice president of litigation, risk management, and human resources for the U.S. unit of German pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim GmbH.

Prior to that Hufford, who began her career as an associate at Davis Polk & Wardwell, spent roughly two decades in a variety of in-house roles at Credit Suisse First Boston, General Electric Co., Cardinal Health Inc., and ITT Corp.

Ascena’s 2019 proxy states that Hufford is entitled to receive at least $539,631 in severance payments if she is “terminated without cause prior to a change in control.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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