US natural gas exporter Venture Global LNG Inc. is facing lawsuits from former employees who say the company blocked them from exercising their stock options.

The plaintiffs — ex-advisers Lee Muller and John Ruggirello, former general counsel Paul Dillbeck and Kathryn Lindquist, the widow of former company director Terry Newendorp — say Venture Global’s compensation committee has refused to let them cash in their 10-year options before they expire next year and hasn’t provided a reason for the denials. 

Both complaints were filed in early July in US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. Muller is seeking $8.3 million in damages, while the three other parties are suing for $77.4 million total. Closely held Venture Global is valued at more than $15 billion, with co-founders Robert Pender and Michael Sabel together owning a stake of about $12 billion, according to the suit by Ruggirello, Dillbeck and Lindquist.

“Sabel and Pender are purposefully acting to frustrate the exercise of the options and to cause the options to expire either wholly out of malice, in order to further consolidate their personal ownership, or to avoid dilution at zero cost to them individually,” according to that complaint.

The company declined to comment on the cases and its valuation. It referred to court filings in which its attorneys moved to dismiss the suits on procedural grounds or, in Muller’s case, for a lack of jurisdiction. An attorney for the plaintiffs declined to comment.

Venture Global is the newest exporter of liquefied natural gas from the US, a country that vaulted into the ranks of the world’s top suppliers of the fuel in recent years. The company began loading cargoes from its Louisiana terminal in March 2022, but customers including Shell Plc and Italy’s Edison SpA have filed arbitration cases because they haven’t yet received shipments under their long-term contracts. Venture Global is also constructing a second terminal in Louisiana.