Shareholder oppression—also known as minority shareholder oppression, squeeze out, or freeze out—is a general term for a claim or cause of action that may be made by a minority shareholder—a shareholder who owns less than a controlling percentage of the company—and is based on the alleged unfair or oppressive treatment of the minority shareholder.
Minority shareholder oppression claims often arise in closely-held corporations—corporations that are not publicly traded; in which a relatively small number of people own most or all of the shares; and in which the shareholders are often family members or people who know each other.
Those in control of a closely held corporation may use various squeeze-out or freeze-out tactics to deprive minority shareholders of benefits; to misappropriate those benefits for themselves; or to induce minority shareholders to relinquish their ownership for less than it is otherwise worth.
The types of conduct most commonly associated with such tactics include:
• denial of access to corporate books and records;
• withholding payment of, or declining to declare, dividends;
• termination of a minority shareholder's employment;
• misapplication of corporate funds and diversion of corporate opportunities for personal purposes; and
• manipulation of stock values.