Arun Sudhaman 20 Jan 2012 // 12:00AM GMT
DALLAS, TEXAS--Weber Shandwick is pursuing legal action against two former senior executives who have since moved to Hill + Knowlton Strategies, alleging that they breached contractual obligations by soliciting clients, staff and confidential information.
According to court documents filed at Dallas County district court in Texas, the firm has been granted a temporary restraining order with regard to its action against H+K global COO Ken Luce, EVP Jody Venturoni and H+K Strategies.
Luce ended his 15-year Weber Shandwick career in late 2010, before joining H+K early the next year. 11-year Weber Shandwick veteran Venturoni, meanwhile, made a similar move last month.
The case carries echoes of H+K’s legal action against Edelman in Australia last year. Edelman eventually settled the case, with two of its senior executives apologising to H+K.
Weber Shandwick is demanding a jury trial. It alleges, among other things, breach of contract and fiduciary duty against Luce and Venturoni; and misappropriation of confidential information against all defendants, including H+K Strategies.
The firm claims that Luce and Venturoni solicited employees and clients from Weber Shandwick and that H+K “aided and abetted” these efforts, according to its court filing. Both executives are subject to the typical one-year non-solicitation agreement.
It also alleges that the defendants “possess Weber Shandwick’s confidential information”, including details of client programmes and financial arrangements. After examining her computer for suspicious activity, Weber Shandwick claims that Venturoni obtained "a wealth of confidential information" while still at the firm.
The temporary restraining order was granted on 18 January by the Dallas court. It orders each defendant to appear in court on 20 February, and notes it has found some evidence that “Weber Shandwick has demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits of at least some of its claims.”
Over the past year H+K has hired at least two other senior Weber Shandwick executives: SVP Sergio Morales in New York, and SVP Anne Tramer in Dallas.
Weber Shandwick’s court filing reveals that it wrote to Luce on 15 December regarding its concerns about “recent resignations of several Weber Shandwick employees who have joined H&K,” and notifying Luce of its investigation of the matter. While Luce and H&K consequently provided written responses, the firm believes that adequate assurances have not been provided as to solicitation and misuse of its confidential information.
Weber Shandwick declined to comment. In a statement, H+K director of external communications Allison Cohen said the firm was "surprised and disappointed to learn about this action."
"As demonstrated by our willingness to consent to the limited injunctive relief contained in the agreed temporary restraining order, it is Hill+Knowlton’s intent to vigorously defend itself and promptly address and resolve this dispute," added Cohen.
"We’re focused on building a strong Dallas presence with a talented and experienced team. Hill+Knowlton is a desirable place to work, has no need for materials from competitors, and it is not surprising that people seek to work here as we grow our office."