Recently, a Pennsylvania appellate court upheld a $6.9 million verdict for an insurance brokerage firm that sued several former employees who violated their non-solicitation contracts. The employees allegedly tried to lure clients to a competing agency.
Things began when two executives at Balmer began considering launching a new Philadelphia office for competing firm Frank Crystal & Co. (“FCC”). Just one month after these discussions began, the Philadelphia FCC branch opened with three Balmer employees at the helm. The Balmer employees purportedly worked on transitioning to their new positions while on agency phones, computers, and time. One employee allegedly compiled a list of Balmer clients and other trade secrets. Ultimately, the Philadelphia branch of FCC solicited at least twenty-four Balmer clients. One of these clients had been with Balmer for over 25 years and was one of the agency’s biggest.
Balmer sued both FCC and the former employees, seeking damages for breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference, unfair competition, conspiracy, and other violations. A Chester County judge awarded Balmer $2.4 million in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages.
An Undeniable Breach in Contract
The defendants appealed to the Superior Court, urging that the punitive damages be struck, as there was no evidence of outrageous conduct. The court did not agree, finding ample evidence to support the punitive damages. Specifically, the court noted that FCC knew about the Balmer executives’ non-solicitation contracts, yet courted them anyway. Furthermore, the employees had provided FCC with privileged, protected information about Balmer clients.
The court relied on an earlier case wherein a radio station manager solicited members of his sales staff to join him in his move to a competing station. They also persuaded an advertising client to follow them to their new employer. Even though the two cases are distinguishable in that one deals with a covenant not to compete, and the other deals with non-solicitation contracts, the conduct was similar in both.
In ruling against FCC, the court found that when a company hires the entire marketing and sales staff from one agency, the sole purpose is clearly to induce clients of that agency to keep their accounts with with the sales force that is switching agencies. FCC Philadelphia earned approximately $300,000 its first year, all from Balmer Agency clients. The court upheld the punitive damage award.
Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green Counsel on Non-Solicitation Contracts, Non-Compete Agreements
Whether you are trying to craft a solid employment contract, or whether you need an experienced, aggressive team of litigators to handle a claim of breach of contract, the highly regarded Philadelphia employment lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green are prepared. We take pride in developing successful relationships with our clients. Contact us online or call our offices at 215-574-0600 to speak with a Philadelphia business lawyer.