The Real Deal New York

Town sues Elliman for allegedly poaching top marketing exec

Firm claims it was harmed by rival's "wanton" conduct in recruiting Nicole Oge

June 27, 2014 10:00AM
By Hiten Samtani

From left: Elliman's Nicole Oge and Town's Jeff Appel

From left: Elliman’s Nicole Oge and Town’s Jeff Appel

UPDATED, 4:45 p.m., June 27: Town Residential is suing Douglas Elliman for allegedly engaging in unfair competition by encouraging its former director of marketing Nicole Oge to breach her non-compete agreement and join the larger firm.

“Generally, other firms respect these agreements and do not induce competitors’ employees to breach them,” the lawsuit, filed Thursday in New York State Supreme Court, states. “Douglas Elliman is different.”

Town is also suing Oge for alleged breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty.

Oge, a former marketing specialist for Mercedes Benz, joined Town in March 2011 as the firm’s director of marketing. In her position, she effectively oversaw all Town’s branding and marketing efforts, according to the suit, and was thus privy to many of Town’s confidential projects and trade secrets. She was also “crucial” to the firm’s recruitment efforts and new business pitches, the suit states.

Because of the sensitive nature of her position, Town required Oge to sign a non-compete agreement which would prevent her from taking a marketing position at another Manhattan residential brokerage for a two year-period after her tenure at Town ended.

But by joining Elliman just two months after she left Town, Oge breached her non-compete agreement as well as her fiduciary duties to the firm, the suit alleges. Oge did not immediately respond to request for comment. A spokesperson for Elliman said today that it does not comment on pending litigation.

Elliman CEO Dottie Herman told TRD last week that she didn’t expect any legal repercussions from hiring Oge.

But Town’s president and chief operating officer Jeff Appel told TRD that it is “unfortunate we have been forced into this position, but our rivals continue to violate standard agreements in order to try to gain a competitive advantage.”

“We will not allow that to happen,” he continued.

Town is asking the court to prevent Oge from breaching her non-compete agreement. The firm is also suing to prevent Elliman from hiring Oge in a marketing capacity. In addition, Town is seeking punitive damages.

Justice Saliann Scarpulla did not grant Town the temporary restraining order it sought against Elliman and Oge.  Elliman’s attorney, Joseph Piesco of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, told TRD that “Town’s complaint and supporting papers did not contain a scintilla of evidence that Elliman or Oge acted improperly in any way, let alone show how Town possibly would be harmed if Oge were allowed to continue to work for Douglas Elliman.”

Elliman is the city’s largest residential firm, with 1,725 agents and 954 listings at the time of TRD’s annual brokerage ranking in May. Town had 472 agents and 140 listings.

Elliman’s move to recruit Oge, the suit states, “is not an isolated incident.” Reid Price, a former managing director of Town’s new development division, left Town in April and joined Elliman just days later to work under Susan de França  as TRD reported. Town is currently in litigation with Price.

  • Jack Resnick

    OMG this TOWN is a disaster….litigations against each other, against employees, against the competition, against the whole world….who’s next?! the mayor? Maybe its time cut your losses, pack it up and leave TOWN. you’re infecting this industry with so much bad energy. its disgusting. leave TOWN

    • shady business

      First this is what Elliman is known for, they reach out to other top brokerages and try to recruit their execs. Elliman has YES one of the top marketing ideas and plans we can admit that but it is because they steal from other brokerages. In order for them to stay all over the news they pay money for a lot of these publishers and news blogs to keep them relevant at all times. Its a shady business. I guarantee any one of you who hire an exec and they leave for a bigger company telling all your trades and secrets that you hold and worked hard to put together you will be just as angry

      • Char4Dew

        Show me one firm that has not done that….

    • realestate

      jack…you seem like a true professional w your comments. spend some time focusing on TOWN…?

    • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

      Concur Jack.

      • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

        Bit more complex than that, actually.

    • LetsBeReal

      if they brought in david lippman and that digital marketing exec there probably was just no role for her anymore. problem is she still is under non-compete which is what it is.

    • Sticks&Bricks101

      BWAHAHAH… !!!
      Indeed Jack.
      I find it to be more “OMD ” than ” OMG “. ( Oh My Darwin ).

    • Char4Dew

      When greed and narcissism rules, it is not easy to see the forest from the trees. They leave looking for better and then they leave again.

  • irobot

    typical company BS…Didn’t Elliman fire the very talented Jim Marron so they could replace him with this unknown Ogre

  • HughGass

    all these resi broker headshots! lol think they’re in Hollywood or on Broadway

  • The Truth about Town

    Here is the index number from the Luxor lawsuit against town. We can all form an opinion. Read the lawsuit and read the email exhibits from Sokich, Maitland. Judge for yourselves. Just go to this public website for NY county supreme court aka (“SCROLL” in google search) and type in index no# search: 156047- 2014. http://iapps.courts.state.ny.u… **type in the entire number with no spaces or hyphen. LET A JURY DECIDE!!

    • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

      What was that ” Index ” number again, please ?

  • Harry Potzer

    In the end, its just a big circle jerk..Sooner or later, you’ll just be jerking yourself

  • Jack Resnick

    “come work for me. i have the best new company in town. but if i turn this place to a mess and you leave, I will sue you. now lets get started’”

    • Char4Dew

      LOL…

  • Thom McCuen

    Has anyone asked why Town has become such a target? I think it’s because they’ve managed to reach 500 brokers and more than 10 prominent offices in a little over two years. That’s huge. Look at all of the other firms who tried to reach the same, either they were in the business for 20 years or they’ve failed. Of course you’re going to see companies fighting for Town’s people and competitors attacking them.

    • Jack Resnick

      with $20M of investment and yet to turn a penny of profit. real rocket science. any monkey can do. regardless – go a head -buy your way around. fine. just don’t make a mess everywhere you go or try to abuse agents and employees that want nothing to do with you

      • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

        Now Jack, is this ‘really’ You… ?

    • TK

      They are a target because they are predators who try to bully their way into anywhere they want to be. Also they had 600 agents, now 450…. 25% decline in how man months? Where is that story?

      • Bob the Broker

        They never had 600 brokers. They had 600 members including employees.

        • Char4Dew

          Still went down to less than 450 and who is writing about that?

    • john

      You mean they’ve managed to buy 500 agents.

      • Broker Bob

        I don’t think so. I have a number of friends there who came from many years at the big firms and they were tired of the huge fees and favoritism the big firms had.

    • marianneciccantelli

      Think so? For all those brokers they only have 140 listings. A little top heavy, don’t you think?

      • Broker Bob

        I think a lot of the brokers, especially the down town ones do a lot of rentals. Remember Heiberger was Citi Habitats which specialized in rentals.

    • forevermetal

      Urban Compass is doing the same thing. I also believe Urban Compass is buying exclusives from management companies to build their portfolio and clout. Their original business model was absolutel shit, and now all of the sudden they are able to pull reputable brokers from top firms into their brokerage…..how?

  • jorel

    Elliman cuts their execs as fast as they hire. Go look around there offices its a joke every one is a vice pres or assit vice pres or exect assis pres lol.

  • Inman News

    Must be the straw that broke the camels back. It was a nice ride Town. If you did not know by now, many of us are leaving in the next few months. We are tired of industry colleagues asking us what exactly is going on with Mr. Heiberger, Sitt, Oge, Price, Bankruptcy issues, etc. I’m taking my favorite brokers with me to the next shop.

  • ObiWan

    Coming Soon: TOWN/THOR sure HEIBERGER for loss of key executive demands sale of his ownership stake at asset value. OPEN YOU EYES this is not about an executive. This is round 2 of the ownership dispute.
    Working for this firm must be just like having a window cabin on the Titanic.

  • Broker Bob

    Elliman goes after top agents (1099′s) with $100K signing bonuses. After a year if they don’t bring in mucho big bucks their split is cut and they are down to 50%. I know a number of agents that are too embarrassed to leave Elliman after the headlines they got going over there. There is always trouble there in “paradise”.

  • AnneeZ

    My experience with non-compete agreements is that they’re rarely enforced by the courts, period. NY is an “at will” state, too, which means if you can be let go at will, you can get a job at will, too. The only winners in this appear to be, once again, the lawyers in my opinion.

    • marianneciccantelli

      Exactly.

  • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

    Oh my !

  • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

    I have a buyer for Town.

  • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

    Take note… Joe Sitt.

  • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

    I know where all the bodies are buried.

  • LetsBeReal

    All the macho talk is fun but how bout some attention on the real issue here… this lady chose to sign an employment contract (she’s not a broker/independent contractor!) with a non-compete and is most certainly in violation of that contract. That’s why these things valid restrictions exist… so someone can’t just pick up and take trade secrets, strategies, etc. that they dealt with at other companies and just take em to a direct competitor. And speaking of brokers, they surely collaborated with her and regularly brought her good marketing ideas with the hope that she would help them grow their business… now she’s just taking those ideas and helping their competitors get a leg up on listings, clients, opportunities, etc. Doubt she cares though, as long as the next employment contract pays her more $$$ those brokers are just collateral damage. Nice

    • Gust Avrakotos

      I worked with Nicole Oge for over a year. She is an amazing, brilliant, committed dedicated hardworking professional. She was the heart and soul of TOWN. Her energy, and hard work were the heart and soul of this company. She is missed, the entire brand and company have not been the same since she left.
      Anyone who knows Nicole is fully aware that she is a VERY ethical honest person who has only good intentions.
      I am so disappointed with TOWN for not accepting that this feud which almost ruined the entire company caused them to lose the pulse of our company. Shame on you TOWN!
      This has been a very big wake up call for everyone else in the firm.

      • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

        Concur. Above and Below.

    • Truth hurts

      Valid point. Only problem: Town has hired at least TWO people who reneged on their own non-compete clauses. Pot —> Kettle. You’re black.

  • trdreader

    In my humble opinion, TOWN/Jeff Appel seem to be making futile attempts to save its bad reputation, failed business model and practices. From what I have read, this lawsuit is pretty darn baseless. And as many PR specialists and marketers know, simply filing a lawsuit is a great vehicle to damage a person or company’s reputation to distract the public and industry away from TOWN’s disaster of a company. It’s also interesting to note a parallel here. Quite a lot of press recently has covered this same situation going on within the tech industry (poaching, unethical acqui-hires). Yet again, TOWN has no original ideas.

  • JBS

    The straw that broke the camels back. Many of us at Town will be leaving in the next few months after our deals close out. Who wants to be associated with this litigious brand anymore? Nicole was a star and her assistants running the branding won’t cut it either.

    • Eric Malcome Lustgarten

      Concur.

  • Char4Dew

    This article is nuts. Town Poached everyone. and frankly they all do it.
    If you know of a firm that does not poach please let us all know who they are….
    This legal battle is a lawyers dream; how else would they make money? LOL
    And that Jeff is in a perfect spot – There is no moral compass there.

  • forevermetal

    Can someone please name a firm with agents who conduct themselves with the highest level of integrity? I’m contemplating a move and looking for something with a solid reputation and quality leadership

    • Char4Dew

      hmmmm. aren’t you talking about yesteryear?
      Even REBNY tossed all the rules out the window. LOL

      • forevermetal

        as a member of REBNY I haven’t noticed any benefits of membership yet.

        • Char4Dew

          You are not the only one. the only ones who benefit own it.

          • forevermetal

            The President of Rebny makes $600K per year, and they only pull in $9MM annually. crazy salary.

          • Char4Dew

            I don’t run their books, :) but I imagine cozying up to the politicians and society ladies, costs money too. And also how many places, dinners, etc… Has the company REBNY paid for?
            600K clean is good money.
            Many take lower salary but have their firms pay for everything, including vacations and call it a business trip.

  • Char4Dew

    When someone is loyal to Andrew he Sh**’s on them,
    When someone goes about thier own goals he sues them.
    Of this I am certain!

  • J. R.

    Town has been trying to poach all of my agents for the past year. They teach their managers to do this on a daily basis. They are scum.

  • Broker Bobv

    Nope, just someone at Elliman for many years.

  • Char4Dew

    Bob… if they don’t bring in the business they get cut to 50% everywhere.
    The high % is grandfathered in to those who did bring in the business consistently for a long time. That rule has changed throughout the industry. I guess you did not get the memo.

  • Broker Bob

    True Char but after they were lured to Elliman with $60K – $100K signing bonuses they should be producing more. There’s a lot of talk about it here in the hallways.

  • Broker Bob

    By the way Char, Corcoran stopped grandfathering splits about 2006. Orders from NRT up top. That caused a lot of my friends to first argue for their splits for a year then leave. When the economic downturn came Corcoran started going below the 50% mark to 45%. I wonder if any of the other companies still grandfather splits. Is it no wonder people are jumping ship?

  • Char4Dew

    Bob the industry has changed but those who brought in consistent business for many many years are getting hurt buy this greed. They were the bones of the company. (I left showing long ago cant answer if any are still grandfathered in, but should be).The splits are all ovr the place including pay outs of 90%.
    The truth about Town is he went after people with incentives; extra this and that. it collected some good ones, and many are now leaving. Few will do well there.

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