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
By Hiten Samtani | June 27, 2014 10:00AM

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.