The Real Deal New York

Town gets court win over exec who jumped to Douglas Elliman

Judge rules Nicole Oge violated her non-compete agreement in switching firms
By E.B. Solomont | August 18, 2014 04:13PM

A former marketing director at Town Residential – who was sued by the brokerage in June after jumping to Douglas Elliman – violated her non-compete agreement when she made the switch this spring, a judge ruled Monday.

Nicole Oge, a former marketing executive at Mercedes Benz who spent three years at Town, was slapped with the suit this spring, alleging she violated her non-compete when she joined Douglas Elliman. In a decision Monday, Judge Eileen Bransten said Oge may not perform real estate marketing services in Manhattan for Elliman – though she can do so in other markets.

“The language of the non-competition provision is quite clear,” Bransten wrote. “Oge was free to work for a range of employers upon leaving Town, even in the same field as Town; however, the restriction was that she could not do so in Manhattan within two years.”

Town also sought an injunction preventing Oge from sharing trade secrets obtained in her role at Town. Bransten denied that motion on the grounds that Town failed to show enough evidence.

Following the decision, an attorney for Elliman, Joseph Piesco Jr. of Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, said his client would appeal. “We are reviewing the Court’s decision, which we respectfully believe to be erroneous and inconsistent with applicable law, and are in the process of taking such steps as we deem necessary and appropriate to protect our client’s rights,” he said. In court documents, Elliman denied Town’s suit had legal merit, and accused Town of creating a “backdoor non-compete.”

While Town declined to comment on the ruling, the court’s decision could have implications for another lawsuit in which Town accused Elliman of poaching another top executive, former managing director of new development, Reid Price. Town sued Price in October 2013. The case is ongoing.

On Monday, neither Oge nor her attorney immediately responded to a request for comment.

In court documents, Oge argued that her jobs at Town and Elliman were not the same. In an affidavit, she said the responsibilities were broader at Elliman and were not limited to the local market, as they had been at Town.

Oge also minced few words while describing her former employer, saying she enjoyed working there until this year, when “the principals set upon each other in a war for control of the company. The work environment became “abnormal, acute and extreme,” ultimately prompting her to seek help from a psychologist.

Elliman, which was also named in the suit, is the city’s largest residential firm, according to The Real Deal’s annual brokerage ranking, published in May. That ranking showed that the firm has 1,725 agents and 954 listings, compared with Town’s 472 agents and 140 listings.

“Despite Town’s formation just four years ago, the industry’s largest firm, Douglas Elliman, already feels threatened by Town,” Town CEO Jeff Appel said in an affidavit taken for the case.