The Real Deal New York

Melissa Cohn sues GuardHill for alleged wrongful termination

GuardHill says Cohn breached contractual obligations, plans to countersue
By Kyna Doles and Konrad Putzier | April 13, 2015 04:33PM

UPDATED, 7:10 p.m., April 13: Star mortgage broker Melissa Cohn, one of the very few top-ranking female executives in the mortgage industry, is suing her former employer, GuardHill Financial, for alleged wrongful termination.

Cohn was fired by GuardHill in January, mere months after being hired as its president. The complaint alleges that the mortgage bank and brokerage had no good cause to fire Cohn. Instead, it implies that she was canned because of a power struggle with Guardhill’s chief executive officer and founder Alan Rosenbaum. GuardHill, however, maintains that Cohn was fired for “her continued unacceptable behavior,” and said that Cohn’s claims are without merit.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it is now clear to Cohn that after years of running Guard Hill by himself, Rosenbaum was neither able nor comfortable listening to constructive proposals and suggestions from someone with even more experience and proven record of success,” Cohn’s complaint, filed Monday in New York State Supreme Court, states.

The complaint also accuses Rosenbaum of “cowardly conduct,” stating that he refused to meet Cohn ahead of her termination and fired her by email at a time when he allegedly knew she was driving and would not check her inbox.

In a statement, a representative for GuardHill said that “unfortunately, after months of trying to work with Ms. Cohn on her behavior and attitude, GuardHill terminated Ms. Cohn’s employment for cause in January, four months after it hired her. Ms. Cohn’s lawsuit appears to be consistent with her strategy of suing former employers in an attempt to avoid contractual promises she made not to compete or solicit.”

Cohn, whose LinkedIn profile currently doesn’t reveal any company affiliation and whose attorney couldn’t be reached for comment Monday afternoon, is seeking undisclosed damages. GuardHill, in turn, intends not only to defend against Cohn’s claims, “but also to counter-sue for money that Ms. Cohn has wrongfully refused to return to the company following her termination.”

A 30-year industry veteran, Cohn has won numerous awards, including Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year for Greater New York, and has served as governor of the Real Estate Board of New York. She founded Manhattan Mortgage about 30 years ago, and grew the firm into Manhattan’s largest independent mortgage broker before selling it in 2012 to Chicago-based mortgage lender Guaranteed Rate.

Rosenbaum founded GuardHill in 1992, and the firm, which specializes in prime residential mortgages, claims that its annual origination volume exceeds  $1 billion.