UTA Accuses CAA of ‘Art of Whining’ in Response to Anti-Poaching Lawsuit

Updated

UTA is accusing CAA of engaging in the same type of unfair competition poaching practices at the center of CAA’s lawsuit against its rival over the defection of agents last year.

In the rhetorical flourishes that have defined the litigation, UTA said in an answer to CAA’s amended complaint that the agency was engaging in the “art of whining.”

In its answer, UTA says that it “simply abided by the lawful, well-established customs and practices of the talent agency industry, while it has been CAA that has continued to engage in deceptive and actionable wrongdoing.” UTA claims that managing partner Richard Lovett had a “pattern and practice” of “covertly hiring agents under contractual restrictions and fiduciary obligations,” including renting hotel rooms at the Mosaic Hotel in Beverly Hills to keep their meetings secret. UTA contends that the agents’ lawyers are instructed to turn over contracts and financial obligations to the current employers, “despite the fact that the requested documents are known by CAA to be confidential and proprietary to those agencies.”

CAA’s lawsuit against UTA and Gregory Cavic and Gregory McKnight claims an “illegal and unethical conspiracy” in which Cavic and McKnight “worked clandestinely with each other and UTA to induce a number of CAA employees to abruptly terminate their employment with CAA and to join UTA.” The agents, CAA says, were still on the CAA payroll and had “full awareness of the indisputable illegality of their conduct.” A dispute over the departure of three agents other agents —  Jason Heyman, Martin Lesak and Nick Nuciforo — is now going through a private arbitration proceeding.

In an amended complaint filed earlier this month, CAA contends that senior UTA management, including CEO Jeremy Zimmer, knew of the employment agreements of Nuciforo, Lesak and Heyman when they had discussions about leaving, and induced them to terminate their employment. They contend that, among other things, Cavic and McKnight solicited existing and prospective CAA clients on behalf of UTA while still employed by CAA.

Anthony Oncidi of  Proskauer Rose, who represents CAA, said in a statement that “after more than a year, UTA has finally answered the complaint and has resorted to distraction as their primary defense, but distraction is not a defense. The only thing at issue in the litigation is UTA’s, Cavic and McKnights tortious interference with the employment agreements that Heyman, Lesak and Nuciforo had with CAA.”

UTA claims that managing partner Richard Lovett pursued Heyman and Lesak over a one year period from 2004 to 2005, and enlisted other CAA executives to “use the full force and power of the agency to surround and poach their personal clients unless they would secretly meet” with him. Their filing claims that Lovett “pressured them to leave” UTA, but it doesn’t explicitly state that he induced them to break off their agreement.

“On at least one occasion, Kevin Huvane, on behalf of Mr. Lovett, told Lesak that he had two choices: ‘come to CAA and help kill, or stay at UTA and be killed’,” UTA claims.

UTA contends that Lovett “continually harassed and threatened each of them until they finally agreed to have secret meetings with him.” They did, and Lovett even gave them secret code names, Robin Yount and Paul Molitor, two players from Lovett’s hometown baseball team, the Milwaukee Brewers. Lovett also told them that the agency would indemnify them “if UTA ever discovered that its confidential partnership documents and client lists were turned over to CAA,” the UTA filing states.

UTA claims that CAA has used the documents — including partnership agreements, clients lists and organizational documents with salary information — to compete.

The filing contends that when TPG made a majority purchase of CAA, it had to amend its written and oral employment agreements with some key agents. In December, 2014, the agents were given 72 hours to sign the agreements in order for the cash infusion to be finalized. The agreements permitted the agents to terminate their services to CAA at any time by giving 30 days written notice.

“The hubris of CAA prevented the agency from considering that any of its agents would ever choose to exercise their termination rights under these documents and exit CAA for another opportunity,” the UTA filing stated.

Bryan Freedman of Freedman Taitelman represents UTA. Deadline Hollywood first reported the news.

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