CAA Sues UTA, Two Former Agents in ‘Conspiracy’ to ‘Steal Clients and Employees’

CAA Offices
Paul Turang

CAA filed suit against UTA and two former agents, following through on legal threats it made earlier this week after 10 talent reps switched agencies, taking with them clients like Chris Pratt and Will Ferrell.

“This case is about a lawless, midnight raid that UTA and its co-conspirators launched against CAA in a desperate attempt to steal clients and employees,” CAA said in the suit, filed on Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court. “Months in the making, this illegal and unethical conspiracy has resulted in a number of agents who were under contract to CAA to brazenly and abruptly breach their contractural obligations to CAA and intentionally and deliberately interfere with CAA’s existing and prospective economic relationships with its clients.”

In addition to UTA, Gregory Cavic and Gregory McKnight were named as defendants.

CAA claims that the two agents, while still on CAA’s payroll, “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.” CAA claims that at least three of the employees who left — Dominic Nuciforo Jr., Martin Lesak and Jason Heyman — have “enforceable, ongoing contracts with CAA,” and CAA plans to seek arbitration either later on Thursday or Friday. McKnight and Cavic do not have contracts.

UTA had no comment.

CAA claims intentional interference with contractual relations, intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, breach of fiduciary duty, conspiracy to breach fiduciary duty, conspiracy to breach duty of loyalty and a business code violation.

The suit claims that Cavic and McKnight solicited existing and prospective CAA clients on behalf of UTA while still employed with CAA; and even delayed meetings with existing and potential clients in order to “make it more likely that they would complete such deals after leaving CAA and becoming partners at UTA with the intent to divert as much of CAA’s business to UTA as possible.” The suit also claims they “solicited and encouraged” other CAA agents to do the same.

Although they were not named in the lawsuit, Nuciforo, Heyman and Lesak are cited in CAA’s compliant as having enforceable contracts. CAA’s lawsuit makes a point of noting that they each had their own independent counsel to advise them before signing their contracts. Such a provision is a counter to a defense that the contracts were unenforceable.

CAA claims that in January of this year, or even earlier, Cavic, McKnight and UTA had conversations with Nuciforo, Lesak and Heyman about terminating their employment at CAA and joining UTA, even though they knew the three agents had contract agreements.

They also claim that Cavic and McKnight “proposed that actual or prospective clients of CAA co-sign agreements with UTA during the 2015 Sundance Film Festival.”

The lawsuit seeks a temporary restraining order and a preliminary and permanent injunctions prohibiting UTA from soliciting or providing services to any clients who were serviced by Nuciforo, Lesak or Heyman while they were at CAA. It also seeks unspecified damages, and “disgorgement of the amounts” paid to Cavic and McKnight “during their period of disloyalty.”

According to the lawsuit, Nuciforo was hired by CAA in 2005, with the most recent contract agreement signed in October 2011 and running through Oct. 17, 2015.

The lawsuit points out that Lesak signed a four-year contract in 2009, and then entered into a new agreement in 2012 that runs through June 23, 2016. CAA’s suit points out that his latest agreement was sweetened with an unspecified guaranteed minimum bonus each fiscal year.

The lawsuit also points out that Heyman signed a four-year agreement in 2009, and then  entered into a new contract in 2012 that also runs through June 23, 2016. That agreement also included a guaranteed minimum bonus, according to CAA.

Anthony Oncidi and Keith Goodwin of Proskauer Rose are representing CAA in the litigation.

This post was updated to reflect the fact that the CAA lawsuit stated that Lesak and Heyman entered into contracts in 2009, although the complaint does not specify when they joined the agency. They joined CAA in 2005.