PN accuses ex-employees of starting firm on PN time

TRAVIS COUNTY, TX: Porter Novelli (PN) has sued two former employees who left the agency to start their own firm, taking one of PN's clients with them.

TRAVIS COUNTY, TX: Porter Novelli (PN) has sued two former employees who left the agency to start their own firm, taking one of PN's clients with them.

PN is accusing account manager Starr Million and account supervisor Kari Hernandez of developing their agency on firm time and using company resources, as well as "soliciting" at least one client and PN employees to go with them to the new agency, according to the complaint.

Million and Hernandez left PN's Austin, TX, office in mid-January to launch Ink PR. The Bluetooth Special Interest Group, a trade association that promotes wireless technology, left PN as its US agency of record because the organization had a clause in its contract allowing it to part ways with PN if there was a significant change to the account team. Million and Hernandez were the account leads. Bluetooth took its US PR business to Ink to ensure consistency.

PN is seeking "injunctive relief," as well as damages of more than $50,000, representing pay earned by Million and Hernandez during the time at PN that they allegedly engaged in their "disloyal conduct," as well as other fees.

PN asserts that the actions of Million and Hernandez were detrimental to the company because the planning was done on company time with company resources in an attempt to develop a business that would ultimately compete with Porter Novelli. The lawsuit alleges efforts by Million and Hernandez to lure PN employees and clients away to the new agency.

"We just received the complaint from Porter Novelli and are currently working with our legal team to respond to the allegations," said Million. "Ink is a small boutique PR agency with no desire to compete with the seventh-largest PR firm in the world."

PN did not provide PRWeek with an official comment by press time.

The suit contains several "exhibits" of substantiating evidence, including employment-offer letters sent to Million and Hernandez in 2000, and Porter Novelli's code of professional standards. The complaint also includes a copy of Ink's mission statement and a list of pros and cons of launching a boutique company that Million and Hernandez are alleged to have compiled while they were on the clock at PN.

On the list of pros and cons the two former employees made for starting their own agency, Million and Hernandez list "potential lawsuit and potential enemies" as one of the possible downsides.

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