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Willis sues Marsh over poaching of 25 employees


Willis Towers Watson has filed suit against Marsh LLC in state court in Chicago in connection with the poaching of 25 employees.

The employees, primarily Chicago-based members of Willis’ senior living group, left the brokerage to join Marsh in August. Marsh has denied Willis’ charges and asked that the case be dismissed.

On Monday, Judge Neil H. Cohen of Cook County’s chancery division in Chicago denied Willis’ motion for a temporary restraining order and its request for expedited discovery.

Willis charges that since Sept. 10, Marsh and its former employees have wrongfully solicited about 24 Willis clients to move their business to Marsh, resulting in a loss of more than $7.5 million in revenue, according to court papers in Willis Towers Watson Midwest Inc. and Willis Americas Administration Inc. v. Marsh and McLennan Cos. Inc. et. al.

In the request for the since-denied temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction Willis said they were “needed to stop Marsh and former Employee Defendants from wrongfully soliciting additional clients.

“Without a TRO and preliminary injunction there is every reason to believe that Marsh and the former Employee Defendants will continue to unlawfully take additional Willis clients, resulting in millions of dollars in lost annual revenue, and causing Willis significant irreparable harm.”

In his brief order denying the TRO and oral motion for expedited discovery, Judge Cohen gave Willis until Oct. 4 to file its opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and Marsh until Oct. 15 to respond.

According to the complaint, six Willis brokers who were producers in Chicago, including executive vice presidents John Atkinson and Michael Pokora, simultaneously resigned on Aug. 5 and joined Marsh on Aug. 23, and were subsequently followed by the others.

All but two of the employees who left were in Willis’ senior living group, and all but five were based in Chicago.

The complaint states “the Former Employee Defendants who were leaders in the Willis Chicago office violated their fiduciary duties of loyalty and contractual non-solicitation provisions, by approaching their team of employees in Chicago with the plan for them to resign together to go work for Marsh.”

It states the defendants “have been promised more compensation and complete indemnification for this scheme, which includes the violation of their restrictive covenants by soliciting Willis clients.

“Marsh’s participation in this scheme is readily apparent. …. This was a calculated effort on the part of Marsh to severely harm Willis’s Midwest business,” the complaint states.

The complaint seeks injunctive relief and charges the former employees and Marsh with violations of the Illinois Uniform Deceptive Trade Practices Act, misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, tortious interference with contractual relations and prospective economic advantage, unfair competition and civil conspiracy.

In its rejected bid to obtain a TRO, Willis asked that the former employees be forbidden from soliciting Willis clients for 24 months and that Marsh be required to divest itself of the 24 clients who left Willis for Marsh. It also asked for attorneys fees and costs.

In its response to the complaint and request for dismissal, Marsh said Willis “has substituted facts with boilerplate conclusions that merely parrot the elements of its claims – a practice that Illinois law squarely forbids.”

Marsh also said that Willis failed “to identify what trade secrets were misappropriated, when they were misappropriated, how they were misappropriated, by whom they were misappropriated and in what way they were used in Defendants’’ business.”

Spokespeople for Marsh and Willis had no comment.

Separately, in a brief ruling last week, Judge William Thomas of the Florida circuit court in Miami refused to dismiss litigation filed against Marsh LLC and several former Aon employees in connection with the broker’s alleged poaching of 44 former Aon brokers, in Aon Risk Services Inc. of Florida et. al. v. Marsh USA Inc et al. Judge Thomas agreed to dismiss Marsh & McLennan Agency LLC as a defendant in the case and gave Aon until Oct. 4 to file an amended complaint.

Judge Thomas issued a consent order in the case in July.