Travers Collins & Co. has filed a lawsuit against five former employees, alleging that the quintet breached standard employee/employer relations by siphoning existing clients to their newly started firm.
The complaint, filed Oct. 17 in State Supreme Court, alleges that Lynn Casteel, Jeff Schoenborn, Julianne Senulis, Brittany Frey and Katherine Croft reached out to existing Travers Collins clients - mostly from the firm's investor relations arm - while they were still employed by the Buffalo-based public relations and marketing firm. Casteel directed Travers Collins' investor relations group and was an executive vice president with the firm.
Travers Collins is seeking monetary damages from its former employees and their new firm.
Casteel, Schoenborn, Senulis, Frey and Croft all resigned from Travers Collins on Sept. 17 and began work for Casteel Schoenborn through their parent company - C&S Ventures WNY Inc. Casteel Schoenborn opened an office on Wehrle Drive in Amherst.
Some of Casteel Schoenborn's clients previously had a relationship with Travers Collins.
"Travers Collins feels very strongly that there was a breach of duty," said Kevin English, a Phillips Lytle LLP partner. English represents Travers Collins. "Our allegations are detailed in the complaint."
The 16-page complaint offers an insight into how Travers Collins feels it was damaged by the decision by Casteel, Schoenborn, Frey, Croft and Senulis to leave the firm. Schoeborn was Travers Collins senior vice president of investor relations while Frey, Croft and Senulis all worked for the investor relations group as account managers.
"We believe these are baseless accusations, and we look forward to defending ourselves against them as the legal process runs its course," Schoenborn said. "In the meantime, it's business as usual for us."
Besides their salaries and benefits, the five former employees collectively received $30,000 in profit-sharing just days before their respective resignations. Those bonuses were based on a formula using 30 percent of the investor relations' group net profits. Casteel, as group executive vice president, helped determine the bonus payments, court documents indicate.
Yet, in a preliminary discovery process, the court papers indicate that Casteel and Schoenborn filed a certificate of incorporation for their firm on June 15, three months before they submitted their resignation to the firm's founders, Robert Travers and William Collins.
The discovery process also found alleged instances where members of the Casteel Schoenborn firm reached out to existing Travers Collins clients, advising them they were considering leaving and forming their own agency. Those actions are considered "breaches of their fiduciary duties, duties of loyalty and theft," according to the court documents.
"These acts were undertaken for the benefit of the individual defendants and defendant C&S," the documents stated.
Schoenborn disputes that.
"As I said, we believe the accusations are baseless," he said.