Wembley architect is accused of poaching five senior staff from Ellerbe Becket – after promising not to

The firm behind the designs for Wembley Stadium, the London Olympic masterplan and the Arsenal stadium is facing a legal challenge from a rival US firm after it was accused of poaching staff.

Architect HOK Sport+Venue+Event has received a writ from Ellerbe Becket after it employed five senior staff, including the managing principal of its Kansas City office this month.

In the writ, seen by Building, Ellerbe Becket alleges that HOK Sport and other firms involved in the Kansas City Arena project entered into an agreement last October not to poach staff. But the firm claims HOK Sport began secret negotiations with five principals in late January.

The writ states “In an anticompetitive effort to eliminate Ellerbe Becket as a competitior, HOK wrongfully induced the principals to breach their Fair Dealing Agreement and fiduciary duties as principals of Ellerbe Becket and also breached a handshake agreement not to solicit Ellerbe Becket employees during the course of a collaborative project.”

It concludes: “HOK and the principals through their actions have knowingly and intentionally attempted to cripple Ellerbe Becket’s sports architecture business.”

The firm wants the court to rule that HOK’s action is unfair business practice. Ellerbe Becket is claiming damages and seeking an injunction to prevent HOK from soliciting Ellerbe Becket employees for a reasonable time period.

Ellerbe Becket wants the court to rule that HOK’s action is unfair practice

The five former employees are named in the suit for breach of obligations owed to their employer. They include Dave Orlowski, Ellerbe Becket’s managing principal, who ran the firm’s 50-person office in New York.

All are alleged to have signed an agreement that during the term of their employment with Ellerbe and for one year after they would not solicit any of Ellerbe’s prospective clients or try to induce any of its staff to leave the firm.

The writ states: “The principals’ defection to HOK was a contributing factor in Ellerbe Becket being eliminated from the bidding process for future work on one sports architecture project. “

HOK Sport declined to comment.