Insurance brokerage competitors Willis Towers Watson and Alliant Insurance Services are battling in court over what Willis alleges is a conspiracy by Alliant to steal its employees, trade secrets and clients.
Willis maintains that this past July Alliant orchestrated a “mass resignation” of producers and other employees from its Public Entity and Education Practice at its Willis Towers Watson Southeast (WTW SE) office based in Charlotte, North Carolina.
As a result of the alleged raid by Alliant, Willis claims that to date it has lost two of its senior leaders and highest producers, along with at least seven other employees who serviced the books of business assigned to those producers. It also claims to have lost one Public Entity and Education Practice client to a competitor.
Willis is suing Alliant and six former employees Mark A Goode, Michael R. Honeycutt, Taylor Forst, Kim Rice, Rebecca Ann Lee and Sean Keenan.
The complaint by Willis alleges Alliant enticed the employees to leave and that the employees breached their employment agreements by not providing 15-days’ notice of their resignations and by soliciting Willis clients and, in some cases, fellow employees, before a 24 month non-solicitation period had passed.
“This lawsuit arises out of Alliant’s effort to illegally destroy WTW SE’s highly specialized, Charlotte-based Public Entity and Education Practice. In concert with Alliant, several former WTW SE employees are breaching their valid and reasonable restrictive covenants,” the complaint states.
Goode and Honeycutt were senior leaders of WTW SE’s Public Entity and Education Practice and had knowledge of the compensation of all the other Public Entity and Education Practice team members, according to the complaint.
The complaint says that on July 20, 2021, both Honeycutt and Goode resigned from WTW SE to work for Alliant within hours of each other with immediate effect. On July 21, 2021, Forst immediately resigned and the next day, Keenan did the same, according to the complaint.
The complaint accuses Goode of taking WTW SE client account information and using this list to “contact and solicit clients, prospective clients, and WTW SE employees in violation of his contractual obligations.”
According to Willis, Alliant had offered Honeycutt an annual salary of $1.4 million with a five-year guaranty, almost $300,000 more than he was earning at WTW SE, and “well above market value, in effort to use him to unfairly poach WTW SE clients and induce other former WTW SE employees to solicit business in violation of their agreements.”
Claiming it will suffer irreparable harm if Alliant and the employees are not restricted, Willis is seeking a temporary and a permanent injunctions against Alliant and the employees’ continuing to solicit clients, as well as damages including disgorgement of monies earned by the defendants, compensatory damages, punitive damages and attorney’s fees and costs.
Alliant has petitioned the court to deny the injunctions. The California broker claims Willis has not shown that the defendants shared client information, stole trade secrets, improperly solicited clients or fellow employees. Alliant also maintains Willis has not shown irreparable harm need to win an injunction.
Alliant contends that because Willis is a giant global company revenue of $9.35 billion and 46,00 employees, it will not be materially harmed if the injunctions are denied. “The loss of a couple of producers, one (or a few) clients, and a tiny percentage of Willis’s revenue will not irreparably harm such a large and diverse company,” Alliant states.
On the other hand, if the injunctions are granted the defendant employees will be “denied the opportunity to continue business relationships they have enjoyed for many years” with public entities and educational institutions and clients that have “made a free choice that they no longer wish to use Willis as their broker and now want to work with Alliant” will also be harmed.
Alliant claims the document Goode is accused of taking is a distribution list of public entities and Willis employees that was used to mail a Willis newsletter and does not contain any customer purchasing information or policy details.
Alliant further claims that Willis is not at risk of permanently losing such clients due to any actions by defendants. Alliant says Goode and Honeycutt’s book of about 30 clients at Willis was largely comprised of public entities—state governments, county governments, municipalities and school boards. “The identities of these public entities and educational institutions are not a secret and does not comprise ‘extremely valuable” information, according to Alliant
Alliant asserts that half of those clients cannot change insurance brokers without sending out a formal request for proposal (RFP) and thus Willis and any other interested brokerage firms can submit proposals and try to gain the business.
Alliant further disputes Willis’s complaints of harm, noting the complaint cites the loss of only one client.
To the extent Willis suffers any harm, its remedy can be in monetary damages, not injunctions, argues Alliant. “It is well settled that alleged harms are not irreparable if they are fully compensable by money damages,” its response states.
Alliant further claims that WTW’s employment agreements are vague and overly broad and restrictive.
According to Willis, Alliant’s recent “raid” on its Public Entity and Education Practice “is not an accident, but is in fact Alliant’s modus operandi and business plan.”
The complaint alleges that Alliant has deployed “the same playbook” against it and other insurance brokers in the past, resulting in Alliant and former employees being sued and enjoined.
Less than three weeks ago, regarding WTW SE’s Health and Benefits Practice in Knoxville, both Alliant and two individuals were enjoined by the Chancery Court for Knox County, Tennessee.
The complaint says WTW SE and other insurance brokers have “successfully enjoined both former employees and Alliant from carrying out this unlawful conduct. WTW cites similar cases against Alliant by Arthur J. Gallagher in 2020 and Lockton in 2019.
*This story ran previously in our sister publication Insurance Journal.