Fake Glassdoor Posts by U.K. Executive Claimed in Suit by Rival
A top HKA executive, Toby Hunt, posed as a Secretariat employee in July to wage “a fraudulent misinformation campaign” online, according to the defamation suit filed Monday in Los Angeles. The website posts were intended to sabotage the U.S. firm’s business and bolster HKA’s prospects while HKA’s parent company, Bridgepoint Advisers Ltd., was preparing to sell it, Secretariat said.
In one post on Glassdoor, where anonymous employees write reviews and share information about companies, Hunt claimed to be a longtime Secretariat employee in London concerned “about the ‘ethics’ and ‘greed’ of Secretariat” and that the company’s “reputation had been deteriorating as a result of a recent judicial decision,” the lawsuit alleges. Hunt is HKA’s chief business development officer and head of Europe.
“Hunt and others at HKA used public social media posts to try to create concern among Secretariat’s employees and clients about the firm’s integrity and ethics, and then tried to leverage that concern to lure Secretariat employees to HKA,” said Joseph M. Terry, an attorney for Secretariat.
HKA, in a statement Tuesday, called Secretariat’s claims “baseless and entirely without merit. We intend to respond robustly and present all the relevant facts to the Court.”
HKA declined to make Hunt available for comment. “We believe the comments were made by a lone HKA employee online and are being investigated,” a company spokesperson said in a statement.
Secretariat is seeking unspecified damages, claiming defamation, computer fraud and abuse, unfair competition and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.
The judicial decision referred to in the website posts, including at least 57 mentions on Hunt’s LinkedIn account, occurred earlier this year and involved arbitrations related to a construction project, according to the lawsuit. The U.K. appeals court found a conflict of interest when Secretariat provided expert witness services to the employer in one case and then to a client opposing the same employer in a separate case.
In the posts by Hunt, he claimed the ruling raised concerns about Secretariat and its chief executive officer, the filing alleges. Hunt then reached out to people in the industry via LinkedIn and other means to guide current and prospective Secretariat experts to look into the U.K. case, according to the filing.
Hunt “took aim at Secretariat’s reputation by papering the internet with insults, innuendo, and insinuations about Secretariat’s integrity,” the firm’s lawyers said.
The case is Secretariat v. HKA Global, 21-cv-02117, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles)
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