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Image: Wilhelmina

Two New York modeling agencies are at war over high-level staffers and big-name models. According to a lawsuit filed late last week by Wilhelmina Models, Donat Barrault – the director of Wilhelmina’s “flagship” Image division – breached his employment contract by abruptly quitting earlier this month to join rival Supreme Model Management and allegedly prompting four agents that worked under him to do the same as part of a “brazen [and] coordinated plot to damage Wilhelmina’s reputation and steal [its] clients.”

Wilhelmina asserts in its complaint that “in the past week,” Barrault and four agents, including Taylor Warren, Kristen Bolt, Josh Bostwick, and Lisa Forsberg, “resigned en masse without advance notice and immediately began soliciting Wilhelmina’s model management clients, in flagrant violation of multiple provisions of their employment contracts.” With the exception of Mr. Bostwick, who resigned on May 17, all of theresignations were, the agency claims, “tendered within five minutes of each other the morning of Monday May 20, 2019.”

These resignations, as first reported by the New York Post, were swiftly followed by reports from “multiple models with exclusive management agreements [with Wilhelmina]” that they have been “solicited by these agents” even though all of the agents had formally agreed “in written employment agreements to refrain from soliciting Wilhelmina’s employees and talent” in the event of them leaving the company.

While such restrictive contract provisions, namely, non-compete agreements – which which place limits on the types of work an individual may accept for a certain period of time upon departing from a company – are often frowned upon for being overly restrictive and largely unnecessary, Wilhelmina argues that they are, in fact, necessary, particularly in connection with the model management business.

To be exact, the agency asserts that the loss of the Barrault and the agents without any warning and in lieu of them observing the non-compete and non-solicitation provisions is especially harmful, Wilhelmina claims, as “Barrault and the other four agents were key agents for a number of models who depended on him for guidance, support, and booking services. Left without the guidance of their key agent these models may feel adrift, and may be inclined to breach their exclusive management agreements with Wilhelmina.”

More than that, the modeling agency says that it is now “deprived of the goodwill that [the defendants] had developed with [its] models,” which takes “at least a year of time to develop a relationship with their main booker or agent, [as] such trust does not happen overnight.” 

The complaint further states that “directors and agents’ relationships with talent are quite strong, and rogue agents often wield their influence with talent as a weapon against their former agency, as is apparently being done here.

“As a result of defendants’ deceitful and malicious acts,” Wilhelmina has set forth an array of charges, including breach of contract, tortious interference, and misappropriation of confidential information, and says that it “has suffered grievous harm” for which it is seeking upwards of $15 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

*The case is Wilhelmina International Ltd., v. Supreme Model Management, LLC, d/b/a Supreme Management, Donat Barrault, Taylor Warren, Kristen Bolt, Josh Bostwick, Lisa Forsberg, et al.,  653109/2019 (NY Sup.).