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21 May 2013
The NSW Supreme Court has granted interim restraints preventing three former Willis executives from soliciting or providing services to some of the company’s clients.
The actions against Michael Griggs, Peter Matthews and Vincent Healy will be heard in August or September.
In her judgement granting an interim application against Michael Griggs and Peter Matthews, Justice Julie Ward says Willis brought the action to restrain the men from breaching restrictions in their employment contracts. Both dispute they are in breach of their contracts with Willis.
Justice Ward says both Mr Griggs and Mr Matthews, who have considerable experience in construction industry insurance, left Willis to join Perth-based national broker EBM in March.
Willis has said that at least eight clients have since transferred their business to EBM and attempts have been made to solicit at least eight more.
Justice Ward says Willis maintains that EBM had not operated in the construction risk sector and “is now seeking to establish itself as a major competitor to the Willis Group in that sector by using the client connections and information available to the defendants”.
There was some urgency in the application for restraint because June 30 is the most common renewal date for insurance policies in this class of business.
Justice Ward says Willis has special expertise in construction insurance, which accounts for more than 14% of revenue for the Australian business, according to CEO Pieter Lindhout.
Prior to leaving Willis Mr Griggs was National Manager of the group’s construction practice group and Mr Matthews was Construction Manager NSW.
Mr Griggs joined as National Manager, Construction, Marine and Specialty Risks and Mr Matthews joined EBM as NSW Manager Construction, Marine and Specialty Risks.
Willis contends they entered into confidentiality and post-employment restraint agreements, and the court last week heard arguments about whether these applied to Willis Australia and its parent company.
Willis argued that a 12-month restraint is reasonable given Mr Matthews’ and Mr Griggs’ personal connections with clients, as it would give Willis time to appoint new managers and for them to retain clients.
The restraint would apply on Mr Griggs until next February and for Mr Matthews until next March.
Counsel for Mr Matthews and Mr Griggs contended they were unlikely to get alternative employment at short notice and given their years of experience in insurance they would probably not get work in any other industry, let alone at the same remuneration.
Willis argued the men could still work at EBM or more generally in insurance.
Justice Ward says “the balance of convenience” lies not in restraining the men’s continued employment with EBM but in restraining them until the final hearing from soliciting or providing services to Willis clients, or trying to recruit Willis staff.
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