Black & Decker Corp. failed yesterday in an attempt to have a judge throw out a $3 million lawsuit that alleges the Towson-based toolmaker's actions severely damaged a public relations firm's ability to do business.
In 1997, Black & Decker hired a former employee of Image Dynamics, a public relations firm that had handled Black & Decker for eight years. The employee, David P. Olsen of Columbia, had been head of the Black & Decker account.
Olsen signed a nonsolicitation agreement with Image Dynamics in 1995 that said he would not "solicit or perform any services for any client of [Image Dynamics] or any person, firm or corporation for whom you performed services during your period of employment at this company" within two years of leaving the public relations firm, regardless of whether he quit or was fired.
On Dec. 12, 1996, Black & Decker terminated its relationship with Image Dynamics, founded by Phyllis B. Brotman. Brotman fired Olsen because there was no longer work for him to perform. The next month, he formed the firm Market Builders and began doing work for Black & Decker.
Image Dynamics, in a suit filed in Baltimore Circuit Court in August, is seeking $1.5 million each from Black & Decker and Olsen. The firm has since merged with Gray, Kirk/VanSant, one of Baltimore's largest advertising and public relations firms. Brotman has said the merger was necessary because Black & Decker had accounted for a third of her business and she could no longer continue as an independent company.
Black & Decker lawyer John E. McCann Jr. argued yesterday that Black & Decker should be held liable only if Brotman's side can prove that Black & Decker and Olsen conspired before the toolmaker severed its relationship with Brotman. He also said the nonsolicitation agreement was not violated because Brotman had lost her client before Olsen went to work for Black & Decker.
Circuit Judge Evelyn Omega Cannon ruled yesterday that there was enough conflicting evidence to warrant a jury trial, which is set for Nov. 15.
"I'm very happy," Brotman said after the ruling, "because it was a moral and ethical decision."
McCann and Brotman's lawyer, Alan Rifkin, declined to comment on the ruling, noting a protective order that precludes either side from discussing the case.