Last week Mortgage Strategy reported the dispute between Home of Choice and Zurich had been settled out of court.The companies released a joint statement that read: “Legal proceedings between Openwork and Zurich against Home of Choice, Richard Coulson and Gerry O’Brien have been settled on commercial terms.” Both Coulson and O’Brien had been due to face their former employer Zurich in the High Court of Justice over allegations that Coulson, a former Zurich Mortgage Network director, was still in the employment of Zurich while he was promoting his network Home of Choice. So, this week Mortgage Strategy asks: “Was Zurich’s court action against HoC a waste of time and money?”
Jonathan Cornell, Hamptons International Mortgages – Although a contract stipulates what employees can and can’t do, if it becomes clear they have transgressed it and the employer wishes to take action, the costs and time involved make it hard to see what the firm gets out of it. Christopher May, The Mortgage Times Group – If an employee is deemed by the employer to be in breach of their contract then it’s only right for them to take court action. This is obviously what Zurich felt in regard to Home of Choice. The outcome in this case is that we don’t actually now know who was right and who was wrong but I hope both parties can put this sour case behind them and concentrate on their propositions. Richard Griffiths, Network Data – Employer-employee relationships always start out with the best of intentions. On his appointment to the Zurich Mortgage Network in November 2003, Coulson was quoted as saying, “I can see no reason why I will not end my career here.” Well, he found a reason to leave, and at that point there is a duty of care to his employer. I do not know the specifics of the Zurich/Coulson situation, but I do subscribe to the saying that there is no smoke without fire. Zurich felt aggrieved enough to initiate the court action and take out an injunction. Draw your own conclusions. James Rodea, Cluttons – This is a tricky one. If a contract is entered into in good faith then it should be kept, and you shouldn’t try to take clients away from a company that is paying you. However, I am against employers enforcing parts of contracts and making employees stick around just because they can. They should just cut the ties, say, “Thanks, you were great,” and let them be on their way. Jonathan Burridge, Quantum – When influential senior staff exit any organisation it is similar to ending an emotional relationship – in circumstances where the reasons for the break up are not clear cut or there are fights over belongings, it can make the separation acrimonious. While the details of the settlement in this case are confidential, it seems that one of the parties realised the futility of chasing the other around the courtroom and throwing plates at them, which truly would have been a waste of money. David Copland, Pink Home Loans – I am sure this case was worth it for the lawyers involved. But seriously, both parties had their points of view and business interests to protect. I’m sure there have been things to learn for both Coulson and Zurich during this process. Sally Laker, Mortgage Intelligence – Where someone is genuinely aggrieved – whether it is a person or a company or employer – they have a right to take whatever action is appropriate. No doubt Zurich would have taken advice both commercially and legally, as this type of action would only be taken after much consideration.