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Secretariat sues competitor HKA for defamation, unfair competition, and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in relation to fake Glassdoor review allegedly posted by Toby Hunt, a C-Suite Executive at HKA
  • Mar 9, 2021
  • Latest News

Leading international expert services firm Secretariat is suing rival UK-based company HKA and its Chief Business Development Officer and Head of Europe for defamation, unfair competition, and violations of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, among other claims.

Secretariat has today filed suit in California alleging that Toby Hunt, Partner and Chief Business Development Officer & Head of Europe at HKA, and member of its Global Executive Committee, committed a number of torts by creating a fake profile on the employee review site, Glassdoor, where he posed as an employee of Secretariat and made highly damaging comments about Secretariat.  According to the claim, the fabricated review was created by Hunt as part of a wider and sustained smear campaign to intentionally damage Secretariat’s reputation and market position, at a time when Bridgepoint Advisers, the private equity house which owns HKA, was allegedly trying to sell HKA.

The fake Glassdoor review was posted in July 2020 and purported to be from a Secretariat employee based in Secretariat’s London office who had worked for the firm for three to five years. The fictional post professed that the Secretariat employee was concerned about the “ethics” and “greed” of his employer, and that Secretariat’s reputation in the industry with clients and lawyers had been deteriorating as a result of a recent court case involving Secretariat.  The post also indicated that this fictional Secretariat employee gave a “disapprove” rating to Secretariat’s Chief Executive.  The suit alleges that the post was actually written by Hunt.

The profile came to the attention of Secretariat because it stood in stark contrast to the very high employee ratings Secretariat had previously and consistently received on Glassdoor, which averaged 4.8 out of 5 and gave a 100% positive rating to its Chief Executive. A review revealed that the post linked back to an email address connected to Toby Hunt and an IP address in his hometown in England. Glassdoor subsequently removed the fraudulent post for contravening the site’s Terms of Use.           

Joseph M. Terry of Williams & Connolly, the attorney acting for Secretariat, says:
“Secretariat filed a complaint today alleging in detail how Toby Hunt on behalf of HKA resorted to fraudulent and defamatory conduct against my client in an effort to destroy its reputation, sabotage its business, and interfere with its prospective business relations. We intend to prove that this was done with the goal of damaging Secretariat and improving HKA’s own competitive position, as its corporate parent, Bridgepoint Advisers, prepared to sell HKA.”

Secretariat’s complaint alleges that the Glassdoor review was part of a sustained effort by Hunt and HKA to damage Secretariat’s reputation.  Secretariat alleges that 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.  When it became clear that this campaign was not working, it is claimed that Hunt tried a new tactic:  posing as a Secretariat employee on Glassdoor to give credence to the rumours and attacks he was spreading.  Secretariat also alleges that Hunt and HKA, having orchestrated this campaign to damage Secretariat, sought to poach Secretariat employees.            

Joseph M. Terry, concludes:                                                                                               
“As the Complaint alleges, the smear campaign orchestrated by Toby Hunt is rich in hypocrisy:  Hunt’s defamatory and fraudulent conduct demonstrates the very ‘greed’ and ‘lack of ethics’ of which he accused our client.  Hunt shockingly remains listed as an active Global Executive Committee member and high-ranking officer of HKA.”