Consultancy sues rival for alleged smear campaign on Glassdoor

10 March 2021 4 min. read
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Consulting firm Secretariat has filed a defamation suit against competing firm HKA in the US court system. Among the allegations, the complaint alleges that the UK based defendant published a fabricated review of Secretariat on careers platform Glassdoor. 

Amid the crowded consulting market, the differentiators between rivals can make a crucial difference in attaining the right talent. As a result, employment platforms like Glassdoor can provide a key way for firms to attract new employees in a tight job market. The site allows job hunters to see how a firm’s staff rate it – also allowing for them to determine which firms to avoid.

Now, according to consultancy Secretariat, rival HKA has deployed fake postings on Glassdoor to make its competitor look bad.

HKA is a UK-based dispute avoidance and resolution firm, offering consulting, advisory and expert services within the construction and engineering industries. It has a presence in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, Middle East and North America. Similarly, Secretariat is a leading expert witness service provider specialising in construction delay, construction damages, government contracts, economic damages, and forensic investigations.

Consultancy sues rival for alleged smear campaign on Glassdoor

According to a legal claim filed in California, Secretariat is suing 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. The complaint alleges that a member of HKA’s 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. 

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 between three and five years. According to the alleged posts, 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.  

Joseph Terry of Williams & Connolly, the attorney acting for Secretariat, said, “Secretariat filed a complaint 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 further alleges that the Glassdoor review smear came as 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. 

Terry added, “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.”

In response to the allegations, meanwhile, a spokesperson for HKA stated, “We are aware of the filing made against HKA by Secretariat. The claims are baseless and entirely without merit. We intend to respond robustly and present all the relevant facts to the Court... The comments were made by a lone HKA employee online and are subject to an investigation. They were published without HKA’s knowledge. HKA is proud of the ethical approach we take to all our work.”