Architect Migration Gets Ugly

The sports architectural firm of Ellerbe Becket recently filed a lawsuit against HOK Sport + Venue + Event after seeing five of its principal architects move to HOK.

Ellerbe Becket is suing because HOK “knowingly and intentionally attempted to cripple Ellerbe Becket’s sport architecture business,” according to the suit. It was filed in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Mo., March 16th, according to Kansas City’s Business Journal, and names the five former employees as well as HOK.

The architects are being sued for violating “fair dealing agreements” by leaving, and Ellerbe Becket is seeking an injunction against HOK to keep the company from soliciting employees from EB for a period of time.

The two companies are partnering on designing Kansas City’s new Sprint Center and allegedly had a “handshake agreement” to not hire away architects.

The defecting architects are expected to begin working at HOK’s Nashville office April 1st. HOK said in a statement that it hired the Ellerbe Becket architects after a national search that took several months.

At first, the migration was played down by Ellerbe Becket, considered one of the top sports architectural firms in the U.S.

“The bottom line is it’s a new day, a new opportunity,” the company’s national director of sports, Bill Crockett, told the Business Journal. “There are going to be new opportunities to craft some new positions for some people, and we may have to add some staff.”

Crockett added that the company does not plan to replace the five principal architects “person to person.” There are 30 architects remaining in the Kansas City office.

In related news, the entire structural engineering staff at Ellerbe’s Kansas City office recently resigned and will join the Kansas City office of structural engineering firm Thornton-Tomasetti Group, according to the Journal.