Elite Model Management Accused of "Conspiracy," "Sabotage" in Lawsuit From Competitor

Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic
Former Men Women N.Y. Model Management client Behati Prinsloo and husband Adam Levine at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar party

Elite allegedly poached 16 managers and 55 models (including Behati Prinsloo Levine), costing Women Management $22 million annually.

A top modeling management company is suing another over a mass “conspiracy” to poach managers and models.

Men Women N.Y. Model Management is suing several of its former employees and Elite Model Management for breach of contract for allegedly launching a “conspiracy designed to destroy” the agency “by unlawfully raiding its employees and models,” according to a complaint filed Tuesday in New York state court. 

It alleges that Elite has “engaged in a series of unlawful and deceitful actions aimed at stealing its rival’s business,” specifically between March and July of this year, when 16 model managers and 55 models left Women Management. The managers represented “almost all” the models at Women, which books about $22 million annually. Seven models who recently left Women — Behati Prinsloo Levine (Adam Levine's wife), Anna Ewers, Giedre Dukauskaite, Alexina Graham, Ophelie Guillermand, Alana Zimmer and Alicia Burke — already signed with Elite.

The company argues that leaving and joining Elite violates its employees’ agreements, which don’t allow them to work for a competitor for six or 12 months after leaving Women Models.

The suit claims the “mass exodus is part of a coordinated scheme to destroy Women" and that the defendants — who include former Women Management CEO Dejan Markovic — have tried to “sabotage Women from within” as models are “being illegally lured away.”

Another defendant, Sergio Leccese, allegedly changed some of the models' contracts to allow them to cut ties with Women and sign with Elite instead, just one month before Leccese left Women for Elite himself. He added a “key man clause” that allowed models to end their contract if half of Women’s managers left.

One more jab comes in the allegation that Women Management labels itself as a female empowerment agency, “driven by a vision of female empowerment and protecting models in an industry that has historically been exploitative of women.” The lawsuit says Elite is the antithesis, historically hiring men with a “sordid past," citing an instance in 2005, when Florida developer and Elite owner Eddie Trump (no relation to the president) hired John Casablancas, who had been sued in 2002 by a model for sexual misconduct when she was 15.

“Some of the older men who currently lead ENY have engaged in sexual relations with the models they represent, and otherwise condoned, facilitated, or knowingly turned a blind eye to similarly exploitative conduct,” it is alleged in court papers. “It is highly disturbing, but perhaps not surprising, that two years into the #MeToo era, a model management business like ENY exists.”

Women Management (and its parent company Elite World, which is unaffiliated with defendants) is asking the court to bar its ex-employees from working with Elite and interfering with their contractual relationships, and is seeking unspecified monetary damages. A judge granted a temporary restraining order on Tuesday.

"Their unlawful conspiracy not only jeopardizes our business — more importantly, I believe it jeopardizes the safety and well-being of the models they are luring. ... I’m standing up to Trump and his cronies because the way they treat models is shameful and goes against the respect and dignity models deserve and everyone in our industry should be fighting for," Elite World CEO Julia Haart said in a statement.

The Hollywood Reporter has reached out to Elite Model Management for comment.