Dan Abrams' Mediaite Sues Sharon Waxman's TheWrap Over Poaching of Editor

Dan Abrams - Southside With You Screening - Getty - H - 2016
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At TheWrap, media reporter Jon Levine is often focused on other people's problems, but Levine's hiring last month by Sharon Waxman's news outlet has set off litigation of its own kind. On Friday, Mediaite filed a lawsuit in New York against TheWrap alleging tortious interference.

Mediaite is an online news site founded by ABC News' chief legal analyst Dan Abrams.

According to the complaint, Levine began working at Mediaite this past February as an at-will employee. That allegedly changed in July, when in exchange for an eight percent raise and a guarantee he could only be fired for cause, Levine signed a new agreement that included a non-compete clause.

Just two months later, states the complaint, "Mr. Levine informed Colby Hall, Managing Editor of Mediaite, that Defendant had approached him (unsolicited) about a job at the TheWrap and offered a higher salary. To the best of Mediaite's knowledge, Defendant was well aware of Mr. Levine's Contract when making its offer and wrongfully advised Mr. Levine not to be concerned with the obligations of that Contract."

Mediaite says TheWrap has a "history of poaching Mediaite's employees and co-opting its ideas and intellectual property," citing the poaching of reporters James Crugnale and Jordan Chariton as well as the introduction of a "PowerGrid" a feature which offers a hierarchy of those in the entertainment and media industry.

In September, Abrams met with Levine, according to the complaint, and informed him that accepting TheWrap's offer would be a violation of his contract. Abrams also says he offered Levine a small salary increase.

It didn't work. Levine took a job at TheWrap

Mediaite says it then "had no choice but to inform his future employer who had induced such a breach."

Waxman was emailed, according to the complaint, and even given the option of buying out Levine's contract. With no response, Mediaite then went to The Maveron Group, an investor in TheWrap, but got no response there either.

"On October 2nd, 2017, Mr. Levine began his employment with TheWrap," states the complaint. "Since working for Defendant, Mr. Levine has regularly posted articles for TheWrap.com that are nearly indistinguishable from Mediaite's. Mr. Levine's articles are made to look as if they are posted earlier than Mediaite's when in fact, they are posted hours after Mediaite's. For example, Mediaite published a story about Lorne Michaels and Harvey Weinstein using a clip from Morning Joe on October 10th, 2017 at 8.35 a.m. ET. At 9:57 a.m. ET, Mr. Levine, based out of New York, posted an article for TheWrap with a nearly identical headline with the exact same video clip. Even though Mr. Levine was on Eastern Time, Defendant used a 6:57 a.m. timestamp (without any indication of whether it was Eastern or Pacific time). This misleads readers, other news outlets, and search engines as to who posted about this story first."

In the complaint, Mediaite says it is not looking to punish Levine for accepting a higher paying position, but "rather just to recoup the costs and damages associated with this breach of contract induced by Defendant and to prevent it from happening again."

The lawsuit comes almost exactly a year after Penske Media, the owner of Deadline Hollywood, threatened to sue Mediaite over the then-hiring of Nikki Finke. It also comes after New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman came to an agreement with Law360 after the legal news publisher forced many of its reporters to abide by non-compete agreements.