Partners Steve Cohen, Christopher Leung and Adam Pollock told U.S. District Judge Robert Colville in a motion filed Wednesday that Darth Newman is attempting to rewrite his employment contract by broadly interpreting an annual bonus clause that Newman says entitles him to contingency fees from suits he worked on while employed by the firm.
"Newman seeks this windfall despite the lack of any language in the parties' agreement that plausibly supports such a one-sided outcome," the firm said. "To do so, Newman's complaint seeks to recast the bonus as a 'revenue share.'"
Newman filed the breach of contract suit with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in November, claiming that Pollock Cohen owes him between $50,000 and $60,000 in contingency fees from a multimillion-dollar suit it settled not long after he was fired. The firm removed the suit in federal court in December.
The firm's motion sought to toss the entirety of the attorney's suit, arguing that each of his claims hinges on a misreading of the word bonus. Newman's suit rebranded a common-sense interpretation of the phrase "annual bonus" to mean "revenue share" despite the fact that the term appears nowhere in his employment contract, the firm added.
"As a matter of law and good sense, Darth isn't entitled to a bonus for the year that he was fired," partner Adam Pollock said in a statement to Law360. "Nor is Darth entitled to a bonus, as he claims, for future years when he's not even working with us."
Pollock Cohen brought Newman on as a full-time employee as special counsel in Pennsylvania in April 2019. Newman's employment contract outlined a $10,000 monthly salary and a bonus structure that awarded him 10% of the first $2 million in fees the firm accumulated per year.
The firm fired Newman in March 2020, citing financial stress related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The firm said in its Wednesday motion that Newman's open-ended contractual interpretation would entitle him to fees in perpetuity, an "absurd" reading.
"If Newman were entitled to proceeds from every single case active on March 25, 2020 — just by virtue of being employed at the time — Pollock Cohen could conceivably be on the hook to pay him an annual bonus for years and years during which he is not working at the firm," the motion said.
Newman's complaint also failed to prove that he "earned" the bonus before he was fired, under Pennsylvania law's interpretation, the firm argued.
"The motion is nearly identical to the prior motion and just as meritless,' Rachel McElroy, counsel to Newman, said in a statement to Law360. "Defendants wish to change the contract they proposed and agreed to now that they are apparently in financial extremis."
Newman moved for a preliminary injunction in February, urging Judge Colville to order the firm to hold the contingency fees he is allegedly owed in escrow. The firm's allegations that he was fired due to performance issues contradict earlier assertions and are irrelevant to the dispute, Newman added at the time.
Newman is represented by Rachel McElroy of McElroy Law Firm LLC in Pittsburgh.
Pollock Cohen and its partners are represented by Marla N. Presley and Joanna M. Rodriguez of Jackson Lewis PC of Pittsburgh.
The case is Newman v. Pollock Cohen LLP et al., case number 2:20-cv-01973, in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
--Editing by Jill Coffey.
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