Rocha’s company, Coco Rocha Co., along with other members of model agency Nomad Mgmt, the company Rocha helped create two years ago, are being sued by Federico Pignatelli, founder and owner of rival model agency the Industry Model Mgmt.
Pignatelli claims Giovanni Bernardi, another founder of Nomad, stole trade secrets and other valuable information from Industry. This week a Los Angeles judge ruled that the lawsuit alleging misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract and unfair competition, would proceed.
“It is clear that Bernardi only took the position at Industry to obtain trade secrets, confidential information, employees and resources for his own venture,” the court documents state.
Pignatelli, who is also the founder and owner of Pier59 Studios, the photography studio and fashion event space located in New York that owns Industry, said Bernardi took the client lists of both businesses. “[It’s] probably the largest client lists in the country, because we have all the top, top clients in the fashion business and advertising business, and so on and so forth. It is extremely valuable,” Pignatelli said.
Bernardi was hired by Industry in March 2017 as executive vice president of business development, after having worked as executive vice president of Wilhelmina Models International. Part of his job was to find and develop relationships with new talent. His contract included a confidentiality agreement, prohibiting him from working with other agencies or divulging secrets. Bernardi’s rent in Los Angeles was also paid for by Industry as part of his compensation.
According to court documents, Bernardi used Industry’s funds for personal expenses, including airfare for himself and his boyfriend. Bernardi “demanded” access to certain information during his tenure with Industry, Pignatelli said, such as pricing methods, client lists, information about models and content providers.
Bernardi resigned from his post at Industry just six months after starting. At the time, he said he was leaving to “return to his ‘roots’ in Canada and ‘create my own future’ in talent management,” the court documents state.
A few days after he left, Pignatelli realized Bernardi had downloaded company files to his own computer, including model earnings, copies of client sales and lists of client and company contacts, information he took to start his own business, according to allegations in the suit. Bernardi is currently president of Nomad Los Angeles.
“The fact is they caused damages,” Pignatelli said. “The whole thing was concerted. I’m very sure about that. It was done, planned, along with his partners. This is not something that he did without the other partners knowing.”
Nomad tried to countersue Industry, but a judge threw the case out of court. Nomad and the Coco Rocha Co. were also ordered to pay legal fees in the amount of $7,377.50.
“Industry apparently has a low bar for what it deems newsworthy,” Damian Capozzola, the lawyer representing Nomad, said in an e-mail to WWD. “We believe Industry mischaracterizes both the substance and importance of the recent orders. I am particularly puzzled why Industry would put out a press release announcing that it survived summary judgment, meaning that its case was not simply thrown out before trial for a complete lack of supporting evidence. In any event, we look forward to trying the case on the merits and we are confident of victory at trial.”
But Pignatelli said he is glad the legal system is working.
“[Bernardi] definitely went on with malintent,” Pignatelli said. “He was supposed to be a professional individual in the business and he really acted way below my lowest expectations.”