A contract dispute between YA literary agent Brooks Sherman and his former employer, the Bent Agency, and its founder Jenny Bent, has landed in New York State court.
In a complaint first filed in New York State Supreme Court in April, Sherman claims that the agency is withholding hundreds of thousands of dollars in commissions owed him in breach of his terms of employment. But in a June reply, the Bent Agency denied that the company is in breach, and filed a counterclaim seeking to claw back monies paid to Sherman, alleging gross misconduct.
In his suit, Sherman claims that after leaving the Bent Agency in 2017 for Janklow & Nesbit, the agency, “consistent with the parties’ agreement,” paid Sherman his commissions due—"between $100,000 and $300,000 per year in each of 2017, 2018, 2019, and 2020." But in March of this year, after accusations of improper conduct by Sherman became public, the Bent Agency "repudiated" its agreement and notified Sherman that he had effectively “forfeited” his commissions.
“TBA has plainly repudiated its obligation to pay Mr. Sherman his rightfully owed commissions—valued well in excess of $1.5 million over the next decade,” the complaint states. “Moreover, TBA’s improper conduct has created additional injury to Mr. Sherman and to competition in the industry: TBA has effectively misappropriated the goodwill between Mr. Sherman and his authors, and its unfair conduct has an anticompetitive effect, by chilling authors from freely exercising their right to switch agencies. TBA’s and its principal should accordingly be held liable for breach of contract, misappropriation, unfair competition, and violation of New York Labor Law.”
Sherman is seeking more than $1.5 million in monies he claims are owed him, plus damages, and legal fees and costs.
But in an answer filed on June 21, lawyers for the Bent Agency denied Sherman is owed anything, and filed a counterclaim seeking to recover funds from Sherman. The counterclaim asserts that Sherman, "on multiple occasions, materially breached contracts governing his engagement" by the agency. TBA lawyers claim that Sherman’s alleged breaches "have cost and will continue to cost” the agency in excess of $1 million—which the agency is now seeking to recover.
“Upon information and belief, and as has recently come to light through a variety of public media postings from Sherman’s former clients and colleagues, Sherman had engaged in a pattern of grossly inappropriate, unprofessional, and entirely unacceptable behavior with certain clients,” including, the complaint alleges, “unwelcome gestures and comments of a sexual nature” to clients.
“All of the aforementioned conduct is in direct violation of Sherman’s contracts with TBA, which provide among other things that he was required to conduct himself in accordance with industry and agency standards and that any 'gross misconduct' on his part would result in his forfeiting any future commissions,” TBA lawyers state. “Had TBA been aware of Sherman’s inappropriate conduct and multiple breaches of the Agency Engagement Agreements, Sherman’s engagement with the agency would have been terminated immediately for gross misconduct.”
The Bent Agency is seeking actual and compensatory damages, "including but not limited to recoupment from Sherman of hundreds of thousands of dollars of commissions that he was no longer entitled to receive following his gross misconduct." The agency is also seeking a declaration that TBA has no obligation to pay any future commissions to Sherman.
As PW reported earlier this year, Sherman and Janklow & Nesbit parted ways in February, around the time that allegations surfaced on QueryTracker and on social media alleging misconduct and ethics breaches by Sherman. Several of Sherman's high-profile clients also severed ties with him, including Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera, and Angie Thomas.
While the complaint and the counterclaim contain some bombshell accusations, the legal matter appears to be a fairly straightforward contract case which, if it is not settled, will likely come down to how the court reads the employment agreement between Sherman and the Bent Agency, a copy of which is included in the court filings. The agreement does state that the agency is not obligated to pay “termination commissions” on contracts covered by the agreement “if such termination by the Agency is the result of...gross misconduct.” Sherman, however, was not terminated by the agency, and the allegations of misconduct came after Sherman's departure thus his departure does not appear to be “the result” of his alleged misconduct.
A pretrial "compliance" conference is set for November.