A complaint filed by Thomas Nelson against former vice-president and publisher Rolf Zettersten alleges he violated a noncompete clause by "attempting to interfere" with Nelson's relationship with authors Tommy Tenney and Ted Dekker. Zettersten, who left Nelson last July to become v-p and publisher of Time Warner Trade Publishing's Christian division, said the allegations are an attempt by Nelson to avoid healthy competition.

Nelson filed suit against Zettersten February 20 in the Chancery Court for Davidson County, Tenn., at Nashville, asking that Zettersten "immediately be restrained from violating the noncompete provisions of the employment agreement which he entered into with Thomas Nelson" in 1996. Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle has denied Nelson's request for a temporary restraining order against Zettersten; a court date was not set at press time.

Nelson alleges that Zettersten offered to pay Tenney, Nelson's author of The God Catchers (April), an advance against royalties of $500,000 to write a book for TWTP. In a memorandum, Nelson said it is in the process of negotiating an option to publish another book by Tenney. The publishing house also alleges that Zettersten made derogatory comments to an agent about Nelson signing author Ted Dekker, saying that Nelson was not committed to developing new authors.

Zettersten told PW he is surprised by the allegations, which he strongly denies, and he intends to defend the case "vigorously." "I have lived up to all my lawful obligations in a totally honorable fashion at all times and have never induced any author to break an agreement with Thomas Nelson," Zettersten said. He further maintained that Nelson "would prohibit any author who ever had an agreement with any division of Thomas Nelson from coming to me with a book proposal. This is grossly unfair, and any agent in the business would probably confirm that it is an unconscionable attempt to interfere with the ability of authors to publish their works wherever and with whomever they choose."

Eric Heyden, v-p and general counsel at Nelson, said the company filed the suit to "bring clarity" to the terms of Zettersten's employment agreement. "Our authors are our lifeblood," Heyden told PW. "Key for us is protecting our relationship with them."