A group of employees originally with the U.S. architecture firm Hillier Architecture, which merged with Edinburgh, Scotland-based RMJM in 2007, is suing the parent company to reclaim $664,000 of a promised $1.5 million cash bonus that the group says RMJM has failed to pay. The lawsuit, filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, alleges that RMJM, one of the world's largest architecture firms, reneged on the payout stipulated in the $24 million merger while at the same time "siphoning off corporate funds" of up to $8 million, stripping the U.S. firm's assets and closing its Philadelphia office. The plaintiffs, including up to a dozen former principals—most of whom have left the firm—are not seeking financial compensation beyond the $644,000. "The agreement was that if they stayed around they would get a retention bonus, and they did stay around, but they only got half their money," says J. Robert Hillier, FAIA, founding principal of Hillier Architecture, who has left the merged firm and runs his own eponymous practice in Princeton, N.J., but is named as plaintiff in the suit because he remains the shareholder representative.
RMJM spokesman Alex Barr told ARCHITECT in an e-mail that the final $644,000 payment would be made "in the near future" and that the matter will be resolved "to everyone's satisfaction." Barr refuted charges of asset-stripping by RMJM director Sir Fraser Morrison and his son, chief executive Peter Morrison, detailed in the lawsuit, describing such allegations as "outrageous and completely and utterly untrue." In fact, Barr added, the direct opposite has been the case, "as millions of dollars have been injected into the U.S. business since the beginning of the recession."
The 2007 merger created a global company of nearly 1,200 staff in seven countries, but by 2010, RMJM Hillier's Philadelphia office had been shuttered, and, according to the lawsuit, the Scottish firm also wants to cease "most or all" operations in the Princeton, N.J., office. (There is also a New York City office.) Last year, several top executives at RMJM departed amid media reports of staff disaffection and financial troubles. Barr has been quoted as saying that the firm had a strong 2010, with billings more than doubling over 2009, to £95 million ($148 million).