Former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez and a founding member of Mercury Public Affairs LLC sued the company Friday, alleging Mercury is wrongfully trying to prevent them from continuing to operate their own competing firms after they left the bipartisan political strategy and consulting firm.

The Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit brought by Nunez and Kirill Goncharenko seeks a judicial determination that non-competition agreements cited by Mercury are void in whole or in part and therefore unenforceable. A Mercury representative could not be immediately reached.

The 54-year-old Nunez and Goncharenko worked for Mercury Public Affairs for many years but recently ended their employment relationships with the company and now wish to continue doing business through entities located in California and London that they commonly refer to as “Newcos,” the suit states.

While the “Newcos” conduct the same type of business as Mercury, the company previously agreed in writing that the plaintiffs could separately form, own and operate the new entities within the Mercury banner, according to the suit.

“After years of broken promises, plaintiffs terminated their respective employments with Mercury and now intend to continue conducting their business through the California and London `Newcos,”’ but under a new company name outside the Mercury orbit, the suit states.

However, Mercury “appears determined to attempt to prevent plaintiffs from earning a living in the public affairs industry” by threatening to enforce unlawful non-competition agreements to stop Nunez and Goncharenko from working in the business entirely, even if they are doing so under companies that Mercury agreed the plaintiffs could separately own and operate, the suit states.

Nunez and Goncharenko are seeking a judge’s declaration that they are not acting in violation of any agreements with Mercury. They further argue that California has “`long recognized the important public policy in prohibiting employers from enforcing provisions that restrain a person from engaging in their chosen profession.”

The restrictive agreements at issue also violate the seven-year rule embodied in the state’s Labor Code in that they indefinitely extend the term of the plaintiffs’ employment with Mercury beyond seven years, the suit states.

Mercury was co-founded in 1999 by Goncharenko and Kieran Mahoney in New York City. The firm has since been bought by Omnicom Group, a company that controls 1,500 marketing communication agencies worldwide.

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