Interpublic Group and its Foote Cone & Belding network have launched legal action against Omnicom, DDB Worldwide and former FCB Chicago president Brian Williams over the circumstances surrounding the shift of $170 million of PepsiCo duties last month.

Filed on Monday at Cook County Circuit Court, the suit accuses the trio of manifold misdeeds, among them breach of contract and fiduciary duties, and wrongful intrusion into business relations.

PepsiCo moved a number of accounts, among them Quaker Oats, from FCB to Omnicom in late September [WAMN: 24-Sep-01], consolidating its business at the ad group. Soon afterwards, Williams stepped down from FCB Chicago amid speculation he would head a new shop connected with Omnicom-owned DDB and dedicated to the Quaker account [WAMN: 01-Oct-01].

The suit argues that Williams breached his contract by naming FCB employees DDB could target to help it take over the Quaker duties. IPG is demanding an injunction to prevent the defendants “from soliciting, recruiting or hiring any of FCB Chicago’s employees.”

Williams, claim IPG and FCB, signed confidentiality and non-solicitation contracts in March 2000 and February 2001, forbidding him from working for the agency’s clients or attempting to recruit its staff for one year after his departure.

In his resignation letter of September 27, he stated he was leaving for “the opportunity to become ceo of an independent agency with the DDB/Omnicom world.” Though he admitted talking about his plans with three FCB colleagues, he added: “beyond that I have not talked to anyone at FCB or other FCB clients per the terms of my non-solicitation agreement.”

However, the suit alleges that Williams solicited a number of agency staff in concert with Omnicom and DDB, including Quaker account veterans Martin Sherrod and John Fraser.

Said FCB: “We’re disappointed it has come to this, but it is now a legal matter and we're not going to comment further.”

Williams, say sources, has not yet signed a contract with Omnicom.

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