Family-based business models are time-honoured and often successful; however, mother and daughter estate agents proved to be the exception when their rivalry culminated in a ‘spiteful’ and extremely costly legal dispute involving wide-ranging accusations of breach of contract and even harassment.
The mother and founder of the lettings and property management business, aged in her 70s, had intended that her daughter would one day take over the reins. However, a catastrophic falling out between them came to a head when the younger woman complained about her meagre maternity pay.
A stream of angry letters followed and the daughter ultimately left to set up her own lettings agency in direct competition with her mother. The row became so heated that the mother had at one point made an ‘extremely nasty’ and utterly groundless complaint to police about her daughter’s business partner.
The mother had sued her daughter for around £100,000, accusing her of betraying her trust and ‘pinching’ her valuable clients. However, in dismissing that claim, the judge ruled that the daughter had in no way breached her employment contract or the fiduciary duties she owed as a director.
Lamenting the ‘unhappy family discord’ which had led to the dispute, the judge also dismissed the daughter’s harassment claim against her mother. Irritating, annoying, unattractive or unreasonable behaviour could not, by itself, amount to harassment, nor could the sort of ‘manoeuvring for commercial advantage’ which was only to be expected in the estate agency world.