GFI wins Singapore court case over broker seeking to move to rival Tullett Prebon

SINGAPORE (Bloomberg) - GFI Group Inc. defeated a Singapore lawsuit by a former broker who sued over a six-month non-compete clause that prevented her from moving immediately to a rival in a similar role.

"GFI is happy with the outcome and satisfied that their employment contracts are industry standard and enforceable," John Darby, GFI's head of legal and compliance for Asia Pacific, said Tuesday.

The Singapore High Court dismissed Mahina Phua Woon's lawsuit in which she sought a declaration that the non-compete clause was void. She left New York-based GFI's Asian interest rate swaps desk in Singapore on Jan. 2 and was scheduled to start with Tullett Prebon on Jan. 5. Phua's lawyer Pradeep Pillai declined to comment on the ruling, which was filed last week.

Lawsuits involving interdealer-brokers and staff moves are common in the industry where salespeople are hired away with sign-on bonuses in the expectation they'll bring clients along. BGC Partners, attempting a hostile takeover of GFI to create the world's biggest interdealer broker, agreed in January to a US$100 million settlement with Tullett Prebon over poaching claims.

Phua was a highly valued employee who had strong ties with her clients and it was "entirely possible" she would bring them to Tullett Prebon, Darby said in court papers. Brokers remaining on the GFI desk could suffer from a "destabilizing effect" and be vulnerable to poaching attempts, he said.

Phua, who was paid an annual base salary of $216,000 at GFI, had also worked for Tradition Group and BGC Group.

The lawsuit's "outcome will have a huge impact on my ability to make a living," Phua had said in court papers.