Old Oaks CC, Elmwood CC Face Off in Legal Battle

By | April 4th, 2018

A lawsuit filed March 30 accuses Old Oaks CC in Purchase, N.Y., of bringing financial ruin to the now-shuttered Elmwood CC by luring away General Manager Iwona Sterk “because of the inherent value of her local country club circuit rolodex.” A separate lawsuit filed in March 2017 claims Sterk and her husband stole silverware, glasses, food, tables, chairs and even curtains from Elmwood CC for their own restaurant.

Old Oaks Country Club in Purchase, N.Y., and the defunct Elmwood Country Club are teeing off in court, engaged in a legal battle laced with claims of broken promises, and even stolen cutlery, curtains and clients, the Westchester, N.Y., Journal News reported.

At the heart of the debate is Iwona Sterk, a veteran country club insider who Elmwood’s owners claim was stolen away by Old Oaks in an under-handed ploy. Sterk’s lawyers claim she left on her own because Elmwood’s financial demise was inevitable, and ultimately forced the club to close its doors at the end of September, the Journal News reported.

The feud has prompted two lawsuits, the latest filed March 30 accusing Old Oaks of bringing financial ruin to Elmwood by luring Sterk away “because of the inherent value of her local country club circuit rolodex,” the Journal News reported. 

“During this time, and at the direction of her new employer, Sterk reported for duty at Elmwood’s facilities while actively working for defendant Old Oaks by soliciting Elmwood’s clients, taking meetings on Old Oaks’ behalf, and working on several other projects,” Elmwood’s lawyers claimed.

Elmwood’s new suit names Old Oaks and Charles Dorn, a corporate headhunter accused of stealing Sterk away from Elmwood “through an unsolicited telephone call,” the Journal News reported.

Dorn declined to comment because he said he had not seen the lawsuit, and officials at Old Oaks did not return the Journal News’ calls for comment. 

Daniel Szalkiewicz, an attorney for Elmwood, declined comment, as well. ”I think the court papers pretty much speak for themselves,” he said.

The first lawsuit in the legal scrum was filed by Elmwood in March 2017, naming Sterk, her husband, Harald Sterk, as well as the couple’s company, Hariwo Corp., which runs Black Forest Mill, their restaurant in Orange County. The suit claims the Sterks stole silverware, glasses, food, tables, chairs and even curtains for their own restaurant, the Journal News reported.

They’re also accused of talking to customers who had booked events at Elmwood to change venues to Old Oaks, and even cheated Elmwood by underpaying for Sterk family events that included a wedding and a bar mitzvah, the Journal News reported. 

After Iwona Sterk gave notice in December 2016, Elmwood officials charged that, “rather than abide by the terms of the agreement, even before January, defendant began immediately disparaging the club to members and non-members, grossly mischaracterizing the financial state of the club in order to steal booked events.”

Jonathan Sack, the Sterk’s attorney, called the claims “absurd” in an email Monday. In court papers, Sack said the allegations were “utter nonsense.” He said Sterk paid for every item she took from Elmwood with the club’s consent, including items she purchased when they were auctioned off, the Journal News reported.

“Sifting through nearly 50,000 documents Elmwood produced in this matter, it is undisputed that Elmwood has absolutely no evidence to support the offensive and baseless allegations it has asserted and wasted this court’s time with,” Sack said.

Iwona Sterk was hired by Elmwood Country Club in 2000, and worked in various capacities until rising to Director of Promotions and Marketing in 2016. On March 19, 2016, she signed a two-year contract to serve as Elmwood’s General Manager, a deal that would pay her a total of $345,000 over that time, the Journal News reported. 

Within three months, Elmwood alleges she was meeting with Dorn, the corporate headhunter, and members of the Old Oaks board of directors. Dorn had a total of three meetings with Sterk before offering her a job with Old Oaks. The deal offered her $70,000 more in base salary, and fringe benefits that included a $30,000 spending account, the Journal News reported. 

The club claims Sterk was asked to bring Elmwood’s calendar to one of the meetings with Old Oaks, and accuses her of luring clients to Old Oaks. For instance, in late 2016, an April 8, 2017 bar mitzvah and a July 8, 2017 wedding scheduled for Elmwood were both canceled and relocated to Old Oaks, the Journal News reported. 

Elmwood’s court filings also include statements from employees, who claimed Sterk and her husband repeatedly stole supplies from Elmwood for their restaurant. Cases of liquor were placed in her car “candidly away from any cameras,” one document claims. “This situation has transpired very often, at times weekly,” the Journal News reported.

“Trays of prepared food and deserts such as cookies have been removed from the kitchen almost daily,” another employee wrote. Yet another employee claimed to have witnessed Sterk taking silverware, plates and glasses, and another said it was routine for Sterk to pocket tips left for staffers following catered events at the Elmwood, the Journal News reported.

According to Szalkiewicz, the Elmwood attorney, Sterk officially left the club on January 1, 2017, “and begins stealing Elmwood Country Club employees and events,” the Journal News reported.

Founded in 1952, Elmwood Country Club covered nearly 120 acres along Dobbs Ferry Road, including a golf course and a catering facility. Like other country clubs, Elmwood struggled in recent years to maintain membership and draw catering clients. In June 2017 the club, which had been up for sale for several months, announced it would lay off 76 workers by September 30, the Journal News reported. 

In August, the club was sold to Ridgewood Real Estate Partners, a New Jersey-based developer for $13 million, the Journal News reported. 

Sack called it “silly” to blame his client for the club’s demise, and said the claims were “rife with salacious and baseless allegations, and outright lies,” he said. ”This is the most preposterous lawsuit I’ve ever seen. The defunct country club Elmwood, chose to go out of business and sold its land for millions. How is my client somehow to blame for this voluntary, positive and desired outcome?”

Sack said Sterk was told that Elmwood would close and she would lose her job, and said it was a member of the Elmwood board that recommended her to Old Oaks, not Dorn, the corporate headhunter. He said that Elmwood customers did cancel events at the club, but maintained it was “because they learned of the harsh reality of Elmwood’s financial difficulties,” the Journal News reported.

The earlier lawsuit against Sterk, filled one year ago, is still pending, the Journal News reported.

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