Montreal

Quebec clarinetist awarded $350K after ex-girlfriend sabotages career opportunity

Eric Abramovitz's ex-partner hid offer to join prestigious music school, judge finds

Posted: June 15, 2018

Eric Abramovitz was studying music at McGill University when he was accepted into a prestigious music program in California in 2014. But he never received his acceptance letter. (Courtesy Eric Abramovitz)

Eric Abramovitz was on his way up when his then-girlfriend sabotaged a unique opportunity that could have propelled his career further and faster.

A gifted clarinetist who had been playing since he was seven years old, he won the Canadian Music Competition six times and performed with the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the McGill Symphony Orchestra.

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So when Abramovitz, who grew up in Quebec and was studying music at McGill University at the time, was accepted into a prestigious β€” and highly selective β€” music program in California in 2014, it could have been the opportunity of a lifetime.

Except he never received his acceptance letter, after his then-girlfriend intercepted and then deleted the email telling him he'd gotten in.

Now, an Ontario Superior Court judge has awarded Abramovitz $350,000 in damages after it found that his former partner, Jennifer Lee, had cost him a "unique opportunity" through her interference in his career as a professional musician.

In his decision, Justice D.L. Corbett described Lee's conduct as "despicable" and "morally reprehensible."

The ruling was handed down this week by default, as Lee did not participate in the court proceedings.

CBC News made several attempts to locate Lee to obtain her reaction to the ruling, but have not been able to find a way to reach her.

Contacted on Facebook, Abramovitz told CBC News he was happy with the court's decision.

"It's nice to have a court recognize and acknowledge that what happened was awful and deserving of consequences," Abramovitz said via Facebook messenger.

"Over time, I've become somewhat numb to this story, but the judge's very strong reaction made me remember that this is really a crazy thing that happened," he wrote.

Court describes what happened

According to the court's decision, Abramovitz applied in late 2013 to study at the Colburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles under one of the world's best clarinetists, Yehuda Gilad. 

Gilad only chooses two musicians among dozens of applicants to the highly selective program every year, Justice Corbett said in his judgment.

After an intensive, pre-screening process, Abramovitz auditioned for Gilad in California in February 2014, and was told he could expect a decision by April 1.

Lee, who was also studying music at McGill and had access to Abramovitz's computer and passwords, intercepted his acceptance letter when it came via email in late March, Corbett wrote.

He had won a spot in the program and a full scholarship to study at the school, which the judge estimated was worth about $50,000 US a year.

Fearing he would leave Montreal and end their relationship, Lee impersonated Abramovitz and declined the offer in an email back to Colburn.

She then created a fake email account β€” giladyehuda09@gmail.com β€”and sent Abramovitz an email, purporting to be Gilad, and telling him he hadn't been accepted after all.

In that email, Lee, still pretending to be Gilad, then offered Abramovitz a $5,000 US scholarship to study at the University of Southern California (USC), knowing he would not be able to afford the $51,000 US annual tuition and other living expenses, the judge wrote.

Abramovitz was completely taken in by this deception. -D.L. Corbett, Ontario Supreme Court justice 

"Ms. Lee knew about Mr. Abramovitz's financial circumstances and that he would not be able to accept the fake offer she had created for a position at USC. Abramovitz was completely taken in by this deception. He believed that he had failed to win a place at Colburn," Corbett wrote.

"This was despicable conduct by Ms. Lee," the justice continued.

An 'unthinkable, immoral act'

Believing he had been rejected, Abramovitz completed his bachelor's degree at McGill.

He then went on to attend a two-year, graduate certificate program in music performance at USC, where he received some limited instruction from Gilad.

Earlier this year, he joined the Nashville Symphony Orchestra.

In an affidavit to the court, Gilad said Abramovitz would have completed his degree sooner, had he been made aware of his acceptance into the Colburn program in 2014.

Abramovitz also would have benefited from more direct learning opportunities with him had he been a member of Colburn's orchestra, where he is the conductor, Gilad wrote.

He described what happened to Abramovitz as an "unthinkable, immoral act."

"I am very frustrated that a highly talented musician like Eric was the victim of such an unthinkable, immoral act that delayed his progress and advancement as an up-and-coming young musician and delayed his embarking on a most promising career," Gilad wrote in his affidavit.

With files from CBC's Jaela Bernstien