University of Windsor faces $24M lawsuit by recruiting firm

A company hired by the University of Windsor to recruit international students is suing the school for $24.1 million.

Higher-Edge claims school secretly stole employees, started competing company, costing business millions

University of Windsor president Alan Wildeman is one of the defendants named by Higher-Edge. (University of Windsor)

A company hired by the University of Windsor to recruit international students is suing the school for $24.1 million, CBC Windsor was first to report.

Higher-Edge, which runs the Canadian University Application Centre, alleges the University of Windsor stole its employees, started a competing recruitment company and recruited students to the university — all contrary to a contract between the two, the company says.

Higher-Edge claims the school has cost the company millions of dollars in lost revenue.

The company says the University of Windsor had contracted High-Edge to recruit international students for the last 15 years. The most recent contract was signed in 2008 and was to expire in September 2013.

Documents on the school’s website confirm the school had a lengthy working relationship with Higher-Edge.

In a statement of claim filed in Toronto and obtained by CBC Windsor, Higher-Edge says it has recruited approximately 6,300 degree students to the university, resulting in an estimated $400 million in revenue for the school during its business relationship with the University of Windsor.

The company alleges school staff “solicited and conspired with Higher-Edge’s personnel to divert business away from Higher-Edge and to set up a competing business,” prior to the expiration of the most recent contract.

“The University breached the exclusivity term of the Contract by engaging in its own recruiting activities prior to the expiration of the Contract,” Higher-Edge alleges in the claim.

“Windsor committed to us, in writing, they would not work with any one of our staff members for the balance of the contract and one year after that,” Higher-Edge owner Mel Broitman first told CBC Windsor Morning host Tony Doucette. “They secretly went ahead and worked with our staff. They damaged our business, almost irreparably, by taking away staff in our key offices, working with them under a Windsor banner, and all in secret.”

President Wildeman among defendants

The list of defendants includes the University of Windsor, school president Alan Wildeman, provost and vice president Leo Groarke, vice provost and dean of international students Clayton Smith, professor Majid Ahmadi and associate vice provost Ramaswami Balachandar.

Broitman said the relationship between his company and the school had previously been “tremendous.” But Broitman said the relationship “soured” when there was a “regime change” and Wildeman became president in 2008.

Broitman claims the school created “a knockoff” company to compete against Higher-Edge.

“Higher-Edge has learned that the University directed Higher-Edge’s own personnel to create their own student recruitment company to recruit for the University; approved the newly incorporated company as an agent of the University for student recruitment in India; and engaged with the incorporated company to recruit students for the University, all prior to the expiry of the Contract,” the statement of claim reads.

“In the nature of our contract, it was illegal,” Broitman said. “They should have moved on, found other partners and had nothing to do with our business.”

Instead, Higher-Edge claims defendant Majid Ahmadi, a University Professor in the Electrical Engineering Department of the University and Director of the Master of Engineering Program, tried to persuade Higher-Edge employees to start their own corporation.

The claim contains an email Higher-Edge alleges was written by Ahmadi and sent to the company’s Punjab manager, Amrita Mangat, in India:

Dear Amrita

I met we [sic] Vice president [Leo Groarke] yesterday. Clayton [Smith] and Ram [Balachandar] both were present. VP instructed Clayton that if you apply as an agent you will have the job. Also he mentioned to him if this leaks out he will get tough on whoever leaks it. We have all sworne [sic] to secrecy of the case. After the meeting he assured me that he never contacted Dani and he will never let HE [Higher-Edge] knows [sic] of this arrangement.

Best regards.

Majid Ahmadi

Higher-Edge alleges “Ahmadi also conspired with Ms. Mangat and Ms. [Shraddha] Aswal [Higher-Edge’s Ahmedabad Manager] to incorporate an Ontario corporation called Education Canada Services through which Ms. Mangat, Ms. Aswal and their family members would conduct international student recruiting directly for the University.”

Higher-Edge was already using the names “Canadian University Application Centre” and “CUAC” and the domain name “canada123” in association with its international recruiting services.

Company says school used its personnel, offices, email

The company claims the university “persisted in its unlawful conduct” and used “Higher-Edge’s personnel, offices, email addresses and goodwill” to recruit students.

Broitman declined to say how much the University of Windsor paid his company.

“But the university paid us a fee for the students we brought. The fee was based on the success we had,” Broitman said.

According to its website, the company also recruits for Algoma University, Bishop’s University, St. Mary’s University and St. Thomas University.

The company is seeking $23.1 million in restitution and $1 in punitive and exemplary damages.

“We have been harmed dramatically. We have lost business. We had to close three offices in India,” Broitman said.

None of the allegations has been proven in court.

In a statement emailed to CBC Windsor, the university said that it informed Higher Edge that it was not going to renew the contract, "but instead would embark upon a new non-exclusive model for international student student recruitment."

"This decision was made following a careful assessment of external markets and best practices of other comparable universities," spokesperson Holly Ward wrote in an email.

"The University is preparing its statement of defence, which will vigorously deny Higher Edge’s claims and defend against the unwarranted personal attacks made toward the University of Windsor President and other university employees," Ward added.