A Hanover County-based property management company that’s no longer under investigation by local authorities is now suing several contractors who allege that the business owes them money.
A Hanover Sheriff’s Office spokesman said the agency has stopped studying complaints from small-business owners around the country who say Marathon Resource Management Group took advantage of them. A company lawyer says Marathon needs to defend itself against comments that have hurt the firm’s reputation.
Marathon charges that the former contractors, some of whom say they have been trying to collect on past-due payments for more than a year, broke a contract that forbids them from criticizing the company or contacting its clients to seek payment.
Business owners from across the country traveled to appear in Hanover General District Court on Monday as seven of the firm’s lawsuits wound their way toward hearing dates later this summer and fall. One case was dismissed.
Several former contractors said the business is retaliating against them for speaking out.
“I think the big companies are using little companies,” said Lisa Minor-Burnside, owner of Tuscaloosa, Ala.-based Burnside Home Improvement. “They take advantage of them and get away with getting free work and labor. At this point, we won’t be quiet.”
Founded in 1997, Marathon provides construction and property management services, including snow removal and landscaping for office buildings and apartment complexes across the U.S. and Canada.
Over the past seven years, Marathon has been the subject of more than a dozen civil lawsuits in Hanover courts alleging that the company owed money to contractors it hired. According to online court records, about half of the suits resulted in judgments totaling about $170,000 against Marathon.
Online court records show the company has filed a total of 14 lawsuits since last winter, when several complainants began organizing online and holding protests outside of Marathon’s offices. About half of the suits were filed after Marathon gained access to a Facebook group where many of the company’s former contractors commiserate and discuss how they can try to hold Marathon accountable.
Stephen Moncrieffe, Marathon’s corporate lawyer, said the Facebook page acts as an echo chamber for many people without a valid claim or who were dissatisfied with an earlier settlement.
“Every single one of those people in court today has been told ‘stop disparaging us. It’s a breach of your contract,’” Moncrieffe said in an interview after Monday’s court hearings. “We didn’t just sue them out of the blue. They all knew. They’re all fully aware of what’s going on.”
He said some of the contractors who are being sued had resorted to threats, harassing phone calls and name-calling.
Outside the courthouse Monday, Alex Calderon, an Iowa-based contractor who is being sued, carried a sign that said Marathon is treating its contractors as “slaves” by not paying them.
Minor-Burnside and Calderon said they worked to fix apartments and dormitories at universities in their respective communities on Marathon’s behalf. They said Marathon continually delayed payment for their work and is now suing them for breach of contract.
“I’m doing everything I can to destroy these people,” Calderon said of Marathon.
Moncrieffe said the tension has made court hearings in the various cases circus-like, with people attempting to create a spectacle or provoke physical retaliation.
Earlier this year, the wife of one of the contractors said she had been sexually assaulted after Moncrieffe allegedly tried to keep her from entering an elevator in a Richmond courthouse. A misdemeanor assault charge against Moncrieffe was dismissed last month.
On Monday, after a crowd of people followed Moncrieffe and Marathon President Tripp Brightwell to their cars, someone appeared to walk into Brightwell’s car as he was backing up, prompting a few people to shout assault.
A Sheriff’s Office spokesman said no complaints were filed in the incident.
Marathon is currently seeking to sell or lease its corporate office on Atlee Station Road. Moncrieffe said he isn’t sure if the decision to market the property has to do with the protests against them.
Asked whether the legal issues have created hardship for the company, Moncrieffe said: “In isolated cases they are harming the business and making it hard to recruit vendors and subcontractors.”
He added: “They are landing punches that you can feel, but they’re not in danger of knocking anybody out.”