NEW YORK, May 24 (Reuters) - Direct-to-consumer energy retailer Ambit Energy LP was hit Monday with a lawsuit seeking more than $1 billion for allegedly defrauding and harassing an independent consultant it had signed up to recruit new customers.
The suit, filed in Brooklyn federal court, accuses the Texas-based company of federal racketeering, fraud and unfair business practices. The plaintiffs, Nicole Gubin and her company, BH Seven LLC, also brought claims of libel, defamation and harassment.
Ambit buys electricity and natural gas at wholesale prices and resells it to customers recruited by a network of more than 60,000 independent agents such as Gubin. The company operates in New York, Texas and several other states with deregulated energy markets.
The lawsuit characterizes Ambit as "operating as a pyramid scheme which makes false and misleading statements that constitute deceptive acts or practices."
The suit also accuses Ambit's top executives of spreading false statements about Gubin's job performance, poaching her customers and discriminating against her for being Jewish and a woman.
The plaintiffs seek $600 million in compensatory damages, $250 million in punitive damages, $250 million in liquidated damages and $13 million in attorneys' fees and costs. They also requested a permanent injunction enjoining Ambit from doing business in New York.
A representative for Ambit, Robin Stevens, said the company had not had a chance to review the allegations made by Gubin, who is still listed as one of the company's active consultants.
But Stevens added that the company has "done nothing to defame, defraud or otherwise damage Ms. Gubin, and we are confident these allegations as stated will be shown to be groundless and without merit."
According to the complaint, the company unfairly accused Gubin of violating its policies and procedures and blocked her from operating a website on which she signed up new Ambit customers. She also alleged Ambit attempted to sign up new customers on its own, siphoning off her potential recruits, and withheld monthly payments and bonuses.
The case is Nicole Gubin and BH Seven LLC v. Ambit Energy LP et al., in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of the State of New York, no. 11-2483.
For Gubin: Flora Rainer of the Law Office of Flora Rainer.
For Ambit: Not immediately available.
(Reporting by Jessica Dye)