Former employees of Hillier Architecture have filed a lawsuit against RMJM, the Scotland-based firm that acquired Hillier for $24 million in 2007, over $664,000 in allegedly unpaid bonuses. According to court filings as published by several architecture trade journals, RMJM has yet to pay roughly half of the money it owes former Hillier employees as a condition of the 2007 acquisition. The suit accuses RMJM of “siphoning off” $8 million in corporate funds, planning to close its location at 500 Alexander Place (RMJM closed its Philadelphia office in June), and of playing a shell game with the identity of the principal in charge of RMJM and, subsequently, the payout.

Frasier Morrison and his son, Peter, run the company. The suit accuses the Morrisons of obfuscating the fact that the two names are interchangeable.

Bob Hillier, the former head of Hillier Architecture who now operates a new firm, J. Robert Hillier, on Witherspoon Street, said on January 17 that he is not part of the suit itself. “A lot of stories have said that I am suing RMJM and in fact I am not,” Hillier said. “The former principals of Hillier are. I am simply their representative. I don’t get any money from this and in fact have been completely paid my proceeds from the merger.”

When Hillier sold his firm in 2007 a major stipulation was that his employees be financially rewarded. So far it appears that only half the money owed those employees has been paid out. RMJM has reportedly been in financial trouble for months, an extension of the economic hardships that have cut staffs at architecture firms dramatically over the past 18 months. Architecture firms in the Princeton area, in fact, have lost about 20 percent of their collective staff since 2009.

Rumors have dogged RMJM since at least November, saying that the company is having trouble paying its bills. Fewer cars are parked in its Alexander Road lot than before, suggesting that staff size in Princeton has been reduced; and British trade publications have suggested that several high-profile departures at RMJM’s home base in Scotland have led to persistent rumors that architectural giant Aecom might take the company over.

RMJM did not respond to questions from U.S. 1.

#b#RMJM#/b#, 500 Alexander Park, Princeton 08543-0023; 609-452-8888; fax, 609-452-8332. Sir Fraser Morrison, CEO. www.rmjm.com.

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