TORONTO — A woman who sabotaged her boyfriend’s highly coveted career opportunity apparently because she feared he would leave her for the United States has been ordered to pay him $350,000 in damages.
In a decision this week, an Ontario Superior Court justice lambasted Jennifer Lee for “despicable conduct” that harmed Eric Abramovitz, an aspiring professional musician in his 20s.
Court records show Lee and Abramovitz were students at the Schulich School of Music at Montreal’s McGill University in 2013 when they began an intimate relationship, and he all but moved in to her apartment. She had full access to his laptop, the records show.
A multiple award-winning clarinetist, Abramovitz applied in December 2013 to study at the prestigious Coburn Conservatory of Music in Los Angeles under Yehuda Gilad, an internationally renowned clarinet teacher. Although Gilad only accepts two clarinet students a year, Abramovitz made the cut after a rigorous screening and auditioning process, court records show.
In March 2014, the school emailed Abramovitz to say he had been accepted, an offer that carried with it a full two-year scholarship and stipend. Except he never saw the email, court records show.
Lee intercepted and deleted the acceptance and, pretending to be him, declined the offer because he would be “elsewhere,” according to the court.
She also went a step further by composing and sending an email to Abramovitz — purportedly from Gilad — using an email address she created, email@example.com, to inform him that he had not been accepted at Coburn, the court said.
“Abramovitz was completely taken in by this deception,” Justice David Corbett wrote.
“As a consequence, Mr. Abramovitz lost the two year full-scholarship opportunity to study with Mr. Gilad.”
A year later, after his relationship with Lee had ended, Abramovitz was performing for Gilad again and it began to dawn on him something had been amiss. When he finally figured out what had happened, he sued Lee in August 2016. He claimed damages for her deceit, invasion of his privacy, and intentional or negligent infliction of mental suffering.
Her acts, he claimed, had damaged his reputation, cost him an educational opportunity, and delayed his career advancement thereby costing him lost income.
In a sworn affidavit filed with the court, Gilad denounced what had happened to Abramovitz, who now lives in Nashville but will join the Toronto Symphony Orchestra later this year.
“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 said.
Lee, who lives in Toronto, never responded to the lawsuit or defended herself, leading Corbett to find her liable by default. Corbett said it appeared her motivation was to ensure Abramovitz would stay in Montreal and remain in their relationship.
In awarding $300,000 to Abramovitz in general damages and another $50,000 in punitive and aggravated damages, Corbett described Lee’s behaviour as a “reprehensible betrayal” of her boyfriend’s trust and an “unthinkable, immoral act.”
“This was despicable conduct by Ms. Lee,” Corbett said in his judgment.
While the punitive damages were modest, Corbett called it a symbolic award that should be taken as “very strong condemnation of morally reprehensible conduct.” The aggravated damages were partial compensation for the loss Abramovitz suffered by having a “closely held personal dream snatched from him by a person he trusted,” Corbett said.
Corbett also ordered Lee, who could not immediately be reached for comment, to pay him $25,000 to cover his legal fees.
Marshall Reinhart, Abramovitz’s lawyer, said in an interview that they now faced the task of collecting on the judgment.
“My client should be compensated for his loss,” Reinhart said.
“It was an extreme case of betrayal of trust in addition to what he lost financially.”
Reinhart said he had never really heard of a case like Abramovitz’s, comparing it to something out of a “television show or a movie.”
“…He suffered a blow and his career was derailed but for a short time. He did land a job with the symphony in Nashville where he’s working now and I’m really pleased to say that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has hired him and he has a position which he will be starting playing the clarinet in the fall,” he said.