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Willard Schulmeister III received an email Dec. 5 to notify him that he had been fired from his own company.
The resulting dispute has spilled into state Supreme Court, where all parties are expected to be present Jan. 7 for a hearing.
Schulmeister co-founded EagleHawk One with Patrick Walsh in 2016. Since that time, the drone inspection company has become well-known in Buffalo’s startup scene. It received financial support from Launch NY and angel investor Joe Weiss (a board member) and won $500,000 in the state-backed Genius NY business competition, which is anchored in Syracuse.
EagleHawk received media attention early in the pandemic when it introduced a drone-based sanitation service, though that was ultimately shelved in favor of the startup’s main business. EagleHawk uses drones to map out the infrastructure needs of clients with large campuses, such as colleges and hospitals.
The termination email, filed as a court exhibit, noted that EagleHawk stockholders and the board had met that day to fire Schulmeister as a board member, director and employee of the company. It noted that he was required to return a company vehicle, computer and equipment.
EagleHawk’s attorney, Brian Gwitt of the Woods Oviatt Gilman law firm, filed a lawsuit in state Supreme Court on Dec. 17 seeking the return of that property, which remained in Schulmeister’s possession. An affidavit by Walsh alleged that Schulmeister also immediately took steps to lock EagleHawk out of its social media accounts, a source of business traffic for the company.
In court documents this week, affidavits from Walsh and Weiss give insight into events that led to up to Schulmeister being fired, including concerns about how his professional conduct has been influenced by negative events in his personal life.
Schulmeister’s attorney filed a cross-motion in late December alleging that the termination was handled improperly and seeking a reinstatement of his employment status.
In an interview with Buffalo Business First, Schulmeister said he believes he was betrayed by his former business partners. He posted a variety of public social media messages about the situation throughout December and early January in an attempt to tell his side of the story. Some of those messages have become part of the legal documents filed by EagleHawk for their allegedly threatening nature.
Schulmeister remains a 35% equity owner of EagleHawk, he said.
He also started doing business under the name RegalHawk, though he changed that name this week following trademark-based complaints from EagleHawk attorneys. Schulmeister is represented by attorney Kevin Lelonek at Gross Shuman P.C.
Walsh referred questions to his attorney and Gwitt declined to comment. The sides are scheduled to meet at 11 a.m.Friday in front of state Supreme Court Judge Emilio Colaiacovo.
Friday’s hearing is expected to help clarify the legal issues at play and set out a pathway by which all parties can proceed.
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