Big Sister sued after Big Brother of Massachusetts Bay started using the word “sister” in its name by changing its name to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay
Like a parent stepping in to resolve a fight between siblings, Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has entered into a legal battle between two affiliated mentoring organizations in the Boston area.
The national organization filed its request last week to be included as a party to a trademark lawsuit that the Big Sister Association of Greater Boston filed against Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay in Boston federal court in December.
Big Sister sued after Big Brother of Massachusetts Bay started using the word “sister” in its name by changing its name to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, partly to reflect the fact it now provides mentoring services for boys and girls. The Big Sister group says that the name change has created confusion among donors, volunteers and others.
In its motion last week, the national group confirms that it approved Big Brother’s name change request in October 2006. The national group says it was waiting to intervene to give the two Boston groups an opportunity to reach a settlement, but then decided to join the litigation when it found no sign that a settlement was forthcoming.
The parent organization, in its filing, says it owns the rights to names involving “Big Sisters” or “Big Brothers” and that it is interested in preserving its public image, “which can only be negatively affected by acrimonious public litigation between its affiliates.”
Officials at the national organization’s Philadelphia headquarters declined to comment about the suit, other than to confirm that the group filed a motion to become a party in the case.
Both sides of the case said they welcomed the involvement of their parent organization in the court case.
John Pearson, the CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay, said the national organization approved the name change after it was made aware of Big Sister’s objections to the change.
“There are now three parties to the suit, Big Sister, us and the national organization,” Pearson said. “This is the proper step by our national organization to say, ‘We have the rights to the name, we granted the name’ They were hoping that this would not be fought in the press and in the courts.”
Deborah Re, the CEO of Big Sister, said the amount of confusion that was being caused by the other group’s name change has increased in the past eight months.
“It runs the gamut from donors to people who want to become mentors,” Re said. “They may call Big Brother instead of calling us thinking they may be the same organization There are specific examples where people have said they have already contributed to us, and they haven’t.”
Re said that “it makes sense” for the parent organization to intervene in the dispute. “They want us to be able to work this out,” Re said.
Jon Chesto may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.