Vernon and Shirley Hill’s dog Duffy has continued to appear in marketing materials without their permission, the suit alleges.
Dogs were welcome at the three banks Vernon Hill has headed since the 1970s. His family’s Yorkshire terrier — actually a succession of terriers, all named Sir Duffield and known to staff and customers as Duffy — was featured relentlessly in ads and promotions for Hill’s banks, which, unlike some rivals, allowed the pets into branches and gave them treats to entice canine-owning customers.
Hill was pushed out of the top job at Philadelphia-based Republic Bank in July. At the same time, the bank’s contract with his wife Shirley Hill’s design firm, InterArch, which had shaped the banks’ aesthetics and marketing strategies, was terminated. But Duffy’s image remained and was made to work for Republic without his owners’ permission, Hill and InterArch contend in a federal lawsuit filed by Holland & Knight LLP on Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Even after the couple got the boot, the bank has continued using images of Duffy, along with “crowd-pleasing” copyrighted images, such as R-Dog, a black-spotted, tongue-wagging cartoon pup; trademarked slogans like “The Power of Red”; and even Hill’s own smiling, silver-haired face, according to the lawsuit.
“They are using Duffy even now,” Hill told The Inquirer, after filing the suit, which claims “copyright infringement, trademark infringement, contractual breach, unfair competition, unjust enrichment,” interference with InterArch employees, and “misappropriation” of “valuable” trade secrets.
A spokesman for the bank said Republic would have no comment on the lawsuit or on Duffy’s current status at the bank.
The dog and his image, like the other images developed by InterArch, didn’t belong to the client — Republic — but to the firm, according to HIll’s complaint.
The lawsuit notes that InterArch designs were displayed by Republic, for example, in a Nov. 10 promotion in Manhattan, with both a costumed R-Dog figure and a Duffy look-alike among the participants, and that images of Hill himself, as well as his dog, remain in use in bank brochures and other promotional materials. Hill “does not consent to these uses” and wants Republic to stop.
Hill “has always maintained ownership and control of his banking-related brand assets,” according to the lawsuit. InterArch “managed and controlled” their “day-to-day use” since Hill joined Republic in 2008 after leaving his previous company, Commerce Bank, which also used the firm’s design services.
In the suit, Hill contends his banking model and images such as Duffy’s were “misappropriated” and that directors “turned” against InterArch and other contractors out of “spite,” and that they were fired “for no reason other than their affiliation with Mr. Hill” and “without any valid basis.”
Hill’s use of family-related companies such as InterArch was a target of his critics at all three banks, who contended he was effectively spending the bank’s millions enriching his relatives.
Hill defended his wife as a gifted designer who gave the banks their distinctive modern, glass-walled, red-trimmed “look” and moved customers quickly through teller and drive-up lines.
In the lawsuit, he noted the board had previously agreed, declaring that the services were fairly valued and approving a proposal to increase InterArch’s compensation. That was before a Hill ally died last May, and the board began moving against him, prompting a court fight that Hill lost. Litigation continues even after his departure, along with this new lawsuit.
In September, the Hills settled a federal government complaint that they had invested InterArch workers’ retirement funds in Vernon Hill’s banks, where the funds lost most of their value. The Hills agreed to pay more than $3 million, enough to refund plan members’ savings, other than Shirley Hill, the plan’s largest beneficiary.
Two former InterArch employees who had since joined Republic were named as codefendants in Hill’s most recent federal complaint.
The Hills and the actual Duffy are gone, but dogs are still welcome at Republic branches, the bank says.

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