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- The Yates Memo’s Illusory “Extraordinary Circumstances” Exception
- Kiss Your Retaliation Suit Hello: Company Faces Trial after Changing Explanation for Firing
- Federal Whistleblower Statutes Aren’t a Cure-All
- Hold on to Your (Top) Hat: ERISA Section 502(a)(3) May Be Used to Enforce the Terms of a “Top-Hat” Benefits Plan
- A Bitter Pill for Ex-Rite Aid GC: Delaware Court Finds His 2015 Suit for Indemnification Untimely
- A Funny Thing Happened to the Forum Selection Clause
- Fired for Taking the Fifth: Famous Firings in History
- A Fifth Amendment Right to Not Talk to Your Employer?
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Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home: What You Need To Know Before You Scream “I Quit,” Get Fired, Or Decide to Sue the Bastards
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Showing 22 posts in Trade Secrets.
Owners of stolen trade secrets now have another weapon in their arsenal.
Last month, President Obama signed the Defend Trade Secrets Act (the DTSA), which creates a new cause of action in federal court for the misappropriation of trade secrets. The DTSA does not preempt state laws governing misappropriation of trade secrets, so employers and other trade secret owners may now bring actions under the DTSA and applicable state laws. See 18 U.S.C. § 1838. Read More ›
Federal prosecutors recently indicted David Colletti, a former VP of marketing with MillerCoors LLC, on charges relating to a scheme to embezzle $7 million from the beer brewing giant. Mr. Colletti, a thirty-year veteran of the company, allegedly broke bad by conspiring with others to defraud the company through fictitious invoices for promotional and other events that were never held. According to Law 360, MillerCoors sued its former marketing executive for $13.3 million last year in an effort to recover for the alleged fraud. Prosecutors claim that Mr. Colletti and his co-conspirators used the proceeds to purchase collectible firearms, golf and hunting trips, and—perhaps inspired by Pink Floyd—even bought an arena football team.
Nanoventions Holdings is a Georgia company that designs and manufactures microstructure technology used to prevent the counterfeiting of such things as currency, driver’s licenses, and event tickets. In 2011, $2 million went missing, and an investigation revealed that that its CFO, Steve Daniels, allegedly forged checks and converted funds to his own use as owner of a company called BIW Enterprises. In an interesting twist, BIW is engaged in the business of growing and distributing marijuana in California. According to Courthouse News Service, the company is suing Mr. Daniels for compensatory, treble and punitive damages under Georgia RICO statutes, and related causes of action. If the allegations are true, one might find a historical equivalent to these events in the 1920s, when the president of the Loft Candy Company stole thousands of dollars to buy Pepsi-Cola out of bankruptcy. Loft Candy ended up owning Pepsi on the basis that it was a stolen corporate opportunity. If Georgia shared Colorado’s stance on marijuana legalization, would the court award ownership of the pot business to Nanoventions? Oh what a difference a century makes. Read More ›
Who doesn’t love the year-end countdown? We’re here to offer you one of our own – our most-read posts in 2014 about executive disputes. The posts run the gamut from A (Alex Rodriguez) to Z, or at least to W (Walgreen). They cover subjects from sanctified (Buddhists and the Bible) to sultry (pornographic materials found in an executive’s email). Later this week, we’ll bring you a look at what to expect in 2015.
Without further ado, let the countdown begin!
8. The Basics: Dodd-Frank v. Sarbanes-Oxley
This post is an oldie but a goodie. It includes a handy PDF chart that breaks down the differences in the Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower laws. Each of these laws continues to be a hot-button issue for plaintiffs and employers.
7. When Employment Relationships Break Bad
America may have bidden adieu to Walter White and his pals on Breaking Bad, but employment relationships continue to spin off in some very unpleasant ways. Such was the case with Stephen Marty Ward, who ended up in federal prison after he threatened his employer with disclosure of its trade secrets, as we covered in this post. Read More ›
California Court SLAPPs Down Employee’s Malicious Prosecution Suit Based on Employer’s Trade Secret Case Against Him
Companies prize their formulas for best-selling products like nothing else. Visitors to the World of Coca-Cola can visit the vault holding the soda syrup recipe. And KFC’s fried chicken seasoning method has been described as one of its most valuable assets.
NuScience Corporation makes the skin product CELLFOOD, which it describes as an “oxygen and nutrient supplement” using “proprietary water-splitting technology.” And as recounted by the California Court of Appeal in a recent opinion, NuScience has fought hard to keep the CELLFOOD formula secret. The California court’s decision addressed an unusual spinoff of NuScience’s trade secret battle: a malicious prosecution complaint filed by a former employee, David McKinney, who alleged that NuScience wrongfully brought a prior racketeering and misappropriation case against him. See McKinney v. NuScience Corp., No. B240831 c/w B244074 (Cal. Ct. App. 2013).
According to the court, most of NuScience’s trade secret troubles involved the Henkel family – father John and sons Michael and Robert – who found a copy of the CELLFOOD formula after it had been purchased by NuScience. After discovering the formula, the Henkels then repeatedly sought to sell it to other buyers, get money from NuScience to hand it over, or sell a competing product. NuScience won federal court injunctions against the Henkels, but Michael and Robert didn’t stop their efforts. And after NuScience fired McKinney, its vice president of sales and marketing, the Henkels got him involved in their efforts to discredit NuScience and use the formula. NuScience then filed its racketeering lawsuit against McKinney and Robert Henkel, alleging that the two engaged in a conspiracy to disparage CELLFOOD and violate the federal judgment against Robert. NuScience eventually dismissed that case without prejudice, asserting that it did so because Robert was threatening to disclose the CELLFOOD formula.
McKinney then filed a malicious prosecution lawsuit based on NuScience’s decision to voluntarily give up the case. However, NuScience quickly moved to strike his lawsuit based on California’s anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16). Read More ›
Do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell?
With all due respect to the Beatles – and the full lyrics of their 1963 hit are here – perhaps they weren't asking the most important questions to ask about secrets. Maybe the more important, or at least existential question is: is the secret really a secret at all? And how exactly do you tell?
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals confronted that issue last week in Heil Trailer v. Kula, et al. The question came up in a suit brought by Heil – which makes tractor-trailers – against three of its former employees and their new employer, Troxell. We’ve written often about confidentiality agreements between employers and employees, and the issues those agreements can raise when an employee goes to work for the competitor down the street. But we don’t see too many opinions about whether the trade secret or other protected information is really “secret-worthy,” although our friends in the federal government sector seem to have it down to a whole system. Read More ›
Federal Judge Upholds Jurisdiction Based on Employer’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) Claim Against Former Employee
In a decision last week, Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas addressed the question of whether an employer had successfully alleged a claim under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), such that the employer could properly bring its numerous claims against former employees and their companies in federal court. He ruled that the employer had properly pleaded the CFAA claim, and that as a result, the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Beta Technology, Inc. v. Meyers, Civ. No. H-13-1282, 2013 WL 5602930 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 10, 2013).
Before we get into the substance of the decision, some background is in order. Subject matter jurisdiction is an important issue for federal judges. If there’s no basis for subject matter jurisdiction, a case doesn’t belong in federal court. First-year civil procedure students learn this rule from the venerable decision in Capron v. Van Noorden, in which the Supreme Court allowed a plaintiff to obtain reversal of a final judgment because he hadn’t properly alleged that the court below had subject matter jurisdiction over his claim.
The two main categories for federal jurisdiction in non-criminal cases are diversity jurisdiction and federal question jurisdiction. Diversity jurisdiction, as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 1332, permits the federal courts to hear disputes between citizens of different states – i.e., “diverse” citizens – so long as more than $75,000 is at stake. Federal question jurisdiction, which is defined in 28 U.S.C. § 1331, allows the federal courts to address “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” And under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, once the court has jurisdiction to hear one claim, it can hear any other claims that form “part of the same case or controversy,” even when those claims drag additional parties into the mix. Read More ›
A recent decision by a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, illustrates an important point about the trade secrets laws that is often missed: you can be liable even if you merely took your former company’s trade secrets (such as by downloading them onto your thumb drive) but did not use them or disclose them to anyone else. That’s what a company executive in the Alexandria case allegedly did, and the court allowed her former employer’s claim that she violated the Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act (the VUTSA) (which parallels many states’ trade secrets laws) to go forward. Read More ›
When Yu-Hsing Tu worked at pharmaceutical company UCB Manufacturing, he signed a strict confidentiality agreement. In the agreement, Tu promised that he would never disclose any of UCB's “secret or confidential information,” including a laundry list of items such as “designs, formulas, processes, . . . techniques, know how, improvements, [and] inventions.” Tu's work was important to UCB: he helped formulate its cough syrup products, including Delsym, and had significant knowledge of its “Pennkinetic system” for controlled release of cough medication in liquid form.
In 2001, Tu left UCB and started working for his friend Ketan Mehta at Tris Pharma. Soon after, Tu and Tris Pharma began formulating generic versions of UCB’s cough syrups. Six years later, Tris's competitive products were on the market, and UCB lost a lot of market share.
UCB immediately went to court and sued Tu and Tris for misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, and unfair competition. It asked for a preliminary injunction -- a court order early in the lawsuit that would require Tris to stop using its trade secrets until the merits were finally decided. After a five-day hearing focused on the misappropriation claim, the trial judge denied the injunction, maintaining the status quo for Tris.
Shortly after that win, Tu and Tris took the offensive in the litigation, moving for summary judgment. At that point, UCB made a decision that would end up costing it later on: it voluntarily gave up its claim for misappropriation of trade secrets. The trial court then granted Tu and Tris’s motion for summary judgment on the other claims, relying on its finding during the preliminary injunction phase that Tu and Mehta were credible when they testified that they didn’t misuse UCB’s confidential info. UCB appealed. Read More ›
It’s unseasonably cool here in Washington, DC, where most of our Suits by Suits editors toil. News about the latest in disputes between employers and executives, however, is always in season. Here are the latest headlines:
- Ruth Simon and Angus Loten of the Wall Street Journal brought us this excellent take on the rising tide of non-compete litigation. According to Simon and Loten, non-compete agreements are spreading beyond the executive ranks to sales representatives, engineers, and researchers. For more, check out our ongoing State-by-State Smackdown series on the changing law of non-competes in various states (here, here, here . . . and here).
- A conference call hosted by AOL’s chief exec Tim Armstrong took an unpleasant turn when Armstrong fired – on the spot – Abel Lenz, an employee who was videotaping the call. The New York Times reported that Armstrong later admitted that he made a “mistake” in the hasty firing, which was broadcast to a thousand employees. Lenz’s photos of his last moments at AOL later surfaced online at jimromenesko.com.
- The Third Circuit upheld a decision by the Luzerne County (PA) Retirement Board to terminate the benefits it was paying to a former county clerk, William Brace, based on Brace’s guilty plea to a bribery charge. Brace claimed that the termination violated his constitutional rights, but the court disagreed, holding that Brace was not entitled to a hearing before the decision. Brace’s crime appears to have been the acceptance of a $1,500 tailor-made suit from a county contractor, which puts this case in the unique category of Suits by Suits over Suits.
- Matt Reynolds of Courthouse News Service reported that IMAX has sued a competitor for trade secret misappropriation. IMAX’s complaint alleges that Gary Tsui, a former IMAX employee, sold its 2-D and 3-D conversion technology to the competitor, GDC Technology USA, which is now using the secrets to compete with IMAX. It calls Tsui an “international fugitive.” Sounds like this case may be exciting enough for the big screen.
- A former U.S. Bank manager, Serge Adamov, has successfully appealed the dismissal of his claim that he was terminated in retaliation for complaints of discrimination based on his Azerbaijani origin. The Sixth Circuit held that when an employee does not exhaust his remedies in the Department of Labor before bringing suit in federal court, that failure does not deprive a district court of jurisdiction over the case. As a result, because the bank did not raise a failure to exhaust as part of its motion to dismiss Adamov’s suit, the district court could not raise it on its own as a ground to get rid of the claim.
Non-Compete In Employment Agreement Enforceable Even If It Wasn’t Mentioned In Offer Letter
Non-competes – those contractual agreements that, when enforceable (and enforced) can keep an executive from leaving one job for a job with a competitor – are frequent topics here at Suits-by-Suits, almost as common as the Brood II cicadas were supposed to be here in our home base of Washington, D.C.
So, a story on non-competes is not unique for us, but this one has a twist. It raises an unusual enforcement question: does a non-compete have to be included in both an offer letter and an employment agreement, or is including it in the agreement alone – and conditioning the offer of employment on signing that agreement – enough to make it enforceable?
Last week, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that it’s the final employment agreement that matters, and if the non-compete clause is in the final agreement, then it doesn’t matter if the clause was in the offer letter or not. Read More ›