» Defamation (Libel and Slander)

Medical Device Maker Seeks $2 Million from Competitors in Noncompete Lawsuits

Smith & Nephew (S&N), a medical device maker, has filed lawsuits against two competing companies in Texas federal court, seeking $1 million from each company on allegations that they poached sales personnel who were bound by covenants not to compete.

The lawsuits were filed against Central Texas Orthopedic Products Inc., an Austin-based distributor for Biomet Inc., and Exact Surgical Inc., a Tulsa-based distributor for Exactech Inc. Both lawsuits involve independent contractors who allegedly left Smith & Nephew to work for the other companies despite having signed noncompete agreements promising not to work for a competitor for one year after leaving S&N.

The lawsuits claim that sales representatives are privy to a large amount of confidential information regarding pricing, marketing, customers and product technology. The company also said in court documents that it invests substantial resources in training its sales reps.

Both lawsuits claim that Smith & Nephew’s competitors used the contractors to take customers away from S&N. In both lawsuits, Smith & Nephew filed cease-and-desist letters that it sent to the ex-contractors with the court, stating that the noncompete agreements were being violated and that both the sales representatives and the companies that employed them risked litigation.

Smith & Nephew previously filed a $56 million lawsuit against a group of former managers and sales representatives that also took jobs with a competing company, allegedly in violation of noncompete agreements.

Lawsuit by Austin’s Torchy’s Tacos Accuses Competitor of Theft of Trade Secrets

A taco restaurant based in Austin, Texas has filed a lawsuit against a competing restaurant in Houston alleging theft of trade secrets. Torchy’s Tacos, with 20 outlets in Austin, Houston and the Dallas-Ft. Worth area, claims that three-store, Houston-based Texas Taco Co. stole its recipes and duplicated menu items.

The lawsuit, filed in Harris County, claims that a former Torchy’s employee stole the company’s “Taco Bible,” which contains detailed recipes. The grill cook now works for Texas Taco, where the menu items are allegedly duplicated. The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages and an injunction requiring Texas Taco to stop using confidential information gained from Torchy’s.

Although a taco recipe may seem like something that is generally known, and therefore not capable of being a trade secret, Torchy’s says that its Taco Bible and “Build Book” are different because they contain detailed start-to-finish processes of the way that food ingredients are combined, the order in which they are cooked and the manner in which they are assembled.

The lawsuit claims that Torchy’s Chef Michael Rypka — who started the company in Austin in 2006 with a motor scooter and food trailer — personally developed or approved all the menu items and “food concepts and food designs” served at the restaurants.

The lawsuit claims that a security camera at Torchy’s captured a then-employee putting a copy of the Taco Bible under his shirt and then exiting the restaurant. According to the lawsuit, a manager saw the security video and demanded that the employee return the book, which he did approximately six hours later. The employee was then fired.

The complaint alleges that approximately two months after the incident, Torchy’s discovered that the new Texas Taco restaurant in Baytown, approximately 30 miles outside Houston, had a similar menu. A Torchy’s manager visited the restaurant and claims he found the ex-employee working there and nearly-identical items on the menu.

According to a local news report, the descriptions of some items on Texas Taco’s menu are a word-for-word match to Torchy’s menu items, with only the name of the item changed. A taco that Texas Taco named the “William Travis” has the same 27-word description as the item that Torchy’s calls the “Republican.” The same is allegedly true for other items, including quirks such as the use of all-capitalized letters for some ingredients.

The lawsuit alleges that the ex-employee gave trade secrets to Texas Taco in violation of a nondisclosure agreement that he signed with Torchy’s.

Television Station Sued for Employment Discrimination

A fired television station worker has sued Houston station KRIV, claiming that he was a victim of age discrimination.

Charles Hobson was employed by KRIV from 1990 to 2011 as a live truck operator, staff photographer and editor. According to Hobson, the station fired him because of his age. Fox Television Stations, Inc., Fox Entertainment Group and News Corp. are also named in the lawsuit.

Hobson claims that in 2009 he suddenly began receiving negative comments in his employment evaluations, as well as vague negative verbal remarks, after having received only positive or neutral comments in the 19 years previous. The complaint alleges that the station’s news director inserted negative remarks into Hobson’s evaluation without the input of his immediate supervisor. Hobson also said he was blamed for errors that were actually the result of inclement weather or computer breakdowns. Hobson claims he was the oldest or one of the two oldest of the 18 station employees who had job descriptions similar to his.

According to the complaint, the station had begun downsizing, targeting employees who had been hired before 2004 and therefore had larger pension and benefit packages. Hobson sued under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects workers over 40 years old from discrimination, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), which among other things, prohibits interference with employee benefit plans.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff demands a jury trial and asks for damages for loss of wages, emotional pain and suffering and loss of enjoyment of life.

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