A superior court judge in Georgia has issued a temporary restraining order against Rubicon Global in a suit brought by Waste Connections against the tech company and a former Waste Connections employee.
The suit charged Jonathan Dewitt, a former district sales manager for Progressive Waste Solutions and Waste Connections, with illegally downloading more than 1,000 confidential documents that detailed the Toronto-based hauler’s specialized training program and included detailed customer information and sales leads in several markets. It also charged Dewitt and Rubicon with violating the Georgia Trade Secrets Act and Rubicon with engaging in tortious interference with an existing contract.
In its lawsuit Waste Connections said the incident is part of a pattern on the part of Rubicon “targeting Waste Connections” and that the firm “is currently seeking to misappropriate from Waste Connections its customers, key employees, trade secrets and infrastructure.”
The temporary restraining order will remain the status quo until a full hearing can be held in the case.
The order, passed down by Fulton County Superior Court Judge Eric Dunaway, restrains Dewitt from using or disclosing any of Waste Connections’ “confidential information or trade secrets, including but not limited to sales strategies and training materials, customer lists and identities, customer pricing and discounts, customer quotes, customer service requirements, expiration dates of customer service agreements, contents of proposals to customers, customer prospects, Plaintiff’s internal costs, profit margins, pricing and discount strategies, and other highly confidential customer and financial information.”
Waste Connections has not commented beyond what’s in its lawsuits.
Rubicon issued an email statement in response to the ruling, saying, "While we do not comment on pending litigation, we are very pleased with the Court’s ruling and will continue to vigorously defend these allegations. Rubicon’s mission is to provide an entirely reimagined customer experience for waste and recycling services, all towards creating a future without landfills. We are innovating an antiquated industry in the process, and increasingly, we are encouraged by our progress.”
Rubicon also said Dewitt was hired appropriately and will continue to execute his duties as director of outside sales at the firm.
Barry Shanoff, a Bethesda, Md., attorney and general counsel of the Solid Waste Association of North America says the suit is a “classic theft-of-trade-secrets case.”
“These cases abound throughout the business and financial world because there always have been and will be employees who are ready and willing to pilfer confidential information from a current employer to enhance their marketability (and earnings) elsewhere,” Shanoff says. “The new employer, as an inducement to the candidate, will customarily agree to pay or reimburse all legal costs, judgments and other related expenses in case of a lawsuit. Again, the plaintiffs have the burden of proof on these serious allegations, but they seem to have done a lot of sophisticated digging and checking.”
The suit was filed in Georgia last week. It alleges that Dewitt, over a period of weeks, downloaded 1,160 documents containing 4,800 pages onto to USB devices and then took steps to attempt to hide his activity. The documents included pricing information, bid proformas, customer lists and thousands of pages from Waste Connections’ leadership training and development programs.
Dewitt, the suit noted, had signed several employment agreements and code of conduct policies prohibiting him from sharing confident information with competitors.
Waste Connections conducted forensic analysis of Dewitt’s former company devices and was able to track his activity in downloading company documents and information from its Salesforce.com database.
According to the suit, “Before Dewitt’s resignation from [the firm], he was aggressively accessing and downloading thousands of pages of Plaintiff’s trade secrets and confidential information. Indeed, forensic evidence demonstrates that in the days prior to his resignation, Dewitt was accessing Plaintiff’s Salesforce data for Austin and Houston, Texas; … downloading pricing information pricing proformas for operation
The judge has ordered Dewitt to return any copies of Waste Connections’ trade secrets, including two USB devices he had allegedly connected to his Waste Connections’ laptop to download the documents. He must also return all hard copy materials in his possession.
Rubicon and Dewitt must also provide Waste Connections’ with a forensic examination plan.
Rubicon was also enjoined and restrained from using or disclosing any Waste Connections information or trade secrets that it may have received from Dewitt.
This is not the only ongoing lawsuit targeting Rubicon Global. There are at least four suits in which Waste Connections is suing Rubicon. The other cases do not involve downloading of documents. Instead, in those cases Waste Connections has accused Rubicon of enticing companies to break contracts with Waste Connections and broker waste removal services through Rubicon instead.
In one of those suits, a judge in a Louisiana state court issued a statewide injunction prohibiting Rubicon from towing away Waste Connections containers for a minimum of 14 business days after Waste Connections receives all payments due to it from a customer that terminates or breaches its contract with Waste Connections.
There has been other evidence of tension between the firms. At the Waste360 Investor Summit in New Orleans in May, Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt noted that most of the Rubicon controlled trash ended up in the landfill. A few other executives from the large waste management companies dismissed Rubicon as “just another broker.”