In this second part of an exclusive two-part interview with Staffing Talk, we speak with Jennifer Duggan, shareholder, Porter Scott, and the lead defense counsel for a small Sacramento County, California staffing company that prevailed in a re-trial of allegations leveled in a lawsuit by industry giant Aerotek Inc.
Aerotek accused The Johnson Group staffing company – started by former Aerotek employee Christopher Johnson – of trade secret misappropriation, client solicitation and breach of contract.
After a pair of trials, a Sacramento County jury recently ruled that The Johnson Group did not unlawfully misappropriate or solicit any of Aerotek’s clients nor unlawfully disclose any of Aerotek’s trade secret information. Aerotek was entirely defeated in this latest re-trial.
But it may not be over, as we find out.
Staffing Talk: Your firm, Porter Scott, was paid for some of your legal services early on, but then decided to continue with the case by converting it to pro bono.
Jennifer Duggan: That’s right. At some point we all realized The Johnson Group was going to have to go under due to the legal bills. They would not have been able to sustain the financial burden of paying our fees and fighting the lawsuit.
ST: What about this case resonated with the firm and caused you to want to see it through, even if you didn’t make money on it?
JD: There were a variety of factors actually. Some of the handling and the tactics employed by the other side made us angry on behalf of our client. So we weren’t very pleased by that and felt our client was not well equipped to fight back. That got us to dig our heels in and solidified our client relationship and our desire to help. But sometimes you just have to do the right thing. That’s true even if it’s a financial strain to the firm to take on a big case that demands a lot of time and resources.
ST: The verdict was probably the first most of us outside of the greater Sacramento area had heard of the case. Did the case generate much buzz locally?
JD: Because it’s a trade secret case the Plaintiff invoked all kinds of confidentiality requirements, so it has been difficult for the media to track. Everything along the way that would be considered juicy I suppose has been sealed.
ST: Is this the end?
JD: The Plaintiff made a request for the transcripts of the case and that typically means they plan to appeal. We feel very vindicated on behalf of the client, but this may drag out before it reaches its ultimate conclusion.
ST: Your firm issued a statement saying, “The jury absolutely got this one right.” Could you expand on that a bit?
JD: They sensed from the beginning that there was no wrongdoing under the law, and that Aerotek was using this case as a scare tactic to dissuade other employees from leaving the company to form a competitor business.
ST: Thank you for your time. I’m sure lots of people in staffing are interested in the verdict, and what the implications for the industry might be.
JD: No problem. Glad to do it.