E-mail job hunting at work can be risky
September 28, 2001We've all written a few e-mails at work that we shouldn't have. Perhaps questioning the boss' sanity, passing along a salty joke or discussing last night's adventures.
But let the following story be a lesson: If you're going to go job hunting, don't do it over your employer's e-mail system.
That, court documents say, is what has landed Indiana resident Terrence M. Clark in the legal crosshairs of his former employer, a Dallas concern called e-talk Corp. that makes software for improving customer service at call centers by monitoring phone calls.
E-talk (http://www.e-talkcorp.com) claims it discovered during an August audit of its internal e-mail that Clark had been talking with a competitor, Georgia-based Witness Systems Inc., about a job.
In a lawsuit filed against Clark and witness, e-talk claims Clark persuaded Witness to give him a bonus payment, although he didn't plan to leave e-talk until Sept. 10. (He was fired on Aug. 31, the day after the audit.)
But there was prior animosity between the two companies, documents say, as e-talk claimed Witness' sales reps had been making false statements to e-talk's customers, purportedly that e-talk was in dire financial straits and might not be able to continue as a going concern.
(In an exchange of letters between the companies' attorneys, Witness said it would look into the matter if e-talk provided details, which e-talk said is "premature" and "unnecessary.")
But what appears to have prompted the court battle was an Aug. 29 e-mail Clark sent to a Witness official, documents indicate.
Clark asked if Witness "would like to redeem (itself) at Chrysler Financial," a reference to an account it had lost to e-talk in December and that Clark had been responsible for winning. E-talk says in court filings that Chrysler Financial is "an extremely significant account."
"Let's just say things are not going too smoothly with our initial install," Clark's e-mail said, according to documents. E-talk says that e-mail referred to delays it was having integrating its software with that from another manufacturer.
This, e-talk maintains, violated a nondisclosure agreement Clark signed. The company claims it will be "irreparably harmed" if Witness uses this information in pursuing Chrysler Financial, or in using any of e-talk's trade secrets Clark might disclose, documents say.
E-talk's suit maintains the Chrysler Financial disclosure is "merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to confidential information disclosed by Clark," but does not elaborate on what other information he has purportedly turned over.
A Dallas County District Court judge recently signed a temporary restraining order barring Clark from disclosing e-talk's trade secrets to Witness and preventing Witness from using any such information Clark might have turned over to it.
The case was subsequently moved to Judge Barefoot Sanders' purview at U.S. District Court in Dallas. Bryan Collins, a Jackson Walker attorney representing e-talk, says the restraining order will remain in place for -- probably until the end of October -- while the two sides go through the fact-finding process called discovery.
Collins declines to say whether his clients will pursue a permanent injunction, which would keep the restraining order in place until a trial is concluded (or the case ends via settlement or dismissal).
An attorney for the defendants could not be reached for comment.
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Editorial Assistant Cynthia D. Webb contributed research to this column.
by Jeff Bounds, Copyright © 2001 American City Business Journals Inc.