Snack Bar Exec Emailed Trade Secrets To Himself
Hershey is suing a former exec who it claims took valuable trade secrets before leaving his job for a snack bar maker.
Like so many other executives before him, when Doug Behrens resigned from his post, he didn’t just sit still. Instead, knowing full well he was planning to join a competitor, he squirreled away some of his company's most sensitive information, trying after the fact to cover his tracks.
What Behrens didn't expect was that his company would find out about it.
That's exactly what happened though after Behrens, who was a Chief Customer Officer and President at Amplify, a healthy snack brand owned by Hershey, the popular candy bar manufacturer, departed the company last summer.
Upon analyzing his work email account and hard drive, the company discovered that for one month, beginning July 16 last year – the day he resigned - he sent more than 100 files - PowerPoint slide decks, sensitive .PDFs, and other company trade secrets - to his personal Yahoo account.
While Behrens had resigned, he agreed to work for 30 more days, until August 16, to help the company ease his transition, according to a complaint filed in a Pennsylvania federal court this week.
Behrens was sheepish when asked where he'd be working next. In reality, he had plans to join KIND, another healthy snack bar company headquartered in New York City. Yet, according to the indictment, he was mum about those plans and only admitted that he was joining the company - a competitor - on August 14, two days before his planned departure date.
According to the complaint, Behrens spent four hours on July 23 looking through files, sending 70 emails containing documents - many which he'd received months before and in turn, had little reason to access - to himself. He emailed himself documents on four other days as well: July 24, July 30, August 1, and August 6.
The court document points out the information Behrens had access to was among Hershey's "most valued and indispensable assets." Specifically, he took information including but not limited to:
- A slide deck, "Venture Fund_EC.Draft.pdf," the company was using for a confidential investment strategy,
- Information about confidential mergers and acquisitions the company was considering
- A slide deck that breaks down the snack bar market.
- A confidential slide deck that covered marketing research, in addition to sales and marketing tactics.
- An Excel spreadsheet that included a list of Amplify's customers,
- An organization chart for customer, and
- A slide deck that gave details about the company's financial condition and strategic direction.
To make matters worse, to cover his tracks, Behrens reinstalled Windows, wiping data from his laptop, something that made it difficult for Hershey to determine whether or not he downloaded files from his laptop to a storage device.
Despite the trade secret theft, what’s particularly irking Hershey is the fact that Behrens, who collected more than $1.5 million in compensation while working at Amplify, refused to pay back the $250,000 Sign-On bonus he received - something he agreed to do if he terminated his employment there within 24 months - something he did.
By sending trade secret data to an unsecured personal email address, Behrens breached one of the stipulations of the Stock Award, an award that essentially granted him thousands in stock units.
“Based on Behrens’s conduct, it is reasonable to assume that he further used and disclosed Hershey’s Confidential Information (as that term is defined in the Stock Award) beyond initially sending it to a non-secure personal email address (which independently constitutes a disclosure or threatened disclosure of Hershey’s Confidential Information)" the complaint reads.
While Hershey's is no doubt concerned that the former employee failed to protect its trade secret and confidential information, this suit is chiefly concerned with getting the money its owned back. Hershey asking for the $250,000 Sign-On bonus money, plus prejudgment interest, plus the cash equivalent of 2,392 shares of Hershey stock.