In a case involving stolen trade secrets between competitors, a California jury awarded Contessa Premium Foods Inc. $2.8 million in compensatory damages and $1.7 in punitive damages against Chicken of the Sea Frozen Foods and several affiliated companies. The jury determined that the defendants, along with two former sales managers of Contessa, misappropriated valuable trade secrets – including food ingredients and customer lists – to promote competing food products.

This case should serve notice to employers of the significant risks involved when employees are hired either from or by a competitor, and the need to be vigilant to protect and safeguard valuable proprietary and confidential information. Employers should have clear, established procedures to minimize the risk that departing employees will take valuable company information with them, and to prevent entering employees from bringing confidential information from their prior employers.