Nutrien Alleges Former Employee Took Confidential Information Before Joining Competitor

Nutrien Ag Solutions Inc. alleged in a Northern District of New York complaint on Friday that a former employee, Thomas M. Mackerer, used confidential information he learned while working as a warehouse manager and marketing manager at the company after taking a position with a competitor.

According to the filing, between August and September of last year he copied files from the plaintiff without authorization or notification and then resigned on Sept. 18, 2020. Days later, the defendant began working in sales and marketing at Carolina Eastern-Vail Inc. (CaroVail) which is a competitor of Nutrien.

Nutrien alleged that the actions of Mackerer “represent a breach of fiduciary duties to Nutrien and a misappropriation of Nutrien’s trade secrets.” The company told the court that it should be entitled to injunctive relief as well as monetary relief.

Purportedly, Mackerer had access to information that was confidential, including customer and vendor identities, contract terms, sales forecasts, and strategies.  Nutrien explained that this information was essential to its competitive advantage as an agricultural supply company. The plaintiff explained that it took protections to preserve the information, and that the defendant was aware that the information was highly confidential.

“Nutrien’s proprietary information had considerable value by virtue of its confidential nature and Nutrien’s efforts over the course of many years to assemble and protect the proprietary information from exposure to competitors,” the complaint said. Nutrien explained that the information could not be readily acquired by other companies.

The company alleged that Mackerer connected multiple portable drives to his laptop to download information multiple times during the last few weeks of his employment onto multiple Seagate Drives and an iPhone which was not owned by the company and accessed the data from his computer more frequently than he had previously. None of these things were done with authorization.

Nutrien claimed that Mackerer’s new position is similar and he will have contact with some of the same vendors and clients. The plaintiff alleged that Mackerer would rely, “substantially or wholly” on the proprietary information from Nutrien, although it was his responsibility to keep the information confidential and not use it to benefit himself or a company other than Nutrien.

Friday’s complaint said that Mackerer admitted to copying the information, but said he could not account for the storage devices. He also, reportedly, “refused to agree that he would not use, and would return or destroy, any proprietary information he had copied.” 

Nutrien is represented by Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP

Nutrien estimated that it already lost over $100,000 from the alleged breach of confidential information and that it would continue to lose customers and vendors without the intervention of the court.