TechAmerica sues departed lobbying team

The trade group alleges breach of contract and misappropriation of proprietary information.

Trey Hodgkins

Trey Hodgkins, formerly with TechAmerica, is one of three recently-departed employees that the firm has sued for breach of contract. (Photo from LinkedIn)

TechAmerica filed suit on Nov. 8 against three former employees and the Information Technology Industry Council, the rival association that hired them. TechAmerica claims that its former executives breached their contracts by leaving abruptly for ITI, and took vital proprietary information along with them.

ITI President and CEO Dean Garfield responded in a Nov. 12 statement that his organization "will fully defend itself in this lawsuit and will not allow this suit to be a distraction from our work and responsibility to our membership."

TechAmerica's suit, filed in the Superior Court of Washington, follows the Nov. 4 resignation of four of its most senior public procurement lobbyists -- Trey Hodgkins, Erica McCann, Pam Walker and Carol Henton. On Nov. 5, ITI announced that the same four were to be the core team of its new venture, the Information Technology Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS).

"To put it simply, there is a right way and a wrong way to leave a job. We don't begrudge anyone for wanting a change but perpetrating illegal acts on your way out is not the way to do it," said Dennis Stolkey, chairman of the TechAmerica Board of Directors, in a Nov. 11 statement. "These three individuals and ITI have attempted to damage TechAmerica's service to its members through unlawful means. That is not acceptable."

TechAmerica's four-count suit names Hodgkins, Walker and Henton, but not McCann.

Stolkey said his organization would not "sit idly by and have our organization diminished because of the illegal acts of a few…Our members have put their intellectual and monetary resources into building TechAmerica over many years. We owe them a duty to defend their investments and interests from the unlawful actions of a few disgruntled individuals."

In the suit, TechAmerica seeks $5 million in damages; a temporary restraining order barring disclosure of trade secrets by Hodgkins, Walker and Henton; a permanent injunction; punitive damages; attorney's fees; and court costs.

The suit said Hodgkins, Walker and Henton announced on Nov. 4 at 4 p.m. they were resigning from TechAmerica and "immediately commenced employment with ITI" the following morning. TechAmerica claims ITI raised $50,000 each from more than a dozen of its members to cover the cost of the hirings.

While TechAmerica said it asked the former executives to hand over their laptop computers, it said it agreed to let Henton, who worked remotely from her home in California, to temporarily hold onto hers. TechAmerica said it did not agree to let her use the laptop during that time, but claims she did. While the organization had terminated her access to the internal network and email, the suit alleges Henton used the device "frequently" during the delay. It also claimed she had "previously downloaded confidential and proprietary documents to the laptop's hard drive, which she accessed following her resignation."

TechAmerica's suit also claims that Henton -- at Hodgkins' direction -- accessed a proprietary membership spreadsheet that recorded the amount of the organization's annual membership dues, renewal dates and individual contact numbers at member companies. TechAmerica claims Henton used the list to email TechAmerica members about the departures to ITI, and to "induce TechAmerica members to join ITI."

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