UPDATED: Delta Denies American's Claims Of Strategic Data Theft - Business Travel News

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UPDATED: Delta Denies American's Claims Of Strategic Data Theft

June 03, 2009 - 12:00 AM ET

Delta Air Lines and a recently hired sales executive in court documents this week countered American Airlines' lawsuit claims that allege its former employee "misappropriated" strategy information and client data before shifting jobs.

The initial complaint, filed by American on May 13 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, claims Charles Imhof, prior to joining Delta on May 1, "e-mailed key information comprising American's New York strategy to a relative's personal e-mail account and copied multiple documents to a personal, external drive, in violation of multiple agreements, American's Standards of Business Conduct and applicable law."

American called that data "highly sensitive competitive information relating to its customers, strategy, routes, and pricing," noting that Imhof—joining Delta in an "identical high-ranking position"—would use or disclose that data in his new role at the competing carrier.

In a response filed this week, Imhof and Delta largely denied American's claims. In court documents Delta "denies that Mr. Imhof's position at Delta require him to disclose American's highly sensitive competitive information or makes such disclosure inevitable," noting that his employment at Delta "or use of his knowledge or skill" does not violate any law.

Following 22 years at American, most recently as managing director of New York division passenger sales, Imhof resigned in April and last month joined Delta. American said on May 5, it "discovered troubling items," including e-mails showing Imhof "had forwarded certain confidential, proprietary and trade secret information to a personal e-mail address, presumably belonging to a relative, upon information and belief, as soon as he determined that the terms of employment with Delta were acceptable."

Specifically, American alleged Imhof "misappropriated American's New York Passenger Sales strategy playbook: a 115-page color PowerPoint presentation," according to court documents. "Mr. Imhof forwarded this presentation, and the accompanying e-mail, which discussed thoughts relating to the Delta/Northwest Airlines merger, to an outside e-mail account presumably belonging to a relative."

Imhof in a response this week admitted he "forwarded the e-mail, along with its attachment, to his family's home e-mail account," though Delta denied both that Imhof "misappropriated" trade secrets and "that the document referenced is protected as a trade secret."

American said it sent a letter to Delta shortly after Imhof began his employment, requesting "Delta conduct an investigation, that Delta take all steps necessary to ensure that American's information is protected and that Mr. Imhof and Delta preserve electronically stored information."

Following an internal review at Delta, Imhof was to resume work at the carrier, but a New York district judge last month granted a temporary injunction on Imhof's employment at Delta through June 4, as the court weighs evidence.

American is seeking more than $75,000 in damages, a further injunction on Imhof's Delta employment, a restraining order from accessing what American describes as proprietary information and the return of American's "property, including records, documents, data, and equipment, and all copies."

Update: June 4

United States District Judge Lewis Kaplan denied American's motion for a preliminary injunction on Imhof's employment at Delta in a memorandum opinion issued this week. The opinion is largely dismissive of many of American's claims, as the judge notes that Imhof "has not communicated any confidential information to Delta and has offered to return or destroy the documents and files he took away from American precludes the conclusion that any trade secrets are likely to be disseminated widely or otherwise irreparable impaired."

Imhof "Is unlikely to give American documents and computer Files to Delta," the judge wrote. Concerning an American Powerpoint document, Imhof admittedly sent to a personal e-mail account, the judge noted, "As an initial matter, only six of the 115 pages purport to state American's strategy, and the objectives there stated are so obvious and so general as to be virtually meaningless."
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