A local professional wrestling promotions company, TNA Entertainment, LLC (“TNA”), has sued former employee, Brian Wittenstein, and direct competitor, World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. (“WWE”), for unlawfully using TNA’s trade secrets against them in unfair competition. The case, entitled TNA Entertainment, LLC v. Wittenstein and World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., was filed on May 23, 2012 in the Davidson County Chancery Court, Docket No. 12-746-III and alleges that Wittenstein and WWE violated Tennessee’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act.
According to TNA, Wittenstein was terminated from the company on August 3, 2011. In connection with his separation, Wittenstein entered into a Separation Agreement and General Release (the “Agreement”), which expressly prohibited him from disclosing TNA’s confidential trade secrets, including information about TNA’s contracts with other wrestling talent.
TNA claims that Wittenstein violated the agreement by downloading TNA’s company policies, contractual agreements with other wrestling talent, and detailed information about its wrestling talent (including compensation). TNA then claims that Wittenstein disclosed the gathered information to his new employer, and direct competitor of TNA, WWE. TNA asserts that WWE’s possession and use of TNA’s confidential trade secrets provide WWE an unfair competitive advantage regarding wrestling talent.
TNA alleges that WWE has used TNA’s confidential trade secrets to solicit wrestling talent currently, under contract with TNA, and encourage them to join WWE. Wrestler Ric Flair is a recent example of a client that TNA claims attempted to terminate his exclusive contract with them to sign up with WWE.
To date, the court has entered a temporary restraining order, prohibiting WWE from using TNA’s confidential information. Though this case is relatively new, it is a prime example of how costly unlawful use of trade secrets can be to former employees and new employers. Under the Tennessee Uniform Trade Secrets Act, the unlawful user of trade secrets can be liable for the plaintiff’s actual loss caused by the misappropriation of trade secrets and any “unjust enrichment.” In certain cases, the defendant may also be liable for “exemplary damages” resulting in up to twice the award for the plaintiff’s damages and the plaintiff’s attorney fees.
Ultimately, employers should always be aware of and protect themselves against potential liability when hiring an employee who may possess a former employer’s confidential trade secrets. If you need more information on confidential trade secrets and defenses against former employees, please contact any of the Burr & Forman Non-Compete & Trade Secrets team members for assistance.