Firm sues ex-employee over lost business

A Massachusetts credit reporting company charges that a former New Hampshire employee took the company’s trade secrets with him to a West Coast rival.

But the employee and his new company deny it, saying that the charges are in retaliation for his success in closing deals and in winning back vacation pay against his former boss.

Command Credit Corp. a credit information reseller in Medford Mass., filed suit July 13 in U.S. District Court in New Hampshire, charging that William J. O’Kane took sales leads and renewal dates that Commercial Credit Reports Inc. – a California company now based in Nevada — immediately followed up on, capturing many of CCC’s customers.

But O’Kane denies he was going after any clients, saying that he had only four unsolicited old clients out of the 48 new clients he developed for Commercial Credit. “If I wanted to target their clients, I could clean them out in a month,” he said. “They are not losing them to me, but to their competitors because of their incompetence. These are people who I have embarrassed. It was a big mistake to let me go.”

O’Kane said he handed over hundreds of customers a decade ago when he merged his company — Business Data Group – into what became CCC. At CCC, he became sales and marketing manager before he was fired in January 2006. He primarily solicited business over the telephone out of his Atkinson home, using the leads of two telemarketers.

The suit says O’Kane was passing information to Commercial Credit before he was terminated, despite a non-disclosure clause in his contract. In May or June, a dozen of 19 customers did not renew their contracts, an “atypical” non-renewal rate, the suit says.

This was all part of a “scheme” for Commercial Credit to put CCC in a precarious position so it could purchase CCC at a depressed price, the suit charges, and on July 6, Pam Ogden, president of Commercial Credit, sent an e-mail expressing interest in such a purchase.

The suit urges that the court stop Commercial from going after CCC’s customers with this information, as well as seeks unspecified monetary damages from both Commercial and O’Kane.

O’Kane said that the company tried to get him to resign with a non-compete clause, but he refused. He said he was then “fired under false pretenses” so that the CEO could hire his friend.

Ogden dismissed the lawsuit as well, calling it “malicious retaliation” made up of “baseless allegations.”

O’Kane called her to look for a job, because he could “see the writing on the wall,” said Ogden, but “he didn’t take their lists. I wouldn’t need their lists.”

First of all, anybody can buy the same customer lists, she said. Second, the business are different: CCC being a pre-paid company that markets geographically, while Commercial Credit is a pay-as-you-go operation marketing primarily via business trade groups. Third, there are so many competitors that it doesn’t make sense to accuse just one company of stealing customers.

Ogden said CCC simply doesn’t want to face the consequences of terminating their best salesperson. She denied that her interest in buying CCC was part of any scheme.

The final straw, claimed Ogden and O’Kane, was when the Department of Labor ruled against CCC June 30 concerning back vacation pay. The hearing officer ruled that the company was “not credible” and awarded O’Kane $13,750.90. O’Kane represented himself against the company’s attorney.

A spokesperson for the firm representing CCC declined comment beyond what is in the lawsuit – which, he said, the company will be able to prove in court. – BOB SANDERS

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