Mario Industries Awarded $1.528 Million Judgment Against Renaissance, Inc.
ROANOKE, Va. (March 20, 2006) – A total of $1.528 million in compensatory damages has been awarded to Mario Industries of Roanoke, in a lawsuit accusing Renaissance, Inc. of Roanoke and its executives Troy Cook of Vinton and Joe Cassell of Roanoke, of conspiracy, theft of trade secrets, interference with business expectancy, and two other counts. The jury also awarded $56,700 against Cook for punitive damages in his business dealings with Mario Industries, a family-owned contract lighting manufacturer and distributor that moved its headquarters to Roanoke in 1988. The Honorable Charles Dorsey presided over the trial in Roanoke Circuit Court, which concluded Friday night.
Cook, vice president of Renaissance, Inc., a Roanoke lighting and home furniture manufacturer and a former contract sales manager of Mario Industries, and Cassell, president, who was previously associated with Twists and Turns in Roanoke, were found liable based on Mario’s allegations of conspiracy, theft of trade secrets, theft of property, and intentional interference with business expectations.
The lawsuit also named Bette Banks, of Richmond, and Joe and Mary Darnell of The Darnell Group, Chicago, with conspiracy and two other counts. Banks and the Darnells, former Mario sales representatives who now work for Renaissance, Inc., were found liable based on Mario’s allegations they had breached their duties of loyalty when they illegally funneled Mario business deals to Renaissance.
According to Matt Broughton, a senior partner at Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore, LLP and lead counsel for the plaintiff, the lawsuit alleged Cook had stolen customer lists, financial information, CAD drawings, vendor lists, sales information, and other confidential information from Mario Industries from April 2003 to November 2003, when he left Mario Industries’ employment to start his own company. Documents retrieved from Cook’s work and home computer proved that he had used confidential information to divert business from Mario Industries and undermine Mario business dealings.
“Cook, Cassell, and their sales representatives deliberately interfered with Mario Industries’ business contract expectations by diverting sales to Renaissance.” said Broughton.
Broughton said that although Cook had not signed a non-compete agreement with Mario Industries, the jury decided that Cook’s behavior was so reprehensible while he still was employed by Mario, and thereafter, that they awarded an additional $56,700 against him to both punish him and warn others against similar behavior.
Louis Scutellaro, president of Mario Industries, said that he was pleased with the verdict, both as repayment for the financial damage done to his company and for the betrayal of trust he had placed in Cook.
“At the time Troy left our company, we were sad to see him go,” said Scutellaro. “It was only in the months that followed that the scope of his misdeeds became clear. We believe he deliberately tried to destroy the company that my grandfather founded in 1922.” Based on the large verdict and punitive damages the jury obviously agreed.
The lawsuit highlights the changing environment in which we all live. Judge Dorsey ruled that Troy Cook had no expectation of privacy in his documents contained on Mario’s business computer. The ruling even extended to a letter drafted to the attorney who was providing him with advice in advance of his termination. Forensic experts hired by Gentry Locke were able to recover information from Cook’s computer after he had deleted the documents prior to his departure from Mario Industries.
“The preparation for this lawsuit took more than two years and was a real team effort on the part of David Gibson, partner, Greg Habeeb, associate, and many other attorneys and staff members at Gentry Locke. We’re pleased with the verdict and with the fact that the jury affirmed that deceptive business practices have no place in the state of Virginia,” said Broughton.