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Amazon Sues After Ex-Worker Takes Google Job 272

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the everything-you-know-belongs-to-bezos dept.
vortex2.71 (802986) writes Amazon is suing a former employee of its cloud services division after he took a similar position at Google. The interesting aspect of the lawsuit is that Google is choosing to vigorously defend the lawsuit, so this is a case of Goliath vs. Goliath rather than David vs. Goliath. According to court documents, Zoltan Szabadi left a business-development position at Amazon Web Services for Google's Cloud Platform division. Szabadi's lawyer responded by contending that, while Szabadi did sign a non-compete agreement, he would only use his general knowledge and skills at Google and would not use any confidential information he had access to at Amazon. He also believes Amazon's confidentiality and non-compete agreements are an unlawful business practice.
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Amazon Sues After Ex-Worker Takes Google Job

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  • by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @12:47PM (#47369653)
    But it is impossible to "not use any confidential information he had access to" without surgery. It's in your brain, you will use it if the situation arises.
    • Just scrawl 'I don't agree' on the signature line. Let them enforce that.

      • by ScentCone (795499) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @12:51PM (#47369697)

        Just scrawl 'I don't agree' on the signature line. Let them enforce that.

        And they would scrawl "you can't cash this" on the paycheck you won't be getting, since signing your employment contract in good faith is, you know, part of setting things up so they'll give you money.

        • If they notice. Have you talked to a HR drone lately? They aren't exactly strong on perception and smarts.

          • Fraud is a serious crime.

          • by jtownatpunk.net (245670) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:50PM (#47370345)

            Goes both ways. Reminds me of a situation I ran into years ago. The company I worked for shut its doors overnight (Monday was business as usual, Tuesday "we're done"). I was one of the last people out the door because I stayed on to wrap up our last projects. When that was finally done a few weeks later, I did my exit paperwork. One of the documents said that the company owned any IP I had created during the time I worked there (both on the clock and off the clock, even if it was unrelated to my job) and everything I might create for the next 5 years. When I stopped laughing and dried my eyes I said, "You can't be serious." So the accountant who had inherited HR duties read the document. "You're the first person to say anything about this. Wow. That's just... Okay, cross out the parts you don't agree to and we'll both initial the changes." There was hardly anything left by the time I stopped crossing shit off.

            I thought I'd been working with intelligent people but I'm the only one who noticed that ridiculousness.

          • I talk to both HR drones and IT drones all the time, at various companies. And although, unlike you, I am hesitant to generalize, the HR people seem to have far and away more real world smarts and overall life-coping competence than their coding and server-jockeying colleagues.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by HornWumpus (783565)

              You should post that someplace where people don't deal with HR idiots on a daily basis. We _all_ know you are full of shit.

        • You may still be on the hook. A "signature" is when you write an identifying mark. It doesn't have to be your name, though that is the most common. This is even referenced in movies where people put a big X as their signature. You could sign "Barack Obama" and legally it would still be binding on you. The question is, would the phrase "I don't agree" count as a signature or a statement? If you put it on the signature line when asked to sign, especially as a "scrawl", you may have a problem, while anyw
          • by Kookus (653170) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @02:29PM (#47370695) Journal

            Another way to counteract it is to indicate you signed under duress. If you are trying to get a job to put food on the table and you really don't have another option, when when someone tells you sign this or we won't hire you, you're "forced" to sign it even if you didn't want to. Any signature acquired under duress is invalid and doesn't form a binding agreement.
            I think it just matters if these agreements are signed after the individual arrives on their first day of work, or before they accept the position and inform their previous business. My assumption is that these agreements are put in front of the person on their first working day... you really have no choice but to sign anything they put in front of you then...

            http://www.lawguru.com/article... [lawguru.com]

        • by genner (694963)
          Last one I got I just turned in blank. Office drones never check that stuff until there's a lawsuit.
        • by retchdog (1319261)

          as i understand, amending a contract in writing (and initialing and dating the changes) counts as a phase of negotiation. it is in good faith to scrawl "i don't agree," although all that really does is void the contract for the moment so it's pretty pointless. if you keep working despite voiding it, you're probably subjecting yourself to a tort.

          however, if you make actual written amendments (without bullshit trickery), and they are stupid enough to sign the contract without reading it, i think it counts as

      • by TheRaven64 (641858) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:41PM (#47370239) Journal
        A contract does not require a signature, it requires a meeting of minds. A signature is one way of demonstrating this. Accepting the pay cheque and showing up for work is another.
    • by lgw (121541)

      He's a sales guy. The confidential information is specific customer lists and future pricing strategy if he knew any. Much like if you're a dev, using your skills and best practices is what you're hired for, but don't take the actual source code or roadmaps from your previous employer.

      And of course the non-competes are BS. Wasn't there an Amendment that ended slavery and indenture servitude a while back? Bit of a dispute about that one IIRC - what say we leave it settled?

      • I'm having a little trouble parsing the slavery comment.

        "In order to ensure you will not use the valuable cotton picking skills you've acquired here at another employer, we've purchased these shackles so that you cannot help another plantation compete with us."

        • by lgw (121541) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:23PM (#47370055) Journal

          Slavery (and indentured servitude) is not the condition of working without being paid, but the condition of having no choice of employer. A contract that amounts to indentured servitude is an illegal contract. How much you think anon-compete looks like indentured servitude is the matter in dispute - if you can't do X, but you can still flip burgers, does that count?

          • by Obfuscant (592200)

            Slavery (and indentured servitude) is not the condition of working without being paid, but the condition of having no choice of employer. A contract that amounts to indentured servitude is an illegal contract.

            It would be, but this is not such a case. A NC doesn't mean you have no choice of employer, only that you can't choose some employers in the future. You give up the freedom to choose in exchange for employment now at that specific company, which is also not a case of "no choice of employer". Saying "no" to a NC is expressing your right to choose, which is defacto evidence that you have a right to choose.

            How much you think anon-compete looks like indentured servitude is the matter in dispute - if you can't do X, but you can still flip burgers, does that count?

            By your definition, it is not even a matter to dispute. "Not being able to choose to work for employer

            • The reason you can't choose to sign yourself into slavery is because it is a non-enforceable contract- not because it's against any definition of slavery.

              You are totally free to. The courts just wouldn't (and couldn't) enforce it.

    • Non-competes are BS. But requiring employees to not reveal confidential information, poach clients, etc. for their new competing bosses seems like a reasonable and ethical thing to ask. It sounds like Amazon believes he may have crossed this line, beyond simply working for a competitor.
      • by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:05PM (#47369843) Homepage Journal

        Non-compete is just one of the many ways in which the US completely an utterly lacks the free market we love to blab about.

      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Non-competes are BS. But requiring employees to not reveal confidential information, poach clients, etc. for their new competing bosses seems like a reasonable and ethical thing to ask. It sounds like Amazon believes he may have crossed this line, beyond simply working for a competitor.

        The problem is that you need specific evidence to sue for this. They're suing for a non-compete agreement, which in theory bars working for Google at all and thus has a much lower burden of proof.

        NDAs have been around for decades and I don't think anybody has a problem with them. If you write software for company A, you can't give the source code to company B. What is controversial is saying that you can't do anything for company B.

        In my industry non-compete agreements are not common, despite there being

      • by afidel (530433)

        Non-competes are BS in almost all cases (if your title doesn't have a C* or *VP you probably shouldn't be asked to sign one), but as you say a non-solicitation agreement and nondisclosure agreement are probably fine for anyone dealing with sales or large amounts of confidential information.

    • by SJester (1676058)
      He won't actually tell them to do anything, just play "hot and cold" while they hold up business plans in front of him. "Warmer, warmer, you're getting close..."
    • by B33rNinj4 (666756)
      I agree that these types of contracts are total crap. It just ends up limiting the job market.
    • by Nyder (754090)

      But it is impossible to "not use any confidential information he had access to" without surgery. It's in your brain, you will use it if the situation arises.

      I'm waiting for a Restaurant to sue another Restaurant when the chef changes job.

      "He can't boil water without using the techniques he learned at our restaurant!!!"

      stupid gits

    • But it is impossible to "not use any confidential information he had access to" without surgery. It's in your brain, you will use it if the situation arises.

      That's, in general, nonsense. It's perfectly possible for me not to use information in my brain, if the situation arises. And this would only be about _confidential_ information. For example, anything that is in Amazon's official sales information is not confidential. And any information that is indeed confidential, it is entirely possible for me to keep my mouth shut, don't tell my colleagues, and don't act on it.

      There are very few positions indeed where it could be judged that it would be inevitable to

    • Well there is using the stuff you know. Then there is using the stuff you have already built. You can't just take your code that you wrote in your previous job and use it at the new company when there is a NCA. They paid you to give them the code, it belongs to them.

    • there was a movie where they did some thing like that to remove info from workers. It was called paycheck.

  • by mfh (56)

    Amazon has deep pockets and they could be bullying an employee here. Many non-competes are thrown out when court challenged. This case could come down to how poorly Amazon may have treated this employee. A non-compete is not a writ of slavery.

  • by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:08PM (#47369877) Homepage
    Robert Parker and Anthony Johnson in 1654 was possibly one of the first documented cases of this. One of Johnsons servants, John Casor who was brought over from Africa, claimed he was under a 'seaven or eight yeares' contract and that hedd completed it. Thus, he asked Johnson for his freedom. Johnson didnt see things this way, and denied the request. Despite this, according to Casor, Johnson eventually agreed to allow him to leave, with pressure supposedly coming from Johnsons family who felt that Casor should be free. Thus, Casor went to work for a man by the name of Robert Parker. Either Johnson changed his mind or he never said Casor could go, because he soon filed a lawsuit against Parker claiming that Parker stole his servant, and that Casor was Johnsons for life and was not an indentured servant.
  • by sandbagger (654585) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:09PM (#47369887)

    The purpose of a non-compete clause is primarily one of ethics. However, you cannot say 'We want to hire you for X skill and never have you use those skills for anyone else ever again.'

    It's unrealistic.

    The only way that's sustainable is if they compensate you for never being able to make a living again. I believe that when the hammer is brought down for non compete clauses, it needs to be at the end of a process and not done in principle. Amazon and Google have no end of jobs and bazillions of products. As long as you're not using inside knowledge, and competing directly in products, the former employer needs to make some evidentiary claim.

    They do serve a function and need to be there.

    • Alternatively, a more realistic/fair situation would be to force any employer to continue paying the employee during the non-compete duration. This would be fair to the employee, and at the same time, reduce a company's desire to implement a non-compete in the first place.
      • Hardly sounds fair for the employee. Your career is still stopped cold. And it is never easy to restart a career with a multiple year jap in the middle.
    • by Shados (741919)

      I absolutely agree there simply shouldn't be non-competes, and in some states, that's the case.

      That said, if you have a case of someone working for company A, in a very specific division, and maintains a customer/contact list, then goes to the #1 or #2 competitor of that company, in precisely the exact same division of a fairly narrow field, physically across the street, that's definitely pushing it in term of ethics.

      I still think you should totally be allowed to do that. But at least it isn't a case of "Te

      • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:44PM (#47370269)
        Actually in Canada there was a recent Supreme court decision where they said that you could even contact former customers as long as it was reasonable for you to have naturally remembered their contact information. So I couldn't leave with a list of 100,000 contacts, but 40-100 would potentially be reasonable.

        Basically how this broke down was that it was against the charter to tell you where you can and can't work. Also it was against the charter to tell you who you can and can't contact. Thus any contract clauses that violate the charter are void.

        I was blown away with the contacting former customers being allowed. Oh and this particular decision also cleared pillaging former employees.
    • >The only way that's sustainable is if they compensate you for never being able to make a living again.

      Correct. A non-compete is only ethical if it comes with enough cash that you don't have to work in your field for many years. The alternative is having a former employer continue to control the employee without compensation, which is slavery.
  • Good luck with that ... you don't mess with the Zoltan. ;-)

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @01:39PM (#47370217)
    I love how this makes sense to the corporate minds at Amazon. This guy worked for them and thus they can now control his life? Employees leaving is a part of life. Oddly enough a specialist in such an industry is going to go to a competitor. Any contract that somehow demands that they get to control you after you quit is absurd and should be thrown out with extreme prejudice. And before anyone says, "Well he signed it." Can you list 4 consecutive words from the terms and conditions of Slashdot? Did you know that Clause 18 section B allows slashdot to demand that you donate any or all compatible organs if they need a transplant for any of the executive?

    If you look at a recent Supreme court decision in Canada involving RBC, you will find that they basically struck down most of the concept of an employment non-compete as violating a charter right to live and work where you chose. While this might seem irrelevant to the US courts, I went to a talk given by a supreme court justice who said, that due to the nature of many western countries having a British based legal system that they do look at the thinking of the highest courts in other former British colonies. Not only to see what they were thinking at the time but to see if there were unintended consequences to similar decisions.
    • by whoever57 (658626)

      If you look at a recent Supreme court decision in Canada involving RBC, you will find that they basically struck down most of the concept of an employment non-compete as violating a charter right to live and work where you chose

      Maybe you are looking at a different case to me, but in the case I looked at, as long as an employee gives proper notice, once the notice period is over, there is no actual or implied non-compete agreement.

    • by mu51c10rd (187182) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @03:52PM (#47371489)

      Did you know that Clause 18 section B allows slashdot to demand that you donate any or all compatible organs if they need a transplant for any of the executive?

      Congratulations on doing a better job than Slashdot at getting people to read their terms and conditions...

  • I think they might have a leg to stand on here. He's probably taking all of his contacts with him so to speak. That's not like some C++ developer taking his learned experience it's a person who can directly and immediately affect their business by poaching customers. I'm sure they're all going after the same "big fish". And those are multimillion dollar contracts.

    My guess is that they are basically trying to block him from doing that.

    Non-competes are usually completely useless HR drivel, but in this cas

  • It's a show (Score:5, Interesting)

    by melchoir55 (218842) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @03:03PM (#47371037)

    Amazon's suit will obviously fail here as CA will never allow this kind of restriction on a regular employee. Tech industry giants are in trouble for agreeing not to compete with each other. What better way to make it seem like they are competing than to toss a few hundred thousand away on a meaningless but high profile court case which is decided before it began?

    They gain billions by not competing for employees. They've been doing it for a long time, and they can continue to do it as long as people don't put a stop to it. This case is a marketing ploy.

  • by bobbied (2522392) on Wednesday July 02, 2014 @03:22PM (#47371213)

    I can tell you they are a royal PAIN to get out of once you sign it. However, they do have specific limits and processes that must be followed in order to be valid. What are these limits? You are going to have to check with a local lawyer to find that out, because every state has their own laws. In my case, the law clearly limited non-competes to 24 months and with in a reasonable geographic limit and a few other things, like being unique to the employee's job and have to be accompanied with some kind of compensation to the employee. All but the term of the contract where at issue in my case.

    I know that in California non-compete agreements are seen as an unfair constraint of trade and generally are found to be unenforceable, at least for employee agreements. So there is something good about the left coast if you are trying to get out of a non-compete. Move to Cali for 2 years and you will be golden, because they have to sue you where you live.

    If that's not an option, then I would highly recommend you get yourself a lawyer if you find that you simply MUST violate a contract like this. But you had better know that in most places, if your previous employer actually did have a lawyer draft their document, you are in for some serious pain and legal fees and your chances for success are pretty slim.

    Now In my case, they dropped the suit before trial. I had already demonstrated that they had been acting in bad faith on a number of issues related to my employment (failure to pay overtime, failure to pay due wages and bonuses when due) and saying untrue things to prospective employer who called to verify my employment. I had a defamation case that my lawyer was begging to file for me and a wage claim for the bonus money they failed to pay. I think that they just wanted to punish me for defying them and quitting abruptly, then getting unemployment from the state because I quit with cause. No matter, I let them off the hook for dropping their suit, mainly because I was SO done with them.

    SO, My advice is GET A LAWYER! Do it before you sign one of these things so you know what you are signing and what it says. Have your lawyer rewrite it if they think it would be better for you. KEEP A COPY of every thing you sign. Don't count on the HR files to have it, you keep a copy. Finally, DON'T give them an occasion to sue if you can help it. Going though the civil process is frustrating and expensive for all involved. It is best to keep it out of court if at all possible. Do mediation, draw straws, ANYTHING but get drawn into a legal fight you really don't need and cannot afford.

Thus spake the master programmer: "After three days without programming, life becomes meaningless." -- Geoffrey James, "The Tao of Programming"

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