Airgas sues former employee over non-compete agreement

Kelly Holleran Jul. 29, 2011, 6:35am

An industrial gas and safety supplier claims one of its former employees left the company to begin an occupation with a competing business and began stealing customers from the supplier.

Airgas filed a verified petition to take deposition before suit July 19 in Jefferson County District Court.

In June 2008 Airgas acquired Oilind, a safety services provider.

In its petition, Airgas claims it hired Michelle Hightower on Oct. 4 to work as a safety sales specialist in Beaumont. Hightower's job entailed calling Airgas's existing and potential customers in an attempt to sell them its services, rental products and safety products, according to the complaint.

On Sept. 24, before she began working, Hightower signed a confidentiality and non-solicitation agreement, in which she agreed to refrain from calling Airgas's customers for at least one year if she went to work for a competing company, the suit states.

However, shortly after Hightower began working for Airgas' competitor, Sprint Safety, she began placing phone calls to Airgas' old customers, the complaint says.

On June 12, Airgas claims it wrote to Hightower to remind her of the confidentiality and non-solicitation agreement she signed before working for the company.

Hightower's counsel responded, saying she had not received confidential information while working for Airgas and had no obligation to the company following her departure, according to the complaint.

"Airgas desires to investigate potential claims it may have against Hightower and Spring Safety for improper solicitation of Oilind's clients, and use of Oilind's trade secrets, proprietary information and confidential information to improperly solicit and target Oilind's clients," the suit states.

In its petition, Airgas seeks an order granting the oral deposition of Hightower, plus other relief to which it may be entitled.

Jacqueline Johnson Lichty and Jeremy W. Hawpe of Littler Mendelson in Dallas will be representing it.

Judge Milton Shuffield, 136th District Court, has been assigned to the case.

Case No. D190-535

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