Sometimes a court case becomes a news item simply because of the parties involved. Such is the case of Bimbo USA filing an injunction against its own employee who wanted to leave his job as head muffin man to go work for rival Hostess. (Makers of Twinkees and Ho Hos)
A news item involving Bimbo and Ho Hos wouldn’t be complete if they weren’t really fighting over muffins, would it? It’s a innuendo parade! Getting past the plastic wrapper, we’re all a little disappointed when we discover the plantiffs name is Chris Botticella and not something more snickerworthy.
The heart of the case is a real Twinkie. It turns out Botticella is one of only seven Bimbo employees who knows the secret recipe to making Thomas English Muffins. And those delicious morsels are a $500 million per year business which would be a cream filling to Hostess’ already lucrative business.
Yes, Mr. Botticella is the $500 million muffin man and Bimbo is afraid that he was buttered up to move Drury Lane from Southern California to Pennslyvania.
The New York Times article documents the fruit pie filling of the case:
After Bimbo bought Thomas’ in January 2009, Mr. Botticella became responsible for an English muffin factory in Placentia, Calif. That March, apparently as a condition for entering the ranks of the nook and cranny cognoscenti, the company had him sign a confidentiality agreement. It barred him from revealing company secrets, but did not prohibit him from going to work for a competitor.
At about the same time, according to papers filed by Mr. Botticella’s lawyers, the company embarked on a broad cost-cutting drive. It involved plant closings and layoffs, and the papers say he found the process painful and became unhappy in his job.
Last October, he accepted a job offer from Hostess to run its Eastern operations. The salary was $200,000 a year, $50,000 less than he was paid at Bimbo.
Some serious questions this case brings up
All jokes and Ding Dongs aside, and you are encouraged to add your own Sno Balls in the comments, this particular case of an employer suing an employee who wants to quit to work for a rival brings up some interesting questions.
- If an employee under an NDA leaves a job to work for a rival, how do you know you can trust the employee under the NDA?
- If an employee leaves to work for a competitor, do the employees at the old company automatically assume that the old employee will share everything?
- Have we past the point where a publicly traded company can keep trade secrets? Certainly, if Hostess really wanted a recipe for English Muffins they have the resources to find out what is in it. Of course, it seems like if they copied the recipe they’d be breaking patent laws which makes this whole thing complete nonsense.
- If they wanted to know how to make English muffins, couldn’t they just ask a baker from England?
- Would it seem reasonable to assume that Mr. Botticella could demand Bimbo’s $250,000 annual salary for life since his employer won’t allow him to work for another baker? (40 years in the industry, no one could expect him to go elsewhere)
- Am I the only one disturbed that an employer could file an injunction (and win in two states!) preventing an employee for quitting?