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Performance Food Group Sues Former Employee

RICHMOND, VA (August 3, 2010)—Note to employees: If you're going to pass company secrets along to a competitor, it's probably unwise to use company e-mail.

Performance Food Group Co. LLC, a Goochland County-based food-service distributor, is suing a former employee for breach of contract over e-mails he allegedly sent to a competitor relating to tomato comparisons, pricing information and product descriptions.

Performance filed the lawsuit last week in U.S. District Court in Richmond.

It claims Illinois resident James M. Dawson passed on trade secrets in breach of his contract and fiduciary duty.

The company is seeking damages of more than $1 million, court records show.

Dawson joined Performance in 2005 as a district sales manager but was demoted to a sales position in January 2009.

According to the company, he resigned in May and gave two weeks' notice but was terminated when Performance discovered Dawson had been giving company information to a competitor -- one that had offered Dawson a job.

"Moreover, Dawson had the audacity to commit his wrongful acts in broad daylight using his PFG e-mail account," the lawsuit claims.

Calls to Performance seeking comment were not returned.

McGuireWoods attorney AnneBentley McCray, who represents the food distributor, was not available for comment.

Dawson could not be located for comment.

"Businesses are trying to protect their own business interests when they have trade secrets," said Ann C. Hodges, a law professor at University of Richmond's school of law. "The success [of the lawsuit] is going to depend on the facts. . . . Was this really a trade secret, and was it used in a way that was unlawful?"

In its lawsuit, Performance said Dawson was not authorized to provide confidential information and that the distributor believes it led to lost business.

The competitor to which Dawson sent information withdrew its job offer, but he found work with another company that also competes with Performance, the lawsuit said.

The suit seeks punitive and compensatory damages, as well as an order barring Dawson from violating a confidentiality, non-compete, non-disclosure agreement, in force while he worked there and in the five years after he left.

The company also wants Dawson to give back any profit he may have made from his actions, the lawsuit said.

A hearing in the matter has not been set.

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