In a lawsuit filed last week in King County Superior Court, Amazon says it wants to keep Arthur Valdez, who until recently oversaw international supply-chain expansion operations, from using the “confidential strategic knowledge” he possesses at Target.
Amazon.com is suing to enforce a noncompete agreement involving former logistics executive Arthur Valdez, who recently was hired by Target, a key rival in the retail market.
In a lawsuit filed Monday in King County Superior Court, Amazon says it wants to keep Valdez, who until recently oversaw Amazon’s international supply-chain expansion operations, from using the “confidential strategic knowledge” he possesses at Target.
Amazon argues that Valdez, who is set to become Target’s chief supply chain and logistics officer starting March 28, is in breach of an agreement that binds him to an 18-month timeout in which he cannot compete against his former employer.
The lawsuit underscores Amazon’s competitive streak — and the oversight it exerts over its intellectual property as rivals encroach on fields it helped develop. In 2014, Amazon sued Zoltan Szabadi, who left a job with Amazon Web Services for Google’s cloud-computing unit. It’s not clear whether these legal broadsides always work: Szabadi’s LinkedIn profile shows he has worked at Google uninterrupted since May 2014.
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Target is in the midst of a big overhaul of its operations, which in recent years have been battered by an ill-starred foray into Canada and by a major data breach.
Valdez, who spent 16 years in increasingly powerful roles at Amazon’s sophisticated logistics machine, was a big prize. In a news release announcing his hiring, Target’s No.2 executive, John Mulligan, said, “Arthur’s leadership will be a tremendous asset as we continue to drive improvements” in logistics.
Target spokeswoman Molly Snyder said in an email: “We have taken significant precautions to ensure that any proprietary information remains confidential and we believe this suit is without merit. However, as this is pending litigation, we are not going to comment further at this time.”
Thousands of tech workers sign noncompete agreements, but very few are ever sued for moving around, says Robert Gomulkiewicz, a law professor at the University of Washington School of Law who specializes in intellectual property. When there’s litigation, it means there’s a lot at stake, because suing is both expensive and has a reputational cost for the company, he said.
Even then, what usually happens is that the parties negotiate the length of the noncompete agreement and the scope of the work being done by the individual. “Most of the cases settle on those terms,” he said.
Amazon claims Valdez failed to “accurately describe his role at Target” when he announced his departure, and says that Target’s laudatory press release shows Valdez intends to use his experience at Amazon in his new role.
Valdez, Amazon alleges, was privy to talks about deals with logistics providers that Target intends to ape.
Amazon also says Valdez, during job interviews, highlighted areas he would discuss with Target’s leadership. Among these were the “exact title and topics” of a top secret meeting dubbed “Holiday Lessons Learned,” which is “one of the most confidential aspects of Amazon’s analysis and planning” and included “confidential analysis of Amazon’s competition against Target,” according to the lawsuit.
Amazon said in the filing that Valdez’s 2015 compensation exceeded $1 million.
Amazon says it talked to Target and Valdez’s lawyer to try to address its concerns, but no agreement was reached.