Defense that Defendant Employee was “Set Up” Does Not Hold Up in Contempt Case

In a case that was decided last year but that last week received attention from Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, Judge Renee Dupuis of the Norfolk County Superior Court ruled that a defendant employee violated a preliminary injunction by hatching a plan either to steal clients from his former employer or to destroy his former employer’s business.

In Angstrom Advanced, Inc. v. Mziguir, the employer, Angstrom, was an international company that sold, manufactured, assembled, and distributed scientific instruments. The employee, Mziguir, was hired to work in the sales department. He signed a non-competition and confidentiality agreement. A few months after he started, some other employees, including the President of Angstrom, discovered that Mziguir had registered a dummy website that duplicated Angstrom’s website and attempted to divert payments from Angstrom. Mziguir also offered to fix the President’s hard drive when someone had tampered with it. He did not repair it but told the President that he had copied a substantial portion of the hard drive. Later, Mziguir offered to pay a former intern to purchase equipment that Mziguir was engaged in negotiations with an Angstrom customer to purchase, and the President found the customer’s purchase order to Angstrom for the equipment in Mziguir’s email trash folder. After the President confronted Mziguir and had him log-on to his computer, the President discovered other employees’ email files, information on an Angstrom patent application, a program designed to be used to hack into others’ email accounts, and information relating to the dummy website. Mziguir left Angstrom that day and never returned.

After Angstrom filed a lawsuit, Mziguir agreed to the terms of a preliminary injunction which was then entered by the court. Among other things, the injunction prohibited Mziguir from contacting Angstrom’s suppliers, customers, or employees, using or converting Angstrom’s proprietary information, and holding himself out as an Angstrom employee or posing as another Angstrom employee. Mziguir then proceeded to violate the injunction by: (1) contacting Federal Express to divert crucial papers to an Angstrom customer (pretending to be another Angstrom employee); (2) calling and emailing Angstrom customers, using information he gained from an Angstrom employee’s email account to pose as an Angstrom employee; and (3) calling Angstrom’s President anonymously and emailing the President from his father’s house to threaten the President.

Angstrom then filed a complaint for contempt against Mziguir for violating the injunction. After four days of evidentiary hearings, and despite Mziguir’s defense that he was “set up,” the court ruled that “there is no doubt that it was [Mziguir] who engaged in the conduct which violated the preliminary injunction.” The court awarded $278,622.90 to Angstrom, which included its attorney’s fees and costs incurred in pursuing damages for contempt. The injunction remained in effect.

One lesson from this case is that if a defendant employee agrees to an injunction, the employee should comply with it. Courts will not tolerate flagrant violations of their orders. An employee who violates an injunction loses credibility and, with credibility, the case.

Thanks to Andrew C. Oatway of Morisi & Oatway, P.C. in Quincy, counsel for Angstrom, for passing along the decision.

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