Another legal drama is unfolding in the solar industry over alleged data theft.
Last week, SunPower filed a lawsuit in a California district court alleging that SunEdison poached 20 employees in the period 2011 to 2014. SunPower also claims that SunEdison received stolen confidential data from the former employees, which included thousands of files on sales strategies and market intelligence.
"SunPower claims a forensic analysis of laptops and work accounts belonging to former area sales manager Shane Messer and former global brand senior director Kendall Fong showed that they likely copied hundreds or thousands of files onto a removable device or into an unauthorized storage location," reported Law 360.
The court is reportedly allowing SunPower to examine the files. The company is looking to recover any revenues that were lost as a result of the leak.
Three years ago, SunPower sued five former employees for allegedly taking confidential files and delivering them to SolarCity. One of the defendants, SunPower veteran Tom Leyden, was accused of downloading information on $100 million worth of sales before moving over to SolarCity. SunPower claimed that SolarCity "knowingly accepted these stolen computer files." The case was eventually settled out of court.
Two days after the latest lawsuit was filed, SunEdison CEO Ahmad Chatila wrote a memo to the company's thousands of employees, calling the suit a "baseless" smear campaign.
"SunEdison intends to vigorously defend ourselves and our employees against the baseless claims advanced by SunPower’s CEO, claims clearly intended to smear the good names and reputations of those who worked for SunPower but left for new and greater opportunities," wrote Chatila.
Chatila also said that SunEdison had not obtained any confidential information. Any transfer of files to the company from SunPower was accidental, he wrote.
"Due to the volume of data saved on laptops and servers, and the fact that modern employees sometimes save personal data on their company issued-laptops and other devices, extraction of non-confidential, non-proprietary data from company servers upon employee departures happens. That fact does not give rise to a legitimate corporate scandal."
GTM obtained a copy of the memo, printed in full below.
DATE: June 5, 2015
TO: All Employees
FROM: Ahmad Chatila, Chief Executive Officer
SUBJECT: Our Loyalty to Each Other
On June 3rd, I learned that SunPower is taking legal action in California and Italy against SunEdison, as well as some of our employees who previously worked at SunPower. This is very unfortunate.
As you all know from our annual training, and contrary to the allegations, SunEdison takes the protection of confidential, proprietary and trade secret information very seriously. We protect our own intellectual property as well as the intellectual property of our business partners, and we respect the intellectual property of others, including the former employers of our people.
With 56 years of innovation in technology, business model, and financial structures, SunEdison has emerged as the leader in renewable energy. While we respect SunPower’s heritage and accomplishments, our own strategy (and our success in our strategy) clearly shows that we do not view SunPower as a role model. Out of more than 3,500 employees we do have 20-30 employees who have worked at SunPower at one point or another in their careers. If polled, I imagine most renewable energy companies would have similar statistics -- including a healthy count of ex-SunEdison employees. This is not unusual, employee mobility is a fact of life in the world today.
SunEdison intends to vigorously defend ourselves and our employees against the baseless claims advanced by SunPower’s CEO, claims clearly intended to smear the good names and reputations of those who worked for SunPower but left for new and greater opportunities. SunPower’s CEO and I come from the same company, it is an approach that both of us witnessed earlier in our careers. This approach is designed as a scare tactic against one’s own employees and rivals through aggressive, baseless attacks on employees that resigned their position. The conclusion is unfair. Few companies want to deal with such an issue, firing the defenseless employee to get out of the perceived jam. This will simply never work against SunEdison due to our loyalty to each other: no lawsuit will drive a wedge between us.
I have little respect for the practice of pushing current or former employees into the crossfire of an attempt to sabotage another company, or tarnish the good name of former employees. Due to the volume of data saved on laptops and servers, and to the fact that modern employees sometimes save personal data on their company issued-laptops and other devices, extraction of non-confidential, non-proprietary data from company servers upon employee departures happens. That fact does not give rise to a legitimate corporate scandal. Innocent behavior can be spun, by unfounded legal action taken by corporate leaders, into a media story about “misappropriation.” The employees who have had the misfortune of being named individually confirmed to me that they have not brought SunPower confidential or proprietary information to SunEdison, to be used by, or on behalf of, SunEdison. SunEdison instructs all new employees not to bring confidential information from a former employer, nor use it in the performance of their duties at SunEdison. We stand by our employees who act within our policy guidelines with integrity and we take the necessary steps to protect the property rights of others.
I’m very proud of the people at SunEdison and the culture we are creating: we have outstanding talent, strong camaraderie, and we are positive thinkers. SunEdison is not a company, we are not people, who steal intellectual property.
SunEdison is a world leader in renewable energy because of our superior strategy, our strong business partner relationships, but most of all because of our people. Together, we are setting new standards as the world’s largest renewable energy development company. We are a diverse and talented group, and we are excited to continue to add to our team at SunEdison. We currently have more than 400 open positions and welcome, and will protect, new employees. We want to attract top talent to work on our mission to transform lives through innovation. Feel free to reach out to me if you have questions or concerns about this matter.