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Don Lex, 

Vintage's James Robert, left, controls Vacaville's Eric Hayward in the 182-pound final during the Monticello Empire League Championships on Saturday at Napa High's Messner Gym.

Napa company sues former employees for allegedly taking confidential information to competitor

First American Title Company of Napa is suing at least three of its former employees, alleging that they resigned at the same time and took confidential information with them to competitor Placer Title Company, according to the lawsuit filed in Napa County Superior Court on Tuesday.

The suit alleges that Larry Frattini, former senior escrow officer, president and longtime member of the company’s corporate board, and Mitchell Glotzer, former chief administrative officer, vice president and member of the board of directors, both knew that Placer Title Company would be opening a branch in Napa while they were still employed with and/or active in the board between Jan. 1, 2017 and Jan. 3, 2018.

Despite this, the suit says, neither Frattini nor Glotzer informed First American Title that the competitor was planning to open in Napa. On top of that, the suit alleges, both men secured positions with the competitor and assisted in recruiting other First American Title employees to also work with Placer.

Frattini then approached Leilani Sue Burguin, former marketing director at First American, and solicited her for the company’s existing list of high-end brokers whose clients did business with the company, according to the suit. Burguin provided this list, alleges the suit.

First American believes that Frattini intended to use the information in preparation for his new position at Placer and that Burguin was aware of his intention.

Burguin later forwarded the company’s’ entire 244-page confidential contact list to her own personal email account, the suit alleges, violating First American’s company policies. She also used First American computer resources to compile a list of employees who were planning a coordinated departure from the company, according to the suit.

Several employees, including Frattini and Burguin, left the company on Jan. 3, soon after receiving their year-end incentives, the suit alleges.

First American Title of Napa, which has offices in Napa, St. Helena, Benicia and Walnut Creek, is suing all three former employees for alleged misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of duty of loyalty, intentional interference with prospective economic benefit, unfair competition and conspiracy. In the same suit, the company is suing Frattini and Glotzer for an alleged breach of fiduciary duty and Burguin for alleged computer fraud.

Frattini, Glotzer, and Burguin’s Napa attorney, Kevin Block, said that they deny the allegations, but confirmed that all three former employees now hold positions at Placer Title Company’s Napa branch.

Block is considering filing a cross-complaint against First American alleging infliction of emotional distress, a toxic work environment, mismanagement and other employment infractions, Block said.

“There’s a reason a number of employees left and it has nothing to do with Placer,” he said. Block said that the blame falls on First American’s CEO Johnny Karpuk. “It was a great place to work until Karpuk took over.”

Karpuk denies that there was a toxic work environment at First American, and said he was “taken aback” by the accusation.

“I definitely thought everything seemed fine and good,” he said. “We just finished our best year ever in 2017 … As far as I could tell, the team was in great shape, everyone was committed and everyone was happy.”

Karpuk said that he considers Frattini, Glotzer, and Burguin “family,” but he felt obligated to file the lawsuit.

“It’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I firmly believe they’re all good people — good people that simply made a poor choice, and I look forward to bringing it to a quick resolution.”

Karpuk came to the company as the chief operating officer in September 2013. He has been the CEO at First American for nearly two years.

Since then, he said, he has taken a lot of responsibility for improving company culture. He and some of the employees who left the company had even worked together to develop new core values, he said, including teamwork, respect, reputation, quality and customers first.

Karpuk said that he strives to make First American the best place to work in Napa and the North Bay.

A case management conference is scheduled for July 17.

Papyrus, the card company, moving 60 jobs from Fairfield to Napa

Greeting card company Papyrus-Recycled Greetings will move 60 employees from its Fairfield offices to a new south Napa location later this year. The move partially offsets the loss of 70 wine industry jobs that Treasury Wine Estates will relocating from Napa to Oakland about the same time.

According to a news release, Papyrus-Recycled Greetings has begun construction of a new 30,000-square-foot facility located on Gateway Road West in the Napa Valley Gateway business park.

The office will be the new corporate headquarters for Papyrus-Recycled Greetings, a brand of American Greetings. American Greetings acquired the Papyrus and Recycled Greetings brands separately in 2009. American Greetings is headquartered in Ohio.

“We’re really excited. It’s going to be a beautiful facility,” said Patrice Sadd-Molnar, communications director at American Greetings.

Some 60 jobs – including the Papyrus-Recycled Greetings creative team and business staff — will relocate to Napa because its lease ended in Fairfield, said a news release.

The future Papyrus-Recycled Greetings Napa facility, at 240 Gateway Road West, was once occupied by Diageo Chateau & Estate Wines.

The $2 million facility is expected to be completed by May, said Chris Craiker of Craiker Architects & Planners.

The newly renovated and remodeled space designed by Craiker Architects & Planners and will include approximately 30,000 square feet of new office spaces, art and illustration areas and “state-of-the-art” conference rooms.

Papyrus retail stores, which are owned and operated by Schurman Retail Group, recently moved their business headquarters to Nashville.

“While our companies work very closely together as stewards for the Papyrus brand, we do not own that (retail) business,” said Molnar.

There is one Papyrus retail store in Napa, located at Silverado Plaza on Trancas Street.

The news of the 60 additional Papyrus jobs contrasts with the news from late January that Treasury Wine Estates (TWE) was moving some 70 jobs from the same Napa business park to new offices in Oakland.

The TWE jobs relocating to Oakland include sales, marketing and some human resources and information technology positions, according to Treasury Wine Estates.

The Papyrus move to Napa appears to be counterintuitive, said Robert Eyler, Ph.D., professor of economics and director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University.

Solano County commercial office space lease rates tend to run lower than Napa County rates.

According to Colliers International’s 2017 fourth-quarter report, the average asking rate for “Class A” office space in Fairfield was $2.28 per square foot, compared to $2.35 in Napa. The Fairfield office vacancy rate was 20.7 percent. At the same time, the Napa office vacancy rate was 7.7 percent.

“It must be that there was some employee, logistics or market reason for them to move there,” said Eyler. Perhaps it’s the cache of the “Napa Valley” name. Papyrus is the higher-end division of American Greetings, Eyler noted.

Depending on the wages of the TWE jobs that leave Napa County, that loss may be “slightly more damaging” than the addition of the Papyrus jobs simply because of all the wine industry connections and the related spending that TWE department is responsible for in Napa County, Eyler said.

Napa approves shift to covered composting at recycling center

By adding concrete liners and a foot-deep cap of compost, Napa’s city recycling center can become a better neighbor – and stay in line with tightening state environmental laws.

That is the goal of a major upgrade, approved Tuesday by the City Council, aimed at boosting Napa’s ability to keep more organic wastes out of landfills. The $10.4 million project will replace the open-air composting that has taken place since the 1990s at the Levitin Way center with concrete slabs and a top layer of mature compost, a combination meant to filter out odors and reduce stormwater runoff.

Air blowers and monitoring equipment would be added to manage the breakdown of organic materials, which usually takes about 45 days. The upgrade also will feature a redesigned drainpipe system directing stormwater into a single collection pond, where 1,000 gallons of runoff can be treated per minute, officials said.

Also helping to curb stormwater pollution will be a protective canopy over the composting area, which the city is building at a cost of $2.1 million.

Kevin Miller, Napa’s recycling manager, estimated the improvements will raise the plant’s composting capacity under its existing state permit from 40,000 to 66,640 tons per year. A fresh environmental study after work is completed may allow the city to process even more organic waste, as much as 105,000 tons annually, he told the council.

Richmond-based C. Overaa & Co. submitted the winning bid among three candidates, and is scheduled to complete the work around February 2019, Miller announced.

The composting overhaul is being approved amid Napa’s effort to step up the diversion of organic wastes, including food scraps and by-products, as a way to raise the diversion rate away from landfills from 65 to 75 percent by 2020.

Napa Recycling and Waste Services began a kitchen composting program in 2013 and expanded it to all customers two years later, allowing residents to mingle food wastes and biodegradable packaging with brown-bin materials such as yard waste and grass trimmings.

North Bay Rapid Response Network seeks to protect immigrants' rights in Napa, Sonoma counties

Whether ICE agents are at the door or someone just needs information about where they can find immigration services, the North Bay Rapid Response Network is there to help.

The 24-hour hotline was created in Sonoma County last year in response to growing fear among undocumented immigrants and their families.

Karla Márquez, community organizer, Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA)-recipient and member of the Napa Valley Dream Team, said that when Napa County residents expressed interest in helping their immigrant neighbors, the best option seemed to be to team up with Sonoma County.

“It just made more sense,” Márquez said. The two communities have similar demographics, some shared government representatives and ties to the wine industry, she said. And, she said, Sonoma County already had coalitions focused on protecting immigrants’ rights.

“I feel like it’s been a really good collaboration between communities,” she said. Individuals, even non-immigrants, have been really open to learning about the immigration process and what they can do to help, she said. “People are surprised at what they can do.”

One of the services the North Bay Rapid Response Network provides is “legal observation.” That means that if someone calls reporting a suspected encounter with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents in their neighborhood, house or business that the network will send someone out to observe it. The legal observer won’t interfere, but they will film the encounter.

The recordings might help with the detained individual’s legal defense later and it should deter violence and any other violation of rights, Márquez said.

The legal observer might also respond as a way to confirm whether or not the reported incident actually involves ICE. Many of the calls the network receives about ICE raids are actually just rumors, Márquez said.

Just a few weeks ago, the network received a call from a woman in Napa who was afraid to go back home to Calistoga because she heard that ICE was stationed along Highway 29, but it turned out that it was just local law enforcement officers, Márquez said.

There are more than 500 registered legal observers in Sonoma County and about 45 so far in Napa County, she said.

The hotline doesn’t just respond to threats, it provides people with information and resources. When someone, especially someone who is undocumented and/or a monolingual Spanish speaker, doesn’t know where to go to get help, Márquez said, they can call the hotline and find out.

Undocumented immigrants might not reach out to agencies or organizations for help with housing and other serves for fear that they could get in trouble or deported, she said. The network can help dispel those fears and connect people to those services.

“We’re trying to create a united front across communities,” Márquez said.

The North Bay Rapid Response Network also provides accompaniment services to those affected by ICE activity and advocacy. The accompaniment teams work to support these individuals by providing things like rides, childcare, and help making appointments while advocates do things like phone banking and outreach.

Márquez said that the network is in talks with Napa County organizations in order to expand the network and welcomes anyone interested getting involved.