A Napa Valley winery is suing three former employees for allegedly deleting confidential company information from their work-issued computers after copying the information for personal use and retaliation.
In addition to damages, Peju Province Corporation, also known as Peju Province Winery, is asking that the courts order the former employees to hand the hijacked information/intellectual property back over to the company, according to the suit.
The suit, which was filed in Napa County Superior Court last month, includes allegations of a breach of duty of loyalty, computer fraud and unfair competition.
The named defendants – former vice president of information technology Danielle Tipton, former vice president of human resources Christy Patterson, and former controller David O’Neal – were unable to be reached for comment.
Peju’s attorney, Stephen C. Tedesco of San Francisco, said that he would not comment on the pending litigation. The Rutherford winery is owned by the Peju family, which includes Tony and Herta Peju, as well as daughters Lisa and Ariana.
According to the lawsuit, Abdullah Vural, Peju’s former president, hired Tipton, Patterson, and O’Neal in October 2015, shortly after being named company president. In order to hire Tipton and Patterson, whom he had prior working relationships with, Vural terminated the previous heads of information technology and human resources, the suit alleges.
In May, Peju owners had decided to fire Vural, who was the first president of Peju since the winery was established in 1983, and scheduled to have a meeting with him in order to notify him of his immediate termination and to discuss an appropriate transition, according to the suit.
Before the meeting, however, Tipton, who had access to the founder’s email, knew that the company was planning on firing Vural and decided to take action against the company along with Patterson and O’Neal, the suit alleges.
In the days leading up to the meeting with Vural, Tipton, Patterson and O’Neal copied company files, including their own personnel files, from their employer-issued laptop computers to external USB drives, according to the suit.
They continued the file transfers even after Vural was fired on June 2 and eventually Tipton, using her system administrator passcode, deleted her own and Patterson’s user profiles from the computers, rendering all data on the laptops unrecoverable, the suit alleges.
Patterson and Tipton resigned June 3. O’Neal’s user profile was deleted on June 7 and he resigned on June 8, according to the suit.
The lawsuit alleges that Tipton, Patterson and O’Neal stole confidential personnel records and financial data from Peju and have continued to retain the information belonging to the company.
The former employees could use the information to threaten the unauthorized disclosure of Peju’s confidential information to convince customers to cease doing business with Peju or to not enter into contracts with Peju in the first place and to transfer their business to Tipton, according to the suit.
A case management conference is scheduled for Dec. 28.