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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-Worker’s Threats May Cost More Than Severance

(CN) - OmniGuide can pursue claims against a fired employee accused of trying to extort a hefty severance package by threatening to inform the Food and Drug Administration about the company's supposedly defective laser surgery products.

After OmniGuide fired Charles Marquis from his sales representative position in late 2008, the company says Marquis sent e-mails to several former co-workers alleging that the carbon dioxide laser fibers used in the company's scalpels had a 20 percent failure rate.

As quoted in the ruling Friday, Marquis wrote: "I look forward to seeing the terms and compensation of my severance package[;] it will heavily influence my decisions going forward."

In other communications to customers and employees, Marquis apparently claimed that the company was fudging numbers to create an exaggerated picture of its financial health and that its sales representatives were inadequately trained and poorly treated.

Marquis filed suit against the company for age and disability discrimination, retaliation, defamation, and breach of contract in Dallas federal court.

But OmniGuide counterclaimed, seeking damages for business disparagement and breach of contract.

Marquis asked the court to throw out the allegations, which he claimed were time barred under the applicable one-year statute of limitations.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater rejected the argument, finding that the company can use the extended two-year window since it demonstrated economic harm.

The ruling notes how a recruiter for OmniGuide had told the firm that Marquis' e-mails had hampered his recruiting efforts.

"The court can reasonably infer from this email that at least one of Marquis' communications had a palpably negative effect on OmniGuide's ability to deal with potential employees, thus causing it economic damages," Fitzwater wrote.

The judge added that OmniGuide showed that Marquis' comments may have contributed to lost sales or interfered with other business opportunities.

"Informing clients that the company is underperforming and disparaging sales agents' experience could plausibly dissuade clients from buying the company's products," the ruling states. "Telling an investor that the company is poorly managed and falling short of its sales goals could plausibly dissuade her from providing financing."

The judge also upheld OmniGuide's breach of contract claim because Marquis may have breached an obligation not to disclose confidential company information.

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