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Friday, July 19, 2024 | Back issues
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Real Soap Opera About Purell Heists

OPELIKA, Ala. (CN) - In a judicial soap opera, the maker of Purell claims a company it hired to install dispensers at Army bases swiped the dispensers, replaced them with a competitor's, and tried to sell thousands of the original dispensers on Craigslist.

GOJO Industries sued Stewart Sales Service and Installation and James Lee Stewart, in Federal Court.

GOJO, of Akron, Ohio, makes Purell instant hand sanitizer and other liquid soaps.

In May 2011, GOJO hired Stewart's Phenix City, Ala.-based company to install Purell dispensers and cartridges at Fort Benning, in Columbus, Ga., and provide service and maintenance for them.

Stewart agreed to promote and install GOJO dispensers and cartridges at other Army bases in Georgia and Virginia, and to provide field support and refills, for a fee plus 4 percent of the net sales, GOJO says in the complaint.

But after Stewart began installing the dispensers, GOJO claims, it received several complaints from the military bases, claiming that Stewart had installed dispensers in the wrong places - in showers instead of near sinks - or had failed to install them altogether.

GOJO claims it had to pay another contractor to replace dispensers and install refill cartridges at the bases.

Stewart then took GOJO's trade secrets to a competitor, (nonparty) ZEP Superior Solutions, in search of profit, according to the complaint.

"At some point during the terms of both the CNA [confidential nondisclosure agreement] and ICA [independent contractor agreement], Stewart developed a plan to disclose GOJO's confidential sales information and pricing to GOJO's competitors for the purpose of assisting those competitors in replacing GOJO as the provider of liquid soap and hand sanitizer to the Army base end-users," the complaint states. "Stewart's plan was that those competitors would then hire defendants to install and service the dispensers, thus causing Stewart to reap a profit through his deception."

GOJO claims Stewart replaced many of its dispensers at Fort Benning with ZEP dispensers.

To top it off, GOJO says, Stewart kept thousands of GOJO dispensers and listed them for sale on Craigslist.

After GOJO discovered the Craigslist ad, Stewart removed it and agreed to return 20 pallets of dispensers to GOJO, at GOJO's expense, according to the complaint.

But GOJO claims Stewart continues to remove and replace its dispensers with its competitors' at other end-user locations.

GOJO seeks an injunction, accounting, and compensatory and punitive damages for unfair competition, interference with business relationships, breach of contract, violations of the Lanham Act and civil conspiracy.

It is represented by Jonathan Hill with Bradley Arant Boult Cummings, of Montgomery.

The New Yorker, in its March 4 issue, featured a long report about how GOJO's Purell lost money for more than a decade, then suddenly became wildly popular.

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