Thursday, November 14, 2013

New CIRTA Director Sued By Former Employer For Stealing Trade Secrets

A 25-year rail transit professional, Jeffrey Jackson, has been hired by the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority ("CIRTA") as its new executive director. He replaces Ehren Bingaman, who recently left the publicly-funded agency to join HNTB, an architectural and engineering firm that would likely bid for work if Indiana lawmakers and local municipal leaders are foolish enough to authorize raising taxes to finance the creation of a new regional transportation authority that will be run by an unelected, appointed board. Jackson most recently worked as the chief operating officer for Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad, a private company doing business as Rail Events in Durango, Colorado that creates special events on tourist railroads operated throughout the United States based on themes from popular books, movies, stories and television shows.

According to the Durango Herald, Rail Event's owner, Al Harper, sued Jackson and another former employee who left his company earlier this year, accusing the two of stealing his company's trade secrets and using them to start up another company to compete against his company.
Jackson resigned from Rail Events on March 14 and Schlegel resigned March 15, according to the lawsuit. The men formed Train Entertainment on March 20, according to Florida Department of State documents.
The men have contacted licensors already doing business with Rail Events and have told their former co-workers their intentions to directly compete with Rail Events, Harper said in an interview. Rail Events filed the lawsuit against Jackson, Schlegel and Train Entertainment on May 14.
The lawsuit accuses the men of violating the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act, breaching fiduciary duty to Rail Events and civil conspiracy. Rail Events has and will continue to suffer monetary damages because of the actions of the two former employees, the document says.
“It’s really simple,” Harper said. “The only experience they ever had in the branding business was what they got from me, and they left the company and basically said to everyone on Earth they were going into competition with me. I don’t appreciate them taking all the knowledge and skills and contacts and intellectual properties with them and using it against me. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Within Indiana, Rail Events operates the Indiana Railway Museum in French Lick and the Whitewater Valley Scenic Railroad in Connersville, which is where Jackson grew up. Florida business records show that Jackson and the other former employee, Jonathan Schlegel, formed Train Entertainment, Inc. in Lighthouse Pointe, Florida on March 20, 2013. The business registration is still active. All of Jackson's prior work experience appears to be related to rail transit. He previously worked for Tri-Rail in South Florida before spending about 15 years working for Rail Events. Proponents of mass transit supposedly shifted away from a plan to construct a multi-billion dollar rail line from downtown Indianapolis to Noblesville after many lawmakers balked at the cost of including rail as part of any regional transportation plan.

UPDATE: The IBJ's Chris O'Malley has a reaction from CIRTA to the story this blog exclusively broke this morning relating the fact that the newly-appointed executive director of the government funded agency had been sued by his former employer for stealing trade secrets. CIRTA's board chairman Christine Altman says the board was aware of the lawsuit when it agreed to hire Jackson at $115,000 a year. She says the decision announcing his selection was delayed while he negotiated a settlement with his former employer. Altman told O'Malley that the allegations made by the former employer are “pretty typical when someone terminates their employment and tries to move on.” Really? O'Malley's story provides no attribution to this blog for the original story. Big surprise.

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