A leading fiberglass pool manufacturer is suing a competitor, claiming illegal poaching of its staff and dealer base.
Lakeland, Fla.-based San Juan Products Inc. filed the lawsuit late last year against Leisure Pools USA. The firm alleges that Leisure’s “campaign of unfair competition … across the United States [is] directed at stealing the business and the employees of [San Juan] and has induced the [San Juan] employees to breach their duties of loyalty by diverting business and trade secrets to Leisure,” according to court documents.
Two former San Juan employees are specifically named in the suit: Jerry Kisgen, who is currently the Southeastern dealer development manager at Leisure, and Gene Foster, who is now Leisure’s Southwest regional sales manager.
Leisure also is accused of conspiring with San Juan employees to persuade their colleagues to leave San Juan and join Leisure. The plaintiff further claims that Leisure developed Websites and ads that falsely identify San Juan dealers as working for Leisure, and used the names of San Juan dealers without their permission to market Leisure products.
San Juan is seeking unspecified damages related to lost business, profits and goodwill.
The suit, originally filed November 2008 in state court in Bexar County, Texas, since has been elevated, by Leisure, to federal court in the Western District of Texas.
For their part, Leisure officials think the dispute stems from one company simply outperforming another.
“We’ve achieved success in the market,” said Ashley Gill, CEO of Leisure Pools USA in San Antonio. “And we’ve attracted dealers that were with other manufacturers. But we’ve never been aggressive, or gone out and actively recruited anyone.”
At issue, Gill believes, are questions of exclusivity, and the extent to which one manufacturer can sue another over its dealers migrating to that company.
“Does a manufacturer own its dealers? Can they sue you for that loss of business?” Gill asked. “San Juan is effectively saying that we’ve stolen some of their staff and some of their dealers.”
Top management at San Juan referred all inquiries to attorney Eric Edwardson of Beaumont, Texas, who declined to expand on the charges set forth in the suit.
San Juan has requested a jury trial.