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Intelligentsia Coffee in legal fight with former exec who joined rival Metropolis

IntelligentsiCoffee. Phoby Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

Intelligentsia Coffee. Photo by Richard A. Chapman/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 20, 2013 6:03AM

A legal battle is brewing after a one-time executive at Chicago-based Intelligentsia Coffee and Tea Inc. went to work for the competition, Metropolis Coffee Co., whose headquarters also are in the city.

Intelligentsia has filed a breach-of-contract lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against its former Director of Operations Robert Quinlan, who now serves as CEO of Metropolis.

Intelligentsia, in legal papers, alleges Quinlan violated a confidentiality agreement he signed upon his “termination” when he alerted the head of Human Resources that she would be losing her job. The suit also alleges that as top boss of Metropolis, Quinlan — if he hasn’t already — would likely divulge Intelligentsia’s trade secrets, also in violation of the confidentiality agreement.

“As CEO of Metropolis, given his knowledge of Intelligentsia’s marketing plans, business plans, pricing, marketing, and sales strategies, coffee roasting and production processes, and its global network of coffee farmers and suppliers, Quinlan has used or disclosed, and/or will inevitably use or disclose Intelligentsia’s confidential information and trade secrets to its direct competitor,” the lawsuit states.

“Quinlan’s inevitable disclosure of Intelligentsia’s trade-secret information will cause Intelligentsia to suffer damages in the form of lost revenue and profits,” the suit states.

Albert F. Ferolie, a River North attorney representing Quinlan, said: “Bob denies the allegations in the complaint.”

Intelligentsia let Quinlan go in June 2012, according to the lawsuit, and upon his exit signed a severance deal.

“Quinlan agreed, among other things, that following his employment with Intelligentsia he would not use or disclose Intelligentsia’s confidential information or trade secrets and he would not disparage Intelligentsia or its employees,” according to the lawsuit.

As part of that agreement, Intelligentsia agreed to pay out $55,384.64 through October. The company also offered to extend pay an additional two months if he hadn’t found work.

But Intelligentsia halted payments in August, according to court papers, after finding what they believe was evidence that Quinlan let a human resources manager know she was losing her job in the coming weeks.

The company wants the court to order Quinlan to return the $29,769.26 in severance pay Intelligentsia gave him through August, a minimum of $50,000 in punitive damages for “misappropriation of trade secrets” as well as court costs and lawyer’s fees.

Quinlan went to work for Metropolis in late January, according to the lawsuit, which was filed in February.

For his part, Quinlan will be filing a counterclaim “seeking monies he believes are owed by Intelligentsia,” Ferolie, Quinlan’s attorney, said. That would include the balance of the $55,384.64 Intelligentsia agreed to pay him.

Intelligentsia bosses and the attorney representing the company did not respond to requests for comment on the case.

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