Sticky Fingers suing former employees for using trade secrets for own profit

VIDEO: Sticky Fingers suing former employees for using trade secrets for own profit

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCSC) - Mount Pleasant-based restaurant chain Sticky Fingers is suing two of their former corporate employees whom they accused of using Sticky Fingers' trade secrets for their own profit.

In the suit, filed Monday, Sticky Fingers alleges Robert Patterson and Nicole Snowden took catering business directly away from the restaurant and transferred it to Patterson’s Top Shelf Catering.

The suit claims Patterson was hired in 2006 and was promoted in 2014 to director of operations for Sticky Fingers. Snowden was hired by the company in 2010 and then promoted in 2014 to the Operating Partner for Sticky Fingers Snack Bar location at Patriot’s Pointe.

Snowden reported directly to Patterson for her Sticky Finger’s job, the suit states.

The suit states that Patterson, formed his own catering company, Top Shelf Catering, in 2014 while he worked for Sticky Fingers. The suit also claims that Patterson hired Snowden, who was a current employee of Sticky Fingers, to work as the director of operations and sales for Top Shelf Catering at the same time.

Court documents allege that while he worked at Sticky Fingers, Patterson had access to client email lists and used his position to direct catering business from Sticky Fingers to his own catering company over the course of more than two years.

The suit alleges that during February 2017, Patterson allegedly instructed the IT director of Sticky Fingers to change the company’s website so that all catering requests coming to that restaurant would be routed directly to him instead of to the chain’s catering managers.

The suit then lists examples in which it claims Patterson and Snowden converted business from Sticky Fingers to Top Shelf, which they claimed was “an affiliate” of Sticky Fingers.

Patterson and Snowden are accused of using Sticky Fingers’ food, resources and labor to fulfill the catering requests, then asked clients to make payment to Top Shelf Catering.

Sticky Fingers claims it did not receive any money for their resources being used.

The suit states that after Sticky Fingers experienced “disappointing” catering sales from the Charleston-area restaurants, despite “the apparent increased violume in catering-related activities,” Sticky Fingers performed a review of Patterson’s emails. That review uncovered “repeated misuse of Sticky Fingers’ email system by Patterson for his own benefit and to the detriment of Sticky Fingers’ reputation and business,” the documents state.

Snowden resigned within days of Patterson’s termination, but Patterson, Top Shelf and Snowden have continued to use Sticky Fingers’ confidential information since then, the suit alleges.

The restaurant is suing Patterson for breach of fiduciary duties. It is suing both Patterson and Top Shelf for conversion, unjust enrichment, and constructive trust.

It alleges civil conspiracy by Patterson and Snowden and a violation of trade secrets against all three.

The suit requests a jury trial and seeks actual and punitive damages, a court order to stop the defendants from using Sticky Fingers’ confidential information and trade secrets, and a trust to be held to benefit Sticky Fingers on any profits made by the defendants that is found to be attributable, directly or indirectly, to the wrongful actions of the defendants; plus attorney’s fees and court costs.

Sticky Fingers spokesperson Nikie Griffith released a statement on behalf of the company:

“In the 27-year history of the company, Sticky Fingers has never sued anyone. We are saddened by the circumstances that led us to take this position. We take our business and our reputation very seriously and that is why we have chosen to pursue these matters legally. It is our desire to let the court system work as it is designed and we feel very confident in the outcome. In the interim, we will not allow this to be a distraction. Our customers come first, and our goal is to continue to focus on providing legendary service and award-winning ribs, wings and barbecue. We have some amazing new items on our new menu and hope folks will visit with us very soon!”

Late Wednesday afternoon, Patterson issued this statement:

“I operated both top shelf and sticky fingers with full transparency. I now plan to countersue Sticky Fingers for three years of unpaid incentives. They are simply trying to smear my name which they threatened to do, they’re going after my wife’s business and my name. This has hurt me. I gave them everything I always put them first.”

The defendants have 30 days from the date the lawsuit was filed to respond, documents state.

Attempts to reach Snowden for a comment were unsuccessful.

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