• January 29, 2014

BrainMedFor several years, Minnesota Litigator has followed quite a few “brain raid” cases — fights between competing companies when one lures away an experienced worker (almost always an executive) from the other. The case of St. Jude Medical, S.C. v. Grubiak is noteworthy and anomalous in a couple of respects.

It is noteworthy in that it pits some of the most talented lawyers in the Twin Cities against one another, with a formidable team from the Bassford Remele firm against an equally talented team from the Anthony Ostlund Baer & Leuwagie.

It is anomalous because the plaintiff, St. Jude Medical, is suing the defendant John Grubiak for Grubiak’s alleged failure to rat out another St. Jude executive, Paul Woodstock, who left St. Jude to work for a competitor.

Grubiak’s defense is multi-pronged (as they inevitably are) but a significant part of the defense appears to be that Woodstock’s dissatisfaction at St. Jude was common knowledge so Grubiak was not concealing anything material from his employer, St. Jude, because St. Jude knew or should have known that Woodstock was shopping around for a new job.

It is understandable that an employer demands its employees’ loyalty, that the firm requires employees to commit all of their energy for the good of the firm, the keeping of its confidences, and a dedication to the firm’s successful future.  But calling on co-workers to betray one another and even going so far as to sue an employee for failing to do so?

This is a little risky, is it not?

In 1938, the author, E.M. Forster wrote, ““If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.”  The connections between two humans tends to be much tighter and complex than the connection between one human and an idea (like a corporation, an ideology, etc).

Successful companies, I would submit, succeed in some part because people love to work there and they grow to love their colleagues (or, at least, to like some of them an awful lot). Fostering a culture of undivided company loyalty at the expense of interpersonal connection (backed up by a public lawsuit rather than a private discussion) might win some battles and lose the war.

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