Waste Connections sues Rubicon, alleging misappropriation of trade secrets

Editor's Note: This story has been updated with a comment from Rubicon Global.

Dive Brief:

  • Waste Connections has filed a lawsuit against Georgia-based Rubicon Global and its recently hired national director of outside sales, Jonathan Dewitt, that alleges "misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential information." Dewitt previously worked as a district sales manager in Louisiana for Waste Connections subsidiary Progressive Waste Solutions. The case will receive its first hearing in Georgia's Fulton County Superior Court today.
  • According to the complaint, Dewitt downloaded thousands of pages of documents containing detailed information on Waste Connections' pricing and customers from multiple states, as well as company training materials, before his resignation in March. Waste Connections says this violated a confidentiality agreement signed by Dewitt at the start of his employment in 2011.
  • Waste Connections alleges that Rubicon hired Dewitt to gain access to confidential information and "undercut [its] pricing in order to steal customers and business" and replicate other company tactics. The complaint goes on to allege violation of Georgia's Trade Secrets Act along with tortious interference. It also requests a temporary restraining order and injunction against Rubicon and Dewitt. 
  • A Rubicon Global spokesperson provided the following response via email. "While we do not comment on pending litigation, we will continue to vigorously defend the allegations in court. Like so many of our team members, Jonathan wants to be a part of the evolution of our industry - a process built on a combination of industry expertise, new technology and data analytics. It's unfortunate, but not surprising, to see Waste Connections trying to stand in the way of this progress. We are in a battle for the future of the industry and this is likely just another part of its response."

Dive Insight:

CEO Nate Morris has often spoken about the industry's lack of progress on sustainability and his intentions to beat "the big three" in the years since Rubicon has gained more attention. Though until recently, with some exceptions, those major companies had avoided public responses. That changed last month at WasteExpo, where Waste Connections CEO Ron Mittelstaedt was one of multiple executives to speak out against Rubicon. "There's nothing unique about anything Rubicon or any other broker is doing in regards to sustainability," he said during an investor summit panel, using the "broker" descriptor that Rubicon eschews.

As Rubicon continues to grow, it has attracted employees from multiple companies in and out of the waste industry. Questions of non-compete agreements and trade secret sharing don't come up as often as in other industries, though it's not uncommon for careers to span multiple waste companies. According to his LinkedIn page, Dewitt also worked for Waste Management prior to joining Progressive Waste Solutions. He declined to comment when reached by Waste Dive via phone.

This June 13 complaint marks the fourth time Waste Connections or subsidiary Progressive Waste Solutions has sued Rubicon Global within the past year over a series of alleged efforts to cut into its business. According to the complaint, hiring Dewitt was "the latest in Rubicon's assault" on the company and part of broader plans to "disrupt" the industry. Rubicon has made no secret of its desire to shake up the industry's current business model, though it's tactics haven't been found unlawful up to this point.

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Top image credit: Rubicon