Eldersburg insulation firm files suit alleging unfair competition

December 21, 1993|By Darren M. Allen | Darren M. Allen,Staff Writer

An Eldersburg insulation company is seeking $24 million from a rival firm it says is trying to drive it out of business.

In a lawsuit filed yesterday in Carroll Circuit Court, Carroll Insulation Co. Inc., of Venture Way, claims rival American/Baltimore Home Insulation Co. Inc., of Arbutus, "engaged in a deliberate, predatory policy . . ."

The suit alleged that American/Baltimore has been "bidding for and obtaining business below [their] cost . . . actively and surreptitiously recruiting large numbers of Carroll's employees from Carroll's employ; interfering with the contractual relationships between Carroll and its employees; and engaging in further improper acts constituting unfair competition."

The lawsuit seeks $11 million in compensatory damages and $13 million in punitive damages.

It names as co-defendants American Aluminum and Insulation Co. Inc., of Middletown, Pa., and two former Carroll Insulation employees, Robert E. Cougle of Baltimore and Stephen Johnson of Elkridge.

American Aluminum and Insulation is owned by the same man who owns American/Baltimore Insulation. The former Carroll employees now work for American/Baltimore.

According to the lawsuit, supervisors at American Aluminum and Insulation and, later, American/Baltimore, since 1988 have routinely approached Carroll Insulation workers at job sites and offered them jobs.

In some cases, after Carroll employees agreed to work for American/Baltimore, they were told "to remain temporarily in the employ of Carroll," the suit said. American/Baltimore then allegedly "secretly" paid the employees and asked them to "induce additional Carroll employees to leave Carroll" and go to work for American/Baltimore.

Greg Widel, vice president of American Aluminum and Insulation, called the suit "actually ridiculous. They're complaining that we broke a noncompete clause in their worker's contracts. Come on, we're talking about laborers, regular installers. These are not professional employees who can divulge trade secrets."

Mr. Widel declined to discuss the suit further, saying he would turn it over to an attorney.

Warren Pearce, general manager of American/Baltimore, could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Mr. Cougle and Mr. Johnson, the former Carroll employees named in the six-count suit, both signed contracts that barred them from working for a competitor for up to two years, the suit says.

Mr. Cougle acknowledged yesterday that he signed such a contract, but said he left his job in November after accepting an offer from American/Baltimore.

"They pay a lot more money, they have better equipment, they give you benefits," said Mr. Cougle, a 29-year-old father of three.

He said Carroll Insulation paid him a lower salary and did not pay his health or retirement benefits.

"Sure, I signed a contract, but I just quit. It's good money. It's good," he said.

Peter H. Gunst, the attorney for Carroll Insulation, said the suit "adequately lays out our position."

He declined to divulge how many workers the privately held company employs.

American Aluminum and Insulation, also a private company, employs about 600 people and generates annual revenue of $50 million, Mr. Widel said. He said he did not know how large American/Baltimore was, but said it was comparable in size.

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