Indianapolis-based Herff Jones has won a multimillion-dollar verdict over its largest competitor, Jostens Inc., in a lawsuit that accused Jostens of stealing trade secrets and interfering with employment contracts.
Herff Jones, which sells class rings, yearbooks and graduation gowns, won the jury ruling April 12 in Mobile, Alabama.
The case involved two sales representatives who worked for a Herff Jones distributor, Brent Gilbert of GradPro Recognition Products, from the mid-2000s until 2016.
According to the lawsuit, the sales reps, John Wiggins and Chris Urnis, began negotiating employment contracts with Jostens even before leaving GradPro despite having strict employment agreements that forbid them from selling for competitors in certain territories or sharing trade secrets about Herff Jones products.
Herff Jones said Wiggins and Urnis used the knowledge and contacts they gained at GradPro to steer accounts away from Herff Jones and to Jostens. The suit said GradPro lost dozens of accounts or relationships with schools in Alabama because of the reps.
In addition, the suit said, Jostens and one of its authorized representatives, Scott Moore, lured at least five employees away from GradPro to help solicit business away from Herff Jones.
The jury found that Jostens conspired and stole confidential and trade secret information, and interfered with Herff Jones’ contracts with its sales representatives.
It ordered Jostens, Wiggins and Urnis to pay nearly $1.9 million in compensatory damages to Herff Jones and another $580,000 in compensatory damages to Brent Gilbert of GradPro.
It also assessed punitive damages of $650,000 against Jostens, $25,000 against Wiggins and $10,000 against Urnis.
“The jury clearly delineated between acceptable, competitive business activities and the outright theft of trade secrets and confidential information,” Herff Jones President Jeff Drees said in written remarks. “We appreciate the jury’s passionate deliberation and the message it sends to employees, sales partners as well as companies across the nation; namely that doing the right thing, being accountable, and conducting oneself fairly and honestly are virtues that should be at the heart of any good business.”
Herff Jones was represented by Lynn, Pinker, Cox & Hurst along with the Kullman Firm and Burr & Forman.
Attorneys for McDowell Knight Roedder & Sledge LLC, which represented Jostens, did not immediately reply to a message seeking comment.
Herff Jones, founded in Indianapolis in 1920, is a division of Dallas-based Varsity Brands.
Jostens, based in Minneapolis, is known for making Super Bowl rings and photo products, in addition to education memorabilia.