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Lee Enterprises sues former publisher over marketing info

MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — The parent company of the Missoulian has sued a former publisher and four former advertising department employees, alleging they conspired to steal confidential client information from the newspaper and its in-house advertising agency to form a competing marketing agency.

Lee Enterprises Inc. filed the lawsuit in Missoula County District Court on Tuesday seeking a court order to prevent Jim McGowan and former employees Brooke Redpath, Tara Halls, Tia Metzger and Megan Richter from using trade secret information belonging to Lee.

The lawsuit also asks a judge to prevent two marketing companies — Windfall and Mettle Strategic Marketing Solutions — from soliciting business from existing or recent customers of the Missoulian or the Montana Marketing Group until it can be proven that the defendants do not have any trade secret information that gives them an unfair advantage in pursuing those customers. It seeks a jury trial to determine damages from business Lee said it lost to Windfall and Mettle, as well as punitive damages.

The defendants’ attorney, Bob Terrazas, told The Associated Press the complaint makes “largely inaccurate accusations” against his clients. He said they will file a response.

McGowan was publisher of the Missoulian from October 2011 until he was replaced in September 2014. He accepted an offer to stay with the paper as director of sales and marketing and head of the Montana Marketing Group, a marketing and advertising agency that operates on behalf of the Missoulian, the lawsuit said.

Soon after McGowan was demoted, he and the others began planning their departure from the newspaper and created a plan to develop Windfall and Mettle as marketing and advertising agencies that would directly compete with Montana Marketing Group, the complaint said.

Forensic analysis shows McGowan began copying proprietary information as early as the day he was demoted as publisher and advised other advertising employees to do the same, the lawsuit alleges. Employees also deleted client files and began promoting the interests of Windfall and Mettle while on company time, the complaint alleges.

All five resigned from the newspaper between Feb. 13 and April 22, the lawsuit said.

Lee Enterprises was aware that McGowan and his wife owned Windfall and understood that it ran a call center to respond to inquiries related to tourism in Montana. Lee knew McGowan was doing some work for Windfall with the understanding that it did not compete with the Missoulian or MMG.

McGowan, Halls and Redpath are principals and owners of Mettle, which was formed on Feb. 2, while Metzger and Richter work for Windfall, the lawsuit alleges.

Jeffrey Roth, attorney for Lee Enterprises, did not immediately return a phone call from the AP seeking comment.

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