A conservative think tank has filed a lawsuit against three former senior employees and a donor, charging that they took with them proprietary material needed to start and eventually sustain a competing stand-alone foundation. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute says the accused are guilty of, among other things, misappropriating trade secrets.
Those include a confidential donor database of faculty members at colleges across the country who are “sympathetic to ISI’s aims,” directories of scholars and academics who have taken part in the group's summer programming and a forthcoming manual on how to build centers at colleges focusing on the study of the country's founding principles, according to the suit, which was filed in a Delaware state court.
“The misappropriation and conversion is particularly pernicious because many of the materials taken have no relation to ISI’s work with this particular donor, and instead are confidential, proprietary information that ISI has painstakingly put together over its five-decade history,” the suit says.
The faculty database is highly sensitive, it adds, because many of the contacts have asked for and been promised confidentiality because their views “may be treated with hostility on their campuses.”
The three ex-employees named in the suit all are listed as employees of the Jack Miller Center for Teaching America’s Founding Principles and History, which formerly was an internal division of ISI but is now independent. The suit says the employees were terminated in late September. Miller, the donor, contributed regularly to the center.
Michael Deshaies, a Miller Center spokesman, said officials would have no comment on pending litigation. Michael Ratliff, listed as president of the center, told The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., which first reported the story on Thursday, that the suit's claims are "unfounded and they are entirely misrepresenting the facts."
Lawyers for the intercollegiate institute didn't return messages for comment. The group says it has been damaged by the release of the proprietary information. It is also calling on Miller to honor payments totaling $1.875 million that he promised to give this year and next.
According to the suit, ISI approached Miller in 2004 about establishing a center dedicated to "founding principles and civic literacy." He provided funding for the center, which hosted summer programming in which dozens of professors and teaching assistants with goals similar to ISI's learned to write syllabuses and grant requests.
The relationship between Miller and ISI turned sour this year, according to the suit, and Miller recruited some of ISI's top officials to take the center elsewhere. The employees informed ISI of their decision to leave last month, and the suit says they spent their final days gathering proprietary information.
Once ISI became aware of the employees' actions, they were terminated, the suit says. It alleges breach of trust and "deceit."
Miller sent a letter on behalf of his foundation saying that he had been dissatisfied with ISI's initiatives and the way the group was being run. But ISI says Miller had continued to donate throughout early 2007 and was mostly upset about having to share name recognition on funding projects.