Mars sues Pret owner over ‘stolen’ corporate files

US lawsuit alleges former Mars executive stole sensitive documents on planning and financial results

The lawsuit is a rare public spat between the two privately owned groups. Courtesy of Pret a Manger
The lawsuit is a rare public spat between the two privately owned groups. Courtesy of Pret a Manger

Confectionery giant Mars sued sandwich and coffee chain Pret Panera and its owner JAB for allegedly gaining illegal access to thousands of valuable corporate documents it claims were stolen by a former executive.

Long-time Mars employee Jacek Szarzynski took global financial projections, secret documents on acquisition opportunities and product results before joining JAB last year as a lead operating partner, said a lawsuit filed on Wednesday in a federal court in Washington.

JAB last year appointed Mr Szarzynski chief financial officer and chief operating officer for its newly formed Pret Panera unit, which owns Panera Bread restaurants, Pret A Manager sandwich shops and Caribou Coffee, the filing said.

JAB has been on a buying spree, snapping up coffee and fast-food brands in a challenge to Nestle and Starbucks.

At Mars, which makes products including M&Ms, Snickers, Uncle Ben’s rice and Pedigree dog food, Mr Szarzynski was a leader in the pet-care, food and drinks businesses.

“The lawsuit is completely without legal merit,” said Tom Johnson, a spokesman for JAB.

“JAB has already extensively investigated the allegations through its outside counsel, Debevoise and Plimpton, and concluded that neither JAB nor Pret Panera has used or benefited in any way from any Mars information.”

Mars is seeking a court order barring JAB and Pret Panera from using any of the allegedly stolen information and forcing them to purge the files from their systems.

It also wants unspecified damages and repayment of profits derived from allegedly stolen information.

“We tried to resolve this issue amicably, but unfortunately we were unable to do so,” Mars general counsel Stefanie Straub.

Mars sued “to protect our intellectual property", Ms Straub said.

Mr Szarzynski, who started working at Mars in the mid-1990s, is a Polish national who lives in Belgium and regularly travels to Washington, where Pret Panera is based, the complaint said.

Mars, based in Virginia, said it was not concerned when Mr Szarzynski announced his departure because at the time he was working in the company’s pet-care unit, which did not compete with JAB.

But it claimed Mr Szarzynski met repeatedly with JAB executives about the time he was claimed to have stolen the documents.

He repeatedly uploaded business information to a company-issued laptop and downloaded it on to a personal hard drive before sharing it “on a number of occasions” with his new colleagues at JAB and Pret Panera, the complaint said.

The information went well beyond the pet-care unit, Mars said.

“Szarzynski’s downloading was massive and included a broad range of confidential and proprietary Mars documents about multiple global business sectors,” Mars said in the complaint.

“The forensic evidence shows that Szarzynski carefully targeted the Mars documents he unlawfully downloaded.”

The suit identified examples of alleged downloads, including one in which 6,166 documents were copied.

“We look forward to aggressively defending our conduct and proving our position in court,” Mr Johnson said.

Updated: May 22, 2020 12:27 PM


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