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Popescu v. Apple

April 13, 2017

Christopher C. Schwarz, Esq.

A California appellate court recently ruled that an expert terminated for resisting Apple, Inc.’s illegal anti-competitive behavior could maintain two separate tort claims against Apple for interference with contractual relations (contract interference) and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage (business interference). Popescu was an “exceptional” aluminum engineering manager who developed cutting-edge alloys for high-tech customers. He was employed by Constellium, a company Apple was working with while considering changes to the aluminum design of its MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. Popescu, in overseeing the project, had to reveal to Apple trade secrets regarding aluminum alloy manufacturing formulas and processing. As such, Apple presented Constellium with a “Development Agreement” containing what Popescu felt were overly restrictive terms. Popescu refused to sign. He again refused at a subsequent meeting with Apple, during which the voice recorder on his smart-pen—which had inadvertently been turned on—recorded the meeting’s conversation.

An Apple attorney confiscated the pen and insisted that Constellium launch an investigation into the incident, and request Popescu’s termination. When Popescu’s supervisors resisted, Apple appealed to the management of the private equity firm that owned Constellium. Popescu was then terminated for cause and was unable to obtain other employment in the aluminum alloy industry. Popescu sued Apple alleging violations of the Sherman Antitrust Act, the Cartwright Act, and the Uniform Trade Secrets Act.

The trial court dismissed the suit reasoning that Popescu was an at-will employee and that Popescu did not allege Apple committed an independently unlawful act when it encouraged Constellium to launch an investigation into the recording incident. The appellate court reversed, reasoning that an employee whose at-will employment contract is terminated as a result of a third party’s interference need not allege that the defendant’s conduct was independently wrongful to state a contract interference claim. The court also held that Popescu did not need to allege that Apple specifically intended to directly harm Popescu. He only needed to claim that Apple’s wrongful act interfered with his economic relationship with his employer, which he did. The appellate court remanded the case back to the trial court to determine the extent of liability as to both torts.

 

By: Christopher C. Schwarz, Esq.

Cochran, Davis & Associates, P.C.

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