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Columbia Sues 2 Former Execs for Trade Secret Theft

The Oregon suit alleges that a defendant downloaded ‘numerous’ confidential files, and then went to work for a direct competitor, along with another former executive. The two men could pay damages of $5 million or more.

a columbia sportswear sweater(Photo/Shutterstock)
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Columbia Sportswear Company (CSC) has filed suit in federal court against Bill Ferreira and Dean Rurak alleging misappropriations of CFC’s trade secrets.

CSC brought the claims against the two former executives under the Defend Trade Secrets Act and Oregon’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act. The company, which owns Columbia, SOREL, Mountain Hardwear, and prAna, seeks damages and injunctive relief.

CSC filed its suit against Ferreira and Rurak on April 21. The complaint outlines a scenario in which the two defendants downloaded confidential documents just prior to their resignations — after which they both immediately started working for Huk Gear, a South Carolina-based fishing gear company and competitor to CSC.

Two Executives Resign

Ferreira had worked for CSC since 2004. Most recently, he served as CSC’s Director of Global Merchandising and was in charge of the Columbia brand’s Performance Fishing Gear and Performance Hunting Gear product lines. When he resigned on October 28, 2022, he downloaded numerous confidential documents from his CSC work computer to an external hard drive, the lawsuit alleges, in violation of several agreements regarding CSC proprietary information.

Rurak had worked for CSC since 2008, until he resigned on the same day as Ferreira from his position as CSC’s Chief Product Officer. CSC claims that Rurak downloaded confidential information in violation of the same binding contracts as Ferreira.

The documents Ferreira allegedly stole “contained confidential strategic, financial, and technical plans, including trade secrets, that are directly relevant to any work” he might perform for Huk, the lawsuit claims.

Furthermore, the court documents show he was performing sales analysis into both CSC and Huk in the months prior to his resignation. The complaint says he acted as “one of the leaders of CSC’s efforts to compare and analyze CSC’s and Huk’s performance fishing apparel products and sales,” a role that gave him “unique access” to information that give CSC a competitive advantage over Huk — “or the reverse.”

The court documents cite the exact time he transferred the information — the evening before he resigned, from an IP address off the corporate network.

‘Sensitive Information’

Rurak resigned “within hours” of Ferreira, according to the company. Prior to that, he was responsible for CSC’s “production engine,” in a role that gave him intimate access to not only its pricing, products, and distribution, but also its “architecture and innovations.”

Pointedly, Rurak attended an executive meeting in Montreal in the week before he resigned, where strategic and financial plans were topics. Rurak had already planned to leave CSC for Huk, the company claims, and would not have garnered an invitation to the meeting had the company known those plans beforehand.

The suit claims Ferreira and Rurak “cannot avoid inevitably disclosing” the sensitive information they possess to Huk, and that neither of the men has cooperated with the company’s requests to return the documents. Thanks to noncompetes and proprietary information other contracts that they signed as a result of their employment with CSC, they’re liable for damages to CSC, it claims.

If Columbia Sportswear Company prevails in court, Ferreira and Rurak could be liable for significant damages. The federal Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016, for example, provides for doubling the actual damages sustained by the plaintiff in a civil suit.

No court date has been set. None of the parties has publicly commented on the claims, and the defendants Ferreira and Rurak have yet to file an answer.

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