Friday, May 22, 2009

Former employee of education centre sued for breach of confidentiality

The Singapore franchisee of a teaching method created by late Professor Makoto Shichida and the Shichida Educational Institute, The Shichida Method, has taken one of its ex-employees to court for allegedly poaching its trainers and students.

David Ng was formerly the general manager and acting chief operations officer of The Shichida Method. After being dismissed in June 2007 for allegedly misappropriating a sum of S$160,000 in fees, Ng set up his own education centre. It is alleged that he proceeded to poach trainers and students from his former employer, and also tried to persuade the Japanese franchisor to appoint his company as the Singapore franchisee.

The suit was commenced in the High Court and is premised upon breach of confidential information. The evidence against Ng includes camera footage of Ng removing documents from his former employer’s office shorter after his dismissal, and of his trainers offering the former employer’s curriculum to his students’ parents.

In Ng’s defence, Senior Counsel Hri Kumar has argued that the suit is anti-competitive; an ex-employee should be allowed to use the skills and knowledge that he had acquired in the course of employment. He has further argued that Ng had not signed an employment contract and was therefore not subject to any obligation of confidentiality.

The Shichida Method’s former trainers have also been sued for breaching the secrecy clause in their contracts. Mr. Kumar has argued for the unenforceability of the clause as it does not stipulate what information is considered a trade secret.

This suit, which was heard on 4 May 2009, reminds employers that employees should be made to sign confidentiality agreements or have appropriate clauses included in their employment agreements. Confidential documents such as training manuals and customer lists should also be marked “confidential”. Security measures (e.g. password protection) should also be put in place to ensure that access to such information is restricted.

[Update (11/06/2009) : A source informs me that the matter has since been settled out of court.]

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