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San Jose, Calif.-In a situation called “very rare” by many in the legal staffing industry, a top agency has filed a trade secret complaint against one of its rivals. A California provider of financial personnel, Robert Half International Inc., said a Maryland consulting and technology service company, Ajilon Consulting, and Ajilon’s parent, Swiss employment agency Adecco S.A., have “targeted dozens” of its personnel since at least 2004 with the intent of hiring them away to help “steal” its clients and business. A complaint filed recently in Santa Clara County Superior Court follows a wave of employee defections from Robert Half over the summer. Robert Half International v. Adecco, No. 1-05-CV 048248. The news has surprised many in the legal staffing industry. “It’s probably a really ugly suit,” said Karen Whitaker, branch manager of Legal Ease, a staffing firm in San Jose. “It’s surprising that [Robert Half is] pushing this.” Ajilon is surprised too. In court filings responding to the complaint, the company said that “[Robert Half's] circumstantial arguments are too fragile to withstand opposition.” According to Robert Half’s employment agreements, employees who leave it must “refrain from directly or indirectly soliciting” Robert Half clients on behalf of a competitor for at least a year. Access to database? The company alleges that this pact was violated by a number of former employees who had access to Robert Half’s “substantial” database, which lists information for hundreds of prospective and actual clients. Employees agreed to “safeguard such trade secrets [and] not disclose them to others,” the complaint said. The complaint didn’t specify how many former employees are suspected of joining the competition in an effort to steer business away from Robert Half. It also doesn’t say how much money Robert Half has allegedly lost as a result of Ajilon’s “intentional, willful and malicious” business behavior, nor does it provide any specific examples of the allegations. Reesa Staten, a spokeswoman for Robert Half, declined to publicly discuss any aspect of the pending litigation. “We don’t want to influence” the outcome of the case, she said. “This is a matter for the courts.” The complaint is not seeking a jury trial, but Staten wouldn’t say how Robert Half-which reported net income of $140.6 million last year-is hoping to settle the matter. The next court date is set for Oct. 18. Charles Crompton, a partner in Latham & Watkins’ San Francisco office, which is representing Ajilon and Adecco, said the case is a “fairly routine business dispute.”

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