Chesapeake sues ex-CEO for stealing "trade secrets"

Feb 17, 2015, 2:51 PM EST
Oklahoma City Thunder owner Clay Bennett, right, speaks to Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon during the NBA season opening game December 25, 2011 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
Brett Deering/Getty Images

Chesapeake Energy sued Aubrey McClendon, its former CEO, of stealing trade secrets and using them to benefit a rival company he founded afterwards. Forbes writes that the complaint, filed in Oklahoma County District Court, alleges that in his waning days as CEO of Chesapeake, McClendon squirreled away massive amounts of data, containing “highly sensitive trade secrets.” After his departure from Chesapeake, in April 2013, McClendon set up his new company, American Energy Partners, and leveraged that data to make a series of deals to snap up more than 100,000 acres across the Utica shale play. According to Chesapeake’s complaint, “these purchases involved the same acreage evaluated in the data stolen by McClendon.”
In the suit, reports Reuters, Chesapeake claims McClendon asked his assistant to print maps and data about unleased acreage and that McClendon also sent himself blind copies of the same documents at a personal email address during his last months at the company. The company says it discovered McClendon's actions through a forensic analysis of his Chesapeake email account. The suit represents the latest drama in the very public falling out between McClendon and Chesapeake, the company he co-founded in 1989 and built into the second largest natural gas producer in the United States. During his tenure at Chesapeake, McClendon was hailed as a visionary who helped pioneer the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
In 2012, a series of Reuters investigations found that McClendon had taken but not publicly disclosed $1.55 billion in personal loans from a major financier of the company. He helped run a hedge fund to personally trade oil and gas. And emails reviewed by the news agency showed McClendon collaborated with a rival firm in a bid to suppress land prices in a prospective oil and gas play in Michigan. Although an internal investigation of his activities found no "intentional" wrongdoing, McClendon agreed to step down as CEO on Jan. 29, 2013. "Approximately thirty-six hours after the announcement of his departure," Chesapeake alleges in its complaint, McClendon began to take confidential company information.
The Wall Street Journal writes that Mr. McClendon called the lawsuit “baseless” and accused Chesapeake of trying to breach his severance agreement. American Energy said in a news release Tuesday that the agreement allowed Mr. McClendon access to data concerning his personal investments in Chesapeake’s wells. “It is beyond belief that the company that I co-founded 25 years ago and where I worked tirelessly to build it into one of America’s largest and most successful oil and gas producers has now decided to add insult to injury almost two years to the day after my resignation by wrongly accusing me of misappropriating information,” Mr. McClendon said in a news release.