Verdict a Wash, But Acxiom's Not Done With Parisi

by Chip Taulbee  on Monday, Sep. 5, 2005 12:00 am  

Despite a media report to the contrary, Gary Parisi does not owe former employer Acxiom Corp. of Little Rock any money. But Acxiom isn't done with him just yet.

A former Acxiom sales executive, Parisi became the key figure in a high-stakes legal battle between two data industry rivals after he left Acxiom three years ago to work for Experian of Costa Mesa, Calif.

The companies had accused each other in civil suits of using stolen documents to improve their standing in the data services game. Acxiom also accused Parisi, now 55, of stealing confidential documents prior to leaving the company and handing them over to Experian.

On Aug. 27, a Pulaski County Circuit Court jury found that both companies had indeed attempted to use stolen documents and that Parisi did take confidential documents before leaving Acxiom, violating his confidentiality agreement with the company.

The jury found, however, that no actual damages had occurred, so no punitive damages could be collected. In other words, neither party owed the other any money.

Acxiom had sought $2 million from Parisi and more than $100 million from Experian for lost future profits.

Even though the jury found he had taken confidential documents from Acxiom, Parisi was pleased with the trial's outcome. "Actually, I won the lawsuit, in the respect that Acxiom tried to sue me for $2 million," Parisi said.

The end of the trial also closed a tumultuous chapter in Parisi's life. "My wife and my family ... we've been going through hell for three years," he said.

Jumping Ship

Parisi went to work for Acxiom in June 1997 as a business development sales leader and by early 2001 was in charge of the company's financial services group.

In June 2002, Parisi left Acxiom to take a job with Experian, where he would be paid about $500,000, not including a signing bonus, a guaranteed first-year performance bonus and stock options.

"It was the job of jobs," Parisi said. "I was making the kind of money that executives at Acxiom were making."

Before Parisi left Acxiom, he transferred about 20 documents, some of which were marked as confidential, from his work computer to his personal computer. Parisi's attorney, Ben Krage of Dallas, described the material as innocuous, mostly presentations. "Frankly, it didn't occur to him that anybody would mind him having this stuff," Krage said.

Acxiom did mind. And in October 2002, Acxiom filed a lawsuit accusing Parisi of stealing trade secrets.

In a company statement Acxiom said, "It was indeed very sensitive information (Parisi and Experian) obtained, and it included a three-year strategic plan in which Acxiom had invested more than $500,000 with an outside consultant to produce."

Experian fired Parisi nine days after Acxiom filed its lawsuit; he would be out of work for more than a year.

In August 2004, Acxiom amended its complaint and dropped its allegation that Parisi had stolen trade secrets. The company instead accused him of stealing confidential information, a fact that Parisi never disputed.

Parisi then filed a counterclaim last November accusing Acxiom of wrongful use of a civil process because, Krage said, Acxiom had accused him of a crime it knew he hadn't committed. "They knew these weren't trade secrets," Krage said.

Parisi also claimed that Acxiom had dragged out the lawsuit to maximize the damage to him.

In January Acxiom added Experian to the lawsuit, alleging that Parisi helped his new employer illegitimately steal customers from Acxiom. Experian countersued, accusing Acxiom of trying to misuse Experian documents.

At the end of the trial, the jury did not award any damages to either company because it found that neither had suffered any actual damages.

In a statement, Acxiom blamed Parisi for the company being in possession of Experian's documents.

"Acxiom acknowledged that Mr. Parisi while employed at Acxiom had launched an initiative which resulted in Acxiom obtaining information that we should not have possessed about Experian. Others in Acxiom leadership did not learn of Mr. Parisi's program until he left our company, and it was halted immediately, but it should have never have happened and processes are being put in place to ensure such behavior is not tolerated in the future."

Still, Acxiom is not done with Parisi. The company plans to seek a court order to get Parisi to pay for Acxiom's legal fees in the case.

Krage predicted that Acxiom will have "absolutely no chance" at recovering legal fees.

Parisi, who lost his countersuit against Acxiom, now works out of his home for Donnelley Marketing of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., a competitor of Acxiom and Experian. He earns about a third of what he was paid by Experian.



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