Netflix and Amazon are streaming-service rivals, but today the two were united as defendants in a multimillion-dollar defamation and wrongful-termination lawsuit by a former employee of both companies. In his suit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court (read it here), which also names top Netflix execs Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos as defendants, Jerry Kowal is seeking at least $1 million — and damages potentially worth millions more. The former Director of Content Acquisition for Netflix claims he was “blacklisted” by the company after he left to join Amazon’s streaming business and that Netflix falsely accused him “of stealing confidential information, disclosing confidential information to Amazon, and using confidential information to compete against Netflix.” In what the suit refers to as “the proverbial David and Goliath,” Kowal says Netflix “did everything it could to dissuade him” from leaving to join Amazon. And when he did exit in June after a year on the job, Netflix “proceeded to interfere with Kowal’s employment with Amazon in a malicious attempt to ruin his reputation and prevent him from working there and leverage its substantial business relationship with Amazon to guarantee that Kowal would be terminated from his position at Amazon and would be substantially hindered in his efforts to secure comparable replacement employment.”
The suit describes Netflix as a “hostile” work environment and that he “jumped at the chance” to join Amazon when the opportunity arose last summer. It also claims “the last words Sarandos spoke to Kowal were that he ‘would regret going to Amazon.’” Once he started his new job, the suit says, Netflix “demanded access to Kowal’s personal computer and personal emails accounts to conduct a forensic analysis to determine whether any documents belonging to Netflix at issue had been disseminated to Amazon.” The plaintiff also that claims Amazon persuaded him to turn over the devices to Netflix and that the ensuing investigation eventually cleared him of wrongdoing. He says Amazon also conducted its own investigation that vindicated him but “refused to provide written verification of the results.” He also claims that “before either of the above investigations had concluded, Netflix and defendant Hastings leveraged Netflix’s status as a key Amazon customer and contacted the highest levels of Amazon’s senior management to secure Amazon’s assurance and guarantee that Kowal’s employment with Amazon would be terminated irrespective of the results of the investigation.”
Kowal wants a jury trial in the case, which also alleges false light invasion of privacy, blacklisting and civil conspiracy. He is represented by attorney Caroline H. Mankey of Cypress LLP in Los Angeles.