Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad owner Al Harper has filed a lawsuit against two of his former employees, accusing them of stealing trade secrets and starting their own company to directly compete with Harper’s railroad events business.
Harper’s business, Rail Events, creates special events on tourist railroads in the United States and internationally that are based on themes from popular books, movies, stories and television shows.
The company is behind local events such as the Polar Express and the Pumpkin Patch Express.
The lawsuit, filed in District Court in Durango, alleges that Rail Events’ former Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Jeff Jackson and former Vice President and General Manager Jonathan Schlegel left the company to start a similar company called Train Entertainment Inc. In the process, the lawsuit says, the men “have contacted Licensors, and using confidential information gathered during the course of Defendant Jackson and Schlegel’s employment with Rail Events, have endeavored to undermine Rail Events’ existing contracts and relationship with Licensors.”
Jackson resigned from Rail Events on March 14 and Schlegel resigned March 15, according to the lawsuit. The men formed Train Entertainment on March 20, according to Florida Department of State documents.
The men have contacted licensors already doing business with Rail Events and have told their former co-workers their intentions to directly compete with Rail Events, Harper said in an interview. Rail Events filed the lawsuit against Jackson, Schlegel and Train Entertainment on May 14.
The lawsuit accuses the men of violating the Colorado Uniform Trade Secrets Act, breaching fiduciary duty to Rail Events and civil conspiracy. Rail Events has and will continue to suffer monetary damages because of the actions of the two former employees, the document says.
“It’s really simple,” Harper said. “The only experience they ever had in the branding business was what they got from me, and they left the company and basically said to everyone on Earth they were going into competition with me. I don’t appreciate them taking all the knowledge and skills and contacts and intellectual properties with them and using it against me. I don’t think that’s fair.”
Jackson did not respond to requests for comment, and efforts to contact Schlegel were unsuccessful.
Harper said both men have worked for Rail Events since it was formed in 2000. Before that, they worked for Harper’s other company, American Heritage Railways, he said. Schlegel did not give a reason for his resignation, and Jackson said Harper forced him out, Harper said.
“In reality, they’re really good guys, and I’ve liked them a long time,” Harper said. “I wish them well as long as they stay away from my business.”