A former executive atMars Inc. says he was stepped on and intimidated by members of the Mars family after he took a job at another company.
At one of his last presentations to the Mars board in McLean, Virginia, in December, 2018, Jacek Szarzynski says Frank Mars “literally stamped on my foot and warned me that the family would ensure that I would come to regret quitting,” according to an Aug. 20 filing.
Valerie Mars, another member of the family and a senior vice-president at Mars, berated Szarzynski for his decision to quit and told him to “brace yourself, you are entering the very dark world,” according to his complaint. Szarzynski’s filing was reported earlier by the Financial Times.
The company denied the claims, saying Szarzynski was instead trying to cover up his efforts to steal proprietary information before leaving after 24 years to join Pret Panera, a holding company for several coffee and sandwich restaurant chains.
“These arguments are an attempt to divert attention from wrongdoing and paint a misleading picture,” a Mars spokeswoman said in a statement.
After downloading thousands of confidential Mars documents containing trade secrets and sensitive financial information, Szarzynski “then passed along some of the confidential Mars documents to his new employer,” according to the statement.
Lawyers for Szarzynski weren’t immediately available outside office hours.
Mars previously raised the claims of document theft in a lawsuit filed in May. It says Szarzynski took detailed global financial projections, secret documents on acquisition opportunities and results for individual products with him before moving toJAB Holding Co. as chief financial officer of its Pret Panera unit.
Szarzynski acknowledged he downloaded some Mars documents in September 2018 just before leaving the company but said that’s because they were “intermingled” with some of his personal documents, including medical records, tax and bank statements.
“I have never used — and never intended to use — any Mars information to harm Mars or to benefit myself or the business for which I now work,” he said in the August filing, adding that he offered to return the documents to Mars and destroy any copies but was rebuffed. “Mars therefore knows it has no damages,” he said.
The information went well beyond the pet-care unit where Szarzynski worked, and “included a broad range of confidential and proprietary Mars documents about multiple global business sectors,” Mars said in its May complaint.
“The forensic evidence shows that Szarzynski carefully targeted the Mars documents he unlawfully downloaded,” including one download in which 6,166 documents were copied, according to the complaint.
As well as pitting lawyers in a fight over what “confidential” and “proprietary” really means in the business of selling chocolate and pet food, the case also casts an unwelcome spotlight on the Mars family. Together, six members of the family are worth close to $130 billion, according to the BloombergBillionaires Index.
Szarzynski’s lawyers argue in their August filing that the U.S. case be dismissed in favor of arbitration in Belgium. Szarzynski is a Polish citizen and a Belgian resident. He was based in Europe and the contract he signed with Mars in 2016 was with a Belgian unit that specified local arbitration in the event of any dispute, they say.
The case also discloses details about Mars’ corporate structure, with his lawyer claiming Szarzynski’s contract was with a Mars unit in Belgium designed to function as a “tax haven” for its European executives.
The case dating from May is Mars Inc. v. Szarzynski, 1:20-cv-01344, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Washington).
— With assistance by Rick Clough
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