A lawsuit over trade secrets between battling German discounters Aldi and Lidl will continue into a second year after mediation led to an agreement on some ground rules but not to an ultimate settlement.
The suit was filed by Aldi in a U.S. District Court in North Carolina in early March, alleging that a former employee jumped to rival Lidl in violation of a noncompete agreement and, with the help of a former Aldi colleague, subsequently shared competitive trade secrets such as sales data and real estate, marketing and project management strategies. Aldi further alleged that the former employee, Bruna Maraccini, who’d most recently served Aldi as a director of real estate in its North Carolina and Virginia regions, subsequently enlisted former co-workers to steal information from Aldi to give to Lidl.
Lidl denied many of the charges in the suit, as did attorneys for two named employees as co-defendants, Maraccini and Colleen Savory.
The case brings to light the fierceness with which the hard discounters—international rivals for decades but U.S. adversaries only since Lidl announced intentions to expand in the U.S. in 2015—protect their points of difference. Among these are plans for expansion, which Aldi confessed in its complaint are not publicly known even among its employees, except those with a business to know.
Aldi’s initial suit had nine separate counts, many seeking awards of more than $75,000 each.
In recently filed court papers, the parties detailed a proposed case management plan coming out of discussion with a federal mediator in August, as well as ongoing conversations. That filing indicated the parties have not reached a settlement but would continue to explore the possibility of resolution, agreeing on some ground rules as to the scope of discovery and a timeline to establish disclosure of witnesses and a discovery deadline of April 30.
It also indicated that significant disagreements between the parties still exist around issues of discovery of electronically stored information. Aldi believes Lidl had not searched thoroughly enough; the latter argues Aldi’s request for electronic discovery is “not proportional” to the needs of the case and suggests Aldi is demanding to search Lidl’s systems “in hopes of finding something to support its damages case.”
Maraccini, who left Aldi for Lidl in 2018, is alleged to have received at least five Aldi documents via email from Savory, her former Aldi colleague who was preparing herself to leave for Lidl last spring.
Lidl in the Oct. 29 update noted that neither Maraccini nor Savory are employed by Lidl currently and that the five documents were recovered and returned to Aldi.
Aldi, however, says Lidl’s search was limited to Maraccini’s email and not its own systems, which may have absorbed the information they contained without having been emailed.
In other contested matters, Aldi and Lidl are in disagreement over testimony of an unidentified Lidl witness who, according to Aldi, “had no or inaccurate information relative to the topic for which he or she was designated to testify and relied on erroneous information provided to them by Lidl’s in-house counsel to repeat as fact in the deposition.”
The sides agree that a temporary restraining order issued shortly after Aldi’s complaint could be lifted but only, in Aldi’s estimation, if Lidl agrees to complete electronic discovery. Lidl says it has complied with the initial order and that Aldi should not be permitted to convert the temporary restraining order into a preliminary injunction without a hearing.