By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
August 18, 2005
Comcast of Montgomery County has filed a federal lawsuit against a
senior manager who resigned this month to join Verizon Communications,
alleging that she e-mailed herself proprietary information about
Comcast for use in her new job.
Comcast, the dominant cable provider in Montgomery and many parts of
the Washington area, is facing increased competition from Verizon,
which is expanding access to its high-speed Internet service in the
region and preparing to offer television service over its fiber-optic
Melody Khalatbari, who held the position of public affairs manager at
Comcast until Aug. 8, began work at Verizon's Maryland offices Monday
but is no longer employed by the company. "She is not on our payroll
at this point," said Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe, who would not
elaborate on how Khalatbari and the company parted ways. Comcast filed
suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against Khalatbari,
an Arlington resident.
Khalatbari did not respond to phone messages or an e-mail seeking
comment yesterday, and no one answered the door at what is listed in
public records as her address. Verizon is not named as a defendant in
the lawsuit, and Rabe distanced the company from Comcast's
allegations. "We're not engaged in any improper attempt . . . to get
proprietary information," Rabe said.
"As far as I know, that's a suit against her, and we have nothing to
do with that," Rabe said.
Comcast officials have blamed service disruptions in Montgomery and
elsewhere on Verizon workers cutting Comcast lines as they install
fiber-optic cable. Craig A. Snedeker, general manager of Comcast in
Montgomery, said Comcast's infrastructure is under "tremendous attack"
Verizon officials have responded that some cuts are unavoidable in a
large-scale construction project. "I think all of us who work
underground try our best not to hit anybody," Rabe said.
Comcast alleges in court documents that Khalatbari prepared her
resignation letter July 29, 10 days before she resigned. Snedeker, in
a declaration that is part of the suit, said he gave regional
communications manager Lisa Altman access to Khalatbari's company
e-mail account the day after she left the company.
Snedeker wrote: "Ms. Altman reported to me that in the course of
searching for materials in Melody Khalatbari's email box she had found
several emails, each with numerous attachments, that Melody Khalatbari
had sent from her work computer to her personal computer in the days
immediately preceding her resignation."
The attachments, Snedeker wrote, "were all company property and many
of the attachments consisted of highly sensitive, confidential
subscriber lists, including lists of hundreds of Comcast's top
customers and 'VIP' customers."
Some of the e-mail attachments include titles such as "Happy
Customers," "Additions to VIP list," and "Platinum subs 9.28.04,"
according to a declaration Altman made in support of the suit.
The suit alleges breach of fiduciary duty and violation of the
Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act and asserts that Khalatbari
"improperly converted" Comcast documents and property to her own use.
Comcast seeks compensatory damages of more than $75,000 and asks the
court to prohibit Khalatbari from using the information to compete
with or hurt Comcast.
Although Comcast may maintain lists of its happy customers, Montgomery
County keeps track of the other kind. During the first five months of
this year, the office recorded an average of about 100 complaints
about Comcast per month. This month, said county cable regulator Jane
E. Lawton, the office is on track to receive about 500.
Staff writer Jamie Stockwell contributed to this report.
=A9 2005 The Washington Post Company
Sept 16-18th, 2005
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