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Saturday, November 5, 2005 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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T-Mobile ex-COO barred from job

Seattle Times technology reporter

T-Mobile USA has won a temporary restraining order prohibiting former Chief Operating Officer Sue Swenson from working for another wireless company.

The order, granted Tuesday by King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick, prevents Swenson from doing her job at Amp'd Mobile, a new wireless phone service in Los Angeles, where she was hired as chief operating officer.

The ruling came in a suit T-Mobile filed Oct. 24 that accuses Swenson of violating a noncompete provision in employment agreements with the Bellevue company. The agreements stipulated she would not work for a competitor for a year after leaving T-Mobile and that she would not disclose confidential material to third parties.

The lawsuit was filed the same day Amp'd Mobile announced that Swenson would become its new chief operating officer.

The judge is scheduled to consider on Nov. 14 whether to grant a preliminary injunction that could limit Swenson's activities at Amp'd until a trial resolves the complaint.

The suit marked the second time in a few months that Puget Sound-area companies have gone to court over noncompete agreements involving high-level executives leaving for California companies. In July, Microsoft sued when Kai-Fu Lee, a vice president, took a job to head Google's China operations. That case is headed for a trial in January.

In the T-Mobile case, Chief Executive Robert Dotson said in a declaration that Swenson told him Oct. 10 that she was resigning to be closer to her husband, who lives in California, and that she would work until Oct. 21. On Oct. 22, Dotson said Swenson told him she accepted a position at Amp'd.

"By virtue of her high-level executive position and her status as COO, defendant Swenson has worked on virtually all of T-Mobile's products and services and has been exposed to T-Mobile's most sensitive, proprietary, confidential and trade secret information," Dotson said in the declaration.

He said the matter was particularly urgent because Amp'd Mobile was targeting the same youth-oriented market as T-Mobile. Amp'd Mobile expects to launch its service later this year using Verizon Wireless' high-speed network.

Amp'd said Friday that the two companies aren't targeting the same market.

"I am surprised to see T-Mobile take such aggressive action to seek to prevent Sue from working with Amp'd Mobile, particularly given that we don't compete with T-Mobile," said Peter Adderton, Amp'd Mobile's founder and chief executive.

Adderton said Amp'd doesn't own the physical network but sells a service geared toward a particular market.

In court documents, Swenson's attorney argued that the noncompete clause had geographical barriers limited to Bellevue. Also, because Swenson's primary residence was in California, the clause didn't apply under that state's laws. T-Mobile declined to comment Friday.

As part of the restraining order, the judge ordered that Swenson stop working at Amp'd temporarily. She is also barred from disclosing any trade secrets or encouraging any T-Mobile employees to leave the company, and she must return all property and documents she took from T-Mobile to the company, the order said.

"The court is satisfied that T-Mobile has established a clear legal or equitable right; a well-grounded fear of immediate invasion of that right and that the acts complained of are either resulting in or will result in actual and substantial injury to T-Mobile," wrote Judge Erlick.

Tricia Duryee: 206-464-3283 or tduryee@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2005 The Seattle Times Company

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