Toro Co. is suing former employees it says are competing unfairly against its golf course irrigation products business. Toro announced Dec. 8 that it filed a lawsuit against Grizzle & Hunter Plastic Inc., Grizzle Y Hunter Plastic Inc. and Bear Irrigation in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles. The companies are managed and owned by three former Toro employees and are based in Temecula, Calif.
The suit involves sprinkler heads assembled from several injection molded plastic components, according to R. Lawrence Buckley, Toro's senior intellectual property attorney. Toro alleges the former employees ``misappropriated valuable Toro trade secrets'' and are competing unfairly. Buckley said Toro is seeking more than $50,000 in damages, but could not specify an exact figure because the competitors ``are just now getting into business.''
The former Toro employees are Glendale Grizzle, who was di-rector of plastics technology for Toro's irrigation division and head of the division's molding operation in Riverside, Calif.; his wife, Junelle Grizzle, former manager of customer administration; and Edwin Hunter. The Grizzles left Toro in 1993 and Hunter left several years before that, according to Buckley.
The Grizzles and Hunter declined comment on the lawsuit.
Buckley said the firms' unfair practices include copying Toro's performance chart for the nozzles and claiming their products are interchangeable with Toro's, and using the same color-code scheme as Toro's nozzles.
The companies also publicized the number of installed Toro irrigation systems to dealers, indicating to dealers that ``this is a large and lucrative market'' to convince the dealers to do business with the Grizzles and Hunter, Buckley said.
Buckley said Toro is not trying to enforce any noncompetitive agreements from the employees' former work at Toro: ``It's how they are competing,'' he said.
Toro's irrigation division has 700 employees and $140 million in annual sales.