Amazon alleges Wal-Mart intimidation

The retail giant is threatening to sue unnamed "other companies" that hire former Wal-Mart workers, Amazon says.

Amazon.com is accusing Wal-Mart Stores of waging an intimidation campaign against companies seeking to hire workers away from the world's largest retailer, court papers show.

In response to Wal-Mart's lawsuit last month alleging Amazon.com is luring away its workers to gain access to the retail chain's trade secrets, Amazon officials said Wal-Mart executives have been sending letters to other companies to sue them if they add former Wal-Mart employees to their staffs. Amazon didn't identify the companies.

The allegation came as Amazon asked an Arkansas judge to deny Wal-Mart's request for an order barring the Internet seller of books and music from using any trade secrets gleaned from ex- Wal-Mart workers. Wal-Mart contends Amazon and its units are intentionally targeting Wal-Mart workers to get secrets about its computerized merchandising and distribution systems.

"Regardless of the type of company involved, whether a direct competitor like K-Mart or a startup Internet bookseller like Amazon.com, Wal-Mart will make life difficult for any company that hires its employees and the employees who leave,'' Amazon's lawyers said in the papers.

Wal-Mart officials dismissed Amazon's allegations about an intimidation campaign, saying it hasn't threatened other companies or any of its workers.

"We want to retain our good associates, but we don't do that by threatening them or any company they want to go to,'' said Betsy Reithemeyer, a Wal-Mart spokeswoman. "People come and go all the time.''

Amazon officials refused to comment about any other companies who were the target of Wal-Mart's alleged intimidation campaign.

"If it's not in the brief, I can't comment,'' said Bill Curry, Amazon's spokesman. "We can't go beyond what's in the papers.''

Amazon officials also denied they were attempting to siphon off Wal-Mart's workers to gather trade secrets in the papers. The company says it instructed its new hires not to use or disclose any trade secrets learned at their former jobs.

Amazon has hired 15 current or former employees or consultants of Wal-Mart including Richard Dalzell, Wal-Mart's former chief information officer, the retailer contends in its suit.

"We believe they are targeting a specific part of our business, the information systems group, to meet their specific needs,'' Reithemeyer said today. But Amazon's lawyers contend the Internet startup, whose shares surged 21 percent today on expectations that holiday shopping on the World Wide Web will be strong this year, is copying Wal-Mart's rise to the top of the retailer heap.

"What Wal-Mart is attempting to prevent now is exactly the same conduct that helped to start Wal-Mart and to fuel its growth: the completely legal and ethical acquisition of talented people who are known for excellence in their field,'' the papers said.

They cited Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton's book, "Made in America,'' in which he admits he nosed "around other people's stores searching for good talent'' when he started the chain.

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