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Telco secrets suit, round 2

A case of proprietary information and MCI's hiring away a US West employee gets a second hearing tomorrow.

US West (USW) and MCI Communications (MCIC) are getting set for round two in a case over proprietary information and a former US West employee hired by MCI.

US West filed last week for a restraining order against its employee of 17 years, Jo Gentry, to prohibit her from working at MCI until the issue can be put to rest.

US West claims that Gentry possesses exclusive corporate information and feels that the information is at risk of being leaked to MCI.

"We believe that if she works for MCI, she shouldn't be working on the very issue that she worked on for [US West]," said US West spokesman Jerry Brown.

He explained that as a US West employee, Gentry was part of negotiations with MCI on a deal to connect MCI to US West's infrastructure to offer local phone service. Gentry is now working on the same project at MCI, which triggered the suit.

Gentry's latest position at US West was as an executive staff member reporting to the vice president of the company's western region, according to the Scripps-McClatchy Western news service.

The news service also reported that in a deposition taken Sunday, Gentry said her job hunt began after US West laid off a number of workers last August, including other high-level employees.

"It told me that you could be a high performer and still be very expendable the next day," Gentry testified. "I, statistically, potentially, would not make it 8 years to the 55 bogey of retirement. So I was looking out for myself."

Gentry filed a resignation letter with US West on March 14, to be effective March 17. US West filed suit March 20, Brown said.

Upon Gentry's resignation, she signed a note that said she would not offer secret information to her new employer. She also signed an agreement when she accepted stock options at US West that prohibits her from discussing inside information.

But that signed paperwork does not put US West at ease.

"If somebody changes side in the middle of the game, they know what they know, and you can't pump that back out of their head," said Brown.

To try to settle the dispute, U S. District Judge Lewis T. Babcock asked US West to provide MCI with a list of information the company considers exclusive. Meanwhile, MCI must sketch a job description for Gentry to determine if the proprietary information is in jeopardy.

Another hearing is scheduled for tomorrow.

"We are looking for a situation where this woman can be employed at MCI where that information is not compromised," said US West spokesman David Beigie.

"It is our belief that MCI is in a position to compete unfairly with information from US West. We want the playing field to be level, open, and fair," said Beigie.

MCI could not be reached for comment.