A Belgrade man filed a lawsuit on Tuesday claiming the multinational polymer company and one of its U.S. subsidiaries that he jointly worked for allowed Chinese companies to access the confidential information of U.S. customers and damaged his career when he tried to stop it.
Mark Ardito, who worked remotely, is seeking a jury trial against defendants Solvay S.A., a $12.5 billion Belgium-based conglomerate that operates in 64 countries, and Solvay Specialty Polymers USA, a Georgia-based subsidiary. The case is in the process of being transferred from a state court to the U.S. District Court in Maine.
The lawsuit claims that during his 15-plus years of employment, Solvay “chose to exploit his strong track record and ability to generate customer trust to divert trade secrets and confidential information from U.S. customers to customers in China.” He said Solvay retaliated against him when he tried to stop the information leaks.
Ardito claims that one of the Chinese companies that Solvay employees may have passed information to was Huawei Technologies Co., a telecommunications giant. In 2019, former President Donald Trump issued an executive order barring U.S. companies from using equipment from telecommunications firms it said posed a national security risk, including Huawei. President Joe Biden last month extended the ban.
In the lawsuit, Ardito claimed he was in a position to know about sensitive customer data kept in Solvay’s cloud-based platform called salesforce.com. He said information from customers, including the U.S. government and military, was stored there. He was reassigned in 2016 to a Chinese manager and said he noticed confidentiality breaches, including to a Chinese employee who left the company for a competitor in Taiwan.
Ardito claims that he complained to the company, including six times in writing from October through December 2018, that his Chinese manager was funneling confidential and potentially trade secret information from U.S. customers to be used for the benefit of Huawei.
Ardito claimed he filed whistleblowing reports over a seven-month period to Solvay’s regional human resources office and its legal team. He said the company told him it had no policies or procedures to address his concerns, and the company did not launch an investigation.
He said Solvay “made it impossible” for him to do his job without violating the law. He took medical leave in December 2018, but continued to interact with Solvay on the complaints. He also claimed that the company contacted his daughter and tried to get her to divulge private information about him.
Ardito filed an unlawful whistleblower retaliation complaint with the Maine Human Rights Commission in September 2019. The lawsuit said the commission gave him a notice of the right to sue in November 2020. Records from the commission were not available on Wednesday.
Among the damages Ardito is seeking are reinstatement to his position or payment of lost wages and benefits and double the amount of back pay plus interest. He also is asking that the court have Solvay train its employees about civil rights.
Lawyers for Solvay and Ardito did not immediately respond to requests for comment.