Can my previous employer sue me for taking the customer list?

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Can my previous employer sue me for taking the customer list?

A few years ago I worked for a company and e-mailed a customer list to my personal e-mail a couple weeks before I left. I have since deleted and closed my personal e-mail account. What are the legal ramifications for having done that if my previous employer comes after me? I have never signed a no-compete clause with that company, if that makes any difference. I am pursuing starting a business and would like to contact some of those customers. I do not have the list, I just remember who they are from 7 years experience working with them.

Asked on November 14, 2016 under Employment Labor Law, Missouri

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

You stole company property, to put it very bluntly: the customer list is valuable, proprietary company property which you were allowed to use solely as part of your job, for the company's benefit, and *not* for your own benefit. If you use their customer list--either the actual list, or just the names/contact information of customers you "remember" only because you had their names, etc. as part of your job (i.e. they were not customers you knew previously, say from your own business, and brought with you)--you are misappropriating company property and could be sued for, possibly, a significant amount of money and/or a court order forcing you to stop selling, etc. to those customers. It's not about competition, per se, which is why the lack of a noncompete agreement is irrelevant; it's that you can't use you former employer's information without their permission, any more than you could legally take and keep a laptop computer of theirs without permission.


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