A former director of content acquisition for Netflix is accusing the streaming service of “blacklisting” him and spreading false claims that he stole company confidential information when he left for a job at rival Amazon.
Jerry Kowal’s suit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday, also names Reed Hastings and Ted Sarandos, as well as Amazon, whom he accuses of wrongfully terminated him after just a few weeks on the job. He contends that Netflix, in a retaliatory move, was responsible for pressuring Amazon to terminate him.
Kowal, who is seeking at least $1 million in damages, claims defamation, false light invasion of privacy, civil conspiracy, intentional interference with an employment relationship, blacklisting and wrongful termination.
His complaint casts Netflix as a media “Goliath” that enlisted Amazon, a competitor but also Netflix’s provider of cloud storage services, “to aid in a cutthroat and unlawful campaign to effectively blacklist a once valued and profitable executive and prevent him from competing against it.”
He says that he decided to leave Netflix in June, after only a year on the job, because he found its atmosphere “cold and hostile,” saying that “senior employees and executives routinely berated and bullied their direct reports and facilitated a cutthroat, winner takes all atmosphere that made teamwork and collaboration impossible.”
His suit contends that in one instance, Netflix “even fired one employee after that employee refused his supervisor’s command to access and make use of, for the benefit of Netflix, trade secret information belonging to the supervisor’s former employer, a large studio that licenses a significant amount of content to Netflix.”
After Kowal started at Amazon Netflix lawyers sent a letter “falsely accusing” him of using confidential information for his new job, the suit states. In response, Amazon placed him on mandatory leave and directed him to meet with an outside counsel, Harry Korrell, who told him that it would “all blow over.” But Korrell also convinced Kowal to give in to Netflix’s demand that he turn over his personal computer devices so they could be checked for any evidence that he had printed or downloaded confidential information, the suit states.
The Netflix investigation and an inquiry by Amazon, Kowal contends, turned up no evidence that he copied documents, but he was fired from Amazon anyway. He claims that Netflix and Hastings “leveraged Netflix’s status as a key Amazon customer and contacted the highest levels of Amazon’s senior management to secure Amazon’s assurance and guarantee that Kowal’s employment with Amazon would be terminated irrespective of the results of the investigation.”
A spokesman for Netflix did not immediate respond to requests for comment.