Motorola sues Zafirovski over Nortel job

Motorola Corp. has filed a lawsuit seeking to prevent the company’s former executive, Mike Zafirovski, from taking the helm of Nortel Networks Corp.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday against Zafirovski in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, alleges that Zafirovski has breached a number of non-competition agreements he had signed with Motorola.

According to the complaint, Zafirovski is unable to perform the duties of his new job without disclosing Motorola trade secrets, and officials from the Schaumburg, Illinois, company are seeking to prevent him from working for Nortel for two years, and from soliciting or hiring Motorola employees to work for the Nortel.

“Despite being paid millions of dollars in cash, stock and stock options in exchange for Zafirovski’s simple agreement not to take a position with a competitor for two years… Zafirovski willfully and deliberately violated the reasonable non-compete agreements,” the court filings state.

“We take these matters seriously and we will do what is necessary to protect Motorola,” said Motorola spokeswoman Jennifer Weyrauch. Though Nortel is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, the company intends to “pursue discussions with Motorola with a view to resolving the dispute,” the Brampton, Ontario, networking company said in a statement.

The suit is similar to one Microsoft Corp. filed recently against Kai-Fu Lee, a former employee who joined Google Inc., over a noncompete agreement. Nortel spokeswoman Patricia Vernon declined to comment on the matter, and would not say whether it is expected to have any effect on the appointment of Zafirovski as Nortel’s president and chief executive officer (CEO), which had been scheduled to take effect on Nov. 15.

After 24 years at General Electric Co., Zafirovski joined Motorola in 2000 as president and CEO of the company’s Personal Communications Sector business. He was promoted to Motorola president and chief operating officer in July 2002 and left the company at the end of January 2005.

Zafirovski was chosen to succeed Bill Owens, who has served as Nortel’s president and CEO for the past year and a half, taking over a company that has been rocked by a downturn in the telecommunications equipment market and a financial scandal that led to the firing of a number of Nortel’s top executives, including former CEO Frank Dunn.

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