Jury orders Seagate to pay $1.9M to former employee

Engineer charged Seagate hired him for phantom job to help it sell Advanced Technology Group

A federal jury this month awarded awarded a former Seagate Technology engineer $1.9 million in a wrongful employment case.

Chandramouli Vaidyanathan had sought $2.7 million in damages, contending that he had to uproot his family to take a job at Seagate's Advanced Technology Group facility in Minnesota for a job that didn't exist.

Vaidyanathan had been working for Texas Instruments in Dallas in 2008 when he took a job with Seagate as a yield engineer, a position that focuses on improving product engineering during the manufacturing stage.

Vaidyanathan stated that in order to take the position at Seagate, he had quit his position at Texas Instruments and moved his wife and two school-aged children to Minnesota.

When Vaidyanathan arrived in Minnesota, however, the solid-state disk product he was hired to work on during manufacturing was still in early development, according to Brent Snyder, an attorney in the law firm of Snyder & Brandt, which represented Vaidyanathan. He was laid off nine months later, Snyder said.

"The reason that was given is that he was hired to be a yield engineer but the project never came to fruition," Snyder said. "They didn't care what effect it had on his career."

Seagate declined to comment on the case, which was heard earlier this month in U.S. District Court in St. Paul, Minn. The jury reached the verdict on Nov. 18.

Seagate, based in Scotts Valley, Calif., employs 2,800 workers at two facilities in the Twin Cities area.

According to Snyder, Seagate contended that when Vaidyanathan was hired, the company was attempting to sell or find a business partner for the Advanced Technology Group.

"The obvious question is why," Synder said. "It was beneficial for [Seagate] to have a yield engineer on staff to give the appearance of a complete organization with a project that was further along in development. They were not able to sell or find a partner for the ATG group despite having him on board as the placeholder yield engineer."

The basis for the case is a Minnesota statute that makes it illegal to induce "any person to change from any place in any state, territory or country to any place in this state to work in any branch of labor through or by means of knowingly false representations."

A person induced to change a place of employment can recover damages and attorney's fees under the statute.

The amount of time Vaidyanathan was away from his chosen profession, both at Seagate and during the litigation, ended his career as a yield engineer, Snyder said.

Vaidyanathan has since started his own alternative energy company, Mouli Engineering Inc., and now installs solar panels on commercial and residential buildings.

"It's a growing business, but it's a fraction of the income he earned as a yield engineer," Snyder said.

Lucas Mearian covers storage, disaster recovery and business continuity, financial services infrastructure and health care IT for Computerworld. Follow Lucas on Twitter at @lucasmearian, or subscribe to Lucas's RSS feed . His e-mail address is lmearian@computerworld.com.

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