The new Kindle Fire ad platform, which Kivin Varghese worked on at Amazon.

A former Amazon employee is suing the company over his termination, alleging that he was let go in retaliation for going over his manager’s head to bring internal attention to a “latency issue” that he believed would have “seriously jeopardized” the ad platform launch for the new Kindle Fire tablets this past fall.

The suit was filed Dec. 12 in King County Superior Court by tech and ad industry veteran Kivin Varghese, the former CEO of online ad startup BrandPort.

Varghese is seeking to invalidate an 18-month noncompete clause that was part of his Amazon employment agreement. His suit also asks the court to cancel his assignment to Amazon of an invention called the “Television Advertising Companion,” which predated his work at the Seattle company.

According to the suit, Varghese initially believed that he would be working on the ad platform for the Kindle e-readers, but was told after he started the job in March 2012 that he would actually be working on the then-unannounced advertising platform for the new Kindle Fire tablets. The complaint says he signed the non-compete and invention-assignment agreements when he was under this mistaken belief.

The complaint says, “It was only after he executed the Agreement and the Certification that Mr. Varghese was advised that the Amazon position for which he was hired was for the new, yet to be released, Kindle Tablet, a very different platform from the e-ink product, with completely different implications regarding the non-compete agreement, which were not apparent on the day his Agreement was signed.”

Much of the complaint centers on allegations related to Varghese’s manager, saying that she didn’t appropriately address a Kindle latency problem that he raised, required him to escalate the issue to an Amazon senior vice president. The problem was resolved prior to launch, according to the suit, which doesn’t detail the nature of the latency issue.

The suit also references an internal ethics complaint in which Varghese reported what he believed to be the “misuse” of hundreds of thousands of dollars of advertiser funds.

The suit alleges that Varghese was later terminated in retaliation for raising the internal complaints, despite Amazon policies encouraging employees to speak up in such situations..

Varghese hasn’t been shy about taking on large companies in court, suing Virgin Mobile in 2006 with allegations that the wireless company misappropriated BrandPort’s trade secrets after engaging in partnership discussions with his company.

We’ve left messages with Amazon and Varghese’s lawyer seeking comment on the suit, and we’ll update this post if we hear back.

(Thanks to Venkat Balasubramani for alerting us to the case.)

Comments

  • Guest

    I was with Varghese all the way until I read that he had previously sued Virgin Mobile in 2006. Some employees are just trouble makers and toxic and need to go away. However, an 18-month noncompete clause is likely inappropriate here considering that Amazon fired him. Unless they pay him for those 18 months, they can’t expect him to not work to his full capacity and starve, just because he’s signed something early on in good faith.

    • jimmy

      from what i read on the virgin case looks like they violated the nda and missappropriated trade secrets. startups need to protect IP too… looks like his company won that one according to techcrunch.

  • Guest

    Interesting… Kudos for standing up to the big guys. A friend in the ad products group there says he added significant value – surprised he had left.

  • Rajeev

    Boo hoo. This guy has no case, and is going to lose big time. 18-month (or more) non-competes are pretty standard, and he signed it willingly. You can’t walk into a company as an employee, learn all their secrets (including secrets related to other products that you’re not directly involved with), and then go use that information to compete against the company. It makes no difference whether you were fired or whether you resigned … the restrictions on the non-compete hold either way. (As if he’s going to try and compete with the Kindle anyway!) He sounds like a big ol’ whiner if you ask me.

    • Guest

      Totally disagree. This guy even signed over an invention to Amazon, “which predated his work at the Seattle company”. So we can safely assume an act of good faith on his part when he started, i.e. he didn’t just get the job to “learn all their secrets” and leave, as you suspect. The noncompete clause of 18 months is unreasonable, as he started that job only in March 2012. What does Amazon expect, that he works selling burgers at McDonalds for 18 months, just because they fired him after only 8 months?! Noncompetes are NOT “pretty standard” and in fact illegal in other states (i.e. CA). Moreover, 18 months is an eternity in tech. If they are really worried that he could be too valuable for a competitor, then either a) keep him employed or b) pay him for those 18 months. Why is the burden solely his? And lastly, you state yourself, “as if he’s going to try and compete with the Kindle anyway”, so this noncompete really just equates to one-sided and unfair punishment. It looks very much like bullying, and Amazon should give him the rights to his invention back. Let’s face it, people are happy to sign about anything when they get a decent job, always hoping for the best case scenario.

    • Tony

      Hey Rajeev, Amazon is a sweat shop for Seattle so that incompetent employees in Chennai and Hyderabad can learn how to make software.and then get H1 visas for US.

      • Dingle

        Yep – none of the top developers want to work for Bezos, he is basically a dirt bag.

  • Jjs

    I work in a group that works with the kindle ad prod team. I worked with Kevin on a few initiatives. He knew how to do an ad product launch. He played an important role in getting us ready – shame he’s gone. Will be interesting to see details on what happened – looks like he ran into his managers vindictive nature. She knows how to say the right things and jockey for power. Wonder where Kotas and Blackburn were during all this. Can you guys post the actual lawsuit? Curious to see the details.

  • Steve

    Amazon is one the worst companies I have ever worked at. Its basically a sweat shop and uses its inept employees in India to keep the Seattle employees working around the clock 24 hours a day. Amazon, especially Kindle is a disaster waiting to happen.

    • James

      Cannot agree with you more.

    • Dingle

      Third-ed, extremely manipulative disingenuous company. If you are a geek, don’t fall for the company size, it’s basically a rotating rape factory.

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