Lyft Inc. escalated the battle to crack the taxi and limousine market overseas with a lawsuit accusing a former executive of defecting to Uber Technologies Inc. with proprietary documents about Lyft’s international expansion plans.
Lyft sued Travis VanderZanden, who stepped down as chief operating officer in August and joined Uber last month as vice president of international growth, for breach of contract in a complaint filed yesterday in state court in San Francisco. VanderZanden denied taking confidential Lyft data to Uber in a posting on his Twitter account.
VanderZanden transferred “Lyft’s most sensitive documents,” which contained future financial information, strategic planning, customer lists, private personnel data and international growth plans, to his personal Dropbox account in the days and months before he left the company, Lyft said in the complaint.
He has used the confidential and proprietary data in his current employment with Uber, according to the complaint.
“We are disappointed to have to take this step, but this unusual situation has left us no choice but to take the necessary legal action to protect our confidential information,” Lyft said in an e-mail. “We are incredibly proud of the dedicated and people-powered culture that we’ve fostered to support drivers, passengers and the entire Lyft community and we will not tolerate this type of behavior.”
VanderZanden called the allegations “ridiculous” in a Twitter posting. Like many early Lyft employees, he used his Dropbox account to “collaborate on files” and had been invited to view the documents listed in the complaint by the company’s co-founders, he said. He deleted them after leaving Lyft and before joining Uber, he said.
“Just to be crystal clear, I did not take any confidential data to Uber,” VanderZanden said on Twitter. “All the facts will come out, but I wanted to clear up the misinformation and protect against this audacious attack on my reputation.”
VanderZanden and another former Lyft executive, Steve Schnell, who joined Uber last month to boost its international footprint, left Lyft after disagreements with its co-founders, Logan Green and John Zimmer, over how the company was being run, people with direct knowledge of the situation said last week.
Lyft alleges VanderZanden violated his confidentiality agreement with the company and seeks a court order for the return of the information. Uber isn’t a defendant in the case.
Eva Behrend, a spokeswoman for Uber, didn’t immediately respond to e-mail and voice-mail messages seeking comment on the lawsuit. Both companies are based in San Francisco.
Uber’s lawyer has told Lyft that “VanderZanden ‘has no Lyft proprietary information in his possession, not now, not when he started at Uber, and not since he left Lyft,’” according to Lyft’s complaint.
VanderZanden systematically uploaded confidential and proprietary Lyft documents to his personal account with Dropbox, a cloud-based file storage service, and he can access this account from any computer, according to the complaint. He also copied work e-mails and contacts to his personal computer and iPhone, Lyft said.
VanderZanden sold his iPhone on an Internet site, rather than hand it over to Lyft to make sure it contained no proprietary information, the company said. Uber has denied that VanderZanden’s phone had any proprietary data after he left, according to the complaint.
“Neither VanderZanden nor Uber explained why VanderZanden chose to sell his phone in the first instance,” Lyft said. “An odd thing for a high-net worth individual to do, it was likely to cover his tracks and dispose of evidence of his misdeeds.”
The case is Lyft v. VanderZanden, GCG-14-542554, California Superior Court, San Francisco.
(An earlier version of this story was corrected regarding the timing of VanderZanden’s start at Uber.)