Sophos CEO Slams Fortinet In Response To Employee Poaching Lawsuit

Fortinet this week filed a lawsuit against rival Sophos for allegedly poaching Fortinet employees, a claim that Sophos CEO Kris Hagerman called "baseless."

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Jose, Calif., accuses Sophos and Michael Valentine, senior vice president of worldwide sales at Sophos and a former Fortinet executive, of soliciting and inducing numerous Fortinet employees to defect to Sophos. Those employees include Kendra Krause, who left Fortinet in April to become vice president of North American channel sales at Sophos, as well as several other channel executives and senior managers.

Valentine spent nearly six years at Fortinet, most recently serving as vice president of Americas sales and support, before joining Sophos in February. The lawsuit claims Sophos and Valentine violated "Valentines contractual and other lawful duties to Fortinet" by recruiting other Fortinet executives to follow him to Sophos.

[Related: Jumping Ship: 10 Channel Execs Who Swam To The Competition ]

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The complaint also claims that four other ex-Fortinet executives who joined Sophos also tried to solicit additional Fortinet employees to join Sophos, though only Valentine is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Hagerman denied the allegations and told CRN that Valentine and all Sophos employees acted appropriately. "It's a baseless lawsuit and we all know it," Hagerman said. "This is not Fortinet at their best. They should be focused on winning in the market and not in the courtroom."

Fortinet declined to comment.

In addition to the breach of contract and contract interference allegations, the complaint includes three patent infringement claims. Fortinet is seeking a jury trial for unspecified damages.

The two security companies have been locked in a fierce competition in the unified threat management (UTM) space. Hagerman said Fortinet is taking legal action to try to stop Sophos' momentum in the market.

"Mike Valentine joined Sophos almost a year ago. Why is this lawsuit happening now?" Hagerman asked. "I think it's obvious. We have the momentum right now." Gil Buthlay, president of BEK, Inc., a Fortinet partner based in Brunswick, Maine, questioned the lawsuit. "Why did so many Fortinet employees leave the company?" he said. "That's the big question."

Hagerman said Fortinet's lawsuit won't be a disruption for Sophos and its channel team. "It won't be a distraction for us," he said. "Quite the opposite -- we'll be even more focused. It's provided more visibility and attention about our momentum, and now people are asking why so many folks are joining Sophos, which is great for us.