Food & Beverage

Mars board member accused of stamping on the foot of ex-employee at the center of JAB Holdings lawsuit

Key Points
  • Mars is suing JAB Holdings over claims that one of its former executives stole upward of 6,000 documents containing trade secrets and passed them to JAB.
  • The ex-Mars executive at the center of the lawsuit claims that a member of the Mars family and the company's board "stamped" on his foot and told him that he would regret his choice to leave.
  • The trade secrets lawsuit was filed by Mars in May in federal court in Washington, D.C
People visit the M&M store in Times Square on July in New York City.
Spencer Platt | Getty Images

A former Mars executive is claiming that a member of the family and the company's board "stamped" on his foot and told him that he would regret his choice to leave for a position with JAB Holdings.

The allegation is part of JAB Holdings' rebuttal against a trade secrets lawsuit filed by Mars in May in federal court in Washington, D.C. The M&M maker claims that Jacek Szarzynski, who formerly served as CFO of Mars' pet-care business and is named as a defendant in the suit, stole upward of 6,000 documents from Mars and passed them over to JAB. The latest salvo, which was first reported by the Financial Times, is a rare look behind the curtain into the two privately held companies.

Szarzynski called the lawsuit "vindictive and unnecessary," saying that while he still had some Mars documents in his possession, he never used or intended to use them for his own benefit or to harm his former employer. He is now a partner at JAB, which is the investment arm of the Reimann family, and serves as chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Pret Panera, one of its business units.

"Mars is a private, family-owned business, and the Mars family reacts with brutality to any perceived slight," he wrote in a court filing Aug. 20. "They were upset that, after 24 years working for Mars, I had the temerity to leave."

Szarzynski claimed that Frank Mars, who shares a name with company's founder and sits on its board, "intentionally" stepped on his foot after one of his final presentations in front of the Mars board in December 2018.

"As Mr. Mars stared at me aggressively, his foot on top of mine, he warned me, 'Tell your new boss we will never forgive him taking people like you from us and will fight him aggressively,'" he alleged.

Mars said in a statement to CNBC that the arguments are "an attempt to divert attention from wrongdoing and paint a misleading picture." The company said it is confident that its lawsuit will be successful.

"Mr. Szarzynski and JAB do not dispute these facts," the company said. "We tried to resolve this issue amicably, but unfortunately we were unable to do so. JAB was unwilling to agree to a comprehensive settlement."

In its original complaint, Mars also accused the former executive of expense fraud. Szarzynski estimated that the expenses could not be worth more than a few hundred dollars and said that he has offered Mars repayment for any errors. He alleged that the company has rebuffed the suggestion.

Szarzynski also claimed that Mars wrongfully withheld incentive compensation awards owed to him with an estimated value of more than $1 million. Moreover, he argued that the dispute should be solved through arbitration with Mars or in Belgian courts, where he resides and formerly worked for Mars.