Pennsylvania Record

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Split at Pittsburgh plaintiffs firm turns nasty; A stolen spreadsheet contains possible targets for ADA lawsuits, attorney says


By Gabriel Neves | Mar 25, 2019

PITTSBURGH – A Pittsburgh lawyer prominent in the field of Americans with Disabilities Act lawsuits will again be going to court over a dispute with a former coworker.

law firm is suing a former partner for an alleged violation of trade secrets regarding its Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) practice.

Carlson Lynch Sweet Kilpela & Carpenter LLP filed a lawsuit on Feb. 22 against Benjamin Sweet, The Sweet Law Firm PC and Dean Henry in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on Feb. 22, claiming violation of the Pennsylvania Uniform Trade Secrets Act, procuring information by improper means and civil conspiracy.

Bruce Carlson says Sweet took the Carlson firm's trade secrets in order to get his new firm off the ground. Records show Sweet has filed 10 lawsuits in federal court since Feb. 15.

The type of ADA claims these lawyers file allege businesses do not adhere to the proper specifications that allow disabled persons to access them. Here, the Carlson firm used a spreadsheet with measurements taken from parking lots to identify potential targets for litigation.

Carlson also files cases against websites that allegedly don't use the proper software that allows blind persons to use them.

And, as the Pennsylvania Record has previously reported, Carlson is currently in a court battle with his former employer over $2 million in lawyers fees from a $24 million settlement. Carlson has called the claims "absurd."

Meanwhile, Sweet, a former attorney for Carlson Lynch, started working as a partner on Sept. 1, 2014. As the firm's ADA litigation presence continued to grow, the firm hired full-time investigators, with defendant Henry being hired as one of those investigators.

The complaint said, "Carlson Lynch's staff investigators, including Henry, traveled around the country, at expense of Carlson Lynch, using a specific process and protocol developed by the firm at a substantial cost, to assess and record the accessibility of parking facilities and paths of travel at places of public accommodation."

Every investigation made by Carlson Lynch was recorded into a spreadsheet database, accessible only to a certain number of the firm's employees because of its confidential nature.

The complaint continued, "While Sweet was employed as a partner of Carlson Lynch, he also had access to the pre-litigation investigations performed by, and the spreadsheet database compiled and maintained by, Carlson Lynch as part of its ongoing ADA public accommodation accessibility practice."

Sweet was expelled from Carlson Lynch and opened his own firm, Sweet Law, which also works with ADA litigation.

Right after Henry resigned from his job, he agreed with Sweet to provide him with Carlson Lynch's trade secrets, giving the new firm the information from the spreadsheets, court filings said. 

"Defendants obtained the trade secrets by improper means and/or through an abuse of confidence, despite defendants' knowledge that the information constitutes Carlson Lynch's trade secrets," the complaint said.

In response, Sweet's attorney stated that the complaint was "nothing more than a tactical ploy

to attempt to gain leverage over Benjamin Sweet, a former partner who was expelled from the firm as part of the remaining partners’ plot to increase their own share of the profits expected in 2019."

Carlson Lynch is seeking punitive damages and damages for the losses, as well as both pre- and post-judgment interest.

The firm is represented by attorneys Jeffrey Ward and Lucy Hill of Cohen & Grigsby PC of Pittsburgh. Sweet and his firm are represented by William Pietragallo II of Pietragallo Gordon Alfano Bosick & Raspanti LLP of Pittsburgh.

Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County Case number GD-19-002790

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