Comcast Files Suit Against Ex-Manager

By Cameron W. Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 18, 2005

Comcast of Montgomery County has filed a federal lawsuit against a senior manager who resigned this month to join Verizon Communications, alleging that she e-mailed herself proprietary information about Comcast for use in her new job.

Comcast, the dominant cable provider in Montgomery and many parts of the Washington area, is facing increased competition from Verizon, which is expanding access to its high-speed Internet service in the region and preparing to offer television service over its fiber-optic lines.

Melody Khalatbari, who held the position of public affairs manager at Comcast until Aug. 8, began work at Verizon's Maryland offices Monday but is no longer employed by the company. "She is not on our payroll at this point," said Verizon spokesman Eric Rabe, who would not elaborate on how Khalatbari and the company parted ways. Comcast filed suit Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alexandria against Khalatbari, an Arlington resident.

Khalatbari did not respond to phone messages or an e-mail seeking comment yesterday, and no one answered the door at what is listed in public records as her address. Verizon is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, and Rabe distanced the company from Comcast's allegations. "We're not engaged in any improper attempt . . . to get proprietary information," Rabe said.

"As far as I know, that's a suit against her, and we have nothing to do with that," Rabe said.

Comcast officials have blamed service disruptions in Montgomery and elsewhere on Verizon workers cutting Comcast lines as they install fiber-optic cable. Craig A. Snedeker, general manager of Comcast in Montgomery, said Comcast's infrastructure is under "tremendous attack" by Verizon.

Verizon officials have responded that some cuts are unavoidable in a large-scale construction project. "I think all of us who work underground try our best not to hit anybody," Rabe said.

Comcast alleges in court documents that Khalatbari prepared her resignation letter July 29, 10 days before she resigned. Snedeker, in a declaration that is part of the suit, said he gave regional communications manager Lisa Altman access to Khalatbari's company e-mail account the day after she left the company.

Snedeker wrote: "Ms. Altman reported to me that in the course of searching for materials in Melody Khalatbari's email box she had found several emails, each with numerous attachments, that Melody Khalatbari had sent from her work computer to her personal computer in the days immediately preceding her resignation."

The attachments, Snedeker wrote, "were all company property and many of the attachments consisted of highly sensitive, confidential subscriber lists, including lists of hundreds of Comcast's top customers and 'VIP' customers."

Some of the e-mail attachments include titles such as "Happy Customers," "Additions to VIP list," and "Platinum subs 9.28.04," according to a declaration Altman made in support of the suit.

The suit alleges breach of fiduciary duty and violation of the Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act and asserts that Khalatbari "improperly converted" Comcast documents and property to her own use. Comcast seeks compensatory damages of more than $75,000 and asks the court to prohibit Khalatbari from using the information to compete with or hurt Comcast.

Although Comcast may maintain lists of its happy customers, Montgomery County keeps track of the other kind. During the first five months of this year, the office recorded an average of about 100 complaints about Comcast per month. This month, said county cable regulator Jane E. Lawton, the office is on track to receive about 500.

Staff writer Jamie Stockwell contributed to this report.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company