The fight between two industry groups eager to represent federal information technology contractors is heating up as the two sides trade allegations.

District-based TechAmerica has filed suit against the Information Technology Industry Council and several of its former employees who jumped ship to help ITI start a public sector group.

TechAmerica, which restructured last year to increase its focus on public policy, has named as defendants ITI and the departed employees, including Trey Hodgkins, previously TechAmerica’s senior vice president for the global public sector; Pamela Walker, TechAmerica’s former senior director for homeland security; and Carol Henton, TechAmerica’s former vice president for state and local government.

The suit claims that the defendants, as well as another TechAmerica employee, Erica McCann, all resigned Nov. 4. The next day, all became employees at District-based ITI.

TechAmerica’s suit alleges that ITI had promised the defendants it would hire them if a dozen technology companies agreed to pay ITI $50,000 in advance. The suit claims that the defendants interfered with TechAmerica’s business advantage by “inducing TechAmerica members to join ITI.”

TechAmerica also alleges the defendants withheld information about a potential TechAmerica membership renewal and e-mailed an ITI executive internal TechAmerica membership data and budget information.

In the lawsuit, filed with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, Tech­America requests at least $5 million in damages.

ITI fights back

But ITI is fighting back, asking the court to dismiss the complaint.

In a filing, ITI contends that TechAmerica’s case simply does not offer evidence to back its claims.

“TechAmerica’s complaint fails to allege any intentional, wrongful conduct on the part of the defendants that lead to the interference with TechAmerica’s relationship with its members; it does not allege that ITI or any of the individual defendants engaged in libel, slander, physical coercion, fraud, misrepresentation or disparagement,” the court document said.

ITI argues that its hires were allowed to contact TechAmerica members because they weren’t bound by non-solicitation or non-compete agreements.

In a statement, Dean C. Garfield, chief executive and president of ITI, said TechAmerica’s legal action is “imprudent and a waste of resources.”

Shawn Osborne, who joined Tech­America as its chief executive last year, wrote in an e-mail to TechAmerica members that the organization met with ITI’s chief executive and general counsel for several hours last month.

“ITI continues to stubbornly insist on using its members’ money to defend their employees’ illegal and unjustifiable acts,” Osborne wrote. “We find it unacceptable for any organization that purports to represent the technology industry to tolerate and defend massive [intellectual property] theft within its own walls.”

Last week, TechAmerica said Mike Hettinger, a vice president of the Software and Information Industry Association, will become the senior vice president for the public sector.

The future?

The battle is raising questions about what the future of IT contractor industry groups will look like, particularly as federal spending contracts. Shawn P. McCarthy, research director at IDC Government Insights, said there could be room for two associations representing technology contractors — but they’d have to carve out their own niches.

“If both of them try to be exactly the same, it’s going to be difficult because one of them is going to always do it better,” he said. “But if one says, I’m going to focus a little bit more on IT services or on software or on hardware ... it can be a little bit easier to convince potential donors I am your avenue for this type of interaction.”

TechAmerica was created from a combination of multiple industry associations. In 2008, the Information Technology Association of America merged with the Cyber Security Industry Alliance and the Government Electronics Industry Association. Then in 2009, ITAA merged with the American Electronics Association to form TechAmerica.

TechAmerica has spent $460,000 on lobbying in 2013 (as of Oct. 28), according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit research organization that tracks money in politics.

ITI has spent $810,000 on lobbying in 2013 (also as of Oct. 28), according to the Center for Responsive Politics.