Netflix, Amazon Slapped With $1 Million Suit by Former Executive

Getty Images

Jerry Kowal alleges wrongful termination, defamation and paints picture of brutal corporate culture

A former Netflix and Amazon content executive is suing both Silicon Valley giants for $1 million in damages and positioning himself in court filings as a modern-day David whose livelihood was threatened by a power struggle between two digital Goliaths.

In a lawsuit filed at the Los Angeles Supreme Court on Tuesday, Jerry Kowal alleges that he was falsely accused of stealing information from Netflix to share with Amazon when he left the streaming video company for a new job. He goes on to claim that Amazon wrongfully terminated his employment with the company after Netflix demanded access to his computers and personal devices to search for its proprietary data — an investigation he claims cleared him of wrong-doing.

Kowal charges Netflix with using its position as a partner with Amazon on its Kindle devices and a customer that pays for access to Amazon’s cloud computing service to pressure the company to fire its former employee. He was let go in July, 2013, after roughly a month in his new post.

Also read: Amazon Denies Reports of Switch to Free Ad-Supported Streaming Media Service

“This action involves the proverbial David and Goliath,” the filing reads. “Here, ‘Goliath’ is defendant Netflix, Inc. an international, multi-billion dollar media and entertainment company that used its considerable financial strength to enlist yet another even larger international media and entertainment corporation, defendant Amazon.com, to aid in a cutthroat and unlawful campaign to effectively blacklist a once valued and profitable executive and prevent him from competing against it.”

In addition to the two companies, Kowal names Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos as defendants and recounts a list of legal offenses that includes defamation, invasion of privacy, civil conspiracy and blacklisting.

Spokespeople for Netflix and Amazon did not immediately respond to requests for comment, nor did an attorney for Kowal.

Also read: Netflix Slams Comcast for Not Supporting Net Neutrality

In court filings, attorneys for the content executive paint a picture of a Darwinian work environment at Netflix, one marked by pettiness and intense competition.

“The atmosphere at Netflix was cold and hostile,” the suit reads. “Kowal is informed and believes that senior employees and executives routinely berated and bullied their reports and facilitated a cutthroat, ‘winner takes all’ atmosphere that made teamwork and collaboration impossible.”

When he announced he was leaving Netflix for Amazon in June, 2013, Kowal claims that Sarandos said that Amazon would be out of the streaming business in two years, claimed that the company made employees share hotel rooms during business trips and said he would regret the move.

Weeks later, he said Hastings and Sarandos told 200 Netflix employees and board members that Kowal was under investigation for leaking confidential materials to Amazon.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.