Tyson Foods sues to block former VP from working for Donnie Smith at Foster Farms

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 13,042 views 

Under new ownership, California-based poultry company Foster Farms this week hired former Tyson Foods president and CEO Donnie Smith for its top leadership job.

Smith, who maintains a Northwest Arkansas residence, retired from Tyson Foods in 2016 after more than three decades working for the company.

The news added a legal twist when Tyson Foods filed for an injunction against a former executive who resigned this week to accept a job with Foster Farms.

According to the injunction filed Wednesday (June 8) in Washington County Circuit Court in Fayetteville, Tyson Foods said Brian Baker resigned as vice president of poultry optimization on June 6 — one day before Foster Farms announced Smith as its CEO. Baker assumed the VP role in October 2021 and worked for Tyson Foods in 2004.

“Baker is a former employee of Tyson and is currently employed by or will soon be employed by Foster Farms, a direct competitor of Tyson,” the filing said.

Tyson Foods also named Foster Foods as a defendant. According to the filing, Baker devised and executed the poultry division’s pricing and profit margin strategies.

Tyson Foods argued that Baker violated the Arkansas Trade Secrets Act and that he couldn’t perform his new job without breaking a confidentiality agreement. According to the filing, Baker is also violating a non-compete agreement he signed with Tyson Foods in May 2019 that prohibits him from seeking work with a competitor for one year after leaving the company.

“We are obligated to enforce non-compete contracts to protect our business and ensure fair competition,” Tyson Foods said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “Because Brian Baker had direct and recent access to confidential company information and extensive knowledge of our business strategies, his agreement with Tyson Foods expressly forbids him from working at a competitor where his responsibilities would be similar to any position he recently held with Tyson.”

A PDF of the 25-page filing can be found here.