LOS ANGELES -- A Los Angeles judge has tentatively dismissed a lawsuit brought against Hyundai Motor Co. Ltd. and Kia Motors Corp. by an executive who said he was fired for refusing to help the companies break U.S. anti-trust laws.
Hyundai and Kia, once rivals, control a combined 4 percent of the U.S. auto market. In 1998, Hyundai's parent, Hyundai Motors Group, acquired about 55 percent of Kia's shares.
So Ho Suh worked for Kia in Irvine, Calif., and said he was fired in 2001 for refusing to participating in a plan, which he believed to be illegal, to trade proprietary marketing and sales information so that Kia and Hyundai would not compete for the same U.S. customers.
He sued his former employers last August. On Tuesday, the judge granted a motion to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that companies under common ownership cannot conspire to violate anti-trust laws but gave Suh 10 days to refile an amended complaint.
"The judge said the language in our pleading indicates there is a control by Hyundai over Kia," said Suh's attorney, Kevin Kim. "We can change some language slightly and refile it and we feel that for all practical purposes, their motion is not really granted."
An attorney for Hyundai and Kia's parent company could not be immediately reached for comment.
Suh, a former marketing executive, alleges that Hyundai dropped plans to sell a minivan in the United States so that a new Kia minivan would have a better chance of selling.
"They were colluding with each other to divide the market among themselves," Kim said.
The South Korean Fair Trade Commission has ruled that Hyundai and Kia were legally one entity, but the issue in Suh's case is whether the companies' U.S. subsidiaries remain competitors and are subject to the Sherman Act prohibition against any "contract" or "conspiracy" that would constitute a restraint of trade.