WASHINGTON – Toyota was awarded $2.6 million by an arbitrator in the company's dispute with a former in-house lawyer who was found to have disclosed confidential business information.
The disclosures by lawyer Dimitrios Biller violated his $3.7 million severance agreement with Toyota and caused the company “extensive” harm, the arbitrator said Tuesday.
The final order in the long-running case cited 10 unauthorized disclosures by Biller to the news media, on his Web site, in public seminars and to a Texas court.
“By disclosure of its confidential business affairs, Toyota has incurred economic disadvantage, worldwide harm to its reputation and undermining of its legal staff in pending matters,” said the arbitrator, retired federal Judge Gary Taylor of Orange, Calif. “Mr. Biller did the professionally unthinkable: He betrayed the confidences of his client.”
Toyota's award consists of $2.5 million in “liquidated damages” that were spelled out in the 2007 severance agreement if it were violated, as well as $100,000 in punitive damages.
‘Books of Knowledge'
The case attracted considerable attention because Biller, who worked at Toyota's U.S. headquarters in Torrance, Calif., from 2003 to 2007, alleged he was hired in part to conceal the so-called “Books of Knowledge.”
These "books" are sensitive electronic records about vehicle design, testing and performance that would have undermined Toyota's defenses against vehicle owners who sued the company after accidents, Biller contended.
A U.S. House committee subpoenaed many of the documents that Biller took from Toyota.
The arbitrator's decision did not deal with the substance of Biller's claims about the “Books of Knowledge.”
“A lawyer acting as a `whistleblower' cannot simply decide to reveal a client's confidential information,” Taylor wrote.
Toyota said today it is “gratified that the credibility of Toyota's legal organization and the integrity of our legal professionals have been validated.”
Biller, 48, of Pacific Palisades, Calif., did not respond today to requests for comment. He represented himself in the case,
At Toyota, Biller was in charge of the legal unit that managed rollover cases. The arbitrator's decision described him as “a talented attorney.”
It is not immediately clear what effect the arbitrator's decision will have on suits against Toyota filed by plaintiffs who contended they settled their cases after being deceived by Toyota about the evidence available to them.
In one pending case in Texas, Pennie Green has sued Toyota on grounds she settled for $1.5 million after the company defied a court order requiring disclosure of safety records. Green became a quadriplegic at age 16 as a result of a 2005 rollover accident while driving a 1997 Camry.
Biller negotiated that settlement with Green while he was with Toyota.
In 2009, Toyota sued Biller for $33.5 million, saying he broke the terms of the severance agreement by taking thousands of pages of company documents.
He countersued, alleging defamation and improper treatment that led to his resignation.
The two suits were consolidated under court-supervised arbitration.
The arbitrator ruled against Biller Tuesday on his claims of defamation and fraud. He also instructed Biller to return the confidential documents taken from Toyota, and prohibited him from any further disclosures of confidential information.
Automotive News was one of the news organizations to which Biller disclosed internal Toyota information.