BOSTON (SHNS) – A state lawmaker from Boston is at the center of a legal dispute between Needham Bank and national lender Guaranteed Rate over allegations that state Rep. Ed Coppinger stole client lists and proprietary loan information from Needham when he left the bank in January for a job with Guaranteed Rate.
Coppinger, a West Roxbury Democrat, has been accused by his former employer of breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets, which he has denied. The lawmaker claims he did nothing more than leave with lists of customers that he had cultivated on his own over the years as a residential loan officer.
A Superior Court judge earlier this month ordered Coppinger to return the lists he retained from his time at the bank to Needham and for him and Guaranteed Rate to refrain from contacting or soliciting anyone on the lists until July 11, which is six months from the date he started at Guaranteed.
Judge Karen Green, however, denied Needham Bank’s broader request for an injunction on the grounds that the bank may struggle to prove Guaranteed Rate induced Coppinger to improperly share customer lists. Green also wrote that Needham had not demonstrated that Coppinger improperly used the lists to convert Needham customers to his new employer, but said it’s likely that the bank could prove that he violated other clauses in his contract before he left in January for a job at Guaranteed Rate’s office in Waltham.
Green said Needham should have enough time by mid-July to prove to its customers that the service they received at the bank had more to do with the institution than with Coppinger’s individuals efforts.
Neither Needham Bank nor Guaranteed Rate, or their lawyers, responded to requests for comment from the News Service this week, while Coppinger and his attorney, John Bauer of Lawson & Weitzen, declined to comment on the case because they said it was ongoing.
The case marks a rare spilling over of a Beacon Hill lawmaker’s secondary career into the public arena, even though many legislators work as lawyers, business owners or in other professions, in addition to their duties in the Legislature.
It also bears a strong resemblance to a 2016 case in California in which a jury ordered Guaranteed Rate to pay $25 million in damages to a smaller lender, Mount Olympus Mortgage Company, over allegations that a former employee stole hundreds of loan files before going to work for Guaranteed.
Coppinger’s case, if it goes to trial, may not be as cut and dry.
Green, in her April 17 ruling on a request for preliminary injunction, said the facts of the case “raise doubts” about Needham’s ability to prove that Guaranteed Rate intentionally induced Coppinger to improperly share customer information.
Coppinger went to work as vice president of residential lending at Needham in March 2014 after years as an outside residential loan officer working on commission for various lenders, including most recently Leader Bank.
He resigned in January, and according to the complaint he told former colleagues at Needham that he was given a generous signing bonus by Guaranteed and induction in the “President’s Club,” a distinction typically reserved for top sales performers.
The complaint and Green’s injunction ruling suggest that Coppinger had grown frustrated with the rates being offered by Needham, and had been told by potential clients that they had found lower mortgage rates through other lenders.
According to case files, Coppinger on multiple occasions reached out to other lenders to verify these lower rates for borrowers and make sure they were working with a reputable lender. One of these lenders to whom Coppinger steered some customers was a former Leader Bank colleague who now worked for Guaranteed Rate.
While Needham alleges a conspiracy to share proprietary loan information with a competitor, Coppinger in the complaint contends that these customers had already decided not to do business with Needham and he was simply providing good customer service.
Those relationships, the court filings show, also led to Coppinger’s connection at Guaranteed Rate steering commercial and construction loan business that it could not handle to Needham Bank.
Needham Bank is a community bank with 10 branch offices in the eastern part of Massachusetts, while Guaranteed Rate was founded in Chicago as a residential lender and has over 400 locations nationwide, including 26 in Massachusetts.
The complaint against Coppinger and Guaranteed Rate alleges that between Dec. 8, 2020 and Jan. 2, 2021, after Coppinger had decided to leave Needham Bank, he sent six emails to his own personal email account with lists that included names and addresses of customers, and in some cases the loan product information on more more than 1,000 Needham customers.
After he joined Guaranteed Rate, Coppinger edited one of the more basic lists of customer names and addresses to delete people he did not recognize, to add former customers from before he went to Needham and to add email addresses from his personal contacts.
He then gave the list to the Guaranteed marketing department, and it was used to email 581 people announcing Coppinger’s hire and including promotional material. At least two birthday emails were also sent to contacts on the Coppinger list.
After some of their customers received the Coppinger announcement email, Needham Bank reviewed Coppinger’s work email trail and sent him a cease and desist letter on Jan. 25. Guaranteed told Coppinger not to continue using the list and told Needham it would investigate, confirming that Coppinger had given them a list that he attested was not confidential.
In early March, however, Coppinger closed two loans for customers that had been with Needham.
Needham said this constituted a violation and breach of his contract and the cease and desist agreement, but Green’s order states that Coppinger had relationships with these customers that predated his time at Needham and was approached directly by the clients.
Judge Green said Needham is unlikely to succeed on misappropriation of trade secrets because it has not demonstrated how borrowers names and email address are trade secrets, and has not shown that Coppinger used or accessed more sensitive information on the five other lists to solicit clients, though its not known how he got all the email addresses or birthdays.
Green did write, however, that Coppinger may have been in violation of his contract by transferring customer files to his personal email without Needham’s permission, and for sharing loan information with lenders at other financial institutions during his time working at Needham.
Needham Bank is seeking to permanently bar Guaranteed Rate and Coppinger from using “trade secrets or confidential information” it alleges were taken from the bank, as well as a ban on the defendants directly or indirectly soliciting business from any of the customers on the lists Coppinger is accused of sharing with his new employer.
The bank is also seeking damages for lost business as a result of “deceptive and unfair acts and practices.” None of the parties in the case would say whether settlement talks are underway or if they expected the case to go to trial.