Cosmetics giant Mary Kay Inc. has filed a lawsuit in the Dallas division of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, hitting the author of a new book on the company with a host of allegations and demanding that the book no longer be sold. The author, Jennifer Bickel Cook, was the long-time personal administrative assistant to founder Mary Kay Ash. Pass It On: What I Learned from Mary Kay Ash, was published on October 5 by Brown Books Publishing Group, which is located across the street from Mary Kay’s headquarters in Dallas, Tex.
The complaint alleges that, in the book, Cook used materials from works copyrighted by Mary Kay Inc. in the book without permission, thereby misappropriating Mary Kay intellectual property; falsely implied that the company and its founder endorsed the book; violated Cook's non-disclosure agreement with Mary Kay, thereby misappropriating proprietary information from the company; and interfered with members of the company's sales force to have them sell the book. (Mary Kay's products are sold by thousands of people in a sales force comprised of independent representatives.)
"As a result" of these alleged actions, the complaint states, "consumers are likely to be confused and wrongly believe that the book is sponsored, endorsed, approved by, affiliated, connected, or otherwise associated with Mary Kay." In addition to asking the court to prevent Cook from advertising or selling Pass it On in any way, the company is seeking to have Cook remove any reference to any of Mary Kay's products or IP; ask search engines such as Google to remove any Mary Kay IP which associates the company with Cook; and prevent Cook from asking Mary Kay sales force members from selling the book.
Tom Reale, president and COO of Brown Books, said Pass It On, is basically a “love letter” to the company and its founder by someone who was not only the personal assistant to Mary Kay Ash for 25 years but also the retired director of the Mary Kay Museum and the Mary Kay Foundation. Cook is donating profits from the book to charity, including the Mary Kay Foundation.
In response to the suit, Reale and company founder Milli Brown said that: “At our recommendation, Jennifer secured the services of a top U.S. literary attorney to carefully vet the manuscript during the book’s development. This is the first time in our company’s 28-year history that one of our author’s first amendment rights have been directly challenged.”
Reale added that the publisher is prepared to support its author in continuing to publish the book. He argued that, if Mary Kay is successful in stopping publication, “no employee, ever, would be able to speak about a company they work for, or have ever worked for, without fear of legal reprisal. This includes speech that is supportive of the company as well as speech that is critical, of which there is none in this case. Considering the impact on whistleblowers alone would be staggering. Corporations would become fiefdoms whose employees would be handed a lifetime gag order against discussing the corporation.”
The publicity for Pass It On has resulted in Brown running through its modest first printing just weeks after its publication. A second printing of 10,000 copies is expected to be shipped this week, and Reale said that Brown may go back for a third printing.