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Whistleblowers take 3Com to court over unsafe kit claim

Allegations of false police charges and kit that can catch fire

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3Com is facing a multi-million dollar lawsuit from former employees claiming it knowingly sold unsafe products and conspired to file false police reports against them when they reported problems with its kit.

"Whistleblowers" Robert Bellville and W Ronald Shilale have filed a lawsuit in a Massachusetts court that seeks $10 million in damages from the networking firm, on charges it fiercely contests.

The lawsuit, which also involves the men's wives as plaintiffs, has been dragging on since 1997 but is now scheduled to go before a Judge in May for summary judgement, which will decide which parts of the civil case go before a jury later in the year.

In court documents obtained by The Register, Bellville and Shilale claim that in the early 90s they informed 3Com that some of its products failed to meet safety standards, after which they were demoted and victimised by the networking firm. This culminated in dismissal and a charge of theft of 3Com property against the pair, for which they were subsequently acquitted.

Meanwhile, according to the lawsuit, 3Com continued to sell unsafe products, misrepresenting the product as being approved as meeting the relevant Underwriters' Laboratory standards.

The safety issue concerns cabling and assemblies used within 3Com products, which according to the plaintiff's lawyer Scott Sinrich, "could have caused fires".

John Mirick, 3Com's defence attorney, and senior partner at Mitrick O'Connell, said there was no basis for the allegations made against 3Com, and that police complaints against Bellville and Shilale were well founded.

He said the men were fired from 3Com for secretly founding a competing business to 3Com, cable assembly firm Lamprey, and that this was the real reason for the dismissal.

Bellville and Shilale deny Lamprey was in competition with 3Com and argue that 3Com accusations against them are a "ruse" designed to delay the case, which, if and when, it goes to trial promises further revelations and counter-accusations on all sides. ®

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