The company behind the Chng Kee brand of cooking sauces on Friday lost its bid to claim a year's salary from a former employee for joining a rival.
Instead, the court ordered Sin Hwa Dee Foodstuff Industries to pay food technologist Christabel Ang Hoo Hui's legal costs.
Not only did the company fail to show that Ms Ang had leaked any of its food secrets, said District Judge Chiah Kok Khun, but it was also being unreasonable in stopping her from working for similar firms.
"I did not do anything wrong. Why do they want to bully me?" said the 59-year-old Ms Ang, after winning the case.
On Feb 17 last year, Sin Hwa Dee sacked Ms Ang, who had joined in April 2009, after claiming that it had found confidential information in her thumb drive. It was not stated what this confidential information was.
When Ms Ang's lawyer Christopher Bridges asked the company's administration manager Michael Lim Chuan Hoong what constituted "confidential information", he replied that it could even include the working hours and marital status of the managing director.
After losing her job, Ms Ang joined Hai's a month later. Like her previous employer, Hai's also makes food sauces such as pastes for curry and mee rebus.
During the one-day hearing in July, Sin Hwa Dee's lawyer Lim Chee San argued that Ms Ang had agreed not to be employed by "a direct business competitor".
She also could not join any business which could "require her to disclose or make use of confidential information" she had acquired while working at Sin Hwa Dee.
Denying that the restrictions would prevent Ms Ang, who has been in the business for 20 years, from earning a living, Mr Lim Chuan Hoong testified that she could work in the bread and soft drink sectors.
For reneging on the agreement, the company wanted one year of Ms Ang's last drawn salary. The Straits Times understands this would have amounted to $60,000.
But the judge said Ms Ang had a limited role in the development of new products at Sin Hwa and had no access to final recipes.
He also noted that Sin Hwa Dee offered no evidence of any losses it may have suffered due to Ms Ang's new employment.
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