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Panera is suing a former IT executive who joined rival restaurant chain Papa John’s, alleging the employee misappropriated trade secrets related to its technology initiatives.

Sunset Hills-based Panera, which operates locally as St. Louis Bread Co., sued former Panera IT executive Michael Nettles and his new employer Papa John’s International in federal court in St. Louis Tuesday. Nettles formerly lived in Wildwood but recently relocated to Kentucky to take a job at the headquarters of Papa John’s in Louisville, starting this week.

In the lawsuit, Panera alleges Nettles’ new position at Papa John’s violates a confidentiality and noncompete agreement he signed after joining Panera four years ago.

At Panera, Nettles had “access to its highly sensitive confidential and proprietary information and trade secrets ... including Panera’s thought processes and visions for its technology systems,” the lawsuit alleges. Panera alleges Nettles was privy to Panera’s strategic technology plan for the next few years and failed to turn over confidential information stored on his personal devices related to Panera’s technology plans.

Panera did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

In an email to the Post-Dispatch, Papa John’s spokesman Peter Collins said the pizza chain takes “great pride in our culture and the talent we attract, and Mike Nettles is no exception,” adding Nettles is a 27-year veteran of the hospitality and retail industries.

“We are disappointed by Panera’s actions, as we do not consider them a competitive business,” Collins’ email continued. “We have no need or desire to access Panera’s confidential or proprietary information.”

Papa John’s has 3,390 restaurants in North America.

Panera, which operates more than 2,000 restaurants in the U.S. and Canada, has invested heavily in technology in recent years as part of its Panera 2.0 initiative, which includes systems for digital ordering, digital payment and cafe management systems.

In its lawsuit, Panera claimed Papa John’s competes with Panera in small order delivery and catering, with delivery being “one of Panera’s largest initiatives.”

“Papa John’s specifically hired Nettles to drive their technology vision and overall strategy, and share with Papa John’s how Panera is competing (and intends to compete in the future) with regard to: its use of technology to enhance guest experience, its successes in the delivery business, and its use of powerful and integrated systems and processes,” the lawsuit alleges.

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