(May 2, 2:05 p.m.) Cincinnati-based Chiquita Brands International Inc. and its Fresh Express subsidiary have filed a lawsuit against seven former employees, including three high-ranking officers, seeking injunctive relief and damages.

The lawsuit filed April 5 in Hamilton County, Ohio, alleges that former executive vice president of corporate sales Jim Gallagher, former vice president of global strategies for salads Scott Komar and former vice president of business management Jeff Lemmon — all now employed by NewStar Fresh Foods LLC, Salinas, Calif. — violated the company’s confidentiality and nonsolicitation agreements.

Chiquita and Salinas-based Fresh Express are seeking an injunction requiring the defendants to abide by the terms of their nonsolicitation agreements and stock award agreements. Furthermore, the plaintiffs are asking the court to prevent the defendants from soliciting business from customers or prospective customers of Chiquita and Fresh Express.

The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, also calls for NewStar to stop pursuing Chiquita employees and to return confidential trade information.

Fresh Express chief executive officer Mark Drever left that company in March 2006 to join organic vegetable grower-shipper NewStar. Less than a year later, NewStar entered the bagged salad business with subsidiary OrganicGirl Produce LLC, Salinas.

“Shortly thereafter, NewStar began raiding the ranks of Fresh Express’s talent and knowledge, creating the foundation of its business at the expense of Fresh Express’s protected employees and trade secret information,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit asserts that Gallagher, Lemmon and Komar all joined NewStar by June 2007 and violated terms of their retention bonus agreements, which included nonsolicitation agreements, by trying to lure Fresh Express employees to NewStar.

Chiquita requests in the filing that the former executives be forced to give back the retention bonuses, which ranged from $150,000 to $280,800.

The lawsuit also names former employees Corey Christie, Ted Holt, Corey Kutcha and Randy Staehle — all of whom followed the officers to NewStar — as defendants.

Drever is not named as a defendant.

The suit alleges that Lemon, Kutcha and Staehle all used their computers to access confidential and proprietary information just before leaving the company.

“Within days of leaving Chiquita/Fresh Express and joining NewStar and/or OrganicGirl, Holt and Christie met with Albertsons/Supervalu and Safeway for the purposes of soliciting packaged salad business,” the lawsuit states.

The suit also says that Albertsons has moved its bagged salad business from Fresh Express to private label business with NewStar.