Trade Secrets & Noncompete Blog

Trade Secrets & Noncompete Blog

News & Updates On Developments in the Law of Restrictive Covenants, Unfair Competition & Trade Secrets

Category Archives: Non-Solicit Agreements

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DOJ and FTC Release Antitrust Guidance for Human Resource Professionals – Employment Law This Week

The top story on Employment Law This Week: The DOJ intends to investigate anti-competitive trade practices.

The Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission released joint guidance for HR professionals on how antitrust laws apply to employment. The guidance explains that agreements among employers not to recruit certain employees—or not to compete on terms of compensation—are illegal. Notably, the DOJ announced that they plan to criminally investigate “naked no-poaching or wage fixing agreements” that are unrelated to legitimate collaboration between businesses. In the past, both agencies have pursued civil enforcement. Peter Altieri, co-editor of this blog and a Member … Continue Reading

Aggressive New Antitrust Guidance for Human Resources Professionals Threatens Criminal Prosecution for Certain Unlawful Wage Fixing and No Poaching Agreements

Following up on a string of civil enforcement actions and employee antitrust suits, regarding no-poaching agreements in the technology industry, on October 20, 2016 the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) issued Antitrust Guidance for Human Resources Professionals (the “Guidance”). The Guidance outlines an aggressive policy to investigate and punish employers, and individual human resources employees who enter into unlawful agreements concerning employee recruitment or retention.

The Guidance focuses on three types of antitrust violations:

  • Wage fixing agreements: agreements among employers to fix employee compensation or other terms or conditions of employment at either a
Continue Reading

Non-Solicitation Violation Leads to $6.9M in Damages – Employment Law This Week

Featured in the top story on Employment Law This Week:  Former employees turned competitors in Pennsylvania are hit with $4.5 million in punitive damages.

An insurance brokerage firm sued a group of employees, claiming that they violated their non-solicitation agreements by luring away employees and clients to launch a new office for a competitor. A lower court awarded the firm nearly $2.4 million in compensatory damages and $4.5 million in punitive damages because of the defendants’ outrageous conduct. On appeal, the appellate court agreed and upheld all damages.

See the segment below and read our recent blog post on this Continue Reading

Non-Solicit Violation: $4.5 Million Punitive Damage Award Upheld

Rarely do we see punitive damages being awarded in cases involving the movement of employees and information between firms. The Superior Court of Pennsylvania last week affirmed a punitive damage award granted by a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in such a matter, albeit which also found tort liability against the new employer and the five former employees.

The decision in B.G. Balmer & Co., Inc. v. Frank Crystal & Co. Inc., et al. sets forth a classic example of “bad leavers” and a complicit new employer. Confidential information concerning clients was copied and given to the new … Continue Reading

Are Courts Still Willing to “Blue Pencil” Overbroad Restrictive Covenants to Make Them Enforceable?

Restrictive covenant agreements are traditionally governed by state law and thus subject to various jurisdictions’ rules regarding enforceability. They stand on a different footing than most other contracts, in that their enforcement is typically susceptible to a court’s equitable powers, and may not always be enforced as written, if at all. States differ on whether their courts will deny enforcement of a restrictive covenant deemed overbroad as written by the parties or instead modify it to meet the particular state’s standards of enforceability. In those states where such modification is authorized, a court may strike out (or “blue pencil”) certain … Continue Reading

Massachusetts Court Denies Gillette’s Motion to Enjoin Former in House Counsel Who Became General Counsel of Competitor

Barry A. Guryan

Barry A. Guryan

In a recent case decided by the Massachusetts Superior Court’s Business Litigation Session (which typically handles restrictive covenant cases), Gillette lost its attempt to obtain a broad injunction against a former in-house counsel who became the General Counsel at a competitor, Shavelogic.  In THE GILLETTE COMPANY v. CRAIG PROVOST, ET AL., Civil Action No. 15-0149 BLS 2 (Dec. 22, 2015), the Court found Gillette unlikely to succeed on its claims that  the General Counsel, who left Gillette ten years earlier and joined Shavelogic six years ago, must have inevitably disclosed Gillette’s trade secrets to Shavelogic and … Continue Reading

The Emotional Component of Restrictive Covenant Litigation

Jackson C. Jackson

Zachary C. Jackson

The United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana (Hammond Division) recently ruled on cross motions for summary judgment in the case of E.T. Products, LLC v. D.E. Miller Holdings, Inc. (Case No. 2:13cv424-PPS).  The dispute in that case stemmed from the acquisition of a portion of a company.  Essentially, the purchaser claimed that the seller was violating the restrictive covenant prohibiting him from soliciting the purchaser’s customers, and the seller countered that the purchaser violated the general release in the purchase agreement.  In ruling on the parties’ cross motions for summary judgment, the Court … Continue Reading

Ambiguous Allegations, Lack of Imminent Harm, and a Delay in Taking Action Doom Request for a Temporary Restraining Order

Peter A. Steinmeyer

In Bridgeview Bank Group v. Meyer, the Illinois Appellate Court recently affirmed the denial of a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) against an individual who joined a competitor and then, among other things, allegedly violated contractual non-solicitation and confidentiality obligations.

As a threshold matter, the Appellate Court was troubled by what it described as Bridgeview’s “leisurely approach” to seeking injunctive relief.  The Appellate Court noted that Bridgeview filed the lawsuit three months after Meyer joined a competitor, waited two more weeks to file a motion for a TRO, and then did not notice its motion for a … Continue Reading

Staffing Industry Decision in Connecticut

Zachary C. Jackson

Zachary C. Jackson

At the end of January, the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut issued a decision in the matter of Roth Staffing Companies, L.P. v. Thomas Brown, OEM ProStaffing, Inc., OEM of CT, Inc., and David Fernandez (Case No. 3:13cv216).  Much of that opinion is devoted to analyzing the parties’ arguments about whether piercing the corporate veil was appropriate under the circumstances.  However, the opinion also addressed the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment on its breach of contract claim against former employee Thomas Brown.  The Court previously issued a preliminary injunction holding that Brown’s restrictive … Continue Reading

Another Federal District Court Judge In Illinois Refuses To Apply The Illinois Appellate Court’s Fifield Decision

Readers of this blog know that long settled understandings regarding what constitutes adequate consideration for a restrictive covenant in Illinois were turned upside down when the First District Appellate Court in Illinois held in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services Inc., 2013 IL App. (1st) 120327 that, absent other consideration, two years of employment are required for a restrictive covenant to be supported by adequate consideration, regardless of whether the covenant was signed at the outset of employment or after, and regardless of whether the employee quit or was fired.

The Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear Fifield, … Continue Reading

Restrictive Covenant Binds Bad Leaver – Employment Law This Week

One of the top stories on Employment Law This Week – Epstein Becker Green’s new video program – is about a bad leaver and the hefty price he had to pay.

A former VP of Fortinet, Inc., must pay nearly $1.7 million to the company, after poaching three of his subordinates when he left his job for a competitor. The former VP joked in an email that the employees he took with him were “three bullets to the back of the head” of his former employer. In the arbitration, a former California state judge ruled that the employee had breached … Continue Reading

Bad Leaver Pays the Price

A former California State judge in an arbitration awarded nearly $1.7 million to an employer against its former employee based primarily on his acts taken going out the door.  His joking email with a co-worker after recruiting three others, characterizing their resignations as “Three bullets to the back of the head” of his employer, was clearly shooting himself in the foot in the eyes of the arbitrator.  The Award is interesting for many reasons – – the interplay between fiduciary duties and non-solicitation of employees provisions, the allowable damages when such a fiduciary duty is breached by co-worker solicitation, and … Continue Reading

Illinois Appellate Court Strikes Down Overbroad Noncompete, Nonsolicit, and Confidentiality Provisions and Also Refuses to Judicially Modify Them

In a decision issued in late October, AssuredPartners, Inc. et al. v. William Schmitt, 2015 IL  App. (1st) 141863 (Ill. App. 2015),  the Illinois Appellate Court struck down as overbroad and unreasonable, the noncompete, nonsolicit and confidentiality provisions in an employment agreement.  The Court then refused to judicially modify or “blue pencil” these provisions because the Court deemed their deficiencies “too great to permit modification.”  This decision is essentially a primer on current Illinois law regarding restrictive covenants and confidentiality agreements.

Starting with the noncompetition provision at issue, the Court held that it was overbroad because … Continue Reading

“Red River Rivalry” Reaches Right To Restrict Employment

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit opened its October 29th opinion in Cardoni v. Prosperity Bank by noting that “[i]n addition to their well-known disagreements over boundaries and football” known as the Red River Rivalry, “Texas and Oklahoma do not see eye to eye on a less prominent issue: covenants not to compete.”   As the Court went on to note, “Texas generally allows them so long as they are limited both geographically and temporally… Oklahoma generally does not.”  “These different policy choices—Texas’s view which prioritizes parties’ freedom to contract and Oklahoma’s which emphasizes the right … Continue Reading

Is Fifield’s holding holding?

A couple years ago, the Illinois First District Appellate Court decided the case of Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, 2013 IL App. 120327.  There, the Court held that, absent other consideration, two years of employment are required to constitute adequate consideration for a restrictive covenant, regardless of whether the covenant was signed at the outset of employment or after, and regardless of whether the employee quit or was fired.  Since then, some Judges in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois have applied Fifield, and others have declined to do so.

Earlier this … Continue Reading

Florida Restrictive Covenant Statute Remains “Truly Obnoxious” In New York Courts

If you are an employer with employees in New York (or elsewhere) who have signed an agreement containing a Florida choice of law clause and non-compete and/or non-solicit restrictive covenants, it may be time to revise your agreement.

We blogged last year regarding a decision of the New York Appellate Division, Fourth Department in Brown & Brown, Inc. v. Johnson, holding that a Florida choice of law provision in an employment agreement among a Florida corporation, its New York subsidiary, and a New York based and resident employee containing restrictive covenants is unenforceable because certain elements of the Florida restrictive … Continue Reading

A Dash of Certainty – Alabama’s New Restrictive Covenant Statute

Alabama has a new restrictive covenant statute.  A few weeks ago, Alabama Governor Bentley signed new legislation which will repeal the 1975 version of Alabama Code Section 8-1-1 titled “Contracts restraining business void; exceptions” and replace it with a new version effective January 1, 2016.

The new law stakes out the permissible scope and purpose of restrictive covenants such as non-compete and non-solicitation agreements.  Unlike some other states with restrictive covenant statutes, Alabama’s new law codifies a middle-of-the-road approach to restrictive covenants.  Essentially, it allows non-compete and non-solicitation clauses for many employees provided they contain reasonable restrictions.  In explaining … Continue Reading

Illinois Appellate Court Draws Distinction Between Officers And Non-Officers When Determining What Is An Impermissible Solicitation

In determining what is an impermissible “solicitation” by a current employee, the Illinois Appellate Court recently drew a distinction between officers and non-officers. See Xylem Dewatering Solutions, Inc., d/b/a Godwin Pumps of America et al. v. Szablewski et al., Case No. 5-14-0080 (Ill. App. 5th  Dist. 2014).

In Xylem Dewatering Solutions, the defendants were accused by their former employer of wrongfully soliciting customers and suppliers on behalf of a competitive business that they were planning to launch. According to the Appellate Court’s decision, while still employed by their former employer, the defendants “asked customers and suppliers what … Continue Reading

Non-Solicitation Agreements Are Void in California…or Are They?

There is certainly no question that an employee owes undivided loyalty to his or her employer while employed. For example, no one questions that an employee is prohibited from working for a competitor during his employment. But the law becomes much more complicated once an employee leaves his or her employment. Under what circumstances may a former employee solicit his former employer’s customers? Can non-solicitation agreements ever be enforceable?

California of course is one of a very few states in which non-compete agreements are void as against public policy. Business and Professions Code section 16600 provides that “Except as provided … Continue Reading

The Enforceability Of Employee Non-Solicits Remains Unclear In California

The high profile lawsuit filed on February 11, 2014 by Anschutz Entertainment Group against Shervin Mirhashemi and his new employer, Legends Hospitality, LLC, again raises the question of when a California Court of Appeal will decide whether employee non-solicits are enforceable in California. The Complaint alleges that Mirhashemi started as an AEG in-house attorney and was promoted over time to executive positions and was paid millions of dollars. The Complaint also alleges that Mirhashemi signed various employment agreements at least one of which provided, in part, that he would not “directly or indirectly” “participate in any effort to entice away … Continue Reading

SDNY Judge Instructively Opines On Employee No Hire Agreement

A recent decision from the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, Reed Elsevier Inc. v. Transitions Holding Co., Inc., provides a useful overview of New York law on restrictive covenants. At issue was an employee non-poach agreement between two companies entered as a result of a settlement in the context of the earlier hiring of another senior executive with a non-compete. Not an unusual situation. What is somewhat unique is that the alleged “poaching” occurred in the context of the acquisition of the restricted employee’s company – – not the recruitment of the restricted … Continue Reading

Court Finds Potential Liability For Sending Cease And Desist Letter

As in-house counsel or the human resources director, you have probably received a frantic phone call from the business folks telling you that a former employee disclosed trade secrets or violated a restrictive covenant and demanding that immediate action be taken. After gathering the facts, the next step is usually to send a cease and desist letter to the former employee, and oftentimes to the former employee’s new employer. Such letters generally set forth the applicable confidentiality or non-compete restrictions as well as the former employee’s offending conduct. As my colleague Kara Maciel recently noted in her blog posting, Cease Continue Reading

Doctor Non-Solicitation Agreement Not Supported By Legitimate Business Interest

Lawyers and clients alike often believe that it is easier to enforce a non-solicitation agreement than a non-competition agreement. Sometimes, that’s true. However, that does not mean that companies can do so without demonstrating a legitimate business interest in the enforcement of that non-solicitation agreement. The recent Illinois Appellate Court decision in Gastroenterology Consultants of the North Shore, S.C. v. Meiselman (2013 Il. App. 1st 123672) highlights this point.

In that case, a doctor named Meiselman left Gastroenterology Consultants (referred to here as GC for short) to work for NorthShore University HealthSystem Medical Group. In his new position, Meiselman treated … Continue Reading

No-Hire Provisions In Settlement and Commercial Agreements — Are they Legal?

The potential antitrust impact of no-hire agreements between competitors has been a hot topic over the last few years, particularly in the high-tech industry where competition for the most talented programmers, developers and engineers is intense. An antitrust class action pending in the US District Court for the Northern District of California against six high tech firms — Intuit, Apple, Google, Intel, Intuit and Pixar – illustrates just how high the stakes can be when a no-hire agreement among competitors is challenged under federal and state antitrust laws. The plaintiffs in that putative class action are five software engineers who … Continue Reading

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