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Court Denies Injunction Against Former IBM Executive

By:  Joseph Maya, Esq.

Early in the morning of January 19, 2011, Mr. Visentin notified IBM that he was leaving the company to work for a major competitor- Hewlett-Packard.  Just one day later, he found himself the subject of a lawsuit.  On January 20, 2011, in an effort to enforce the parties’ noncompetition agreement, IBM filed suit against Mr. Visentin, a former executive, in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, claiming breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets.

Case Background

On January 24, 2011, the Court issued a temporary restraining order, and scheduled the case for a preliminary injunction hearing.  Within five days of providing IBM with notice of his departure, Mr. Visentin was effectively without a job, precluded- at least temporarily- from engaging in his newly secured position.  This case demonstrates not only the force, speed and agility of a large corporation’s legal team, but perhaps more importantly, illustrates the effectiveness of a quickly orchestrated and well-executed legal defense.

Prior to his resignation, Mr. Visentin worked for IBM in various capacities for twenty-six years.  In 2006, he became a Global Vice President in the company’s Integrated Technology Services Group (ITS).  Then, in September, 2007, he became General Manager of the ITS business.  Responsible for providing its clients with various technology services, including services to improve data storage and recovery capabilities, protect networks from viruses, and implement data security systems, this segment generates approximately five thousand to nine thousand deals per quarter, and total revenue of $2.5 billion annually.

In December, 2008, Mr. Visentin was appointed to IBM’s Integration and Value Team, a leadership group that develops IBM’s corporate strategy.  Although there were technical aspects of Mr. Visentin’s various positions, after hearing four days of testimony, the Court found that he was a business manager, not a technical expert.

Non-Compete Agreements

As part of his employment with IBM, Mr. Visentin signed two noncompetition agreements, the first on July 16, 2008 and the second on July 29, 2009.  The July 29th agreement essentially provided that during his employment with IBM, and for 12 months thereafter, he would not directly or indirectly engage in or associate with any competitors of the company.  Mr. Visentin also agreed to a restrictive covenant precluding him from soliciting IBM clients for a period of one year, and IBM employees for a period of two years.

IBM’s first argument was that if Mr. Visentin were allowed to work for HP, IBM would be irreparably harmed because Mr. Visentin’s new position posed the risk that he would inevitably disclose confidential IBM information.  IBM argued that Mr. Visentin possessed a plethora of confidential information including strategic business and marketing plans, “strategic initiative,” new service offerings, acquisition plans, the operational finances of the ITS business, IBM’s competitive business and pricing strategies, the identity of new client targets, the identify of troubled clients, and IBM’s competitive strategies to attack HP.

Court Denies Injunction

In denying IBM’s application for an injunction, the Court first noted that a preliminary injunction is “an extraordinary and drastic remedy which should not be routinely granted.”  Med. Soc’y of State of N.Y. v. Toia, 560 F.2d 535, 538 (2nd Cir. 1977).  Indeed, to obtain a preliminary injunction, the moving party must demonstrate, first, that it will be irreparably harmed if an injunction is not granted, and, second, either a likelihood of success on the merits or sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation, as well as a balance of the hardships tipping decidedly in its favor.  Lusk v. Vill. Of Cold Spring, 475 F.3d 480, 485 (2nd Cir. 2007).

To show that it will be irreparably harmed, a movant bears the burden of demonstrating that absent an injunction, it will suffer an injury that is neither remote nor speculative, but rather actual and imminent, and one that cannot be redressed through a monetary award. Payment Alliance Int’l, Inc. v. Ferreira, 530 F. Supp. 2d 477, 480 (S.D.N.Y. 2007).

Next, the Court explained that in New York, properly scoped noncompetition agreements are enforceable to protect an employer’s legitimate interests so long as they pose no undue hardship on the employee and do not militate against public policy.  BDO Seidman v. Hirshber, 712 N.E. 2d 1220, 1223 (N.Y. 1999).

The Court further explained that trade secrets and confidential information are considered legitimate interests; however, only that confidential information or those trade secrets that the employee misappropriates or will inevitably disclose are protectable.  Reed, Roberts Assocs., Inc. v. Strauman, 353 N.E. 2d 590, 593 (N.Y. 1976).

Court’s Ruling

In ruling in Mr. Visentin’s favor, the Court noted that his primary job at IBM was to be a general manager, explaining, “[a]lthough trade secrets may have lurked somewhere on the periphery, the real thrust of his position was to manage his teams to make them as efficient as possible.”  The Court relied on Mr. Visentin’s testimony that he had never taken a computer science course and considered himself a generalist.  Mr. Visentin testified, “I am not technical, I don’t know the details of offerings, I’m more of a general manager and I run a business.”

The Court also relied on the testimony of Mr. Visentin’s new manager at HP, who confirmed that Mr. Visentin’s generalist qualities were the driving factor behind his hiring.  Mr. Visentin’s future manager testified that he hired Mr. Visentin because, “he had good general IT services knowledge [and] broad experience,” and that Mr. Visentin struck him, “as a process-oriented thinker, a guy who could sort of connect the dots, if you will, of the overall responsibilities of the job.”  He also testified that Mr. Visentin’s job would not include involvement in technical services, but rather would be to “manage people.”

Court Does Not Find

Although IBM identified numerous types of information potentially in Mr. Visentin’s possession which it argued should be afforded protection, the court noted that much of the information is either applicable to all large corporations, in the public domain, or outdated, and, thus, does not constitute “trade secrets.”

The court also explained that simply showing Mr. Visentin had access to some confidential information does not sufficiently demonstrate irreparable harm.  IBM failed to provide specific examples of confidential or trade secret information that could actually be used to its detriment if Mr. Visentin were allowed to assume his new position at HP.  The Court further held that IBM failed to demonstrate Mr. Visentin’s position at HP would require him to disclose any confidential IBM information he might remember.

Contact Us

Attorney Joseph Maya is a Managing Partner of Maya Murphy, P.C. Litigation Department. He can be reached by telephone in the Firm’s Westport office at (203) 221-3100 or by e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Non-Compete Agreements (Restrictive Covenants) for Practicing Physicians in New York and Connecticut: Just How Enforceable Are They?

A restrictive covenant (often referred to as a non-compete clause or a covenant not to compete) is a clause contained in an employment contract through which the employee agrees not to pursue a similar profession or trade, placing them in competition with the employer, after the employment relationship is terminated.  This clause or covenant is often put in place to prevent a former employee from using information he or she obtained through the course of their employment to gain a competitive advantage over their former employer.  

If you are currently employed as a physician and your employment agreement contains a provision similar to the type of covenant described above, you probably want to understand how a Court will determine the validity of such a clause in order to understand how such a clause will impact your future as a physician after the termination of your current employment contract, joinder and/or partnership agreement.

Below is a summary on the way Courts are handling the non-compete clauses included in the employment contracts of physicians employed in Connecticut and New York.  This review and analysis consists of two separate, but related parts.  First, a Court must determine whether the non-compete clause is valid, and therefore enforceable.  Second, if a clause is valid, as a way to prevent you from pursuing your newly found employment opportunity, your employer may ask the Court to grant a temporary and/or permanent injunction.

The second section of this analysis focuses on whether a Court will grant your employer’s request for a temporary or permanent injunction.  If granted, this injunction would prevent you from obtaining employment in any manner which violates the restrictive covenant.

The Validity and Enforceability of Physician Non-Compete Clauses in New York and Connecticut

The laws governing the validity and enforceability of non-compete clauses in New York and Connecticut are fairly similar.  In both states Courts seek to determine if the restraints provided for under the non-compete clause are reasonable.  In making that determination, Courts consider the following factors:  (1) the employer’s need to protect legitimate business interests (such as trade secrets and customer lists), (2) the employee’s need to earn a living and support his or her family, (3) the public’s need to secure the employee’s presence in the labor pool, and (4) the amount of time, and the area restricted under the covenant.

Employer’s Need to Protect Legitimate Business Interests:

In general, Courts have found an employer to have a legitimate business interest in situations where the employer needs to protect against the former employee’s use of a trade secret or a highly valuable patient list.  If the employer is not able to protect the employee from using such things in the course of their future employment, the employer’s business will noticeably suffer.  This is what the Courts will try and protect against through the enforcement of the restrictive covenant.

In Connecticut, however, it is important to note that it is not the employer who needs to prove a legitimate business interest, but instead, the employee who needs to disprove the employer’s need to protect legitimate business interests through enforcement of the non-compete clause.

Employee’s Need to Earn a Living:

When considering the impact of the enforcement of a non-compete clause on the earning potential of a former employee, Courts will try to determine if enforcement of a restrictive covenant will unreasonably prevent the employee from earning a living, and therefore being able to support themselves.  Significantly, Courts noted, however, that this does not mean the operation of a covenant not to compete must maintain a former employee’s income at present levels in order to be found reasonable.  It is the burden of the former employee to prove that if the covenant is enforced it will substantially damage his or her ability to earn a living.

The Public’s Need to Secure Employee’s Services:

The principal objection to restrictive covenants in physician employment contracts is that they can potentially interfere with continuity of care for a patient.  Therefore, a Court is more reluctant to enforce a covenant if the covenant would impact the care of the former employee’s current patients.  There are however, many covenants that are drafted to allow a physician to continue providing post-operative, or other limited care, for current patients.  If a restrictive covenant will allow for such continuity of care, the Court is more likely to find its restrictions reasonable, and enforceable.

Time and Area Restrictions:

The amount of time, and the area restricted under non-compete clauses varies greatly between different employment agreements, depending on the type of services involved and the location of the parties.  In making a finding, Courts will look to whether or not the time and area restrictions are reasonable.  Recent decisions held clauses limiting the former employee for up to a period of five years within a thirty mile radius reasonable.  Reasonableness depends, however, on the specific circumstances of the case.

Other Considerations:

Courts also consider the bargaining power between the parties to the employment contract in determining the reasonableness of a restrictive covenant.  Some Courts may be more reluctant to find a restrictive covenant unenforceable where the employment agreement is created between partners to a practice, rather then when the agreement is held between an employer and an employee.  The Courts have explained this discrepancy on the parties’ ability to negotiate the terms of the employment agreement.  A partner will most likely have a greater ability to negotiate the terms of the contract, than will an employee.

Injunctive Relief:

An injunction is an equitable remedy in the form of a Court order, whereby a party is required to do, or to refrain from doing, certain acts. In this case, those certain acts would include being employed in a way which would violate the restrictive covenant.  When considering an employer’s request for a temporary or permanent injunction, the Courts in New York and Connecticut consider whether the employer has demonstrated that he or she would suffer irreparable injury in the absence of an injunction, that he or she is likely to prevail on the merits of the case, and that the balancing of equities favors the issuance of an injunction.

Irreparable Harm:

In considering the irreparable harm an employer may suffer, a Court will rely on factors such as the employer’s revenues, patient flow and the employer’s ability to maintain their business on a long-term basis.  Such calculations will consider only the employer’s losses, and not the former employee’s gains.

Balancing of the Equities:

When balancing the equities, Courts consider the following: the effect the injunctive relief will have on the employer’s business, the effect that the injunctive relief will have on the employee’s earning potential, and the effect that an injunction will have on the public.  In determining the effect on the employer, the Court analyzes how the employer will benefit from the injunctive relief.

As for the effect on the employee, the Court considers the options available to the employee if the relief is granted.  If the employee can reasonably continue to earn a living, Courts are more willing to grant the employer’s injunctive relief request.  In considering the public interest, Courts look at factors such as the hardship the injunctive relief would have on a doctor’s existing patients and the doctor’s contributions to the surrounding community that would be limited by the granting of injunctive relief.

Connecticut – Adequate Remedy at Law:

In addition to the above factors, Connecticut Courts consider whether the employer has no other adequate remedy at law available to them.  Although some Connecticut Courts have held that the lack of an adequate remedy at law is presumed to be established where a party seeks to enforce a covenant not to compete, not all Courts have relied on that.

The Courts that do rely on that theory, however, state that it is only a rebuttable presumption; meaning that it may be possible for the employee to convince the Court that this presumption does not apply in a certain situation.

The Connecticut Courts that have not followed that presumption have held the presumption to apply only in the limited instances where the calculation of damages may be difficult or impossible and therefore limits the employer’s potential remedies.  These Courts have found that employers have an adequate remedy at law where they are in a position to bring a breach of contract claim, meaning that the employer is able to calculate the damages suffered as a result of the former employee’s actions.

Physician Restrictive Covenant Cases in Connecticut:

As a way of bringing together the above information, and to demonstrate the effects of certain factual situations on an outcome, the following illustrations provide examples of restrictive covenant cases heard and decided by the Connecticut Courts in recent years.

Restrictive covenant valid, Injunction denied:

Opticare, P.C. v. Zimmerman, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 759 (2008).

In this Connecticut case, a doctor entered into an employment contract with physician practice group which provided, among other things, that in the event the doctor voluntarily left the practice but intended to continue practicing medicine he would be prohibited from practicing the type of medicine he practiced with the group, within a specific area for a period of 18 months.  The restricted area was in the shape of a hexagon and ranged from between fifteen to thirty miles from the locations in which the doctor had been employed with the practice group.

After 22 years of employment, the doctor left the physician practice group and opened his own office, practicing the same kind of medicine as he had been, before the 18 month time period had passed and less than four miles away from his former employer’s office.  Upon learning of the physician’s new practice, the practice group asked the Court to grant injunctive relief to prohibit the physician from continuing his practice in violation of the restrictive covenant.

Court Denies Group’s Request:

In denying the group’s request, the Court determined that although the restrictive covenant was valid, the group did not establish a showing of irreparable harm.  The practice group was still in business, and it had failed to demonstrate that the practice was permanently harmed in any way.  The Court also determined that the employer had available to them an adequate remedy at law because the employer had the ability to calculate the damages incurred as a result of the physician’s actions.

Finally, the Court found that the equities balanced in favor of the former employee, due in part to the fact that the doctor frequently donated his time to assisting uninsured premature infants at local hospitals and that an injunction would place an undue hardship on his current patients.

Restrictive covenant valid:

Fairfield County Bariatrics v. Ehrlich, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 568 (2010).

The case of Fairfield County Bariatrics v. Ehrlich, is a case in which the restrictive covenant was deemed valid and injunctive relief was granted to the employer.  It involved a situation where a physician developed a very prominent practice performing bariatric surgeries for the physician practice group with whom he was employed and was a one-third shareholder.

As part of his employment with the physician practice group, the physician signed an employment agreement which, among other things, provided that for a period of two years following the termination of his employment, the physician could not practice medicine or general surgery within 15 miles of the practice’s office, and that he could not practice bariatric surgery in five local hospitals.

Following his termination from the group, the physician retrieved a list of the patients he had treated during his employment with the physician practice group.  The physician contacted each patient and informed them that he was no longer associated with the group and directed them to contact him at his new office.

The physician’s new office was located within the restricted area provided for in the employment agreement.  Additionally, the physician continued to perform bariatric surgeries at the hospitals restricted under the restrictive covenant in the employment agreement.

Injunction granted:

The Court held the restrictive covenant valid, finding the length of time and area of coverage to be within reasonable limitations.  Furthermore, the Court determined that the physician practice group had legitimate business interests that needed the protection of the restrictive covenant.

The Court relied on the practice’s fear that because of the extremely large amount of bariatric surgeries the physician performed on a yearly basis, if the physician were allowed to continue practicing bariatric surgeries at the hospitals within the county, it would drastically dilute the number of surgeries performed at the hospitals in which the practice performed those surgeries.

Additionally, the Court determined that the physician’s ability to earn an income was not so restricted by the covenant as to make it unreasonable.  Under the covenant, the physician was able to perform surgeries throughout the majority of the county in which he resided, and was able to continue providing post-operative care for his current patients.

Finally, the Court determined that the public’s need to secure the physician’s services would only be slightly impacted and that because the physician was still able to provide post-operative care, the public’s need did not render this covenant invalid.

Continuing in their decision, the Court granted the practice’s request for injunctive relief as the Court believed the practice was likely to prevail at a trial.  In its decision the Court found the physician practice group would suffer irreparable harm if injunctive relief were not granted as it was able to demonstrate the physician had the ability to drastically dilute the number of available surgeries.  As for the balance of equities, the Court determined the harm the physician practice group could potentially suffer if their request was denied was much greater than the harm the physician would suffer if the relief was granted.

Restrictive covenant invalid:

Merryfield Animal Hosp. v. Mackay, 2002 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2628 (2002).

In this Connecticut case, the Court determined that the restrictive covenant included in the employment agreement was invalid.  Consequently, the Court denied the employer’s request for injunctive relief.  The doctor in this case had been employed under an employment agreement that contained a non-compete provision.

This provision restricted the employee from owning, managing, operating, controlling, participating in, or being employed or in any way connected with an organization providing the services provided by the employer for a period of two years after his termination, and within a seven mile radius from the employer’s locations.

Shortly after his termination the physician obtained employment with a different practice group performing the same services he had been for his former employer. His new employment was located within the seven mile radius restricted under the restrictive covenant.  The employer turned to the Court, seeking a temporary injunction which would order the doctor to comply with the specific provisions of the restrictive covenant.

Injunction denied:

Although the Court found the time and area restrictions provided for in the restrictive covenant reasonable, it ultimately determined that the covenant was unenforceable and therefore denied the employer’s request.  In doing so the Court relied exclusively on its finding that the restriction under the covenant was overly broad and not reasonably necessary for the fair protection of the group’s business.

If enforced, the language of the covenant would have prevented the doctor, not only from his new position, but even from employment that could in no way bring him in competition with his former employer. Finding the expansive limitations provided for by the language of the restrictive covenant unreasonable, the Court determined the covenant unenforceable, and consequently denied the employer’s request for injunctive relief.

Restrictive covenant invalid, Injunction denied:

Merryfield Animal Hosp. v. Mackay, 2002 Conn. Super. LEXIS 4099 (2002).

A Connecticut Court determined the restrictive covenant at question in this case to be overly protective of the employer’s interest, and therefore determined that the covenant was invalid.  Pursuant to the terms of that clause the doctor in this case agreed he would not involve himself with or be employed by a business providing the professional services he provided for the practice within a seven-mile radius of the practice, and for two years after his employment contract terminated. 

After providing written notice of his termination, the doctor accepted a position with another practice, located slightly less than seven miles from his former employer’s office.  During the course of his new employment the doctor did not solicit any of his former employer’s patients and even rejected any patients he knew to have been patients of his old practice.

The Court, therefore found no evidence of a legitimate business interest that the practice needed to protect.  Furthermore, the practice was unable to demonstrate it suffered or would suffer any loss as a result of the doctor’s actions.  Consequently, the Court determined the restrictive covenant was unenforceable and denied the practice’s request for injunctive relief.

Physician Restrictive Covenant Cases in New York:

As a way of bringing together the above information, and to demonstrate the effects of certain factual situations on an outcome, the following illustrations provide examples of restrictive covenant cases heard and decided by New York Courts.

Restrictive covenant valid:

Millet v. Slocum, 4 A.D.2d 528 (1957).

Following the termination of his employment as a partner in a physician partnership, the physician in this case brought an action before the Court asking the Court to render the restrictive covenant contained in his employment agreement unenforceable.  Under the terms of his employment agreement, following his termination, the physician was barred from practicing medicine or surgery within a 25 mile radius from the city in which the partnership was located for a two-year period.  The partnership, in response, asked the Court for injunctive relief which would prevent the physician from practicing in contravention of the employment agreement.

Before working with this partnership, the physician never worked as a physician in New York State.  During the time the physician served the partnership he developed a professional reputation for competence and earned the trust of the partnership’s patients. As a result, the Court concluded that if the physician were able to directly compete with the partnership, the remaining partners would suffer a loss of patients and good will.

Injunction denied:

Considering next, the physician’s ability to earn a living, the Court decided that the hardship imposed on the physician was not, when balanced with the needs of the partnership, sufficient to invalidate the covenant.  The physician had the ability to practice medicine and surgery anywhere outside of the 25 mile radius, and the Court noted that since he had been able to come to New York and build such a strong professional reputation when beginning his work with the practice, it would not be so unreasonable for him to do so again.  The Court therefore, concluded that the restrictive covenant was valid and enforceable.

Despite the validity of the restrictive covenant, the Court denied the partnership’s request for injunctive relief based on its finding that the partnership breached the partnership agreement when it expelled the physician from the partnership without justification, as was required pursuant to the agreement.  The Court held the partnership’s actions constituted such a breach of the partnership agreement as to not entitle the partnership to the injunctive relief requested.

Restrictive covenant valid:

Gelder Medical Group v. Webber, 41 N.Y.2d 680 (1977).

After a few years of employment as a partner to a partnership practice, the physician in this case was expelled pursuant to the partnership agreement.  Under the terms of the partnership agreement, the physician had agreed not to practice his profession within a radius of 30 miles of the village in which the partnership was located for a period of five years.

Disregarding the restrictive covenant, the physician resumed his surgical practice as a single practitioner, practicing in the same village as the partnership and within two months of his expulsion.  The partnership, in an effort to protect its practice, asked the Court to enforce the restrictive covenant and grant injunctive relief.

Injunction granted:

The Court ultimately determined this restrictive covenant was valid.  Its decision was due, in part, to the small size of the village in which the partnership was located and had built its practice.  In such a small area, the threat of competition from the physician, if allowed, could result in serious damage to the partnership’s number of patients and its revenues.  The Court also considered the impact that the covenant could have on the physician’s ability to earn a living and found that throughout the course of his career, this physician had repeatedly changed professional associations within a range of thousands of miles.

Therefore, the Court did not credit the physician’s argument that relocating his practice would unreasonably impair his ability to earn an income.  Finally, the Court considered the interest of the public and noted the public would not be affected by the enforcement of this covenant, as they could easily obtain the services provided by the physician elsewhere.  Granting the employer’s injunction, the Court noted that the damage the partnership would suffer without injunctive relief, when balanced with the losses the physician may face if the covenant were enforced, justified the enforcement of this restrictive covenant.

Restrictive covenant invalid, Injunction denied:

Michael I. Weintraub, M. D., P. C. v. Schwartz, 131 A.D.2d 663 (1987). 

The physician in this case had been employed by a certain professional practice group for a period of two years at the time his employment contract was terminated.  Pursuant to the terms of his employment agreement, the physician was restricted from engaging in the type of services he performed for the physician practice group within a five mile radius from the professional practice’s office, and within a five mile radius of any hospital at which he had worked at on behalf of the professional practice for a period of one year after the effective date of his termination.

Before that one-year period lapsed the physician established an office to perform the restricted type of services within five miles from a hospital where the physician worked on the group’s behalf.  The professional group initiated an action against the physician to enforce the restrictive covenant and prevent him from breaching his employment agreement.

In reviewing the restrictive covenant, the Court determined the provision restricting the physician from practicing within five miles of the group’s offices was reasonable and enforceable.  The Court, however, found the portion of the covenant prohibiting the physician from practicing within a five-mile radius of any hospital where he worked on the group’s behalf was overly broad and oppressive, and thus unenforceable.

If the physician had been required to follow the terms of the covenant it would essentially prohibit him from practicing at or near any of the major hospitals in the two nearest counties.  The Court furthered noted an absence of evidence indicating the group’s business related concerns were implicated in any manner through the physician’s breach of the restrictive covenant.  Consequently, the Court denied the group’s motion for injunctive relief.

Restrictive Covenant Severed:

Karpinski v. Ingrasci, 28 N.Y.2d 45 (1971).

In the following case the Court held even though the restrictive covenant contained an unreasonable provision, the remaining restrictions provided for under the agreement would be enforceable against the former physician employee.  In essence, the Court severed the unreasonable restriction from the restrictive covenant, and held the remainder to be valid.  This situation involved a dentist employed by an oral surgeon.  As part of his employment with the oral surgeon he agreed to never practice dentistry or oral surgery in any of the surrounding counties except in association with the oral surgeon.

Upon voluntarily ending his employment with the oral surgeon, the dentist opened his own office in violation of the restrictive covenant.  After the competition created by the dentist’s new office forced the oral surgeon to close one of his offices, the oral surgeon asked the Court to enforce the restrictive covenant.

The Court ultimately held the employer was entitled to an injunction barring the dentist from practicing oral surgery in the five specified counties named in the covenant, but that the covenant’s restriction on the practice of dentistry was too broad.  Since the oral surgeon’s business consisted only of performing oral surgeries and related operations, a dental practice providing only dentistry services, and no oral surgery services, would provide no direct competition.

The Court, therefore determining the restriction on the practice of dentistry to be too broad, severed that restriction from the covenant, but enforced the remaining provisions of the agreement.

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Situations involving these restrictive covenants, or non-compete agreements, are very fact specific, requiring case by case analysis and determinations.  Determining the consequences of your employment agreement and your options will require an in-depth review.  A violation of a restrictive covenant, if such covenant is in fact enforceable, may result in other contractual claims being brought against you by a former employer.  If you have any questions relating to your restrictive covenant or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Connecticut Non-Compete Invalidated on Grounds of Unnecessary Protection Afforded to Employer

Sanford Hall Agency, Inc. v. Dezanni, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3574
Case Background

Ms. Lynne Dezanni worked for Sanford Hall Agency, an Avon, Connecticut based insurance company, from 1990 to 2004 where she served as a personal lines (primarily automobile and homeowners insurance) salesperson for clients whose last name started with “A” through “F”.  In 1994, Ms. Dezanni signed an employment agreement that included a non-compete covenant prohibiting the solicitation or attempted solicitation of Sanford Hall’s clients or the disclosure of the company’s confidential information.

In May 2004, Ms. Dezanni was contacted by a recruiter at Sinclair Insurance Group, a direct competitor of Sanford Hall based in Wallingford, Connecticut.  In the following weeks, Sanford Hall announced to its employees that it was engaging in a transaction to sell its assets.  Fearing that she would no longer have a job if the company were sold, Ms. Dezanni accepted employment at Sinclair on June 11, 2004.

The company was in fact sold to a New Jersey insurance company on November 1, 2004.  Sanford Hall commenced legal action alleging that Ms. Dezanni breached the written employment agreement and the non-compete covenant by soliciting its clients and disclosing confidential client information to Sinclair.

Court Ruling

Ms. Dezanni however argued that she was not in breach of the non-compete agreement because it contained unreasonable provisions and was therefore unenforceable.  Additionally, she argued that the employment agreement reserved the right for her to compete in the event that Sanford Hall sold its business.

The court in this case found in favor of Ms. Dezanni and held that the non-compete agreement was in fact unreasonable and unenforceable.  The court based this decision on the fact that Ms. Dezanni was not in a position at Sinclair to threaten Sanford Hall’s interests in its customer relationships and contracts.

Her job at Sanford Hall pertained to the initial contact with clients but her contact usually ended there.  She was not charged with entertaining, socializing with, or schmoozing clients over the phone or in person.  She would not review the contracts when they were due to expire, as the insurer and not the agent handled this business activity.  The court concluded, “Dezanni’s contact with the customers was too infrequent and irregular to pose any threat to the plaintiff’s relationship with its customers”.

The court also held that the agreement excessively restricted Ms. Dezanni from pursuing her occupation and instituted unnecessary limitations because it pertained not only to past and present clients, but to also future ones as well.  Ms. Dezanni was able to prove that the non-compete clause of the employment agreement afforded more protection to Sanford Hall than was reasonably necessary and as a result severely disadvantaged her and ran contrary to the interests of the public.  For these enumerated reasons, the court refused to enforce the non-compete clause of the employment agreement.

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If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

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Court Denies Employee’s Motion for Summary Judgment Because Parties Dispute Material Facts of the Case

Webster Financial Corporation v. Levine, 2009 Conn. Super. LEXIS 841
Case Background

Mr. Gerald Levine sold his shares of LLIA, Inc., a financial and insurance firm, to Webster Financial Corporation in February 2000 along with other shareholders of the company.  He executed a Stock Purchase Agreement, Employment Agreement, and a Non-Solicitation Agreement with Webster Financial in connection with the transaction.  The agreements contained a series of restrictive covenants that prohibited Mr. Levine for two years following termination from soliciting or accepting any brokerage business from entities that were LLIA or Webster clients while he was an employee with the company.

He worked as a Webster Financial employee until June 2007 when he voluntarily terminated his employment and began to work at Beecher Carlson Insurance Services, LLC, a firm providing similar services.  Webster Financial sued Mr. Levine and requested that the court enforce the provisions of the restrictive covenants.  Mr. Levine submitted a motion for summary judgment and this request is the focal point of the court’s analysis and decision.

Trial Process

The court denied Mr. Levine’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the “issues raised by the defendant [Levine] concerning the breadth and enforceability of the NSA should await trial and should not be resolved through summary judgment.” The judge felt that summary judgment was inappropriate for this case because the parties’ claims raised “genuine issues of disputed fact not amenable to summary disposition.”  Mr. Levine presented several arguments as to why the agreements were unenforceable and that Webster Financial’s claim lacked merit but the court rejected them as basis for granting summary judgment.

Mr. Levine argued that the restrictive covenants lacked proper consideration and that the provisions of the covenants were unreasonable in scope.  He asserted that Webster Financial procured the covenants solely by the grant of stock and this represented inadequate consideration to make the agreements binding upon the parties.

Court Ruling

The court however identified several sources of consideration for the covenants such that Mr. Levine gave the covenants in exchange for the sale of LLIA, employment with Webster Financial, and the issuance of shares of stock.  The court also refuted Mr. Levine’s contention that the provisions were unreasonable in scope because there was no expressed geographical limitation.  The court concluded that the absence of an expressed limited area did not render the restriction unreasonable because the language of the agreement itself sufficiently restricted its application of the employment prohibitions.

Mr. Levine failed to meet the burden of proof necessary to show that the case did not have disputed material facts and that he was entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law, causing the court to deny his motion for summary judgment.

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The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment and corporate law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County.  If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

BEWARE THE CASUAL EMPLOYEE COMPLAINT!

The United States Supreme Court had overturned long-standing law in the Federal Districts of Connecticut and New York with respect to employee claims of retaliation for registering a complaint with an employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“Act”). In this case note, we will tell you how the law changed, and how employers should adopt changes in policy and procedure to protect themselves from a new and difficult-to-defend source of employment-related liability.

Fair Labor Standards Act

 

 The Fair Labor Standards Act was passed in 1938 and subsequently amended by the Equal Pay Act of 1963. The Act sets forth employment rules concerning minimum wages, maximum hours, and overtime pay. The Act contains an anti-retaliation provision prohibiting the discharge of or discrimination against any employee who has “filed any complaint” related to the Act. In 1993, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit (whose jurisdiction includes Connecticut and New York) decided
Lambert v. Genesee Hospital, 10 F.3d 46 (2d Cir. 1993). There the Court held that “[t]he plain language of this [anti-retaliation] provision [of the Act] limits the cause of action to retaliation for filing formal complaints, instituting a proceeding, or testifying, but does not encompass complaints made to a supervisor.” Id. at 55. Such was the settled law within this Circuit until March 22, 2011, when the Supreme Court issued its decision in Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp., 2011 U.S. LEXIS 2417 (2011).
Kasten v. Genesee Hospital

In 
Kasten, the Supreme Court conducted a thorough exegesis of the phrase “filed any complaint” in the context of whether the statutory language included oral, as well as written complaints, and whether oral complaints thereby constituted protected conduct under the Act’s anti-retaliation provision. The case involved an employee who complained orally to his supervisor about the physical placement of time clocks so as to deprive workers of compensable time. The employee was fired soon after his complaint. The Supreme Court found the text of the statute to be inconclusive as to its meaning and harkened back to the words of Franklin D. Roosevelt and pre-World War II census data to further divine the Act’s legislative intent. The Supreme Court ultimately concluded: “[t]o fall within the scope of the anti retaliation provision, a complaint must be sufficiently clear and detailed for a reasonable employer to understand it, in light of both content and context, as an assertion of rights protected by the statute and a call for their protection. This standard can be met, however, by oral complaints, as well as by written ones.” Kasten at * 23. Left unanswered by the Court, however, is the actual level of clarity and detail required to elevate some employee “letting off steam” (e.g., to a supervisor at a Friday night, after-work happy hour) to the protected activity of “filing of a complaint.” Turning the already murky waters opaque, the Court offered this guidance: “[t]he phrase ‘filed any complaint’ contemplates some degree of formality, certainly to the point where the recipient has been given fair notice that a grievance has been lodged and does, or should, reasonably understand the matter as part of its business concerns.”
Dangers to Employers
Lurking behind the Court’s holding is the spectre of an employee dismissed for cause suddenly recalling his prior oral complaint to his supervisor about violations of the Act, thus playing his anti-retaliation “get out of jail free” card. While the Supreme Court paid lip service to the requirement that an employer be given “fair notice” (albeit orally) of a claimed violation of the Act, it “[left] it to the lower courts to decide whether Kasten [the plaintiff-employee] will be able to satisfy the Act’s notice requirement.”
Id. at * 27. As of this point, there is no such lower court advice to depend upon, but there are steps an employer can now take to reduce its exposure to a fabricated, after-the-fact claim of employer retaliation.
Employer Protections
Employee Handbooks or Company Policies and Procedures Manuals should be amended to require that all employee complaints to supervisors or management be written (even if anonymous) on a form prescribed by the employer and delivered to a specific location (e.g., suggestion box) or a designated member of management. A sample form should be appended to the Handbook or Manual as an Exhibit, and a supply of forms should be made readily (but discretely) available to employees. The Company needs to establish a usual, customary, and accepted practice of addressing only written employee complaints, irrespective of their subject, seriousness, or source. The complaint forms should be numerically serialized upon receipt and logged in so that there is no question as to whether or when it was received. In this way, the company can argue that the absence of such a written complaint form raises a rebuttable presumption that no such complaint was ever made. It will thus deprive a discharged employee of the opportunity after he is fired to conjure up a “stealth” retaliation claim based upon a “phantom” oral complaint.
In the meantime, supervisors and management should be made aware that seemingly innocuous oral complaints from employees about wages and hours are sufficient to trigger the anti-retaliation provision of the Act and should be investigated and acted upon.
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The Attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. regularly draft or review Employee Handbooks and advise employers on the full spectrum of employment law and employer-employee relations. For additional information, call at (203) 221-3100 or contact JMaya@mayalaw.com.
 

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BRIDGEPORT – A former Bridgeport police lieutenant who claimed he was retaliated against for investigating Mayor John M. Fabrizi and other city officials settled a lawsuit against the city.  Under the terms of the out-of-court settlement, John Brenner, who retired from the Police Department two months ago, will receive, in addition to his pension, a lump-sum payment of $10,000. The city has also agreed to pay Brenner’s legal expenses up to $10,000. Continue Reading

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U.S. Supreme Court to Tackle Nonconsensual, Warrantless Blood Draws

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Missouri v. McNeely (11-1425) and its ruling on warrantless blood draws has impacted the criminal justice community and Fourth Amendment jurisprudence.

Katz v. United States

In the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court case Katz v. United States, the justices stated, “Searches conducted without warrants have been held unlawful notwithstanding facts unquestionably showing probable cause.”[1] The compulsory administration of a blood test “plainly involves the broadly conceived reach of a search and seizure.”[2] Warrantless searches are “per se unreasonable… subject only to a few specifically established and well-delineated exceptions.”[3]

One such recognized exception is exigent circumstances, which “refers to those situations in which law enforcement agents will be unable or unlikely to effectuate and arrest, search or seizure, for which probable cause exists, unless they act swiftly and, without seeking prior judicial authorization.”[4]

Case Background

McNeely involved a traffic stop turned DUI investigation, followed by the compulsory administration of a blood test against the defendant’s wishes. This scenario was previously expounded upon by the Supreme Court in Schmerber v. California, which permitted the warrantless taking of blood samples in light of “‘special facts’ that might have caused the officer to reasonably believe he was faced with an emergency situation in which the delay in obtaining a warrant would threaten the destruction of evidence.”[5] Concerning special facts in that case:

The threat of evidence destruction was caused by the fact that the percentage of alcohol in a person’s blood begins to diminish shortly after drinking stops and because there was an accident requiring time to be taken to both transport the defendant to the hospital and to investigate the scene of the accident.[6]

Court Ruling

However, the Court in McNeely characterized the facts as “a routine DWI case” where there were “no other ‘special facts’ of exigency.”[7] As such, “[i]n routine DWI cases, in which no ‘special facts’ exist other than the natural dissipation alcohol in the blood, a warrant must be obtained before [a nonconsensual blood draw occurs].”[8] Thus, on Supreme Court review, McNeely presents the following constitutional inquiry: “police authority to take a blood sample from a driver who allegedly was drunk, when the officer has no warrant but wants to act quickly because of the chemical fact that alcohol in the blood dissipates over time.”

Indeed, only two months ago, I discussed a Superior Court of Connecticut case addressing this very scenario following a deadly automobile accident. During a motion to suppress a blood toxicology report, the State made the same argument set forth by Missouri – “evidence of the defendant’s blood alcohol level would have been lost if not obtained within a reasonable time”[9] – and equally failed because “the record [did] not contain any information that supports the finding that an exigency actually existed.”[10] How the Supreme Court decides on this question will undoubtedly have a widespread impact on police investigations involving intoxicated drivers.

Contact Us

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence) or license suspension, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] United States v. Katz, 389 U.S. 347, 357 (1967).

[2] Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 767 (1966).

[3] State v. Aviles, 277 Conn. 281, 293 (2006).

[4] Id.

[5] Schmerber v. California, 384 U.S. 757, 770-71 (1966).

[6] Id.

[7] State  v. McNeely, 358 S.W.3d 65, 74 (Mo. 2012).

[8] Id.

[9] State v. D’Andrea, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3381  (2006).

[10] Id.