Change in Business Services/Products Doesn’t Invalidate a Non-Compete Agreement

DiscoveryTel SPC, Inc. v. Pinho, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2683

In 2002, DiscoveryTel SPC hired Mr. Ismael Pinho as its chief financial officer (CFO) as an at will employee.  The parties later executed an employment agreement on December 27, 2004 that would go into effect January 1, 2005.  The employment contract modified Mr. Pinho’s employment from at will to a one-year automatic renewable basis and outlined his salary, incentive bonuses, vacation, personal days, insurances, severance package, and several restrictive covenants.  Mr. Pinho was prohibited from directly or indirectly competing with DiscoveryTel by being involved in the purchase and/or sale of international voice and traffic data systems during the term of the employment agreement or during any period for which he was receiving severance pay.  Additionally, the agreement stated that he was bound by an indefinite non-disclosure clause pertaining to DiscoveryTel’s confidential and proprietary information.  In between 2004 and 2010, DiscoveryTel experienced a corporate reorganization and shifted its focus and the services it provided.  By 2010, it was no longer engaged in the purchase and/or sale of international voice and data traffic but instead facilitated the sale of telephone traffic.

Mr. Pinho informed the president of DiscoveryTel in a May 21, 2010 letter that he had accepted a position with World Telecom Exchange Communications, LLC (WTEC) and would be starting at the new company on June 1, 2010.  DiscoveryTel brought suit and requested that the court grant its request for an injunction to prevent any violations of the restrictive covenants in connection to Mr. Pinho’s new employment.  Mr. Pinho did not have an issue with the non-disclosure clause in the employment contract but asserted that his mere employment with WTEC was not a violation of the non-compete agreement.  He contended that the agreement did not prohibit working for a competitor but rather specifically from “being involved in ‘any business relating to the purchase and sale of international voice and data traffic’”.  He went on to argue that engaging in this sector of the industry should not violate a non-compete agreement because DiscoveryTel was no longer engaged in that specific industry activity.  Additionally, he argued that the agreement had inadequate consideration and was therefore unenforceable.

The court found these arguments unconvincing however and granted DiscoveryTel’s request for injunctive relief and restrained Mr. Pinho from working for WTEC until December 31, 2010 (the end of the current employment term) in order to prevent further violations of the non-compete agreement.  It looked to the modification in the nature of Mr. Pinho’s employment (from at will to a contract renewable on an annual basis) and enhanced benefits (mainly the introduction of a severance package) in the employment agreement to conclude that there was sufficient consideration.  Finally, the court analyzed whether Mr. Pinho’s activities as an employee of WTEC violated the covenant, taking into account DiscoveryTel’s reorganization and shift in focus.  The court ultimately held that Mr. Pinho had indeed violated the non-compete agreement by working at WTEC and that a mere change in business services/products did not render the non-compete agreement invalid or release Mr. Pinho from its obligations.

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.

 

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