RKR Dance Studios, Inc. v. Makowski, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2295
This case involved the legal analysis used to determine if a non-compete agreement between a dance studio and one of its instructors is enforceable in the State of Connecticut. Jessica Makowski worked as an at-will instructor for RKR Dance Studios from November 29, 2001, to September 28, 2007, at one of its franchised dance studios. Maximize Your Impact, LLC became the franchisor for RKR in January 2004 and thus became the employer of Ms. Makowski.
She signed a non-compete agreement with Maximize on May 5, 2006, that contained provisions specifying a two-year duration and geographical limitation of a fifteen-mile radius from Maximize’s dance studio and a ten mile radius from any Fred Astaire Dance Studio, whether they be corporate-owned, franchised, or otherwise established. Ms. Makowski voluntarily left Maximize on September 28, 2007 and shortly thereafter began employment with Steps in Time, a dance studio located within ten miles of another Fred Astaire Dance Studio. Maximize sued Ms. Makowski to enforce the provisions of the non-compete agreement.
Ms. Makowski contended that she did not violate the agreement because there was inadequate consideration and unreasonable limitations, characteristics that would make the non-compete agreement unenforceable. The court, while finding that there was adequate consideration, ultimately found in favor of Ms. Makowski, held the non-compete covenant to be unreasonable, and denied Maximize’s request for the court to enforce the agreement.
Considering Continued Employment
The major issue with regard to consideration in this case revolved around the question “is continued employment adequate consideration for a non-compete agreement?”. The court cited previous cases, both state (Roessler v. Burwell (119 Conn. 289)) and federal (MacDermid, Inc. v. Selle (535 F. Supp.2d 308)), where the courts concluded that continued employment was adequate consideration for at-will employees for restrictive covenants with their employers.
The court highlights the exchange between the parties, such that the employee receives wages and the employer receives his or her services and the protection created by the non-compete agreement. The payment and receipt of wages was adequate consideration to legitimize a non-compete agreement and render vague terms sufficient for enforcement. The court did discuss several dissenting cases but noted that the facts of those cases were critically different from the legal dispute between Ms. Makowski and Maximize.
The court emphasized that the pivotal fact with regard to continued employment as adequate consideration is whether it involves at-will employment. If there is at-will employment, as was the case with Ms. Makowski, then continued employment is sufficient consideration to render the non-compete agreement enforceable.
The agreement was ultimately found to be unenforceable however due to containing unreasonable restrictions. The court highlighted the public policy of non-compete agreement enforcement and the balance that must be struck between: 1) the employer’s need to protect legitimate business interests, 2) the employee’s need to earn a living, and 3) the public’s need to secure the employee’s presence in the labor pool. Fair protection must be afforded to employer and employee alike, a principle that is absent in the agreement between Ms. Makowski and Maximize.
The court specifically stated that the geographical limitation was extremely unreasonable and placed a great hardship on Ms. Makowski’s efforts to earn a living and pursue her career. Evidence pertaining to job prospects in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York revealed that the closest permissible studio to employ Ms. Makowski was located in Natick, MA, a staggering one and a half hour drive from her house. The court felt that a three hour daily, roundtrip commute was an excessive burden for Ms. Makowski to bear and concluded that this provision was indeed unreasonable and invalidated the agreement as a whole.
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.