Sabatasso v. Bruno, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 899
Mr. Pascale Sabatasso owned SoHo Hair Group Day Spa where he had provided salon services for over twenty years and employed approximately twenty-two employees. He hired Ms. Jody Brinkmeyer in June 2001, Ms. Jo Bruno in September 2001, and Ms. Cara Hanson in February 2002 to work as stylists. Pursuant to his long-standing employment policies, he had the three women sign non-competition and confidentiality agreements as a condition to their employment. The restrictive covenants prohibited the women for twelve months following termination from rending competing services within ten miles from the center of New Haven, soliciting SoHo clients, or soliciting SoHo employees. This clause created a restricted area that included all or part of New Haven, North Haven, East Haven, West Haven, Hamden, Woodbridge, Orange, and Branford. Ms. Sabatasso justified the need for such a restrictive covenant in order to protect the salon’s investment in the form of the expenses incurred associated with the training, education, and marketing of its stylists.
The three women voluntarily terminated their employment at SoHo on April 26, 2003 and began to work at Designers, a competing salon located in Orange, a city well within the restricted area defined by the non-compete agreement. Mr. Sabatasso’s legal representation sent the women letters on May 15, 2003 stating that he would withdraw legal action if they immediately terminated their employment with Designers. All three did in fact terminate their employment at Designers to pursue other employment options. Ms. Brinkmeyer began to work as a stylist at a salon in Southbury (a city outside of the restricted area), Ms. Hanson lived in Woodbridge but did not work as a stylist, and Ms. Bruno provided styling services out of her home in East Haven and the homes of former SoHo clients, the majority of which were located within the restricted area. Ms. Sabatasso proceeded to sue the three women in Connecticut state court and requested the enforcement of their respective non-compete agreements.
The court granted an injunction with respect to Ms. Bruno but denied the requests for injunctions for Ms. Brinkmeyer and Ms. Hanson. The holding stated that Ms. Bruno “shall adhere to all of the terms and conditions provided for in the agreement for a period of one year from the date of her voluntary termination”. The court found that only Ms. Bruno had breached the non-compete agreement and that the continued activities of Ms. Brinkmeyer and Ms. Hanson were permissible and in accordance with the covenant. The former employees presented several arguments as to why the agreement was unreasonable but the court concluded that its provisions were in fact reasonable and enforceable in the event of a breach, as was the case with Ms. Bruno.
SoHo, according to the court, as a matter of public policy was entitled to protect its proprietary property including its customers for a reasonable period. One year was not so extreme or restrictive and as such, the court found this to be a reasonable restriction. Additionally, the court concluded that the ten-mile restriction was reasonable given the facts of the case and the circumstances of the salon industry in the New Haven area. Seventy-five percent of SoHo’s clients lived within the ten-mile radius and the company had an interest to protect its proprietary property within that area. The court also noted that there were three hundred to four hundred salons located in non-restricted areas within a thirty-minute drive from the women’s homes. Two of the women testified that a thirty-minute drive was acceptable and the court did not believe that this amounted to an unreasonable hardship. This finding demonstrated that the provisions of the non-compete did not overly restrict the women’s ability to pursue their profession or find new employment at a salon that would not violate the covenant.
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