Home Funding Group, LLC v. Kochmann, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41376
Home Funding Group, LLC was a New York corporation with primary business operations in Connecticut that engaged in the residential mortgage brokerage business. The company employed Mr. Nicholas Kochmann and Mr. Patrick Dougherty in its New Jersey office. They worked at-will for the company from January 2004 to May 1, 2006, and July 18, 2006, respectively. The company had both employees sign an Employment Agreement that contained non-compete and non-solicitation clauses to protect Home Funding’s business interests.
The employees later signed an “Invention Assignment Agreement” stating that Home Funding was the sole owner of any invention connected to their employment and that it would maintain full intellectual property rights. The agreement stated that Connecticut law would govern any legal disputes and litigation in state and/or federal court. Both employees signed a new restrictive covenant in March 2006 that amended and superseded the 2004 Employment Agreement.
Misters Kochmann and Dougherty both voluntarily terminated their employment with Home Funding and Hamilton Financial, a direct competitor in the mortgage broker industry, hired them shortly thereafter. Home Funding sued its two former employees for breach of the non-compete agreements and requested they be enjoined from further employment with Hamilton Financial.
The Court’s Decision
Misters Kochmann and Dougherty asserted that the agreements were not legally binding on them because they lacked valid consideration, claiming that continued employment is inadequate consideration for a covenant executed after the start of employment. The federal court sitting in Bridgeport, Connecticut rejected this argument and held that the agreements were properly executed, contained adequate consideration, and were binding upon the parties.
The former employees argued that Connecticut law requires an employer to promise something different from what it is already obligated to do when it wants to modify/amend a restrictive covenant with one or more of its employees. The court however applied Home Funding’s legal assertion that at-will employees may be terminated at any time at the employer’s discretion and thus continued employment amounted to adequate consideration to support a valid non-compete agreement.
The court noted that in this case, Home Funding had the burden of proof at trial to demonstrate that the agreement was correctly executed and enforceable. Home Funding was able to provide such proof and the federal court held in its favor. Had Misters Kochmann and Dougherty not been at-will employees however, the court would have likely held that the agreement did not have the requisite consideration and could have invalidated the agreement in its entirety.
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.