Posts tagged with "competitor"

Court Amends Time Restriction for Engineering Firm Non-Compete Agreement

Maintenance Technologies International, LLC v. Vega, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 136

Maintenance Technologies International, LLC (MTI) was a Milford, Connecticut-based company that offered highly specialized engineering maintenance services to clients.  The company employed Mr. Daniel Vega as an engineer from February 25, 2002, to October 7, 2005.  His responsibilities for this position included conducting vibration analysis, infrared thermography, motor testing, and laser alignment.  He signed a covenant not to compete as part of his employment agreement with the company.

The restrictive covenant prohibited Mr. Vega, for a period of two years following termination, from engaging in competing business activities within one hundred fifty miles of MTI’s current principal place of business.  The agreement further stated that he could not own any stock in a competing business located within one hundred fifty miles of MTI’s principal place of business.

Breach of the Employment Agreement 

Mr. Vega informed his superiors that he would be voluntarily terminating his employment with the company due to family related issues and his personal ambition to finish his master’s degree in theology.  Once he quit MTI however, he began to work for Schultz Electric Co., a competing company with major offices in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New Jersey.

MTI’s management interpreted this move as a violation of the non-compete agreement executed when Mr. Vega’s employment with the company started and sued him in Connecticut state court.  The company requested that the court enforce the provisions of the restrictive covenant in order to prevent any further violations of the agreement.  The court found in favor of MTI, granted the company’s request for an injunction, but amended the time restriction to be only one year, instead of the two-year period as stipulated in the agreement.

The Court’s Decision

In reaching its decision, the court assessed whether MTI had a legitimate interest that needed protection and whether the restrictions in the non-compete agreement were reasonable in scope.  The court recognized that the company spent a great deal of resources on training its employees and this created a valid interest according to the court.

Furthermore, the employees were on the front lines with regard to the business relationships with MTI’s customer and had direct access to proprietary and confidential information.  The court held that a company’s employees and customer relationships are its most valuable assets and are worthy of protection under Connecticut law.  Injunctive relief, therefore, was reasonably necessary for the fair protection of the employer’s business interests.

Next, the court examined whether the specific restriction contained in the agreement were reasonable in scope.  The court held that they amounted to a reasonable and legitimate restriction of Mr. Vega’s ability to work.  They provided an adequate amount of protection to MTI while not overreaching and unnecessarily restricting Mr. Vega’s ability to secure future employment.  The limitations still allowed many viable career options for Mr. Vega.

The court did however slightly amend the time restriction.  It was concerned that the full two years could prove to be “somewhat inequitable” and reduced the restriction to one year, instructing the parties that they could submit arguments prior to the expiration of the one year regarding a potential extension to the full two years as stipulated in the covenant not to compete.

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.

Role of Consideration in a Connecticut Non-Compete Agreement

J. M. Layton & Co. v. Millar, 2004 Conn. Super LEXIS 2226
Case Background

Mr. Reid Millar worked at J. M. Layton & Co., a Connecticut commercial insurance brokerage firm, for close to twenty years until he voluntarily terminated his employment on December 3, 2003.  During his career at Layton, Mr. Millar developed and maintained client relationships and the company even sent him to seminars in Florida on how to engender customer loyalty.  In January 1994, the company’s ownership transferred to an ‘Employee Stock Option Plan” scheme wherein Mr. Millar and the other employees became the new owners of the brokerage firm.  Mr. Millar signed an employment agreement later that year in August.

Mr. Millar signed this agreement in response to a memo from the company’s president stating, “The value of the stock in the company would increase when all employees/shareholders signed employment agreements”. The employment agreement contained non-compete and non-solicitation clauses prohibiting Mr. Millar from performing any service provided by Layton for a period of two years to any entity or person that was a client of Layton in the two years prior to termination.

Four years later, in 1998, the employee-owners sold the firm to SIG Acquisition Co. for $5.59 million.  Mr. Millar terminated his employment on December 3, 2003 and began to work for a competitor, Shoff Darby, soon after this decision.  Several clients made the switch with Mr. Millar and he provided them with services they previously received from Layton.  Layton sued Mr. Millar to enforce the terms of the restrictive covenant to which Mr. Millar presented a defense that there was not adequate consideration for the agreement to be enforceable.

The Court’s Decision

The court found in favor of Mr. Millar and held that the agreement between Layton and himself lacked the adequate consideration required to make the covenant legally binding on the signatory parties.  The court rejected Layton’s contentions that continued employment and increased value of stock in the firm were adequate forms of consideration for the agreement.

Consideration is a crucial contract law principle wherein each party must receive a benefit and/or a detriment from the agreement to make it legally valid and enforceable.  In the absence of consideration, an executory promise is generally unenforceable.  Courts have determined that continued employment alone is not adequate consideration for a restrictive covenant.  Past decisions have permitted it to qualify as adequate consideration when it accompanied by another defined benefit such as a change in compensation.

Likewise, the court held that the “increase in stock value” argument was without merit and did not constitute adequate consideration.  There was a timeline disconnect with the issuance of the stock, the employment agreement, and any increase in value that prevented adequate consideration in this form.  Mr. Millar received the stock seven months prior to signing the employment agreement and the increase in its value (if any) occurred four years after the agreement’s execution.

These components lacked a coherent connection that would unite them in a manner as to represent the adequate consideration needed to make the agreement enforceable.  The court concluded that the possible increase in stock value was far too “imprecise, indefinite, and self-serving, to be adequate consideration” and it denied Layton’s request for enforcement of the non-compete agreement.

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.

Non-Compete Agreements in the New Haven Salon Industry

Sabatasso v. Bruno, 2004 Conn. Super. LEXIS 899
Case Background

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-compete 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.

Breach of the Non-Compete Agreements

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’s Decision

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.

Reasonable Restrictions 

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.

 

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.

Court Enforces Non-Compete for Breach Within the Courier Services Industry

Express Courier Systems, Inc. v. Brown, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3784

Express Courier Systems, Inc. was a company that provided courier services to large hospitals, laboratories, and other medical facilities throughout New England, New York, and New Jersey.  The company provided high-efficiency route planning, dispatch services, monitored courier performance, and analyzed customer feedback.  One of the company’s biggest accounts was with Stamford Hospital with whom it had a contract since 2000.  Express Courier generally recruited its couriers through Contractor Management Services, LLC (CMS), an independent third-party human resources firm. Express Courier employed Misters Seymour Brown, Chip Joseph, and Moses Stephenson as independent contractors from 1999, 2002, and 2005 respectively, as couriers in connection with its contract with Stamford Hospital.

Violating the Employment Agreements

In December 2005, the company required that these employees register and become members of CMS if they wished to continue to provide services as independent contractors.  As part of the registration process with CMS to continue their employment with Express Courier, the three employees signed non-compete agreements that prohibited them from working at a company providing the same or similar services within the “Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area of the Eastern Seaboard” to an entity that was a client in the preceding six months for a one-year period following termination.  Additionally, the agreements stated that Express Courier was entitled to injunctive relief in the event of a breach of the non-compete agreements.

Stamford Hospital informed Express Courier in September 2006 that it was terminating its services except for those associated with the hospital’s laboratory.  At the same time, Misters Seymour, Joseph, and Stephenson informed Express Courier that they had accepted positions with Xerox.  The employees said that the offers were “too good to refuse” and that their last days would be September 30, 2006.

All three men began to work for Xerox on October 1, 2006 where their positions were very similar to their previous ones at Express Couriers and they were paid to perform very similar services.  Express Courier saw these actions as clear violations of the non-compete agreements and sued its three former employees in Connecticut state court where it sought an injunction enforcing the provisions of the restrictive covenants.

The Court’s Ruling

All three defendants claimed that their work as Xerox employees was vastly different from the services they provided as Express Courier employees but the court rejected this argument and concluded that they were performing the same services as they had done while still employed by Express Couriers.  The court established that there was a clear breach of the agreements’ provisions but next had to determine if the provisions were in fact reasonable, a requirement for enforcement under Connecticut law.

The restrictive covenants, according to the court provided Express Courier with a reasonable degree of protection while simultaneously not preventing the former employees from securing future employment.  The Eastern Seaboard is a large geographical area but even this restriction was severely limited by only applying to Express Courier’s clients in the six months prior to an employee’s termination.

In light of a clear breach of the non-compete agreements and a finding that they contained reasonable restrictions, the court found in favor of Express Courier and granted the company’s request for injunctions enjoining the former employees from providing services to Stamford Hospital in connection with their new employment with Xerox.

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.

Sufficient Consideration for At-Will Employees

Sufficient Consideration for At-Will Employees
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 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. 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 to 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.
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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Change in Business Services/Products Doesn’t Invalidate a Non-Compete Agreement

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.
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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