Posts tagged with "Directors"

Court Grants Legal and Equitable Relief in Breach of Non-Compete Agreement

National Truck Emergency Road Service, Inc. v. Peloquin, 2011 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2393

National Truck Emergency Road Service, Inc. (National Truck) was a Massachusetts corporation that engaged in interstate commerce by providing emergency road service to heavy and medium duty trucks and vans for local and national fleets.  The company hired Mr. Barry Peloquin on August 25, 2008, to work as a customer service representative.  The next day, the parties executed a non-compete agreement that prohibited Mr. Peloquin, for five years following termination, from working at a competing company within five hundred miles of the company’s headquarters located at 320 Main Street, Southbridge, MA.

The agreement also stated that Mr. Peloquin was obligated to return any company property upon termination and contained a non-disclosure provision.  Most importantly however, the covenant not to compete stipulated that in the event of a breach, National Truck would be entitled to “remedies allowed by law and equity”, therefore permitting National Truck to receive monetary damages and injunctive relief.

National Truck terminated Mr. Peloquin on October 20, 2009 and he soon found employment with a competing company in Connecticut and began servicing National truck’s customer YRC.  The company sued Mr. Peloquin for illegally appropriating company lists and other protected intellectual property in conjunction with violating the non-compete agreement executed by the parties.

The company asked the court to enforce the provisions of the non-compete and to order Mr. Peloquin to return all proprietary documents he took home during his employment with National Truck.  The court found in favor of National Truck and granted both equitable and legal relief, although the injunction only addressed returning.

The Court’s Decision 

The court heard expert witness testimony and concluded that National Truck had $32,493.00 in damages directly attributable to illegal competition from Mr. Peloquin.  The company experienced an unusual and dramatic drop off in business from YRC commencing shortly after Mr. Peloquin’s termination.  Mr. Peloquin’s action created adverse financial consequences for National Truck, visible in the company’s lost profits and incurred expenses.

While damages are not generally awarded in cases involving breach of a non-compete agreement, the agreement itself specifically stipulated that the employer (National Truck) would be entitled to them should the employee (Mr. Peloquin) violate the covenant.  The court awarded National Truck the $32,493.00 in damages plus attorney’s fees and court costs.

The court was only willing to grant a portion of the injunctive relief sought by National Truck.  It ordered that Mr. Peloquin return all National Truck documents within thirty days and abide by the non-disclosure clause.  The court’s ruling however did not prevent his further employment with his current company because the court concluded that National Truck did not present adequate evidence to show that Mr. Peloquin violated the non-compete since litigation began or that he was likely to do so in the future.  Without demonstrating the imminent threat of irreparable harm, National Truck was not entitled to injunctive relief with this specific matter.

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 Denies Enforcement Due to Inconsistencies & Absence of Valid Contract

Luongo Construction & Development, LLC v. Keim, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1182

Luongo Construction & Development was a limited liability corporation organized under Connecticut law with headquarters in Wallingford, CT that was engaged in the modular home industry.  The company employed Mr. Melvin Keim at its office and allegedly executed a “Non-Compete Agreement” with him on March 15, 2006.

The agreement prohibited Mr. Keim from competing with Luongo by engaging in the modular home industry within fifty miles of Wallingford, CT for a period of five years following his termination.  Luongo brought an action against Mr. Keim to enforce the provisions of the non-compete agreement when he began to work for another company in the same industry.

The Employment Agreement

The court rejected Luongo’s request for injunctive relief and enforcement of the agreement because it concluded that there was no valid or enforceable contract executed by the parties.  Luongo submitted the non-compete agreement to the court in two forms: first as an attachment to its application for preliminary injunctive relief (hereafter referred to as “Attachment”) and then as “Exhibit A” for evidence during the hearings regarding its application for an injunction (hereafter referred to as “Exhibit”).

The court noted that while the documents had similarities, there were many significant differences.  Firstly, the court identified that the documents were both photocopies since the originals could not be located, they were generic agreements that did not specifically mention Mr. Keim’s name, were dated March 15, 2006, and bore the same three signatures (Mr. Michael Luongo, Mr. Keim, and Mr. Robert G. Wetmore, the witness and Commissioner of the Superior Court).

The court went on to identify the numerous differences between the two documents and concluded that they were material differences that substantially affected the nature of the agreement’s obligations and validity.  The following differences were cited as damaging to the agreements’ integrity and enforceability: Attachment contained a different provision concerning working for a competing business, Attachment prohibited engagement in the “financial planning business” while Exhibit prohibited engagement in the “modular home business”, and the documents had significant drafting differences with respect to its provisions and formatting”.  Furthermore, the court noted that the parties were never in each other’s presence to actually witness the other party sign the agreements.

The Court’s Analysis and Decision

After an in-depth analysis of the agreements and taking testimony from both side, the court held that there was not a valid and legally enforceable contract executed by the parties.  The court specifically stated that “The inconsistency of these two agreement also militates toward the court’s finding that there is insufficient evidence to support a probable cause finding of a bona fide agreement signed by the parties”.

In order for parties to create a valid contract, there has be an offer and acceptance between the parties based on a mutual understanding of the terms and obligations.  Courts have long held that mutual assent or a meeting of minds is required for a valid and legally binding contract.  In this case, the court concluded that there was not an enforceable employment contract between the parties and subsequently denied Luongo’s request for injunctive relief to enforce the provisions of the non-compete agreement.

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.

Breach and Irreparable Harm Required for Enforcement of Non-Compete Agreement

Opticare, P.C. v. Zimmerman, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 759

Opticare, P.C. was a company engaged in the business of offering optometry and ophthalmology services to patients.  A sister company, Opticare Eye Health Centers, Inc. was created in 1995 to provide management services to Opticare, operate an ambulatory surgical center, and own/operate retail eye-wear stores.  Opticare employed Dr. Neal Zimmerman as an ophthalmologist specializing in vitreoretinal surgery from April 1984 to November 10, 2006.  He signed several employment agreements with Opticare during his time as an employee with the company and each one contained a non-compete clause that would become effective upon Dr. Zimmerman’s termination.

The restrictive covenant stated that Dr. Zimmerman was prohibited for eighteen months after his termination from offering medical services at a competing company located with a restricted area that was a hexagon ranging from fifteen to thirty miles from where he practice his profession.  The non-compete agreements also specified that Dr. Zimmerman was required to provide one year notice of voluntary termination if he intended to continue to practice medicine in the state of Connecticut.

On September 6, 2006, Dr. Zimmerman provided a sixty-day notice of voluntary termination to Opticare’s management and shortly thereafter, five other physicians tendered their resignation from the company.  He began providing ophthalmological services on January 2, 2007 at a new office located in Prospect, Connecticut, a mere four miles from Opticare’s office in Waterbury and clearly within the prohibited area according to the non-compete agreement.  He testified that approximately 50% of his current patients were former patients of Opticare, his former employer.  Opticare sued Dr. Zimmerman for breach of the non-compete agreement and asked the court to grant injunctive relief by enforcing the restrictions enumerated in the agreement.

The Court’s Decision

After weighing the evidence presented by the parties, the court held in favor of Dr. Zimmerman and concluded that the non-compete agreement was not enforceable.  Dr. Zimmerman admitted he violated the agreement based on the face value of its terms but raised questions regarding the legality of the covenant and argued that he was not obligated to refrain from further activities at his new practice.  The court weighed the evidence to evaluate whether Dr. Zimmerman’s breach of the agreement had any negative impact on Opticare’s business operations or that the company had incurred irreparable harm.

It ultimately found that Opticare failed to present sufficient evidence to prove that it experienced either of these detriments and the court noted that Opticare was “still in business and there was no showing that the business is close to ruination or has been permanently harmed in any way”.  Breach alone, according to the court, is insufficient to demonstrate that an injunction is necessary.  A moving party must demonstrate breach and incurred or imminent irreparable harm in order to be successful with a request for injunctive relief.

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 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.

A Quick Guide to Separation Agreements and Severance Packages

Separation Agreements

Today’s report on the lagging unemployment numbers serves as a stark reminder that the state of the economy, though on the upturn, continues to move at a slow pace and that unemployment is a very real problem facing too many people.  Attorneys in our Westport office continue to see a high number of Separation Agreements and severance packages by employees who have been laid off.  What those employees should know is that experienced employment law attorneys, such as those at Maya Murphy, P.C., can review those agreements to negotiate an enhancement or increase of the benefits received.

Because there is no such thing as a standardized severance package, each and every term is crucial and should be carefully scrutinized.  As such, no employee should feel obligated to sign a Separation Agreement and return it to his or her employer without subjecting it to further review and negotiation by employment attorneys with a wide breadth of knowledge in the field.

Severance Packages 

Severance pay refers to a voluntary offer of payment from an employer to an employee who has recently been laid off.  No law requires an employer to offer a terminated employee a severance package.  However, employers offer severance packages, among other reasons, to maintain goodwill with past and future employees, to prevent employees from appropriating trade secrets, customer lists, and other proprietary information, and to ensure that employees refrain from engaging in professional associations with competing companies or businesses, or “non-competition agreements,” a separate issue on which Maya Murphy attorneys are well-versed.

It is crucial to remember that the time in which to respond to and agree to a severance agreement can be very limited, often to no more than one or two weeks, meaning it is in a terminated employee’s best interest to consult with an attorney as soon as possible after receipt of an agreement.

In sum, it is vital to have an attorney experienced in employment law take the lead on reviewing your Separation Agreement, negotiating with your company or business, and vigorously advocating on your behalf.  Should you be confronted with a Separation Agreement, contact an attorney at our Westport office at 203-221-3100.

Enforcing a Non-Compete Agreement in a Medical Partnership

Fairfield County Bariatrics and Surgical Associates, P.C. v. Ehrlich, 2010 Conn. Super. LEXIS 568
Employment Background

Doctors Neil and Craig Floch created Floch Surgical Associates in 1999 in Norwalk, Connecticut to provide medical and surgical services to patients.  They decided to gear their practice toward bariatric surgery and hired Dr. Timothy Ehrlich, a board-certified general surgeon and graduate of Louisiana State University School of Medicine, in 2002.  He was granted surgical privileges at Norwalk Hospital and St. Vincent’s Hospital (in Bridgeport, CT) and operated as the only member of the medical group to perform bariatric surgeries exclusively.  On January 1, 2006, the two Floch doctors and Dr. Ehrlich formed Fairfield Bariatrics and Surgical Associates, P.C. (FCB).

Each doctor became a third shareholder in the professional corporation and signed identical employment agreements that outlined the compensation schedule, termination protocols, and included a non-compete agreement.  The non-compete prohibited each doctor, for two years after termination, from practicing general medicine/surgery within fifteen miles of FCB’s main office in Norwalk and barred performing bariatric procedures at hospitals located in Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, Danbury, and Bridgeport.

Doctors Neil and Craig Floch voted to terminate Dr. Ehrlich in July 2009 and notified him of the decision in a letter dated July 30, 1999.  They justified his termination by claiming that he repeatedly “misrepresented the group” and had lost his surgical privileges at Norwalk Hospital due to non-compliance with the hospital’s Trauma Service requirements.

Violating the Restrictive Covenant

Dr. Ehrlich proceeded to form his own limited liability company, Ehrlich Bariatrics LLC, on October 22, 2009 and opened offices in Waterford and Trumbull.  Both of these municipalities are located outside of the prohibited area created by the non-compete agreement but he also continued to perform operations at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Bridgeport, an activity expressly prohibited by the restrictive covenant.

FCB sued Dr. Ehrlich in Connecticut court and requested that the court enforce the provisions outlined in the non-compete agreement dated January 1, 2006.  The court found in favor of FCB, determined that Dr. Ehrlich had violated a valid non-compete agreement, and enforced the provisions of the covenant not to compete.

The court stated that the challenging party (Dr. Ehrlich for this case) bore the burden of proof to demonstrate that the agreement was unenforceable.  He asserted that he had not been properly terminated and that the agreement itself was unreasonable, and therefore unenforceable.  The court rejected both of these arguments and concluded that the agreement was valid and enforceable.

Improper Termination Argument

Dr. Ehrlich advanced the unconvincing argument that he was the victim of improper termination because the shareholders meeting at which the vote was taken to terminate his employment was not properly noticed pursuant to the corporation’s by-laws.  He essentially contended that the “lack of notice renders his termination a nullity”.

The court however disagreed with Dr. Ehrlich because a physician whose termination is being voted on is not entitled to cast a vote.  The lack of voting power for this matter meant that his presence was not required and he was not entitled to notice of the special shareholders meeting where the vote was taken.  The court ultimately concluded that Doctors Neil and Craig Floch had taken the proper and necessary steps in accordance with the corporation’s by-laws to terminate Dr. Ehrlich’s employment with FCB.

Unreasonable Provisions Argument

Next, Dr. Ehrlich unsuccessfully contended that the agreement contained unreasonable provisions and therefore the court was not obligated or permitted to order its enforcement.  Discerning the reasonableness of a non-compete agreement required the court to balance the competing needs of the parties as well as the needs of the public.

Furthermore, the challenging party must show that the provisions are unreasonable in scope.  First, the court established that FCB did in fact have a legitimate business interest that necessitated protection.  The company was entitled to protect potential new patients within a reasonably limited market area.  FCB was only concerned with future patients and did not seek to prevent Dr. Ehrlich from providing follow-up services to current or past patients.

Enforcing the Non-Compete Agreement

Next, the court addressed and cited a variety of case law that showed Connecticut courts’ history of enforcing non-compete agreements when they protect against “something other than mere competition”, including the use of customer lists, impaired of purchased good will, confidential data/trade secrets, use of information concerning potential clients in a limited area, or some other advantage the former employee acquired while working for the plaintiff company.  The court found that Dr. Ehrlich had greatly benefitted from his association with FCB and that his continued actions would negatively affect the reputation and business operations of his former employer.

Lastly, the court took time to address the differences between non-compete agreements for an employer-employee relationship and those for partnerships.  It held that since there was not unequal bargaining power or impaired ability to earn a living, the provisions were not unreasonable in scope.

The court noted that Dr. Ehrlich’s offices in Trumbull and Waterford did not violate the agreement and there were numerous hospitals located outside the prohibited area where he could find employment as a board certified surgeon specializing in bariatrics.  He had actually received encouragement from several doctors to apply for privileges at permissible hospitals, including the Hospital of St. Raphael in New Haven.

In light of Dr. Ehrlich violating a legally binding non-compete agreement that protected a legitimate business interest, the court ordered the enforcement of the restrictive 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.

Four-Prong Test Applied to Enforce Non-Compete Provision in a Franchise Agreement

Money Mailer Franchise Corporation v. Wheeler, 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2260
Case Details

Mr. Douglas Wheeler entered into a Franchise Agreement with Money Mailer Franchise Corporation on February 28, 2003, wherein he was assigned a mailing territory comprised of thirteen zip codes in Fairfield and New Haven counties.  Money Mailer was a business that franchised a system of providing direct mail order advertising and related services.  The Franchise Agreement contained a non-compete covenant.

The non-compete prohibited Mr. Wheeler from engaging “in any Competitive Activities with the Territory [his thirteen zip codes] or within the territory of any other “Money Mailer” franchise then in operation” for a period of two years following termination.  This essentially obligated Mr. Wheeler to not engage in any competing business enterprise within fifty miles of any Money Mailer franchise.

Mr. Wheeler sold his franchise to Mr. Javier Ferrer on October 31, 2007 for $130,000.  He executed an additional non-compete agreement in connection with this transaction wherein he promised not to compete for three years following the closing of the deal.  In February 2008, he began to work as an Independent Contractor for Direct Advantage, a direct competitor engaged in the same business(es) as Money Mailer.

Money Mailer sued Mr. Wheeler for breach of the Franchise Agreement and requested that the court enforce the provisions contained in the non-compete agreement.  Mr. Wheeler acknowledged that he was involved in the exact same business addressed and prohibited in the non-compete agreement and admitted to soliciting several of Money mailer’s previous and current customers.

The Court’s Decision

The Connecticut state court granted Money Mailer’s request for injunctive relief and ordered the enforcement of the restrictive covenant.  The court stated that the purpose of injunctive relief was to preserve the status quo of the parties until the case was definitively decided.

It further noted the relevant standard of review for granting a request for an injunction and specified four factors: 1) no adequate remedy at law, 2) plaintiff would experience irreparable harm if the request was not granted, 3) plaintiff was likely to prevail on the merits of the case, and 4) an injunction would sustain the balance of the parties’ equities.  The court concluded that Money Mailer’s case met all of these requisite factors and its complaint warranted relief in the form of a temporary injunction.

The court concluded that an injunctive order was necessary to balance the parties’ interests during the legal proceedings and that the temporary injunction would essentially restore the parties to their relative positions before the alleged violation of the non-compete agreement.  Money Mailer was able to demonstrate that Mr. Wheeler’s actions had a detrimental impact its business interests.

Additionally, the court found that Money Mailer was likely to prevail on the merits of its complaint, specifically citing that Mr. Wheeler’s own testimony provided abundant evidence of activities that should trigger the enforcement of the restrictive covenant.  For these enumerated reasons, the court granted Money Mailer’s request for an injunction restraining Mr. Wheeler from further violations of the non-compete provisions contained in the Franchise Agreement executed between the parties in 2003.

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.

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990

Being laid off from a job is enough of a confusing and disheartening experience.  Adding to the complexity of severance packages and Separation Agreements is the potential for an age discrimination claim, a prospect that companies go to great lengths to prevent.  It is not infrequent for companies to lay off senior workers in favor of younger employees who will cost less to the company. In doing so, companies may open themselves up to an age discrimination claim.

If you believe that you have been laid off due to your age, it is vital to explore your options before signing the Agreement, as a signature often means a release of all potential claims against your employer. The employment attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. have experience in these types of claims and can take the lead in reviewing and negotiating a Separation Agreement.

The Older Workers Benefit Protection Act

In response to a 1989 landmark Supreme Court decision, Congress passed the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act of 1990 (“OWBPA”), requiring that a Separation Agreement contain certain provisions and amending the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (“ADEA”), which prohibits employers from discriminating against employees 40 years of age or older, to include employee benefits. Specifically, the statute gives a terminated employee a time period in which to review the Agreement before signing and the opportunity to rescind approval of the Agreement subsequent to signing.  It ensures that no employee is pressured into signing legal waivers of their rights under the ADEA.

Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) website (http://www.ct.gov/chro/site/default.asp) as well as the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s site (http://www.ct.gov/chro/site/default.asp) provide valuable information and resources on the topic of age, and other types, of discrimination.

In addition, the attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive employment experience and are ready to assist with any issues relating to employment contracts, severance packages, and potential discrimination claims.  Should you have any questions, please contact the Maya Murphy office located in Westport at 203-221-3100.

Three-Year Restriction Found Unreasonable in CPA Non-Compete Agreement

Haims, Buzzeo & Co. v. Wikstrom, 2003 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2539
Case Background

Ms. Nancy Wikstrom owned a certified public accounting firm, Wikstrom & Company, which she sold to Haims, Buzzeo & Co. (HBC) on January 1, 2001.  The purchase agreement outlined the obligations of the respective parties and contained a non-compete covenant.  Ms. Wikstrom was to stay on as an employee of HBC, continuing to work as a certified public accountant (CPA) and she agreed to bring her clients’ business to the firm.

The non-compete agreement prohibited her, for a period of three years following termination, from soliciting clients and engaging in competing business activities within the city of Stamford, Connecticut.  In exchange for these covenants, Ms. Wikstrom was to receive employment, $30,000 monthly payments to begin on January 1, 2010, and compensation for the sale of her former company’s good will and stock.

The merger of the two accounting firms did not go very well and Ms. Wikstrom left HBC in March 2002 due to dramatic differences in business personality and management style.  She proceeded to start her own accounting firm, the Wikstrom Group, located in Stamford that provided the same accounting services as HBC.  HBC interpreted these actions as clear violations of the non-compete agreement and sued Ms. Wikstrom in Connecticut state court for breach of the restrictive covenant.

The company specifically claimed that she had “actively and purposefully tried to induce her former clients to come with her to the new accounting practice she created, and otherwise attempted to hinder and damage the plaintiffs in their practice”.  Ms. Wikstrom however claimed that the agreement was unenforceable and that she did not violate any legally binding clauses contained in the purchase and employment agreements.

The Court’s Decision

The court ultimately denied HBC’s request for an injunction preventing further violations of the non-compete agreement and concluded that the agreement was in fact unenforceable.  It reached this decision based on several factors: 1) HBS had failed to demonstrate it was likely to succeed on the merits of the case and 2) the company failed to prove that it had incurred irreparable harm because of Ms. Wikstrom’s actions.  After examining the facts of the case and the provisions of the non-compete agreement, the court held that injunctive relief was inappropriate and HBC was not entitled to an injunction restraining Ms. Wikstrom’s business actions.

Reasonability and Enforceability of the Restrictions

The company was not able to meet the burden of proof required to demonstrate to the court that it was likely to succeed on the merits of the case.  Most notably, the court addressed the reasonability and enforceability of the restrictions contained in the restrictive covenant.  The geographical limitation was reasonable in scope but this was not true for the three-year time restriction.

This, according to the court, was unreasonable because Ms. Wikstrom had been practicing as a CPA for over thirty years, had many long-standing loyal clients, and needed income from her chosen profession to sustain herself.  The three-year period was too long, in the opinion of the court, and unnecessarily restricted her business actions and ability to pursue her occupation.

Furthermore, HBC did not demonstrate that it had incurred irreparable harm or that it was likely to do so in the future.  The only clients that left HBC were those that were clients of Wikstrom & Company prior to the merger of the two accounting firms.  The court noted that those clients would actually be harmed if an injunction was granted and held that its denial was the only way to maintain the status quo between the parties.

By denying the request for an injunction, the court permitted HBC and Ms. Wikstrom’s new company to carry on their business activities as they had been doing the previous eighteen months (since Ms. Wikstrom voluntarily terminated her employment with HBC).

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.

When an Employee Refuses to Sign a Restrictive Covenant

Restrictive Covenants

The concept behind restrictive covenants is simple – employees agree that for a reasonable period of time following the termination of employment with their employer, they will refrain from competing with that employer.  So long as the temporal and geographic restrictions are reasonable and so long as the restriction is not harmful to the employer or against public policy, restrictive covenants are generally enforceable.  But what happens when an employee refuses to sign a restrictive covenant? Can an employee be fired for failing to do so?

Courts, including Connecticut, are split as to this particular issue. One position taken by courts is that because the essence of at-will employment is the ability of an employer to fire an employee at any time, for any reason, an employer has the right to terminate an employee for refusal to sign a non-compete.  Conversely, some jurisdictions have held that employees who are terminated for refusing to sign a non-compete may maintain a wrongful termination cause of action against their employers.

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.