Posts tagged with "Employment Contract"

Connecticut Non-Compete Prohibits Client Solicitation in Investment Services Industry

In Robert J. Reby & Co. v. Byrne, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2115, Mr. Patrick Byrne worked at Robert J. Reby & Co., a financial firm in Danbury, Connecticut, as a registered investment advisor from June 2005 to July 2005.  The company advises high net worth individuals and families in the areas of trusts, wealth management, and taxation.  Mr. Byrne signed an employment contract with Robert J. Reby & Co. wherein it contained a non-compete agreement that stipulated he be prohibited from soliciting the company’s clients or disclosing any of its confidential information in the event of his termination.  Following Mr. Byrne’s short employment with Robert J. Reby & Co. he began to work at Aspetuck Financial Management, LLC, a wealth management firm based in Westport.   Robert J. Reby & Co. alleged that Mr. Byrne solicited its clients for his new firm, Aspetuck, in direct violation of the non-compete agreement.  Mr. Byrne countered that the provisions of the non-compete were unreasonable in the sense that it placed an excessive restraint on his trade and prevented him from pursuing his occupation.

The court held that the non-compete agreement between Mr. Byrne and Robert J. Reby & Co. contained reasonable terms and was enforceable.  It failed to see any merits in Mr. Byrne’s claim that the agreement was too broad and created an insurmountable occupational hardship.  The provisions of the agreement only restricted a very small segment of Mr. Byrne’s occupational activities.  The terms he agreed to only prevented him from soliciting the specific and limited group of people that were clients of Robert J. Reby & Co..  The court held that the covenant was not a pure anti-competitive clause because it did not prevent him from engaging in the investment services industry as a whole.  This limited scope with regard to the prohibition levied upon Mr. Byrne caused the agreement to be reasonable and therefore enforceable.

The court also took time to discuss the public policy behind finding the non-compete agreement enforceable and establishing the legitimacy of the agreement.  Companies, according to the court, have a legitimate interest in protecting their business operations by preventing former employees from exploiting or appropriating the goodwill of its clients that it developed at its own, and not the employees’, expense.

If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment contract, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Keywords: anti-compete, excessive restraint, financial form, goodwill, investment adviser, investment service industry, legitimacy, new firm, occupational hardship, prohibition, pursuing occupation,  former employer, previous employer, job responsibilities, binding, classified information, commercial operations, competing, compete, directly, employer’s interest, indirectly, internet-based, protect, reasonable, restricting disclosures, restricting disclosures, similar products, burden of proof, direct competitor, disclosure of trade secrets, employment contract, enforceability, geographic limitations, headquarters, improper competition, injunction, management responsibilities, non-compete covenant, radius, sales representative, time limitations, unreasonable provisions, attorney, attorneys, employment attorneys, bonus, bonuses, companies, company, connecticut, customary practices, Darien, departing employees, directors, employee, employer, employment law, employment at-will, at-will, legal counsel, executives, New York, Fairfield, Fairfield County, Norwalk, Westport, Weston, Easton, Bridgeport, Stamford, Stratford, severance package, Greenwich, harassment, discrimination, hiring, human resources, job offers, lawyer, lawyers, leaving company, leverage, Maya Murphy, negotiated, negotiating severance packages, negotiation, New Canaan, non-compete, non-competition, non-disparagement, non-solicitation, offer, offer agreement, offer letter, P.C., payroll, position, represent, representation, salary, salaries,  senior management, manager, separation agreement, severance agreements, severance letters, severance package, termination, vacation, vesting, vesting of stock options, law firm, public interest, monopoly, start own business, voluntary, voluntarily left, mediation, burdensome, excessive, geographical, occupation, practice, territorial, violation, restrictive, proprietary knowledge, scope, narrow, broad,

Court Uses Connecticut Law to Supersede Massachusetts Law in Application of Non-Compete Agreement

In Custard Insurance Adjusters v. Nardi, 2000 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1003, Mr. Robert Nardi worked at Allied Adjustment Services’ Orange, CT office beginning in September 1982 as the vice president of marketing, overseeing the adjustment of claims for insurance companies and self-insurers.  The company had Mr. Nardi sign non-compete and confidentiality agreements as a term of his employment.  The agreements established that he could not solicit or accept claims within a fifty-mile radius of Allied’s Orange office for a period of two years following his termination.  The agreements further specified that the names and contact information of Allied’s clients were the company’s confidential property.  The choice of law provision stated that Massachusetts law would be controlling (Allied had its headquarters in Massachusetts).  On September 1, 1997, Allied sold its business and all its assets, including its non-compete agreements, to Custard Insurance Adjusters.  Mr. Nardi became increasingly worried about future employment at Custard when the company restructured its compensation format, allegedly decreasing his annual income by 25%.  At this point, Mr. Nardi began to inquire about employment at other companies and in particular contacted Mr. John Markle, the president of Mark Adjustment, with whom he had a previous professional history.  He also arranged meetings between Mr. Markle and four other current Custard employees to discuss switching companies.  While the companies are competitors in the insurance industry, Mark’s business was restricted to the New England region while Custard operated nationally.  Custard terminated Mr. Nardi and asked the court to enforce the non-compete agreement.

The court first sought to tackle the issue of the choice of law provision since it designated Massachusetts law as controlling but this lawsuit was brought in Connecticut state court.  The court asserted its authority over the issue and case because it could not ascertain any “difference between the courts of Connecticut and Massachusetts in their interpretation of the common law tort breach of fiduciary obligation brought against a former officer of a corporation”.  The court emphasized that above all else, the legal issue at hand was that of contractual obligations and a company’s business operations.  It asserted its authority in this respect by stating it believed “that the Massachusetts courts interpret the tort of tortious interference with contractual and business relationships the same way our [Connecticut’s] courts do”.  Additionally, the court cited that the application of Massachusetts law would undermine Connecticut’s policy to afford legal effect to the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act (CUTPA) and Connecticut Uniform Trade Secrets Act (CUTSA), two-state statutes used by Custard to sue Mr. Nardi.

Next, the court addressed the enforceability of the non-compete agreement signed by Mr. Nardi and Allied.  Mr. Nardi contended that the provisions of the agreement were only binding upon the signatory parties (himself and Allied) and that Custard lacked the authority to enforce its provisions.  He asked the court to deny Custard’s request to enforce the non-compete because it was “based on trust and confidence” between the signatory parties and “was thus not assignable”.  The court rejected this train of thought because the non-compete explicitly contained an assignability clause and it held that the non-compete covenant was properly and legally transferred to Custard under Massachusetts law.

Mr. Nardi based a substantial portion of his defense on the claim that Custard violated, and therefore invalidated, the agreement when it modified his compensation format.  He alleged that he was the victim of unjustified reductions in his professional responsibilities and compensation following Custard’s acquisition of Allied in 1997.  Mr. Nardi however was still an executive at the new company despite a reduction in rank and he himself had expressed excitement about becoming an executive at a national, instead of a regional, company.

The court ultimately found the non-compete to be valid and enforceable, therefore granting Custard’s request for injunctive relief.  It assessed the facts of the case and Mr. Nardi’s current position to amend the time restriction of the agreement, however.  Taking into account that he was starting a family and had a young child in conjunction with estimates that the full restrictions could amount to a 60-70% loss of business for Mr. Nardi, the court reduced the time limitation from two years to six months.  The court concluded that while the provisions were reasonable at face value, they could have unforeseen consequences that would have severely impaired Mr. Nardi’s ability to make a living in order to provide for his family.

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.

Is a Bonus a ‘Wage’?: Not According to a Recent Connecticut Supreme Court Decision

Is a Bonus a ‘Wage’?:  Not According to a Recent Connecticut Supreme Court Decision

Are you currently employed in Connecticut and have been promised a year-end bonus or had been promised a year-end bonus and never received it?   A recent Connecticut Supreme Court decision may affect the amount of protection you are afforded under Connecticut law if your employer defaults or has defaulted on that promise.

This recent case addressed the question of whether a year-end bonus promised by an employer is considered a ‘wage’ for the purposes of the Connecticut Wage Act.  Answering that question in the negative, the Supreme Court denied a Connecticut employee the ability to proceed with a wrongful withholding of wages claim that he had initially pursued after his employer failed to pay out what the employee had thought to be a promised year-end bonus.

Under this decided Supreme Court case, the amount of liability your employer will face for failing to pay out a promised year-end bonus will hinge upon how your employer defined the conditions under which a bonus would be paid.  If the conditions are specific goals set for you as an individual employee (e.g. a certain number of billable hours need to be reached), then under the Connecticut Wage Act your employer will be required to pay out that bonus as wages in accordance with their promise.  If they do not, you are afforded the protections of the Wage Act and can bring an action against your employer for wrongfully withholding wages.  If successful, it is possible that you could receive, by way of damages, twice the full amount of your bonus and any attorney fees incurred in pursuing the action.  In addition, due to the serious nature of such an offense, your employer could potentially be fined and/or imprisoned for their actions.

Unfortunately, however, if your employer was more ambiguous about the requisite conditions for a bonus, under this new case law, it is likely that they will be able to avoid liability for wrongfully withholding your wages.  If that is the case, while you can still pursue other causes of action against your employer, you will not be able to receive twice the full amount of your bonus or attorney fees.

The events of this recently decided case unfolded as follows:   At the beginning of the employment relationship between an employee and a Connecticut law firm, the parties agreed that the employee’s annual compensation would consist of a base salary and a year-end bonus.  The employment contract called for this year-end bonus to be based on factors such as seniority, business generation, productivity, professional ability, pro bono work, and loyalty to the firm.  The employee remained at the firm for several years and each year he received his salary and the promised year-end bonus.  When the employee left the firm he discovered that he was not going to receive the year-end bonus for that last year of his employment.  To try and recover what he had thought was a promised bonus; the employee commenced an action against his employer alleging breach of contract and wrongful withholding of wages.

The trial court dismissed the wrongful withholding of wages claim, determining that the year-end bonus was not ‘wages’ as defined by the Connecticut Wage Act.  The breach of contract claim, however, went to trial.  The Trial Court found in favor of the employee and awarded him damages in the amount of his year-end bonus plus interest.  On appeal, the Appellate Court upheld the Trial Court’s finding as to the breach of contract claim but reversed the Trial Court’s decision to dismiss the wrongful withholdings of wages claim.  The Appellate Court determined that the structure of the agreement as to the year-end bonus meant that the bonus could have been classified as ‘wages’ under the Connecticut Wage Act and therefore held that the employee could proceed with his wrongful withholding of wages claim.

The issue of the wrongful withholdings of wages claim was appealed to the Connecticut Supreme Court where the Court decided that because the employee’s bonus was discretionary, (not ascertainable by applying a formula) it did not constitute ‘wages’ under the Connecticut Wage Act.  The employee, therefore, was not able to proceed with his wrongful withholding of wages claim.

Although the employee did recover some monetary damages through his breach of contract claim, it was not anywhere near as much as he would have received if he had been able to proceed with his wrongful withholding of wages action.

It is quite possible that after the release of this opinion many employers will revisit their bonus policies to make the language a little less precise or announce that their bonuses are discretionary in order to take advantage of the protections afforded under this recent case.  It is important, therefore, that as an employee you are aware of what kind of bonus you have been promised so that you know how strongly to rely on that promised bonus and what options are available to you if the employer refuses to pay.

If you have already been denied your year-end bonus and believe that it was a discretionary bonus, there are still ways in which you can potentially recover that lost income, such as the breach of contract claim pursued by the employee in this recent case.  If you have been denied a year-end bonus that was not discretionary and you had met the required conditions for receiving that bonus, you are still protected under the Connecticut Wage Act and can bring a wrongful withholding of wages action against your employer.  This action may allow you to receive damages in the amount double your bonus and possibly receive any incurred attorney fees.

If you have any questions regarding employment and labor law in Connecticut, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He can be reached at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com. Mr. Maya handles cases involving employment contracts, separation agreements, non-competition agreements, restrictive covenants, union arbitrations, and employment discrimination cases in New York and Connecticut.

Keywords: annual compensation, bonus, breach of contract, Supreme Court, Connecticut Wage Act, employment contract, liability, non-compete, non-solicit, wage, wages, discrimination, harassment, sexual discrimination, sexual harassment, gender, gender discrimination, gender inequality, gender equality, equal pay, equal opportunity, civil rights, sexual orientation, work discrimination, workplace discrimination, harassment in the workplace, harassment at work, workplace harassment, discrimination in the workplace, discrimination law, age discrimination, sex discrimination, touching, inappropriate, women discrimination, women, pregnancy, racial discrimination, abuse, sexual harassment attorney, employment, employment discrimination, hiring discrimination, job discrimination, disability discrimination, wrongful termination, employment, work, workplace, employer, employee, supervisor, hostile work environment, retaliation, EEOC, CHRO, Civil Rights Act, quid pro quo harassment, Title VII, bullying, bullying workplace, gender workplace, harassment policy, workers rights, attorneys at law, employee rights, employee lawyer, discrimination lawyer, employment lawyer, employment law, New York law, Connecticut law, employment attorney, employment law attorney, employment law lawyer, discrimination attorney, harassment attorney, labor attorney, labor lawyers, lawyer, lawyers, attorney, attorneys, civil rights attorney, find a lawyer, new york attorney, new york lawyer, lawyers in nyc, lawyers in Connecticut, employment labor, unemployment, lawyers in ct, ct lawyers, free consultation, find an attorney, legal attorney, legal advice, lawyers Connecticut, attorneys Connecticut, Connecticut law, lawyers Fairfield, lawyers Westport, new haven attorney, Bridgeport attorney, Hartford attorney, Stamford attorney, employment NY, law office, Connecticut law office, New Canaan, New Haven, Bridgeport, Stamford, Darien, Greenwich, Westport, Weston, Fairfield, Maya Murphy

Legitimate Signature is Required for Enforcement of Non-Compete Agreement

In Stay Alert Safety Services, Inc. v. Fletcher, 2005 Conn. Super. LEXIS 1915, Mr. Christopher Fletcher began to work at United Rentals, Inc., a North Carolina company in the traffic safety and control industry, starting in February 2003.  He signed an employment agreement upon accepting the job offer wherein the agreement contained a non-compete provision.   According to the restrictive provisions, he was prohibited from working at a competing company located within two hundred miles for a period of two years after his termination.  The company felt it needed to protect its legitimate interests due to Mr. Fletcher’s access to its customer lists, cost information, and pricing schemes.  Mr. Fletcher’s employment was terminated on June 8, 2004, and he proceeded to start a new company, Traffic Control, with his wife.  He essentially performed the same services as he had previously in connection with his employment at United Rentals.

Stay Alert Safety Services, Inc., a company with headquarters in Greenwich, Connecticut, acquired United Rentals in January 2005 and its legal department concluded that Mr. Fletcher and other employees’ non-compete agreements were assignable and could be transferred to the possession of Stay Alert.  Stay Alert sued Mr. Fletcher in Connecticut state court for breach of the non-compete agreement and asked the court to enforce the restrictive covenant that he had signed with United Rentals.

The Superior Court sitting in Bridgeport found in favor of Stay Alert and ordered the enforcement of the non-compete agreement.  It held that the agreement’s provisions were reasonable given the circumstances of the case and that Stay Alert was entitled to injunctive relief because of the contractual breach.  Mr. Fletcher argued that he had not actually signed the non-compete agreement and therefore its restrictions were not applicable.  The court rejected this argument and noted that Mr. Fletcher’s signature appeared on page six of the employment agreement right above his typed name.  He claimed that it was not his signature so the court called in a handwriting expert to ascertain whether it was in fact his signature.  The expert, Dr. Marc Seiter, concluded that it was Mr. Fletcher’s signature and the court agreed with this finding.  A signed employment agreement coupled with reasonable provisions meant that the restrictive covenant was valid and enforceable.

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 questions regarding non-compete agreements or any employment matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Policy of Enforcing Connecticut Non-Compete Agreements to Protect Employer’s Interests

Torrington Creamery, Inc. v. Davenport, 126 Conn. 515 pertains to a dispute regarding a non-compete agreement between an employer and employee in the dairy products industry in 1940.  While this case is by no means recent, it is a seminal case that lays the groundwork for the policy of enforcing non-compete agreements in Connecticut on the grounds of protecting the employer’s interest.  Specifically, this is one of the first Connecticut cases to address the enforceability of a company’s non-compete agreements when another company acquires it.

The High Brook Corporation employed Mr. Preston Davenport as a farm manager and superintendent beginning in 1932 at its Torrington, Connecticut location.  The company produced and distributed dairy products in the towns of Torrington, Litchfield, Winsted, Thomaston, New Milford, New Preston, and Greenwich, all towns in western or southwestern Connecticut.  High Brook changed its name to The Sunny Valley Corporation in March 1938 and on April 15, 1938, had Mr. Davenport sign an employment contract.  The contract specified that Mr. Davenport would receive a fixed compensation with no set duration and that he would be subject to several restrictive covenants.  A non-solicitation clause prohibited Mr. Davenport from soliciting, either directly or indirectly, Sunny Valley or its successor’s customers for a period of two years.  Meanwhile, a non-compete clause prohibited Mr. Davenport from engaging in the dairy production and distribution industry in the towns where Sunny Valley operated.  Another clause in the employment agreement stipulated that a court’s invalidation of a portion of the agreement would not affect the legally binding nature of the other provisions.  Sunny Valley sold its operations and assets to Torrington Creamery, Inc. in October 1938 and the company discharged Mr. Davenport from employment on October 18, 1938.  He proceeded to start his own dairy production and distribution business in February 1939 in the towns of Torrington and Litchfield.

Torrington Creamery sued Mr. Davenport to enforce the duration and geographical limitations of the restrictive covenant he had signed with Sunny Valley Corporation.  The Superior Court in Litchfield County found in favor of Torrington Creamery, Mr. Davenport appealed the decision, and the case went on to the Connecticut Supreme Court where it affirmed the lower court’s decision.  The Supreme Court found the terms of the non-compete agreement to be reasonable and necessary for the protection of Torrington Creamery’s business interests.  The notion of “protecting an employer’s business interests” is a driving force and major policy concern when deciding whether to enforce a non-compete agreement under Connecticut law.  Restrictive covenants become valuable assets of the employer and courts generally hold that the employer is entitled to the right to safeguard these assets.  Equally as important, the court held that the employer benefits contained in a restrictive covenant can be assigned to a purchaser in the event of the sale of the business and its assets.  Thus, when a company acquires another company, it gains the legal authority to enforce the acquired company’s valid non-compete agreements.  Courts view restrictive covenants as valuable business assets that provide for the necessary protection of the employer and any successor company.

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 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.

Keywords: assets, assigned to purchaser, business assets, business interests, diary industry, sale of business, sold operations, enforcement, franchise, injunctive relief, obligations, prohibitions, valid, attempted solicitation, solicitation, refuse to enforce, reasonably necessary, former employer, previous employer, job responsibilities, binding, classified information, commercial operations, competing, compete, directly, employer’s interest, indirectly, internet-based, protect, reasonable, restricting disclosures, restricting disclosures, similar products, burden of proof, duress, direct competitor, disclosure of trade secrets, employment contract, enforceability, geographic limitations, headquarters, improper competition, injunction, management responsibilities, non-compete covenant, radius, sales representative, time limitations, unreasonable provisions, attorney, attorneys, employment attorneys, bonus, bonuses, companies, company, connecticut, customary practices, Darien, departing employees, directors, employee, employer, employment law, employment at-will, at-will, legal counsel, executives, New York, Fairfield, Fairfield County, Norwalk, Westport, Weston, Easton, Bridgeport, Stamford, Stratford, severance package, Greenwich, harassment, discrimination, hiring, human resources, job offers, lawyer, lawyers, leaving company, leverage, Maya Murphy, negotiated, negotiating severance packages, negotiation, New Canaan, non-compete, non-competition, non-disparagement, non-solicitation, offer, offer agreement, offer letter, P.C., payroll, position, represent, representation, salary, salaries,  senior management, manager, separation agreement, severance agreements, severance letters, severance package, termination, vacation, vesting, vesting of stock options, law firm, public interest, monopoly, start own business, voluntary, voluntarily left, mediation, burdensome, excessive, geographical, occupation, practice, territorial, violation, restrictive, proprietary knowledge, scope, narrow, broad, anti-compete, future clients, adequate consideration, competing businesses, confidentiality agreement,  conflict of interest, defense, fraud, consideration, oral representations, written approval, commercial, compensation, clients, contracts, duration, area, successor

When is A Non-Compete Geographical Limitation Unreasonable?

In Braman Chemical Enterprise, Inc. v. Barnes, 2006 Conn. Super. LEXIS 3753, Ms. Valerie Barnes worked as an exterminator for Braman Chemical Enterprises, Inc. from November 5, 1990, to April 26, 2006.  On October 24, 1990, in preparation for Ms. Barnes beginning to work, the parties executed a non-compete agreement titled “Restriction Against Other Employment After Termination of Work With Braman Chemical Enterprises, Inc.” where it stated that Ms. Barnes was prohibited from working at any branch of a pest control business within fifty miles of the Hartford City Hall for a period of six months.  The company provided pest control services to commercial and residential customers in approximately ninety percent of Connecticut’s towns and cities.  Ms. Barnes worked the majority of her career with Braman servicing the area defined as east of New Haven, west of Guilford, south of Meriden, and north of the Long Island Sound.  She received training for her operator’s license while employed by Braman but obtained her supervisor’s license on her own time and at her own expense.

On April 26, 2006, Ms. Barnes voluntarily terminated her employment at Braman and formed a Connecticut limited liability company called “Bug One, LLC” based in Hamden that provided substantially identical services as her previous employer.  Braman sued Ms. Barnes in Connecticut state court to enforce the non-compete and enjoin her from further violations of the restrictive covenant’s provisions.  Ms. Barnes asserted that the geographical limitation in the agreement was unreasonable and provided an unnecessary amount of protection for Braman.

The court found Ms. Barnes’ argument to be meritorious and denied Braman’s request to enforce the agreement.  A non-compete agreement is analyzed in its entirety but a single unreasonable provision can be sufficient to invalidate the entire agreement and prevent enforcement.  Connecticut courts have traditionally tended to apply greater scrutiny to a non-compete agreement that creates a general restriction on a geographical area than agreements that focus simply on doing business with the employer’s clients.  Employers are legally allowed to protect themselves in a “reasonably limited market area” but may not overreach to the degree that the restriction prevents the former employee from practicing his or her trade in order to make a living.  While Braman contended that the geographical limitation was reasonably tailored to meet its legitimate business needs, the court held that the provision went well beyond the “fair protection of plaintiff’s [Braman’s] interests”.  The geographical area of fifty miles from Hartford City Hall placed an unreasonable restraint on trade for Ms. Barnes.  The court notes that the prohibited area covered roughly two million potential customers and an area of 7,850 square miles, covering parts of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New York.  To put this in perspective, the entire state of Connecticut is only 5,018 square miles.  This area as defined in the non-compete agreement was thus an unreasonable limitation and sufficient cause to invalidate the entire 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.

Connecticut Federal Court Applies Louisiana Law to Enforce Non-Compete to Protect Confidential Information

In United Rentals, Inc. v. Myers, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25287, United Rental, Inc. was a Delaware corporation with principal business operations in Connecticut that employed Ms. Charlotte Myers in its Shreveport, Louisiana office from May 20, 2002, to March 7, 2003.  She signed an employment agreement with United Rentals on her first day of work that contained non-compete and confidentiality clauses that prohibited employment for a period of twelve months at any competing company located within one hundred miles of a United Rentals location where she worked.  The restrictive covenants further stated that the state and federal courts in Fairfield County, Connecticut would have jurisdiction in the event that legal proceedings ensued.  Upon her voluntary termination from United Rentals, Ms. Myers began to work at Head & Enquist Equipment, Inc., a competitor, at an office located approximately ten miles away from the United Rentals’ Shreveport office.  United Rentals contacted her to remind her of the restrictive covenants and her obligations under them but she continued her employment with Head & Enquist.  United Rentals sued Ms. Myers in Connecticut federal court for breach of the non-compete and confidentiality agreements and sought a court injunction to enforce their provisions.  The court found in favor of United Rentals and granted its request to enforce the non-compete agreement.

Ms. Myers presented various arguments to the court to persuade it to deny enforcement of the agreement, but the court ultimately found in favor of United Rentals.  She argued that Louisiana law should be controlling in the legal dispute, and further asserted that Louisiana law does not permit “choice of law” clauses in employment agreements.  The court investigated Ms. Myers’ contention and explained that the proper procedure to determine if a “choice of law” clause is permissible is to consult the law of the state being selected, in this case, that of Connecticut.  Connecticut law however cannot be the “choice of law” state when there is another state with a “materially greater interest…in the determination of the particular issue”.  The court held that Louisiana did in fact have a greater interest in the dispute and thus Louisiana law was applicable and controlling for the case.

Although Louisiana law is less than favorable to United Rentals with regard to “choice of law” clauses, it still recognizes that parties are entitled to a remedy in connection with a violation of a confidentiality agreement “if the material sought to be protected is in fact confidential”.  Courts generally view the disclosure of confidential information as sufficient evidence for a company to establish that it would suffer irreparable harm if an injunction were not granted.  During her employment with the company, Ms. Myers was exposed to and had access to United Rentals’ trade secrets, contract details, customer data, financial information, and marketing plans/strategies.  The court held that this was clearly sensitive and confidential information, the content of which entitled United Rentals to protection in the form of a court-ordered injunction.

The court held for United Rentals despite applying Louisiana law in response to Ms. Myers’ justified assertion that this specific “choice of law” provision was not valid.  Although Louisiana law shuns “choice of law” provisions in non-compete agreements, it does support injunctions when it is necessary and proper for a company to protect its confidential business information.

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.

Connecticut Court Uses Oral Agreement to Substantiate Consideration for Non-Compete Agreement

In Command Systems, Inc. v. Wilson, 1995 Conn. Super. LEXIS 406, Mr. Steven Wilson worked for Command Systems, Inc. where he received a promotion to the position of Vice President and Secretary of the company on June 26, 1990.  In September of that year, management informed Mr. Wilson that he would receive a bonus contingent on the company achieving certain sales goals.  The company did achieve the specified goals in December 1990 but the company informed Mr. Wilson that he needed to sign an agreement containing a contractual non-compete clause before he could receive the bonus.  The parties signed an agreement on December 21, 1990, that contained several restrictive covenants.  Mr. Wilson voluntarily terminated his employment with Command Systems a few years later and formed a new company, the Vertex Company.  The creation of the new company and Mr. Wilson’s actions are the basis of Command’s complaint regarding the breach of the December 1990 non-compete agreement.  Mr. Wilson requested summary judgment on the matter because the agreement lacked consideration and was therefore not legally binding on the parties.

The court had to answer the basic question of whether the 1990 agreement with the contractual restrictions was a valid and enforceable contract.  The court ultimately denied Mr. Wilson’s request for summary judgment and found that the agreement between the parties had adequate consideration and constituted an enforceable contract.  The agreement stated that the consideration for the agreement was “Wilson’s appointment as Secretary of Command”, but he had held this title for several months prior to the non-compete agreement.  The court recognized this but looked beyond this clause of the agreement to identify adequate consideration in relation to Mr. Wilson’s promotion.

The court looked to affidavits provided by Mr. Caputo, Command’s president, to find adequate consideration for the agreement.  The court did not find any factual holes in Mr. Caputo’s statements and had no reason to believe that they contained any misrepresentations, omissions, or lies.  The affidavits repeatedly referenced several conversations between Mr. Caputo and Mr. Wilson, especially an oral agreement wherein Mr. Wilson agreed to sign a non-competition restriction in exchange for being promoted to Secretary of the company.  Mr. Caputo stated, “The decision to make Wilson Secretary of the plaintiff corporation was based on his agreement to sign the contract of employment” in December 1990 that contained the restrictive covenants.  Command provided Mr. Wilson with the non-compete contract when he received the paperwork that officially named him Secretary, although the parties did not sign the agreement until several months later in December.  The contract contained language and clauses that highlighted that Mr. Wilson was being made Secretary of the company in exchange for the execution of an employment agreement restricting future employment activities.  The court used the information from Mr. Caputo’s affidavits to hold that there was an understanding between the parties at the time of Mr. Wilson’s promotion that it was contingent upon the execution of a non-compete agreement.  The court interpreted the oral agreement and the contract presented at the time of promotion as contemporaneous evidence that the non-compete agreement was in fact supported by adequate consideration.  Mr. Wilson failed to meet the requisite burden of proof in demonstrating that the agreement lacked consideration and the court denied his request for summary judgment.

If you have questions regarding non-compete agreements or any employment matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

How to Test a Non-Compete for Reasonableness and it’s Overall Enforceability

THE TEST FOR REASONABLENESS/ENFORCEABILITY OF A NON-COMPETE

The application of basic contract principles is just one step in the process of enforcement of a covenant not to compete. Once the court has determined that the parties properly executed a non-compete agreement, it must analyze the enforceability of the agreement’s provisions. Connecticut has developed a five-prong test to assess the enforceability of a restrictive covenant. It examines the reasonableness of the restrictions to determine how enforcement would impact the relevant parties: the employer, the employee, and the public at large. When determining the enforceability of a Connecticut non-compete agreement, the court will look to:

  1. the reasonableness of the time restriction,
  2. the reasonableness of the geographical restriction,
  3. the degree of protection afforded to the employer,
  4. whether it unnecessarily restricts the employee’s ability to pursue his career, and lastly
  5. the degree to which it interferes with the interests of the public.

This five-prong test used by Connecticut courts is disjunctive rather than conjunctive, meaning that a non-compete agreement can be deemed unenforceable and invalidated if it negatively impacts even a single factor. A non-compete agreement is analyzed in its entirety when a court is determining its enforceability, but a single unreasonable provision can be sufficient to invalidate the entire agreement and preclude enforcement. While certain factors may assume greater importance, the legal analysis of non-compete agreements in Connecticut shows that each factor is essentially on equal footing and of equal weight when deciding the enforceability of a restrictive covenant.

The factors used in the application of the five-prong reasonableness test can be divided into two categories: enumerated restrictions and subsequent consequences of the express restrictions. Time and geographical restrictions (factors #1 and #2) generally constitute crucial provisions in the non-compete and establish the parameters for what post-termination activities are and are not permissible for the employee. Analysis of the remaining factors involves an assessment of the consequences of the enumerated restrictions and how they impact the parties and the public.

A. Temporal Limitation

The pertinent time/duration will prohibit an employee from engaging in certain enumerated activities for a specific period of time. The reasonableness of a particular time restriction will vary from case to case and will depend heavily on the particular facts of the case and the specific characteristics of the position and industry. A fifteen-year restriction may be appropriate and enforceable in one case while it would be excessive and unreasonable in another. The nature of the industry/profession that is the subject of a non-compete agreement is critical to determining whether a contractual time restriction is reasonable and enforceable. For example, restrictive covenants in the funeral services industry can be longer due to the familial return rate and referral characteristics while courts have held that restrictive covenants in the software industry must be shorter because of the constant and “rapid changes in the software industry.”

The reasonableness and enforceability of the time restriction can also be a function of the enumerated geographical restriction. The interrelationship between these two aspects of a covenant not to compete can be very important in determining its overall enforceability. A time restriction that on its face seems unreasonable may in fact be completely reasonable when you take into account the geographical restriction. A lengthy time restriction on competing activities can be reasonable under circumstances where it is paired with a narrow geographical restriction. A seemingly unreasonable time restriction may be deemed reasonable under the circumstances when “read in conjunction [with] the narrow geographic restriction” contained in the agreement.

B. Geographic Limitation

For many employees, the geographical restriction can be more problematic and of greater concern than the time restriction. The courts in this state have repeatedly asserted that “the general rule is that the application of a restrictive covenant will be confined to a geographic area which is reasonable in view of the particular situation.” The court analyzes the geographic restriction in the same manner as it evaluates the time restriction- the geographic terms are analyzed in the context of the specific facts of the situation and the particular industry in which the employer and employee are engaged. Non-compete agreements executed under Connecticut law can be invalidated when a geographic restriction is so broad that it severely limits or prevents a former employee “from carrying on his usual vocation and earning a livelihood, thus working undue hardship.”

A valid restrictive covenant will clearly define the geographic restriction prohibiting the employee upon termination from engaging in competing business activities within a specific area. The total lack of specified geographical restriction creates an unintended consequence in the form of a global restriction on competition, an effect that the courts consider “patently and grossly unreasonable.” Courts are likely to invalidate a non-compete agreement for lack of a defined geographic restriction regardless of whether that characteristic of the agreement was intentional or purely by mistake. If intentional, a global restriction on competition is unconscionable and unenforceable under Connecticut law. Courts will also refuse enforcement of such a non-compete if the lack of geographical restriction was a mistake or error in drafting and execution. Employers should not be allowed the benefit of enforcing the agreement merely because of an unintended, ambiguous clause that was the product of sloppy drafting of the agreement.

(i) Weighing Respective Consequences

A crucial component in analyzing the enforceability of a geographical restriction is the potential consequences for the employer and the employee. Employers have the right to protect themselves but not by seeking to impose excessive and unreasonable restrictions that needlessly harm or unduly restrict former employees. A court may deny enforcement when the restrictive covenant goes beyond protecting the employer’s legitimate interest in existing customer relationships and seeks to exclude all competition in a very large territory where the employer conducts or could possibly conduct business.

Geographical restrictions, regardless of duration, that go beyond what is required for fair protection of the employer are unenforceable on the grounds that they are unreasonable restraints of trade in direct contravention of Connecticut law. The availability of future employment for the former employee is a major factor in a court’s determination of the enforceability of a geographical restriction. A restriction will be upheld when the circumstances demonstrate that there is ample opportunity for the employee to obtain new employment outside of the contractually prohibited area without causing undue hardship(s).

Smaller geographical restrictions are generally easier to assess and enforce but this is not to say that a court will automatically deny enforcement of a restriction that on its face establishes a large prohibited area. Courts have enforced non-compete agreements containing a large geographical restriction clause when there are other clauses that narrow the actual prohibited area. One such case involved a restrictive covenant that prohibited competing activities for one year following termination within the area described as the “Standard Metropolitan Statistical Areas of [the] Eastern Seabord,” an area that includes metropolitan areas from Portland, Maine to Miami, Florida, and home to roughly 36% of the country’s population.

This area, at face value, is excessive and would normally be unconscionable to enforce, but the court ultimately held that the geographical restriction clause was valid and enforceable because subsequent clauses placed restrictions on the area and severely limited its impact on the employee by stating that the restriction pertained only to the employer’s clients within the six months prior to termination and on who’s account the former employee had personally worked. This was sufficient to limit the effect of the stated geographical restriction and render it enforceable in light of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the case.

When contesting the enforceability of geographical or time restrictions, the employee ultimately bears the burden of proving that a restriction is “too broad”, “unreasonable,” or “excessive.” Under Connecticut law, the challenging party bears the burden of demonstrating that the non-compete is unenforceable. The employer generally has the benefit of a rebuttable presumption that the employee must overcome to show that a restriction is unreasonable and therefore unenforceable.

C. Fair Protection to the Employer

The third prong in the test for reasonableness and enforceability of a non-compete agreement is an analysis of the fair degree of protection afforded to the employer. The courts in Connecticut have a long-standing policy of enforcing non-competes in order to protect an employer’s interests and have long recognized that a restrictive covenant is a valuable business asset that is entitled to protection. While the employer’s interests are a valid concern, their protection cannot come at a cost of occupational ruin of former employees. The general rule with regard to analyzing the fair degree of protection for the employer is that contracts in restraint of trade “should afford only a fair protection to the interest of the party in whose favor it is made, and must not be so large in its operation as to interfere with the interests of the public [and the former employee].” The court balances the equities for the parties involved in the legal action. Only after a court has identified and weighed the competing equities of the parties can it conclude that “although some hardship would result to the individual defendants [former employees] as a consequence of this injunction, it would not be greatly disproportionate to the plaintiff’s [employer’s] injury.” A court’s ruling will inevitably favor one party over the other, but this prong ensures that the unsuccessful party does not experience extreme and unduly harsh consequences.

D. The Ability to Secure Future Employment

The fourth prong in the test to ascertain the enforceability of a non-compete agreement is ensuring that the contractual provisions do not unnecessarily restrict the employee’s ability to pursue his or her career through securing appropriate employment upon termination. The general rule is that employers are legally permitted to protect themselves in a reasonably limited market area but may not overreach to the degree that the restriction prevents the former employee from practicing his or her trade in order to make a living. Connecticut courts believe the interests of the employee should also be protected and that terms of a restrictive covenant become unenforceable when they block him from “pursuing his occupation and [is] thus prevented from supporting himself and his family.” This restraint of trade is a clear violation of Connecticut law and public policy that militates against unreasonable restrictive covenants. Courts should narrowly read and interpret non-compete agreements and the clauses contained therein because “sound public policy considerations strongly militate against sanctioning the loss of a person’s livelihood.” Despite this general policy, employees remain free to covenant to refrain from competing activities in exchange for an employment benefit, a promise that is enforceable if the courts conclude that the agreement is reasonable.

E. The Public Interest

The final prong of the enforceability test is determining whether the agreement and its provisions interfere with the interests of the public. In order to be valid and enforceable, a non-compete agreement must not have a widespread detrimental effect on the public, particularly with respect to consumers. It is a fundamental tenant of Connecticut public and legal policy that agreements and specific contractual clauses cannot deny the public access to important goods or services. Therefore, the extent of the agreement’s effect on the public must be taken into account when determining whether to enforce a restrictive covenant. Courts will examine the provisions of the agreement, keeping in mind that “the determinant is not whether the public’s freedom to trade has been restricted in any sense, but rather whether that freedom has been restricted unreasonably.” Thus, a non-compete agreement may be invalidated and enforcement denied on the grounds of the public’s interests only if interference with those interests is so significant as to be classified by the adjudicating court as “unreasonable.”

One of the chief concerns with this prong of the enforceability test is preventing monopolistic activities within certain public segments of the economy. The courts have the authority to examine the scope and severity of a non-compete agreement’s effect(s) on the public as well as the “probability of the restrictions creating a monopoly in the [relevant] area of trade.” Upon examination of the facts and the possible consequences of the restrictive covenant, Connecticut courts may deny enforcement where the agreement runs contrary to public policy and the contractual restraints are unreasonable.

This enforceability test, as articulated in and enforced under Connecticut case law, is designed to protect the legitimate interests of both the employee and the employer. It is utilized in a manner that ensures that the consequences of a restrictive covenant are reasonable, appropriate for the specific circumstances, and not punitive. The enforceability test attempts to control and limit the detriments incurred by a party to the action and protect it from oppressive restrictions. In establishing enforceability, the core principle is the notion that a party should not be subject to excessive and unreasonable restrictions that were “not [designed] to protect legitimate business interests, but rather to prevent [the employee] from working for competitors.”
________________________________________________________________________________
Our employment law firm in Westport Connecticut serves clients with discrimination, non-compete, and general labor law issues from all over the state including the towns of Bethel, Bridgeport, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Easton, Fairfield, Greenwich, Monroe, New Canaan, New Fairfield, Newton, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Shelton, Sherman, Stamford, Stratford, Trumbull, Weston, Westport, and Wilton. We have the best employment and labor law attorneys in CT on staff that can help with your Connecticut or New York education issues today.

If you have questions regarding non-compete agreements or any employment matter, contact Joseph Maya at 203-221-3100 or by email at JMaya@MayaLaw.com.

Court Grants Combination of Equitable & Legal Relief for Breach of Non-Compete Agreement

In Party Time Deli, Inc. v. Neylan, 2001 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2411, Mr. Michael Neylan and Mr. Robert Goldkopf entered into an agreement on November 29, 1996, wherein Mr. Neylan agreed to purchase Party Time Deli, Inc. for $110,000.00 in addition to executing a promissory note on December 1, 1996, for the amount of $35,000.00 as consideration for Mr. Goldkopf consenting to a non-compete agreement.  The restrictive covenant identified Mr. Goldkopf as the party “primarily responsible for the day to day operation of the business known as Party Time Deli, Inc.” and prohibited him from directly or indirectly engaging in a delicatessen-type business within the City of Stamford for three (3) years following the date of closing for Mr. Neylan’s purchase of the company.  The $35,000.00 promissory note served as consideration for the covenant not to compete and was to be paid over a period of four (4) years.

Mr. Neylan failed to deliver the full amount of the promissory note to Mr. Goldkopf because he asserted that Mr. Goldkopf violated the terms of the non-compete agreement by operating the concession stand at the Stamford Yacht Club during the summer months of 1998.  Mr. Goldkopf contended that his actions did not violate the agreements between the parties because they did not specifically state whether the Stamford Yacht Club concession was covered by the covenant’s prohibitions.  He further argued that he was owed the balance of the promissory note, valued at $18,903.94 at the time of trial.  Mr. Goldkopf sued Mr. Neylan to recover the balance of the promissory note and Mr. Neyland submitted a counterclaim for lost profits associated with Mr. Goldkopf’s alleged breach of the non-compete agreement.

The court concluded that Mr. Goldkopf had indeed violated the terms of the covenant not to compete when he operated the Stamford Yacht Club concession stand during the summer of 1998 and that Mr. Neylan was entitled to the enforcement of the agreement’s terms.  While the court decided that Mr. Neylan was required to pay the balance of the promissory note that served as consideration for the non-compete agreement, that amount could be offset by the amount of profits from Mr. Goldkopf’s activities from the summer of 1998.  The court determined that Mr. Goldkopf’s unlawful activities resulted in a $25,000.00 lost profit suffered by Mr. Neylan, the amount that offset the balance of the promissory notes.  Based on the claim and counterclaim of the dispute, the court concluded that Mr. Goldkopf owed Mr. Neylan $6,096.06, an amount calculated by putting the $18,903.94 balance on the promissory note against the $25,000.00 lost profits associated with unlawful activities.

While the typical relief for a case involving an alleged breach of a non-compete agreement is an injunction (equitable relief), this case is an example where the court exercised its authority to grant both legal and equitable relief.  The court ordered the enforcement of the non-compete agreement’s provisions and also awarded damages due to moneys associated with the agreement’s consideration and profits generated from activities that violated the agreement’s terms.

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.