Posts tagged with "employment law lawyer"

3 Fairfield Students Promise Legal Action for Discrimination

FAIRFIELD — Three minority students at Fairfield High School – arrested after a brawl last February in the school’s parking lot –plan to sue the town, claiming they were singled out for arrest because of their race and ethnicity. Continue Reading

Deliberate Indifference Required for School to be Liable under Title IX for Student-Student Harassment

In a New York District decision earlier this year, a student’s cause of action under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act against the Monroe-Woodbury School District was denied because it did not show deliberate indifference in response to the student’s claim of student-to-student sexual harassment.[1]

Parents on behalf of their fifteen year old daughter brought suit against Monroe–Woodbury Central School District pursuant to Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, alleging that she was deprived of an educational environment free from sexual harassment as required by federal law.

Beginning in January 2010, when she was in the eighth grade, the student was subjected to teasing, taunting, and physical bullying by other students, which she reported to her guidance counselor.  She was sexually assaulted by a male classmate who requested a handjob and subsequently ran her  hands over the genital area of his pants and attempted to shove her hands down his pants.[2] As a result of the incident, the student alleges that she was subjected to more taunting and name-calling by other students and in response began to engage in self- injurious behavior by cutting herself. When she began attending Monroe–Woodbury High School in September, another student and friend of the first continued to harass her and in November sexually assaulted her by pinning her against a locker and pushing his hands down her pants and blouse, touching her genital area and breast.[3]  The student began missing school frequently to avoid continued harassment.  At some point she confided in her guidance counselor that her absenteeism and self-injurious behavior was the result of the persistent teasing and the two incidents of sexual assault by her classmates.[4]

The School District recommended that she attend the GO Program, an out-of-district academic program, to which her parents agreed. After her first day there, CF reported to her parents that she was uncomfortable with this placement because the students there were “in many cases, not attending their regular high schools due to serious disciplinary records and incidents.”[5] When her parents again met with the principal, they requested that their daughter be transferred to another public school to continue her high school education.  The principal refused saying there were no other options besides the GO program.[6]

The parent brought suit alleging the school failed to: (1) initiate an investigation upon the parents’ verbal complaint; (2) conduct a prompt, equitable, and thorough investigation of the charges; (3) ensure that immediate corrective action be taken, including subjecting the offending individuals to appropriate disciplinary measures; and (4) inform CF of her right to pursue legal remedies.

Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that “[n]o person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.” 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)[7]. Title IX contains an implied private right of action for plaintiffs who bring suit against educational institutions that receive federal funding, and liability may be imposed upon a school district if it is found to be in violation of this law.

Title IX funding recipients may be held liable for student-on-student harassment if the plaintiff can establish damages only where the school district: (1) was deliberately indifferent; (2) to sexual harassment; (3) of which it had actual knowledge; (4) that was so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it deprived the victim of access to the educational opportunities or benefits provided by the school.[8] A showing of deliberate indifference requires that the school had actual knowledge of the sexual harassment and either responded in a “clearly unreasonable manner in light of the known circumstances,”[9] or responded with remedial action only after a “lengthy and unjustified delay.”[10]

The Court rejected the plaintiff’s assertions that the GO Program was an “inappropriate” placement for her because it did not provide her with a “regular high school environment.” Saying even if it was inappropriate, “Title IX simply does not require recipient school districts to provide students with a ‘regular high school environment.’ Title IX does not prescribe any particular educational experience at all. Rather, Title IX merely prohibits schools from excluding anyone, on the basis of sex, from participating in an educational program that receives federal assistance; or denying the benefits of such programs on the basis of sex; or subjecting anyone in such programs to discrimination on the basis of sex.”[11]  Finding that the school did not cause the discrimination and the School District took some remedial action (not clearly unreasonable under the circumstances) in response to the student’s complaints, the Court dismissed the action.

Bullying and harassment in school should never be tolerated.  The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable education law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about bullying, student harassment, school liability or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist., 12 CIV. 2200 ER, 2013 WL 177911 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2013)

[2] Compl.¶¶ 10-11

[3] Compl.¶¶ 12-13

[4] Id.

[5] Compl.¶¶ 14

[6] Id.

[7] Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 20 U.S.C. § 1681(a)

[8] Williams v. Bd. of Regents of the Univ. Sys. of Georgia, 477 F.3d 1282, 1293 (11th Cir.2007)

[10] Hayut v. State Univ. of N.Y., 352 F.3d 733, 751 (2d Cir.2003)

[11] KF ex rel. CF v. Monroe Woodbury Cent. Sch. Dist.

 

Hurdles Employees Must Jump in Filing a Claim for Unlawful Discrimination

Here in Connecticut and across the nation, employees from all walks of life routinely face unlawful discriminatory practices and treatment in the workplace. Depending on the nature of the claim, he or she may file civil lawsuits under Title VII (which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, and national origin) or the Connecticut Fair Employment Practices Act (CFEPA).

However, employees need to keep in mind that before they seek recourse with the courts, they must first exhaust all of their administrative remedies. “The exhaustion requirement exists to afford the administrative agency the opportunity to investigate, mediate, and take remedial action.”[1] Failure to do so will result in dismissal of the case (see, for example, this previously-discussed case).

Furthermore, employees must pay attention to statutory time restrictions for filing administrative charges under Title VII and CFEPA:

To sustain a claim for unlawful discrimination under Title VII in a deferral state such as Connecticut, a plaintiff must file administrative charges with the EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunities Commission] within 300 days of the alleged discriminatory acts.[2] … CFEPA requires that a complainant file the administrative charge with the CCHRO [Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities] within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act.[3]

Courts are particularly cognizant of these requirements and endorse “strict adherence… [as] the best guarantee of the evenhanded administration of the law.”[4] As a result, the time bar will begin running for each individual adverse employment action against the employee on the date it occurred. Failure to timely file a claim may prevent it from being reviewed by the EEOC or CCHRO.

However, employees often endure discriminatory practices over a prolonged period of time, so even if alleged conduct falls outside of the charging period, it may be reviewable. An important exception to strict adherence is the continuing violation exception, which involves incidents occurring both within and outside the time bar. A continuing violation occurs “where there is proof of specific ongoing discriminatory policies or practices, or where specific and related instances of discrimination are permitted by the employer to continue unremedied for so long as to amount to a discriminatory policy or practice.”[5]

As an employee, it is imperative that you understand Connecticut’s statutory scheme surrounding hiring, evaluation, and termination processes, as well as the requirements for filing a lawsuit under State and federal anti-discrimination law. The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C., assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, and Westport. If you have any questions regarding any employment law matter, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] Stewart v. United States Immigration and Naturalization Service, 762 F.2d 193, 198 (2d. Cir. 1985).

[2] Flaherty v. Metromail Corp., 235 F.3d 133, 136 n.1 (2d Cir. 2000).

[3] Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-82e.

[4] Mohasco Corp. v. Silver, 447 U.S. 807, 826 (1980).

[5] Cornwell v. Robinson, 23 F.3d 694, 704 (2d Cir. 1994).

Did Basketball Powerhouse Force Coach to Resign Due to Her Disability?

Most people who have lived for some period of time here in Connecticut are amply familiar with the Lady Huskies and Lady Vols fierce decade-long rivalry. Before regular season matches discontinued five years ago, these games were the highlight of the season. Thus, fans have come to form a love-hate relationship with Pat Summitt, Head Coach of the Lady Vols who has the most wins of any (both male and female) NCAA basketball coach. It came as a shock to hear on April 18, 2012, after thirty-eight years of coaching, Summitt would be retiring from her post after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia-Alzheimer’s disease just before the start of the 2011-2012 season.[1] “I’ve loved being the head coach at Tennessee for 38 years, but I recognize that the time has come to move into the future and to step into a new role,” explained Summitt.[2]

As it turns out, the decision may not have been entirely that of Summitt.

In a recently released affidavit,[3] Summitt revealed that on March 14, 2012, she met with the University of Tennessee (UT) Athletics Director David Hart, who informed her that she would no longer be the coaching the Lady Vols. Summitt further explained:

This was very surprising to me and very hurtful as that was a decision I would have liked to have made on my own at the end of the season after consulting with my family, doctors, colleagues, and friends and not be told this by Mr. Hart. I felt this was wrong.[4]

UT spokeswoman Margie Nichols denied allegations that Summitt was forced out of her position. “It’s absolutely not true… It was Pat’s idea to become the head coach emeritus. I think she made that really clear at her press conference earlier this year.”[5] Regardless, this leaves many asking: was Summitt forced to resign because of her disability?

Under Connecticut law, employees enjoy a very comprehensive statutory scheme (found here) prohibiting discriminatory practices in the workplace. Unless the employer and its agents (such as administration or management) have a “bona fide occupational qualification or need,” it is a violation of the General Statutes:

To refuse to hire or employ or to bar or to discharge from employment any individual or to discriminate against such individual in compensation or in terms, conditions or privileges of employment because of the individual’s race, color, religious creed, age, sex, marital status, national origin, ancestry, present or past history of mental disability, mental retardation, learning disability or physical disability, including, but not limited to, blindness.[6]

In addition, employees enjoy federal protection of their rights through such legislation as the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and the Family Medical Leave Act, to name just a few.

Discrimination on the basis of disability or another protected class is unfortunately a common occurrence in the workplace, but its prevalence in no way makes it lawful. If you are a teacher, coach, or any employee and you find yourself being the target of adverse employment action on any of the above bases, it is imperative that you consult an experienced and knowledgeable school or employment law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding employment discrimination or other education law or employment law matters, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut (located in Fairfield County), by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at JMaya@mayalaw.com.


[1] “Pat Summitt’s Early-Onset Dementia: Lady Vols Coach Resigns Less Than A Year After Diagnosis.” Published April 18, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/18/pat-summitt-dementia-early-onset-alzheimers-memory_n_1435380.html

[2] Id.

[3] “Affidavit of Coach Pat Head Summitt.” Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/452632-pat-summitts-affidavit.html

[4] Id.

[5] “Pat Summitt Affidavit: Ex-Tennessee Coach Initially Felt Forced Out Of Job Over Early-Onset Dementia,” by Steve Megargee. Published October 3, 2012. Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/10/04/pat-summitt-affidavit-tennessee-coach-job_n_1937730.html

[6] Connecticut General Statutes § 46a-60(a). Accessed October 5, 2012: http://www.cga.ct.gov/current/pub/chap814c.htm#Sec46a-60.htm

NEW LAWS IMPACTING CONNECTICUT EMPLOYERS – WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

SEPTEMBER 20 @ 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM

Lauren A. Jacobson, Esq. and Robert G. Brody, Esq. will be presenting “New Laws Impacting Connecticut Employers – What you Need to Know” for the Fairfield County Bar Association.

About the Program 

The Connecticut General Assembly recently enacted a number of significant employment laws at the end of its recent regular and special sessions that will dramatically affect our state. This program will highlight the most prominent legislation passed, and provide important updates on what employers need to know. Topics will include, among others:

  • Mandatory Salary Range Disclosure for Applicants and Employees
  • New Sex Wage Discrimination Standard: Moving from “Equal” to “Comparable” Work
  • Covid Recall-by-Seniority Law for Certain Employees Laid Off in the Hotel, Food Service and Building Service Industries
  • New Workplace Rules for Regulating Recreational Marijuana
  • New Breastfeeding Guidelines
  • The CROWN ACT- “Creating A Respectful And Open World For Natural Hair” – Protection Again Discrimination Based on Race-Based Hair Styles

Click here to register. 

Secretary Sues Board of Ed for Racial Discrimination

A Bronx school employee is suing the Board of Education for $100 million for employment discrimination – saying she was denied a transfer, even though officials knew she was being harassed by her boss. Continue Reading

Dennis Coleman’s Bad Behavior Costs Board of ED $100G

The city’s Board of Education settled a discrimination and retaliation lawsuit brought by a former Bronx School Board employee last week for $100,000. Continue Reading

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

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.”
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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.

Medical Marijuana Use in the Connecticut Workplace

The news this week that Connecticut has given its approval to four medical marijuana growers in Simsbury, West Haven, Portland, and Watertown, inches the state that much closer to full implementation of the medical marijuana law that was passed in 2012.

The state also reported that over 1600 individuals in Connecticut have been certified by the state to receive medical marijuana. That number is expected to grow once production begins in earnest.

Add to that news, the recent legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington and employers now have a whole new area of law to familiarize themselves with.

It would be easy to just write some puns on the matter (and who can resist it in the headline) but it’s not such a laughing matter to employers struggling to figure out what the rules of the road are.

There are 5 important takeaways from CT’s medical marijuana laws:

Employers may not refuse to hire a person or discharge, penalize or threaten an employee based solely on such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver.

Employers may discriminate if required by federal funding or contracting provisions.

Employers MAY continue to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances, including marijuana, at work.

Employers MAY continue to discipline employees for being under the influence of intoxicating substances at work.

But employers MAY NOT presume that a drug test result that is positive for marijuana means that the employee used at work or was under the influence at work.

While it is clear under [state law] that an employer may terminate or discipline an employee who reports to work impaired on account of his/her medical marijuana use, the law does not address how employers are to treat employees … who use marijuana during non-work hours, but will inevitably fail routine drug tests administered pursuant to a drug-free workplace policy.

If the employer terminates [the employee] for violating its policy, it risks liability if she proves she was not under the influence at work. On the other hand, if it does not terminate …, the employer risks liability should [the employee] report to work under the influence and injure herself or others.

Another novel issue that is arising? Suppose your employee is on a business trip in Colorado. After a sales meeting, on the way back to his hotel, the employee legally purchases and then consumes some Rocky Mountain marijuana. Can you discipline the employee for engaging in a legal activity while on “company business”?

As long as we have disparate state laws on the subject, we’re not going to get clear cut answers. For employers, be sure to stay up to date on the developments and talk with your legal counsel about the implications for your business now that we are on the outskirts of implementation.

Credit to Daniel Schwartz of Shipman and Goodwin LLP.

If you are the victim of workplace harassment, wrongful termination, or any other labor law crime, it is imperative that you consult with an experienced employment law practitioner. The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. Please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya, Esq. He may be reached at Maya Murphy, P.C., 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at jmaya@mayalaw.com

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