Posts tagged with "employment law lawyer"

Medical Marijuana Use in the Connecticut Workplace

The news 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 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.

Summary of CT Medical Marijuana Laws

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.

Considering Employer Liability

If the employer terminates [the employee] for violating its policy, it risks liability if he/she proves he/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. of Maya Murphy, P.C. at 266 Post Road East, Westport, Connecticut, by telephone at (203) 221-3100, or by email at

Americans With Disabilities Act

Defining “Disability”

State and county laws dilute the effect of disability rulings. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling that narrowed the definition of a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) will have limited use for Westchester employers struggling with the issue, a pair of lawyers specializing in employment law said.

That’s because the Empire State defines a “disability” more liberally as a medical impairment rather than the national standard that defines it as a condition that impairs at least one major life activity, such as bathing or brushing one’s teeth.

Supreme Court Ruling

Using that narrower meaning, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that an automobile plant worker from Kentucky could not be considered disabled because she failed to prove that her carpal tunnel syndrome “substantially limited” a major life activity.

“It is insufficient for individuals attempting to prove disability status under this test to merely submit evidence of a medical diagnosis of an impairment,” Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote in the court’s 18-page decision.

Ella Williams, a paint inspector at the Toyota Motor Corp. plant in Georgetown, Ky., was fired for poor attendance that she blamed on her illness. She sued Toyota in a U.S. District Court, claiming the automaker refused to provide her with an ADA-required “reasonable” accommodation from her job polishing cars on the assembly line. Her claim was dismissed by the district court but reinstated by a federal appellate court in Cincinnati.

The Supreme Court referred Williams’ case back to the appellate court for further review (Toyota v. Ella Williams, No. 00-1089).

Who will this ruling affect?

“Before the ruling, employees lost 94 percent of claims filed under ADA because they could not establish that they were disabled to the extent called for under the law. This certainly isn’t going to make it any easier for them,” said Robert Heiferman of Jackson Lewis, the employment law firm that has an office in White Plains.

“Nationally, this ruling is probably a lot more significant than it is in New York,” he said. Heiferman cited the state’s human rights law, which bars discrimination against people with disabilities, as well as the state’s disability definition, which is broad enough to include carpal tunnel syndrome.

In addition, the Human Rights Commission created by Westchester County in 2000 can take action on complaints from individuals alleging discrimination on the basis of a disability.

A lawyer with practices in New York and Connecticut says Westchester employers may benefit from the ruling, notwithstanding the state and county laws.

“For employers, the Supreme Court ruling now creates the ability to allege a new defense in ADA cases,” said Joseph Maya, whose Maya & Associates P.C. specializes in employment and labor law. The firm has offices in New York City and Fairfield, Conn.

The Impact of the Ruling Going Forward

“The Supreme Court ruling is a very significant decision that will provide strong guidance for the lower courts, administrative agencies and certainly the appellate courts in cases concerning disability and employees bringing claims against employees,” Maya said. Disability community advocates criticized the Supreme Court decision, though one advocate said the decision highlighted an issue he said merited further study.

“Part of the problem we see is that there has to be a more universally accepted definition of a disability. A very well-meaning piece of legislation has a lot of confusing language in it. It warrants a second look,” said Robert S. Cole, a principal with his wife, Susan, in Cole Communications of Eastchester, and a board member of the 26 million-member American Association for People With Disabilities, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

Fairfield County Business Journal

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment 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 age discrimination and workplace discrimination or any other employment law 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

What is a Constructive Discharge?

Employment Resignation

Hopefully, you have never been fired – that is a discharge or termination.  Sometimes, however, an employee has no reasonable alternative to quitting – that is a constructive discharge.  The involuntary nature of the employee’s “quit” may enable him or her to claim the constructive discharge as an adverse employment action so as to maintain a claim for employment discrimination.  An employee’s reasonable decision to resign because of unendurable working conditions is, for remedial purposes, equated to a formal discharge.

A constructive discharge occurs when an employer indirectly, but deliberately, makes an employee’s working conditions so intolerable that the employee is forced involuntarily to resign.  The key points of inquiry are the employer’s intentional conduct and the intolerable level of the employee’s working conditions.  The standard for evaluation is objective – how would a reasonable employee behave in the particular employee’s shoes?  Subjective feelings as to the intolerable nature of the employee’s position cannot support a finding of constructive discharge.

Establishing Constructive Discharge

In assessing a claim of constructive discharge, individual factors, standing alone, may be insufficient to carry the day.  For this reason, the pertinent conditions are aggregated since a reasonable person encounters life’s circumstances cumulatively rather than individually.  Some routine workplace events – e.g. a poor performance appraisal, lack of training, or increased job demands – are to be expected and do not support an inference that a reasonable person would be “compelled” to resign.  The standard for constructive discharge goes beyond difficult or unpleasant working conditions.

As is so often the case in employment law, the presence of a constructive discharge depends upon the circumstances of the particular employee involved.  If you feel that your employer deliberately made your work environment intolerable and that you were forced to quit, you should confer with a seasoned employment law litigator to determine your rights.

The employment law attorneys in the Westport, Connecticut office of Maya Murphy, P.C. have extensive experience in the negotiation and litigation of all sorts of employment-related disputes and assist clients from Greenwich, Stamford, New Canaan, Darien, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield in resolving such issues. If you have any questions regarding constructive discharge or other matters of employment law, please do not hesitate to contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or to schedule a free initial consultation.

A Summary of Sexual Harassment Workplace Policies in Connecticut

Unfortunately, many instances of sexual harassment in the workplace go unreported, due either to a fear of retaliation or uncertainty as to whether the conduct constituted sexual harassment.  Whatever the case, no employee should feel demeaned in any way while on the job.  The following provides an overview of the various laws and regulations concerning sexual harassment in Connecticut, and the various steps employers must take to ensure compliance with the law.

First and foremost, even before consulting an attorney, anyone with questions or concerns relating to human rights or discrimination issues in Connecticut should consult Connecticut’s Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO), which states that its mission “is to eliminate discrimination through civil and human rights law enforcement and to establish equal opportunity and justice for all persons within the state through advocacy and education.”  The site provides valuable resources and links.  With regard to sexual harassment, the site contains a step-by-step guide on what to do if you feel you have been the victim of sexual harassment.

The Commission gets its authority from Connecticut General Statute § 46a-54, which grants the Commission the authority to “require an employer having three or more employees to post in a prominent and accessible location information concerning the illegality of sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment,” and second, “to require an employer having fifty or more employees to provide two hours of training and education to all supervisory employees [ . . . ].”  The statute further provides that the training and education “shall include information concerning the federal and state statutory provisions concerning sexual harassment and remedies available to victims of sexual harassment.”

What is sexual harassment?

By way of reference, sexual harassment refers to “any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature.”

Employers with 3+ Employees

The information that is required of an employer having three or more employees includes, but is not limited to:

  • The statutory definition of sexual harassment and examples of different types of sexual harassment;
  • Notice that sexual harassment is prohibited by the State of Connecticut’s Discriminatory Employment Practices Law and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act;
  • The remedies available to a victim of sexual harassment, which can include but are not limited to:
    • Cease and desist orders;
    • Back pay;
    • Compensatory damages; and
    • Hiring, promotion or reinstatement;
  • Notice that the harasser may be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties;
  • The contact information for the CHRO;
  • A statement that Connecticut law requires that a formal written complaint be filed with the Commission within 180 days of the date when the alleged harassment occurred;
  • A large bold-faced notice stating, “Sexual Harassment is Illegal.”
Employers with 50+ Employees

An employer with fifty or more employees, in addition to the aforementioned requirements, must provide two hours of specialized sexual harassment training, which “shall be conducted in a classroom-like setting, using clear and understandable language and in a format that allows participants to ask questions and receive answers.”  The statute provides a long list of the specific topics that an employer can and should include in the training.

It is the hope that the above provides a concise, easy to understand the policies that an employer must abide by when it comes to sexual harassment.  If you feel that you have been the victim of sexual harassment, or even if you are not sure, you should consult with an attorney experienced in employment law.  The attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. regularly represent employees throughout the Fairfield County and New York City regions, and are ready to advocate on your behalf.  If you have questions or want to schedule a consultation, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. at 203-221-3100 or at

Discrimination Against Spanish-Speaking Worker

A former saleswoman for the Baccarat store on Madison Avenue was awarded $500,000 by a Federal jury after she testified that the company president complained about her Puerto Rican accent, barred her from speaking Spanish to a co-worker, and finally dismissed her from her job selling crystal and china because of her ethnic origins. Although the saleswoman, Erma Rivera, now 59, had contended that Baccarat Inc. was seeking a more youthful workforce, the jury in Federal District Court in Manhattan did not find that age discrimination played a role in her dismissal in July 1995.

Losing the job was devastating to Ms. Rivera, who joined Baccarat in October 1986 after selling Haviland porcelain for 15 years, said her lawyer, Joseph C. Maya. “She had spent 25 years of her life teaching newlyweds how to set a place setting and about fine china,” he said. “She loved the company.”

Ms. Rivera, who lives in Queens and is now employed by a department store bridal registry on Long Island, a job she struggled to find after losing her position at Baccarat, according to Mr. Maya – was unwilling to be interviewed. Her current job pays her about $21,000 a year, much less than she received at Baccarat, where her salary was in the mid-$50,000 range, her lawyer said.

Case Details

Ms. Riviera’s troubles at Baccarat did not begin until Mr. Negre was installed, her lawyer said. She testified that Mr. Negre once called her into his office and told her that he did not like her accent, Mr. Maya said.  He said that testimony at the weeklong trial showed that Ms. Rivera, the mother of five children, had an exemplary record at the store and had never prompted a complaint from a customer in her nine years on the sales force.

In a letter introduced into evidence, a former store manager, J.D. Watts, described her as “the top sales person during my three-year tenure at Baccarat.” “She is fluent in Spanish and is extremely effective when dealing with South American and other Spanish-speaking customers,” Mr. Watts wrote.

Baccarat’s lawyer, Jeffrey H. Daichman, said that Ms. Rivera was one of five employees fired at roughly the same time because the company’s new president, Jean-Luc Negre, wanted to improve the store’s performance and introduce “a more positive dynamic and energetic attitude toward dealing with customers.” Mr. Negre also made the decision to make the store more inviting by moving it a half-block to a corner site at 59th Street and Madison Avenue, Mr. Daichman said.

After being named president of the company in 1999, Mr. Negre made seven visits to the store and found the sales force sitting at desks and slow to greet customers, Mr. Daichman said. Ms. Rivera “was not singled out” and was not criticized for speaking with an accent.

National Origin Discrimination

Mr. Daichman acknowledged that Ms. Rivera was ordered to refrain from speaking Spanish to a co-worker in the presence of customers. He said the policy was instituted after a customer complained. “It’s just a matter of common sense,” he said. “If the customer is not Spanish-speaking, don’t talk another language. That’s rude.”
There was no evidence other than her own testimony about national origin discrimination. “Baccarat has a diverse sales force that includes a Brazilian employee who speaks Spanish as well as Portuguese and three sales people 50 or older,” he said.

Mr. Daichman said the company would ask the Federal magistrate who presided over the case, James C. Francis, to set aside the verdict or order a new trial. The jury found that the company discriminated against Ms. Rivera and awarded her $125,000 in compensatory damages and $375,000 in punitive damages.

The New York Times Metro Section
By Terry Pristin – February 10, 1998

Sexual Harassment Under Connecticut Law

Under the Connecticut Discriminatory Employment Practices Act, codified at Connecticut General Statute 46a-60(a)(8), it shall be a discriminatory practice “[f]or an employer [. . .] to harass any employee, person seeking employment or member on the basis of sex or gender identity or expression.  ‘Sexual harassment shall, for the purposes of this section be defined as any unwelcome sexual advances or requests for sexual favors or any conduct of a sexual nature when (A) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment, (B) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual, or (C) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment.”[1]

Sexual harassment can include actions ranging from suggestive or lewd remarks to unwelcome hugs, touches, or kisses, to retaliation for complaining about sexual harassment.  Furthermore, sexual harassment can happen by a male or a female, to a male or a female.  And the harasser does not need to be the victim’s supervisor – harassment can come from a co-worker or agent.

There are outlets in Connecticut to turn to, should you find yourself with questions about sexual harassment.  Sometimes a victim may not be sure if unwanted attention rises to the level of sexual harassment.  The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities provides valuable information on sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace, including step-by-step guides on how to proceed if you are the victim of such harassment.  If the situation requires legal action, please contact an experienced employment law attorney.

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in New York, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere in Fairfield County. We at Maya Murphy frequently litigate employment claims in both state and federal courts.  Should you have any questions about sexual harassment or any other employment law matter or to schedule a consultation, 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

[1] Conn. Gen. Stat. 46a-60(a)(8).

US Supreme Court Establishes Employer Friendly Definition of “Supervisor” for Employer Liability for Title VII Employment Discrimination

Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. (2013)

The United States Supreme Court decided two very closely watched employment law cases interpreting harassment and discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.  The first case decided 5-4 in favor of the employer, Vane v. Ball State University [1], addressed a question left open by two previous Supreme Court cases[2], who qualifies as a “supervisor” so as to hold an employer vicariously liability under Title VII for an employee’s unlawful harassment or discrimination?

Case #1

In this case, Maetta Vance, an African-American woman, was employed as a full-time catering assistant with Ball State University.  She initially filed internal complaints with BSU and charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), alleging racial harassment and discrimination by a fellow employee, Davis, a white woman and catering specialist employed in the same division as Vance.

The situation persisted causing Vance to file a lawsuit in 2006 claiming that she had been subjected to a racially hostile work environment in violation of Title VII.  While the parties agreed that Davis did not have the authority to fire, hire, promote, or transfer Vance, in her capacity as a lead caterer, Davis controlled the day to day duties of Vance.  In her complaint, she alleged that Davis was her supervisor and that BSU was liable for Davis’ creation of a racially hostile work environment.

The plaintiff, Vance, argued that a person is a “supervisor” if he/she has authority to control someone else’s daily activities and evaluate performance.  The employer argued that a “supervisor” must have more power, such as the ability to take a tangible actions including: “hiring, firing, demoting, promoting, transferring or disciplining” the employee.[3]

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an employer’s liability for harassment and discrimination depends on the status of the harasser. If the harassing employee is the victim’s co-worker, the employer is liable only if it was negligent in controlling working conditions.[4]  However, if the harassing employee is the victim’s supervisor different rules apply.

Case #2

In two companion cases from 1998, Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth and Faragher v. Boca Raton, the Supreme Court held that an employer is strictly liable under Title VII for discrimination or harassment by an employee who is a “supervisor” where the harassment amounts to tangible employment actions.

Where there is no adverse employment action, the employer is still vicariously liable for the supervisor’s hostile work environment unless the employer can establish as an affirmative defense that (1) the employer exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct any harassing behavior and (2) that the plaintiff unreasonably failed to take advantage of the preventive or corrective opportunities that the employer provided.[5]  Under this framework, therefore, it matters whether the harasser is a “supervisor” or simply a co-worker.

Writing for a five-to-four majority, Justice Alito’s opinion adopted the rule proposed by the employer, holding that for purposes of this Title VII rule, to be a “supervisor,” a person must have the power to take a “tangible employment action” against the victim.[6]

That is, he must be able to “effect a ‘significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits.”[7]  The employer was entitled to win the case because Vance had not adequately shown that the person who discriminated against her was a supervisor under the Court’s definition.


Thus, for the purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, “an employer may be vicariously liable for an employee’s unlawful harassment only when the employer has empowered that employee to take tangible employment actions against the victim,” such as significant change in employment status, responsibilities, or changes in benefits.[8]

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment 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 Title VII and workplace discrimination or any other employment law 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

[1] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

[2] Burlington Industries, Inc. v. Ellerth 524 U. S. 742 (1998), Faragher v. Boca Raton, 524 U. S. 775 (1998),

[3] 2008 WL 4247836, *12 (quoting Hall v. Bodine Elect. Co., 276 F. 3d 345, 355 (CA7 2002)

[4] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

[5] Faragher, at 807; Ellerth, at 765.

[6] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

[7] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013); Ellerth, 524 U.S. at 761

[8] Vance v. Ball State University, 520 U.S. ___ (2013)

A Woman’s Rights – 3 Who Fought Back and Won

A cleaning woman, who speaks no English, is raped by a supervisor. A plumber’s boss insists that she change into work clothes in front of male employees. A proofreader is fondled by a coworker. Other employees tell obscene jokes and make sexist remarks. All three women filed complaints with the New York City Commission on Human Rights – and won.

“Discrimination is a strange animal. So many people don’t realize they are doing it,” said Joseph Maya, the attorney who handled the three cases. “I have cases all the time where someone has been subjected to sexual harassment, one of the most traumatic experiences a person could have.”

“Even with such serious charges, often the respondents don’t think they harassed. They think theirs is a natural reaction to a woman.”

Maya said the city agency investigates every complaint, and if someone “fears retaliation, we will prosecute a retaliation complaint too.”

He said the agency also tries to get companies to implement and adopt sexual harassment policies, telling employees it won’t be tolerated.

“Companies could save thousands of dollars by establishing such policies,” said Maya.

The proofreader he represented received $44,200 from her employer. The plumber got $18,000 and a separate changing area. The cleaning woman got an undisclosed amount and all supervisors in her company were required to attend sensitivity training.

The lawyers at Maya Murphy, P.C., are experienced and knowledgeable employment law practitioners and assist clients in New York City, Bridgeport, Darien, Fairfield, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk, Stamford, Westport, and elsewhere throughout Fairfield County. Should you have any questions about sexual harassment or workplace discrimination or would like to schedule a consultation, 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

Relief For a Non-Compete Breach

Legal vs. Equitable Relief

When a party commences an action against another, it can request from the court two types of relief: legal and equitable. Legal relief typically manifests itself in the form of damages, a judgment that uses money to try to right the wrong. Equitable relief usually involves an order from the court instructing a party to perform or refrain from performing a specified activity. In cases of non-compete/restrictive covenants, the employer will typically request a court order (equitable relief) seeking to enforce the provisions of the agreement and order the former employee to cease engaging in activities that violate the agreement.

In cases involving an alleged breach of a non-compete agreement, equitable relief is the preferred and most common form of relief because the plaintiff employer claims that it has experienced irreparable harm that cannot be measured in monetary terms. Additionally, equitable relief enjoins the other party from further violations of the agreement. Thus, the court order addresses both past and possible future breaches.

Legal and Equitable Relief Awards in Court

Equitable relief is the standard for non-compete agreement cases, but Connecticut courts have, on rare occasion, awarded money damages to plaintiffs as a supplement to equitable relief. For example, in National Truck Emergency Road Service, Inc. v. Peloquin, the court ordered a former employee to return documents that were used in illegal competition, and then awarded damages to the employer for losses directly connected to breach of the non-compete agreement.

In a different case the court awarded only damages, since equitable relief was not a viable option because the non-compete agreement expired by the time the plaintiff commenced the litigation. The court held that the “plaintiff’s request for injunctive relief [had] become moot” due to the expiration, but it allowed the plaintiff to proceed with the action for money damages.

The enforcing party was permitted to introduce evidence and facts that enabled the court to calculate the lost profits directly associated with the breach of the non-compete agreement. The court ultimately concluded that the plaintiff was “entitled to recover damages from the defendant in that amount as to the proven breach of the covenant not to compete.” The court, unable to grant injunctive relief, awarded damages for the breach of a restrictive covenant to compensate for the loss suffered by the enforcing party.

Contract Modification

Under Connecticut law, in cases involving an alleged breach of a non-compete agreement, it may be possible to modify the terms of the contract so as to make an otherwise unenforceable agreement reasonable and enforceable. This results when the parties specifically state in the contract that the court has the express authority to alter its terms in order to enforce it. As another possibility, the court can apply the “blue pencil doctrine,” under which the court, without the express permission of the parties, amends the terms of the agreement to render them reasonable.

The “Blue Pencil Doctrine”

Connecticut recognizes the “blue pencil doctrine” but requires parties to submit evidence from which the court can conduct an informed analysis and establish appropriate geographic and/or time boundaries. If the parties are open to court modification of unreasonable terms to facilitate a valid and enforceable agreement, the more straightforward approach is to include contractual language and clauses in the restrictive covenant itself permitting such court action. An example of such a contractual clause is:

In the event that any provision of this Agreement is held, by a court of competent jurisdiction, to be invalid or unenforceable due to the scope, duration, subject matter or any other aspect of such provision, the court making such determination shall have power to modify or reduce the scope, duration, subject matter or other aspect of such provision to make such provision enforceable to the fullest extent permitted by law and the balance of this Agreement shall be unaffected by such validity or unenforceability.

Under this scenario, both parties consent to giving the adjudicating court the express power to modify terms of the restrictive covenant in order to make the contract, as a whole, reasonable and fully enforceable under Connecticut law.

The “Blue Pencil Rule” vs. the “Massachusetts Rule”

When determining whether to modify a geographical restriction, courts will generally subscribe to and apply either the “blue pencil rule” or the “Massachusetts rule.” These rules are divergent with respect to a court’s ability to modify geographical terms based on whether the area is divisible according to the language of the contract.

The “blue pencil doctrine” permits courts to modify geographical restrictions only when the contractual language creates several distinct areas; the “Massachusetts rule” is much more lenient and allows a court to modify the terms “even though the territory is not divisible in the wording of the contract.” Connecticut courts are more receptive to the application of the “blue pencil doctrine” and feel that the “Massachusetts rule” gives the court expansive, broad powers that, when exercised, result in courts crafting new contracts between the parties.

Connecticut follows the “line of authority which states that if the territory specified in the contract is by the phraseology of the contract so described as to be divisible, the contract is separable and may be enforced as to such portions of the territory so described as are reasonable.” One such case where the court applied the “blue pencil rule” was EastCoast Guitar Center, Inc. v. Tedesco, where the court held that the original “geographic area in the agreement [was] too broad and [was] not reasonable or necessary to protect the plaintiff’s business.”

The court dissected the contractual language pertaining to the geographical restriction and reduced it to certain enumerated counties (Fairfield, Litchfield, and New Haven) in order to make the agreement reasonable and enforceable.

Modifying Time Restrictions

Modifications to contractual time restrictions can also occur based on a contractual provision or a court’s application of the “blue pencil rule.” Connecticut courts have asserted that they may “reduce the time limitation because of the ‘blue-pencil rule’ which states that under certain circumstances, a court may enforce parts of an agreement and not others.”

In the absence of a contractual provision consenting to modifications, parties can demonstrate to the court that they are open to the possibility of the court modifying the restrictions during the litigation process. This provides the court with a certain degree of freedom to assess the current time restriction and reduce its length if the court finds it excessive and unreasonable.

Courts can simply reduce the duration of the time restriction, and may instruct the parties to submit arguments regarding a potential extension to the full contractual period of time prior to expiration of the new restriction. In the latter situation, the court will consider the specific facts of the case in determining whether it is necessary to enforce the original provision of the agreement.

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 any questions or would like to speak to an education law attorney about a pressing matter, please don’t hesitate to contact Joseph Maya and the other experienced attorneys at Maya Murphy, P.C. at (203) 221-3100 or to schedule a free initial consultation.

Violations of a Restrictive Covenant

There are various circumstances under which an individual can be found in violation of a restrictive covenant. The two most common types of activity that result in litigation are (a) the solicitation of prohibited parties in violation of the time and/or geographical restrictions and (b) the unauthorized dissemination of confidential and proprietary information belonging to the plaintiff employer.

A. Solicitation

Solicitation activities can generally be divided into two categories: direct solicitation and indirect solicitation.

Direct Solicitation

Under a theory of direct solicitation, the employer alleges that the former employee personally solicited business in violation of the covenant not to compete. The employer bears the burden of proof and must submit sufficient evidence to the court showing that the former employee knowingly took action to solicit business from prohibited parties.

Indirect Solicitation

On the other hand, cases involving the theory of indirect solicitation have a plaintiff employer that “support[s] its position that one who is not a party to a non-compete contract can be enjoined from activity prohibited by the contract where the person or entity is operating indirectly for the party to the contract.” Under this scenario, the employer alleges that a former employee induced a third party to engage in activities the employee personally was contractually prohibited from doing, using knowledge or information that the employee acquired during his or her employment with the plaintiff employer.

In order to be successful in an “indirect solicitation” claim, the employer must demonstrate that the actions the nonaffiliated parties evince “conscious disregard” of the non-compete agreement by the former employee. A court may find breach even though the employee did not personally violate its terms but instead used information to induce a third party to perform activities that would otherwise be considered a contractual breach.

Allegations of impermissible solicitation are only valid and successful if the target of the solicitation is actually a prohibited party within the purview of the terms of the non-compete agreement. There are many categories of clients or customers that may or may not be protected, a characteristic that is determined by the nature of the client or customer.

Current and Past Clients

The business sources that an employer seeks to protect with a restrictive covenant are its current and past clients. A restriction limited to the plaintiff’s current and past customers is not overly broad, unreasonable, or unenforceable under the laws of Connecticut. Current clients are easily and readily identifiable, giving courts relatively few issues with determining who falls into this class of clients. On the other hand, past customers can be a bit trickier in the sense that certain companies have very long histories, a sizable client base, extensive geographical presence, and diversified subsidiaries.

Many employers place limitations in their non-compete agreements with regard to who is protected as a “past client.” Common restrictions for defining “past clients” include establishing a period of time the client has been affiliated with the company, as well as specifying that the employee is only prohibited from soliciting those clients that he or she had a professional relationship with and on whose account the employee worked. Such restrictions make the provisions themselves more reasonable, and courts look favorably on limitations that reduce the scope of the restraint on trade and appropriately define the client class.

Potential Clients

A more difficult classification of clients to identify is “potential clients.” This class is much more amorphous and, in theory, every participant in the economy could be a potential client. A restrictive covenant encompassing potential clients creates a virtually limitless prohibition on solicitation for the employee upon termination. Enforceability under this scenario greatly depends on the agreement’s definition of “potential clients.”

Restrictions on potential clients are reasonable and enforceable so long as the clients classified as such are “readily identifiable and narrowly defined.” Therefore, a clause that prohibits the solicitation of potential clients is permissible and enforceable so long as the agreement narrowly and specifically construes this class of clients.

Personal or Private Clients

Companies that engage in service-based industries – professions including but not limited to lawyers, doctors, accountants, financial advisors, hair stylists, and personal trainers – potentially have an additional class of clients to consider when drafting a restrictive covenant and suing for its enforcement. Many professionals in a service-based industry have “personal or private clients” that are not affiliated with their employer but to whom the professional provides services on the side and off the company’s clock.

Even upon executing a non-compete agreement, employees are generally not enjoined from continuing to provide services to personal or private clients. Because these clients did not have an official relationship with the employer, courts have held it would be unfair to include them on lists of prohibited clients. These personal clients are not receiving services from the employee as a result of a business connection to the employer, and as such they fall outside the protections and restrictions enumerated in any restrictive covenants.

B. Use of Confidential/Proprietary Information

The second common activity alleged to constitute breach of a non-compete agreement is the employee’s dissemination of confidential or proprietary information that gives his new employer an economic advantage, thus creating unlawful competition. Former employees cannot “use trade secrets, or other confidential information he [or she] has acquired in the course of his employment [with the plaintiff employer], for his [or her] own benefit or that of a competitor to the detriment of his [or her] former employer.”

To qualify as confidential information or a trade secret in Connecticut, the information must reflect a substantial degree of secrecy. Employers typically seek injunctive relief when the alleged breach of a restrictive covenant takes the form of the misappropriation of confidential information. Legal remedies are inadequate in most, if not all, of these cases because the “loss of trade secrets [and/or confidential information] cannot be measured in money damages…[because a] trade secret, once lost is, of course, lost forever.”

Trade Secrets

Connecticut has developed several statutes pertaining to “trade secrets” and their unlawful misappropriation that clearly contravenes non-compete agreements. A category of confidential information, trade secrets are “the property of the employer and cannot be used by the employee for his own benefit [or the benefit of another].”

Connecticut courts use the term “trade secret” to mean any “formula, pattern, device, or compilation of information which is used in one’s business, and which gives him an opportunity to obtain an advantage over competitors who do not know or use it.” The content of a trade secret must be undisclosed, and courts will not enforce a non-compete agreement to protect knowledge that is generally and widely known in the respective industry or that is publicly disclosed.

What information qualifies as a trade secret?

When determining whether certain information qualifies as a trade secret and entitles the owner to protection under a non-compete agreement, the court examines the following factors:

(a) the extent to which the information is known outside the business,

(b) the extent to which the information is known by employees and others involved in the business,

(c) the extent of measures taken by the company to guard the secrecy of the information,

(d) the value of the information to the company and its competitors,

(e) the amount of effort and money expended by the company in developing the information, and

(f)  the ease or difficulty with which the information could be properly acquired or duplicated by others.

Misappropriating Trade Secrets and Confidential Knowledge

The elements of breach of a restrictive covenant by misappropriating trade secrets and confidential knowledge hinge on the defendant acquiring, disclosing, or using the knowledge via “improper means.” Under Connecticut law, “improper means” includes theft, bribery, misrepresentation, breach or inducement of a breach of duty to maintain secrecy, or espionage through electronic or other means, including but not limited to searching through trash.

Furthermore, Connecticut has a statute of limitations with regard to actions against a party for the misappropriation of trade secrets and confidential knowledge in contravention of a covenant not to compete. Parties are barred from commencing an action beyond three years “from the date the misappropriation is discovered or by the exercise of reasonable diligence should have been discovered.” The statute further states that a continuing misappropriation constitutes a single claim for the purposes of the statute of limitations.

Implied Duty of Non-Disclosure

Connecticut law espouses the principle of an implied duty to not disclose confidential information to other parties, even in the absence of a non-compete agreement. Courts routinely uphold this implied duty related to employment law and the Supreme Court of Connecticut has stated that “even after employment has ceased, a former ‘employee’ remains subject to a duty not to use trade secrets, or other confidential information, which he has acquired in the course of his employment for his own benefit or that of a competitor, to the detriment of his former employer.”

As with most rules, however, there are some limited exceptions. Business-client relationships and corresponding information that predate employment with the employer are not protected by the implied duty not to disclose. “[I]n the absence of a covenant not to compete, an employee who possessed the relevant customer information prior to the former employment is free to use the information in competition with the employer after termination of the employment relationship.”

Retaining Confidential Information

In some cases, the act of merely retaining confidential information can constitute a breach of a non-compete agreement, and the employee need not actually exploit the knowledge for the court to grant injunctive relief. In one such case, TyMetrix, Inc. v. Szymonik, an employee retained physical possession of confidential information, claiming he kept it in order to assist in the litigation with his former employer.

This act, regardless of the employee’s reasons, nonetheless violated the non-compete agreement between the employer and employee . The court specifically held that “whether Szymonik [the former employee of plaintiff employer] has used the information on the DVDs is not, at this point in the proceedings, the relevant consideration. His possession and retention of the DVDs [that contained confidential information] is in violation of the terms of the employment agreement.”

Non-compete agreements often contain a clause regarding non-disclosure of confidential information acquired or to which the employee is exposed during the employment relationship. However, some employee-employer contracts separate these restrictions into two separate agreements.

Historically, Connecticut courts have favored the enforcement of non-disclosure/confidentiality agreements compared to covenants not to compete, since the protection of a company’s proprietary and confidential information is far more clear-cut than granting an injunction that results in the restraint of trade or potential employment. Time and geographical restrictions are not necessary for the enforcement of a non-disclosure agreement, and courts have the discretion to apply the “reasonableness” test or a relaxed version of the test.

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.

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