Access America, LLC v. Mazzotta, 2005 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2597
Ms. Vassilia Mazzotta worked at Access America, LLC, a franchised office affiliated with Century 21 Real Estate, as a licensed real estate broker. She sold single and multi-family residential real estate in conjunction with her job at Access America until she terminated her employment on April 20, 2005. There was an employment contract between Ms. Mazzotta and Access America that contained a non-compete clause wherein it stipulated that Ms. Mazzotta could not “engage in or carry on directly or indirectly, a business similar to or competing with any business or products carried on by [Access America] within a fifteen (15) mile radius of 136 Berlin Road, Cromwell, CT (Access America’s office)”.
Shortly after her termination with Access America, Ms. Mazzotta began to work at ERA Innovative Realty, a competing real estate broker well within the fifteen-mile radius as defined in the non-compete covenant of the employment agreement. Access America brought suit against Ms. Mazzotta and sought injunctive relief in the form of enforcement of the non-compete covenant. Ms. Mazzotta conversely argued that she signed the restrictive covenant under duress and that its provisions were unreasonable, therefore making it unenforceable.
The Court’s Decision
The court found in favor of Access America, holding that the non-compete agreement was valid and enforceable but did amend its provisions in a way that lessened the occupational hardship placed on Ms. Mazzotta. The court justified its holding by first discussing the public policy of the issue. It stated, “It has long been recognized in this state [Connecticut] that a restrictive covenant is a valuable business asset which is entitled to protection”. Access America, according to the court, had legitimate reasons for using a non-compete agreement to protect its business interest in the form of the money, time, and effort it spent to train Ms. Mazzotta.
The court found Ms. Mazzotta’s defense of signing the agreement under duress to be unpersuasive because the same agreement that contained the restrictive covenant also contained clauses that conferred considerable benefits on her in the form of a private office and a higher commission rate on real estate sales. In addition, the court cited Ms. Mazzotta’s termination letter wherein she reaffirmed her obligations and prohibitions under the employment agreement.
Reducing the Duration of the Non-Compete Agreement
The one portion of the decision that Ms. Mazzotta found favorable was the reduction in applicable duration for the non-compete agreement. The court reduced the two-year prohibition down to only one year. During the legal proceedings, both parties were open to the possibility that the court could reduce the duration of the restriction if in the end it found the non-compete to be valid and enforceable.
Both parties referenced an earlier case, Century 21 Access America v. Nereida Lisboa (35 Conn. L. Rptr. 272 (Conn. Super. Ct. 2003)) where a court had reduced the duration based on the specific language of the employment agreement and specifically the non-compete clause. This portion of the decision is very valuable as it shows that certain non-compete agreements, depending on the specific language used, are enforceable but the court has the authority to amend the provisions to lessen the restrictions placed on the employee.
If you have any questions relating to your non-compete agreement or would like to discuss any element of your employment agreement, please contact Joseph C. Maya, Esq. by phone at (203) 221-3100 or via e-mail at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.