Noncompete Agreements

I’ve often written about how easy it can be for an employer to lose the ability to enforce an employee noncompete provision.  In recent years the courts have come down hard on employers who materially change an employee’s job responsibilities but fail to require the employee to enter into a new contract, holding in many cases that a noncompete provision in the old contract does not survive the job change.  (For example, see Rent-A-PC Fails to Enforce Restrictive Covenants Against Former Employees).

However, there is an even more fundamental mistake employers can make, as illustrated in the decision in Meschino v. Frazier Industrial Co. (D. Mass. November 18, 2015). In this case the employee entered into an agreement in 2005 which contained a covenant not to compete and a confidentiality provision.  The employee then signed a new employment agreement in 2012, but the 2012 agreement did not include these terms or refer back to the 2005 agreement.… Read the full article

Now that the Massachusetts legislature has abandoned (at least until next session) a bill to make employer/employee noncompete agreements unenforceable (or more difficult to enforce) in Massachusetts, we’re back to business as usual in Massachusetts, and how the courts handle these cases remains of interest. And, since the preliminary injunction stage of these cases is so critical, how the courts handle preliminary injunction motions in noncompete cases is of particular interest.

Of course, noncompete law (sometimes statutory, sometimes “judge-made” case law) varies from state-to-state. A recent case highlights the extent to which even the procedure for handling these cases can differ from state-to-state.

In Massachusetts, the trial courts — federal or state — have no obligation to hold an evidentiary hearing when resolving a preliminary injunction motion. Affidavits are usually enough, and its rare to see a hearing with witnesses and cross-examination.

However, this is not the case in the 11th Circuit, which covers federal cases in Alabama, Florida and Georgia.… Read the full article

In Corporate Technologies v. Harnett, decided by the First Circuit on August 23, 2013, the court upheld the Massachusetts U.S. District Court’s enforcement of a 12-month employee non-solicitation clause. The court rejected Harnett’s (the former employee) argument that he did not solicit Corporate Technologies’ customers, particularly given evidence that the new employer sent a “blast email” to a group that included many of Corporate Technologies’ customers.

The opinion contains an extensive discussion of the “metaphysical” distinction between “soliciting” and “merely accepting” business, an issue I discussed in another post this summer (Nudge, Nudge, Wink, Wink – Are You “Soliciting” in Violation of an Employee Non-Solicitation Agreement?).

The First Circuit rejected a “bright-line” rule in determining who made initial contact in a non-solicitation case (the former employee or a customer), stating that –

we believe that the better view holds that the identity of the party making initial contact is just one factor among many that the trial court should consider in drawing the line between solicitation and acceptance in a given case.

Read the full article

Two note-worthy decisions have emerged from AMD v. Feldstein, a trade secret case pending in federal district court in Massachusetts. At the heart of the case is the conduct of several AMD employees who left to work for Nvidia Corporation. Inexplicably, they copied and took with them huge amounts of AMD data, actions which earned them a preliminary injunction in the first of two opinions, dated May 15, 2013.

However, in the May 15th decision Massachusetts federal district court judge Timothy Hillman also addressed the thorny issue of  what constitutes a “solicitation” in violation of a non-solicitation agreement, and specifically solicitation of employees (as opposed to customers) of the former employer.

The employee non-solicitation provisions in this case were fairly standard. For example, Feldstein’s provided that:

during [Feldstein’s] employment with [AMD] and for a period of one year following the termination of [Feldstein’s] employment, whether voluntary or involuntary, [Feldstein would] not hire or attempt to hire an employee of [AMD], or directly or indirectly solicit, induce or encourage an employee of [AMD] to leave his or her employ to work for another employer, without first getting the written consent of an Officer of [AMD].

Read the full article