Noncompete Agreements

Behind The Scenes at Bear Stearns

April 23, 2008

I recently wrote about the Bear Stearns v. Sharon case. (See here and here). Here is a link to a Business Week article, “Bailing out of Bear,” that tells the gruesome story behind the Bear Stearns financial debacle and Bears’ suit against Doug Sharon, the star broker at Bear Stearns who left for Morgan Stanley.

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Decision in Bear Stearns v. Sharon – Motion Denied

April 7, 2008

Here is Judge Gorton’s decision in Bear Stearns v. Sharon, which I discussed last week. Bear Stearns’ motion for a preliminary injunction was denied. Thanks to Michael Boudett (who represented Sharon) at Foley Hoag for providing me with this decision.

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Bear Not Entirely Without Tooth and Claw

March 31, 2008

Recognizing that the Massachusetts Suffolk Business Litigation Session (BLS) is an unreceptive venue for securities firms attempting to enforce restrictive coveneants against former employees, Bear Stearns has sued the former Executive Director of its Private Client Services Group in Federal District Court in Boston. The employee, a 20 year veteran of Bear Stearns, fled to Morgan Stanley on Monday, March 17, 2008, the day after Bear Stearns’ $2/share bail-out sale to Morgan Stanley was announced. The Bear Stearns employee, Douglas Sharon, had an agreement with Bear Stearns that required him to provide 90 days notice of resignation. According to Bear Stearns, Sharon provided notice and left on the same day. Moroever, Bear Stearns asserts that Sharon took confidential and trade secret customer/client information with him, much of which was copied the weekend just prior to March 17th. Then, according to Bear Stearns, he used this information to contact his former clients at Bear Stearns. As noted in the link above, the BLS (where this case would have ended up had Bear Stearns filed in state court) has been less than friendly to “broker” suits of this ilk. Apparently, Bear Stearns is hoping it will get better treatment in federal court, where its case has been assigned to Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton. While a full hearing on Bear Stearns’ motion for preliminary injunction has not yet occurred, Judge Gorton did enter…

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But on the other hand ….

March 12, 2008

In contast to the Suffolk Business Litigation noncompete cases discussed below, in National Engineering v. Grogan Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Maureen B. Hogan, sitting in Middlesex County, enforced a six month noncompete provision between a recruiting and staffing firm, and its former employee, Travis Grogan. The heart of Judge Hogan’s decision is as follows: Other than his employment at NESC, had no experience in the staffing industry. All of his knowledge of the business was gained through training provided by NESC and by working at NESC. His relationships with the customers and accounts of NESC were all developed and maintained while he was employed at NESC, through use of the resources and confidential information of NESC. The success of NESC’s business is grounded upon relationships and good will with its corporate customers and Managed Service Providers, developed through its sales executives, such as Grogan. NESC is entitled to protect its good will and relationships with its customers and accounts through the non-compete covenants to which agreed. These covenants restrict from engaging in competition with NESC and from soliciting and/or servicing its clients and accounts for a reasonable period of time-one year. The general non-competition covenant which restricts from working for a competitor within 50 miles of the office or area in which he worked while at NESC is also reasonable in scope. These covenants do not restrict from using his…

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Smith Barney/Citigroup: Darn, Foiled Again!

March 11, 2008

Albert Einstein once said that “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” By this measure, Smith Barney has a problem. In a recent case decided by Judge Gants in the Suffolk Business Litigation Session, Smith Barney sought a preliminary injunction against Michelle Griffin, who had held several positions with Smith Barney, culminating in “financial advisor.” When Ms. Griffin began at Smith Barney (then Shearson Lehman) in 1994, she had signed an agreement in which she promised not to solicit Smith Barney clients for six months after leaving. In fact, just before and after resigning to join N.Y. Life, she solicited many of her clients, attracting Smith Barney’s ire. However, Judge Gants teed up the the case with the following comments: This Court has heard many of these kinds of cases. The pattern is similar in all cases. A stock broker, or person seeking to become a stock broker, joins a brokerage house, signs a non-solicitation agreement and also agrees to keep certain information confidential. After a period of time, the broker, often solicited by a competing brokerage, decides to leave his employing-brokerage for the competition down the street. Without prior warning, the broker resigns at the end of the day on Friday and is up and running at his new employer by Monday morning. These brokers move around with astounding…

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The "Alliance for Open Competition" or "Noncompete Agreements Should Not Be Enforceable in Massachusetts"

February 11, 2008

In December I wrote a post title Why Has Silicon Valley Outperformed Boston/Route 128 as a High Tech Hub? The topic was whether the legality of noncompete agreements (“NCAs”) in Massachusetts has put the state at a disadvantage to California, where NCAs are not enforceable. The Alliance for Open Competition is a blog where people and organizations who would like Massachusetts to join California (and other states) and make NCAs illegal express their views on this issue. The first entry in the blog is Spark Capital’s open letter to Governor Deval Patrick in early December 2007. The purpose of the Alliance is described as follows: The Alliance for Open Competition is a group of entrepreneurs, investors and executives dedicated to fostering innovation throughout the US. We seek to breakdown a major barrier to entrepreneurialism: the use of non-competition agreements mandated by employers that force employees to sign away their rights to engage in any business of a competitive nature when they leave their present jobs. Today Massachusetts, New York and Michigan are among dozens of other states that still enforce non-compete clauses. We believe that employment non-competes are stifling the emergence of start-up companies in these states, forcing innovative entrepreneurs to take on tremendous legal and financial risks, and hampering the ability to meet our fullest economic potential as a nation. To be clear, we do support non disclosure agreements…

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Why Has Silicon Valley Outperformed Boston/ Route 128 as a High Tech Hub?

December 6, 2007

In a post on TechDirt Mike Masnick argues (with references to supporting studies) that the fact that noncompete agreements are enforceable in Massachusetts but not in California has been a major factor in Silicon Valley’s success. A few excerpts from the article: Ronald Gilson . . . [found that the success of Silicon Valley] had much less to do with cultural reasons and much more to do with the legal differences between the two places, specifically: California does not enforce noncompetes, while Massachusetts does. Gilson looks at a few of the other possible explanations for the difference and shows how they’re all lacking, leaving the difference in noncompetes as being the key difference between the two regions in terms of the flow of information and ideas leading to new innovations. * * * . . . [T]he Federal Reserve and the National Bureau of Economic Research, . . . produced some data to back up the[se] findings . . . in their report Job Hopping in Silicon Valley. Their data showed that, indeed, there was much greater mobility in Silicon Valley than elsewhere. Their research further backed up Gilson’s suggestion that it was noncompetes that made the difference by showing that other high tech communities in California outside of Silicon Valley also showed greater job mobility — suggesting it was a California-wide phenomenon. Finally, to make the case even more…

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It's A Tough Job, But Somebody's Got To Do It

October 26, 2007

[Update, November 20, 2007]: Howie Carr has returned to WRKO[Update, October 30,2007]: Today’s Boston Globe reports that Howie Carr’s appeal was denied. Litigation over noncompete agreements rarely gets this interesting. The Contestants. In one corner you have Howie Carr, one of the most popular talk show hosts in the country. In next corner (there are players in all four corners of this ring) stands Entercom Boston, owned by Entercom Communications, one of the largest radio broadcasters in the U.S. and owner of Boston radio station WRKO-AM, which hosts the popular Howie Carr Show. Opposite WRKO stands Greater Media, owner of numerous media assets, including WTKK-FM in Boston, and would-be employer of Carr. Finally, in the corner directly opposite Mr. Carr is Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Allan Van Gestel. The Contest, In Brief. Howie Carr wants to leave WRKO and work for WTKK. However, his contract with WRKO gave WRKO the right to match the offer made by WTKK, and WRKO did match WTKK’s five year, $7 million offer. Carr filed suit, claiming that this provision of the contract is unenforceable under Massachusetts law. Judge Van Gestel ruled that under the circumstances present here WRKO had the right to match WTKK’s offer, requiring Carr to honor his contract with WRKO. Carr has appealed this ruling, but at the moment Carr is off the air, refusing to broadcast for WRKO (which wants…

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Recent Business Law Decisions From the Mass State Courts

August 18, 2006

Noncompete Agreements. Plaintiffs seeking to enforce noncompete agreements by means of preliminary injunctions have been up against it as of late. In Payson’s Trucking v. Yeskevicz (pdf file) Judge Peter Agnes denied the plaintiff’s motion, which was brought against a contracting party (as opposed to an employee), on the grounds (among others) that the agreement was too vague as to its geographic reach and in the identification of the plaintiff’s actual customers. In Merchant Business Solutions v. Arst (pdf file) Judge Richard Connon denied a preliminary injunction against a former sales employee on the grounds that the geographical limits were too broad and that the plaintiff was seeking protection from ordinary competition (among other reasons). Both cases are worth reviewing, since the impression one takes away is that the pendulum has swung (yet again) in the direction away from enforcement of these agreements. A plaintiff simply needs better facts than the parties had here in order to obtain a preliminary injunction to enforce a noncompete agreement. Derivative Shareholder Suits. When it turns out a company has made an operational mistake it can expect two lawsuits. The ubiquitous and much publicized class action and the less well-known derivative shareholder suit. The latter seeks damages on behalf of the corporation from the officers and directors who allegedly were involved in the wrongdoing. Often the two suits are coordinated by plaintiffs’ counsel,hoping that…

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Covenant Not-to-Compete Not Enforceable Against English-Challenged Russian Immigrant

August 4, 2006

It’s a bad day when your client wants you to enforce a noncompete agreement against a $10/hour Russian immigrant with “a very limited command of English,” who sends most of her earnings back to her son and elderly parents in Russia, and who, after a year of at-will employment and with no further payment of consideration, was told that unless she signed the noncompete agreement she’d be fired the next day. Nevertheless, that’s what the plaintiff’s lawyer faced in Zabota Community Center, Inc. v. Frolova. Not surprisingly, Judge Allan van Gestel of the Suffolk County Business Litigation Session threw the book at the plaintiff in this case, denying the motion for every reason conceivable. You can read the case here (pdf file).

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Trying to Enforce Your Noncompete? – Denied, Denied and Denied Again

June 21, 2006

Noncompete Agreements. Plaintiffs trying to obtain preliminary injunctions to enforce noncompete contracts in the Massachusetts states courts are off to a bad start this year. In February Superior Court Judge Richard Connon refused to enforce a noncompete clause against a former employee for a reason we see all to often: the employee signed the noncompete with one company, and then worked for another (presumably related) company with which he had not signed a noncompete. Sorry, this may be only a technical detail, but it’s always enough prevent the noncompete from being enforced. The case is Merchant Business Solutions v. Arst. In mid-March Judge Jonathan Brant refused to enforce a preliminary injunction when the plaintiff’s former employee went to work for a competitor with the former employer’s blessing. A year later the former employer changed its mind and filed suit, seeking a preliminary injunction. A year is far too long, the judge ruled – motion denied. The case is New England Speciality Lumber v. Jarvl. Finally, in late March Judge Peter Agnes denied a request for a preliminary injunction that the plaintiff brought against a contractor (as opposed to an employee). Judge Agnes denied the injunction, holding that two years was too long in the context of the business in question and the agreement was too vague as to its geographic reach. The case is Payson’s Trucking v. Yeskevicz. The lessons…

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No New Consideration, No Enforceable Noncompete

March 29, 2006

Noncompete Agreements. Clients frequently present the following issue: we have existing employees who have not signed noncompete agreements. We’d like to ask them to sign them. Any problem with that? The knowledgeable lawyer then struggles with the following question: does the employee need to be given some consideration for the noncompete to be enforceable? Consideration is not an issue when an employee signs a noncompete at the beginning of employment, since the job itself provides the consideration. But when the employee already has the job, does the employer have to give the employee some new consideration? – a raise, a bonus, a promotion? There is a line of Massachusetts cases suggesting that continued employment (for an at-will employee) is itself adequate consideration, but the rule is not as clear as most lawyers would like, and many lawyers are forced to equivocate on this issue. And, some states have clearly held that continued employment is not adequate consideration, adding to the uncertainty. In a decision issued on February 2, 2006 in Metropolitan Removal Co. v. D.S.I. Removal Specialists, Inc. [click here for the decision] Superior Court Judge Peter Agnes, a well-respected judge in Massachusetts, held that a noncompete agreement was not enforceable where the employee did not receive new consideration. Citing no cases one way or the other, Judge Agnes noted that the employee “did not receive consideration in return for…

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