Noncompete Agreements

Here is an unusual spin on Massachusetts non-compete law.  As best I can understand the facts (which require a bit of “between the lines” reading) Trillium sued Cheung, a former employee of Trillium.  Cheung had, it appears, released an employee from a non-compete agreement without company approval.

Trillium’s suit asserted breach of fiduciary duty to the company.

A trial ensued, but at the outset the judge observed that if the underlying non-compete agreement had not been enforceable the release had caused no harm to Trillium, and hence there had been no legal wrong committed by Cheung.  In other words, the trial involved a concept that lawyers dislike greatly: a “trial within a trial.”  (Think Russian nesting dolls). Here, the two trials involved the question of whether the non-compete was enforceable and, if so, whether Cheung acted illegally by releasing the employee from the agreement.

The trial began with a jury proceeding, during which the jury was asked to decide the second of these issues first  – whether Cheung had improperly given the employee a release from  the non-compete.  … Read the full article

Noncompete opinions from the Massachusetts Superior Court are few and far between, so the two decisions that have been issued so far this year — one from Judge Peter Lauriat sitting in the Suffolk Business Litigation Section (BLS), the other from Judge Thomas R. Murtagh in Middlesex Cournty — are worth noting.  Both judges are respected judicial veterans, and each decision illustrates a legal principle basic to this controversial and often confusing area of law.

The more note-worthy of the two cases is Judge Lauriat’s decision in Grace Hunt IT Soutions v. SIS Software, LLC.   There are relatively few ways to wriggle out of a non-compete, but one that should be near the top of every lawyer’s list is the question whether there has been a “material change” in the employment relationship since the non-compete agreement was signed.  If so, a “pre-change” non-compete may be unenforceable.  In this case the court found that there had been such a change, and therefore it denied a motion for preliminary injunction to enforce the  non-compete  covenant against the defendants.  … Read the full article

Cases Cited in My 2011 MCLE Noncompete Chapter Update

Earlier this year Massachusetts Continuing Legal Education  (MCLE)  asked me to update my 2009 chapter on Employee Noncompetition Agreements.   The revised chapter, part of the 2-volume Massachusetts Employment Law series, was published in June.

Below are links to the cases I added to this chapter.   I’ve also included a sentence or two regarding each case.  However, I did not make an effort to describe every legally significant aspects of each case.

  • Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc. v. Pemberton, 27 Mass. L. Rptr. 541 (Super. Ct. 2010).  This case, decided by Judge Peter Lauriat  in the Suffolk Business Litigation Session, applies New Jersey non-compete law, but Massachusetts procedural law for purposes of ruling on a preliminary injunction.  The former employee filed suit in California first, but Judge Lauriat  refused to dismiss this case based on the “first filed” rule.  The court enforced an 18 month covenant not to compete against the former employee.
Read the full article

Apple, Google, Have You No Shame? Really!

by Lee Gesmer on October 1, 2010

Apple, Google, Have You No Shame?  Really!

While the debate over whether Massachusetts should adopt a law restricting the enforceability of non-compete agreements rages on (well, at least among a group of maybe 100 economists, lawyers and business people), California proudly observes that noncompete agreements are unenforceable in that state (except under very limited circumstances).   And, economists argue, that is one reason why the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley is more successful than its counterpart Massachusetts.

Now, come to learn, things were not quite what they seemed.  I’m sure that 99% of California companies are in fact impacted by the California law — that is, they cannot impose covenants not to compete on their employees.  But a few companies — Google, Apple, Pixar, Adobe, Intuit and Intel — figured out an end-run around this law.  Apparently, the Federal Trade Commission tumbled to the fact that each of these companies agreed, with one or more of the others, not to solicit that company’s employees.… Read the full article