As we previously covered, a group of 18 state attorneys general in July filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), asking the FTC to incorporate labor concerns when reviewing corporate mergers and to use its enforcement powers under the Sherman Act to stop the use of non-compete, non-solicit, and no-poach agreements in many situations. Many of those same attorneys general recently sent another letter to the FTC, this time urging it to use its rulemaking authority “to bring an end to the abusive use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts.”

In the most recent letter, the attorneys general endorsed the arguments presented in a March 20, 2019, petition submitted to the FTC by various labor unions, public interest groups, and legal advocates, requesting that the FTC initiate rulemaking to classify abusive worker non-compete clauses as an unfair method of competition and per se illegal under the FTC Act for low wage workers or where the clause is not explicitly negotiated. As they did in their previous letter, the attorneys general contend that non-competes “deprive workers of the right to pursue their ambitions and can lock them into hostile or unsafe working environments.” The attorneys general also argue that the arguments in support of non-compete clauses are unpersuasive and that employers can use other “less draconian” ways to recoup their investment in job training, methods of business, and other intangibles. The attorneys general further argued that non-competes burden businesses seeking to hire new employees, which in turn inhibits innovation and drives up consumer costs by suppressing competition. Continue Reading State Attorneys General Keep Pressure on FTC to Regulate Non-Competes

In a trilogy of recent cases, the Texas Courts of Appeals have employed the “commercial speech” exception to exclude certain business claims from the scope of the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act (“TCPA”). This trend will likely only accelerate now that the legislature has further reduced the TCPA’s reach with additional statutory changes, restricting the protections regarding the right of association and the TCPA’s application to trade secret cases and non-compete cases.

Background

The TCPA is an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute allowing litigants to seek early dismissal of a lawsuit if the legal action is based on, or is in response to, a party’s exercise of the right of free speech, right to petition, or right of association. Like other states, Texas enacted the TCPA to address concerns over the increasing use of lawsuits to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights. Continue Reading The Halcyon Days Are Over: Texas Courts of Appeals Narrow the Application of the TCPA’s “Commercial Speech” Exception Even as the Legislature Narrows Its Definitions

Manhattan restaurant Sottolio, Inc., d/b/a Norma Gastronomia Siciliana hired Giuseppe Manco—“a noted  Italian pizza chef, or pizzaiolo”—to consult on its menu. At the same time, Manco and his wife purchased a 9% interest in the restaurant, becoming co-owners of the business. Manco signed a non-compete and non-disclosure agreement in connection with his hiring, under which Manco agreed, for ten years, to not replicate, copy, or duplicate Plaintiff’s confidential information, including its “signature recipes” for arancine, pasta alla norma, caponata, anelletti al forno, and carbonara di mare, or to use the signature recipes within a ten mile radius of Sottolio’s Manhattan restaurant.  Continue Reading Fettucine Al Fraudo—New York Pizzaiolo in Hot Water After Alleged Theft of Secret Pasta Recipe

A law firm can terminate an at-will lawyer who refuses to sign an agreement prohibiting them from soliciting the firm’s customers or clients following cessation of employment, according to the Supreme Court of Kentucky. In Greissman v. Rawlings and Associates, PLLC, the court held that where a non-solicitation agreement included a savings clause which excepted the solicitation of legal work from where “to the extent necessary to comply with the rules of professional responsibility applicable attorneys,” it did not violate those rules as a matter of law. This is consistent with what we have previously written on this issue; so long as there is no restriction on the practice of law, post-employment restrictive covenants do not necessarily run afoul of states’ Rules of Professional Conduct (in most states, Rule 5.6, which is generally intended to protect clients, not attorneys).  Continue Reading Supreme Court of Kentucky Rules That Firms May Require Lawyers to Sign Non-Solicitation Agreements That Exempt Legal Work

Seyfarth Synopsis: Knowledge that a competitor or former employee is misappropriating trade secrets is difficult to come by. At the same time, however, once a company has notice that misappropriation may be occurring, the statute of limitations begins to run on any trade secrets misappropriation claim. A recent decision from the California Court of Appeals reinforces these rules and provides a good reminder of the need to take proactive steps to protect any possible claims.

When a competitor or former employee misappropriates a company’s trade secrets, the company often does not know for an extended period of time. This is especially true when the perpetrator takes action to conceal its misappropriation. For these reasons, the statute of limitations only starts to run once the company knows or should have known of the misappropriation. But this rule is not a universal remedy; companies should be aware that once they have sufficient knowledge that misappropriation may be occurring, they must take action or risk the running of the statute of limitations. A recent decision from the California Court of Appeals reinforces these principles. Continue Reading A Little Knowledge Is a Dangerous Thing: Beware the Statute of Limitations in Trade Secrets Misappropriation Cases

On August 23, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit ruled that the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Chapter 27 (“TCPA”), did not apply in federal court. Klocke v. Watson, 936 F.3d 240, 244 (5th Cir. 2019). Nine days later, on September 1, 2019, key statutory changes went into effect for cases filed after the amendments’ enactment.[1] See H.B. 2730, Sept. 1, 2019. These amendments changed the requirements of the TCPA in several ways, some of which the Klocke panel had directly addressed when determining the TCPA’s applicability in federal court.

The question therefore arises whether the TCPA remains inapplicable in federal court for cases filed after September 1, 2019.[2] A Fifth Circuit panel addressing this issue today, and applying the rulings in Klocke, would likely rule that the TPCA remains inapplicable. Specifically, despite the various changes, the TCPA still “imposes evidentiary weighing requirements not found in the Federal Rules, and operates largely without pre-decisional discovery[.]” Klocke, 936 F.3d at 246. Accordingly, the TCPA “conflicts with those rules,” “answers the same question” as those rules, and therefore “cannot apply in federal court.” Id. at 244, 245, 246. Continue Reading Klocke’s Ongoing Viability: Whether the TCPA’s Statutory Changes Have Resurrected Its Applicability in Federal Court

Seyfarth’s Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud & Non-Competes practice group is pleased to provide the 2019-2020 edition of our 50 State Desktop Reference, which surveys the most-asked questions related to restrictive covenants and trade secrets in all 50 states, including the recent updates in non-compete law in Washington, California, Maine, Illinois, Rhode Island, Maryland, and New Hampshire.

For the company executive, in-house counsel, or HR professional, we hope this guide will provide a starting point to answer your questions about restrictive covenants and protecting your company’s most valuable and confidential assets.

Request a hard copy or PDF of the 50 State Desktop Reference.

Following in the footsteps of its neighbors Maine, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire, Rhode Island recently enacted legislation that restricts the use of non-competition agreements with certain types of employees. The Rhode Island Noncompetition Agreement Act, which becomes effective on January 15, 2020, prohibits non-competes without regard to geographic location and duration for the following types of employees:

  • Non-exempt employees under the FLSA;
  • Undergraduate or graduate students participating in an internship or short-term employment;
  • Employees aged 18 or younger; and
  • Low-wage workers (defined as earning 250% or less of the federal poverty level ($31,225 per year under current data).

Continue Reading Rhode Island Joins the Fray, Passing Legislation that Restricts the Use of Non-Compete Agreements for Certain Low-Wage Workers

This is the third blog by our Trade Secrets , Computer Fraud & Non-Competes team dealing with Washington state’s House Bill 1450, which dramatically alters non-compete agreements within the state. This blog discusses retroactive application of the statute and potential challenges the statute may face as it rolls out in January 2020.

What’s The Law?

As our team previously detailed, Washington state’s new House Bill 1450, which goes into effect January 1, 2020, will eliminate non-compete agreements for employees earning less than $100,000 a year and independent contractors earning less than $250,000 a year. The law requires advance notice of non-competes “no later than the time of acceptance of the offer of employment” and “independent consideration” for non-competes entered into after employment.

In addition, among other changes, the new law: Continue Reading Retroactivity Provision in Washington State’s New Law Limiting Non-Competes May Face Court Challenges

Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) have introduced legislation entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (“WMA”). The WMA, like its prior incarnation from last year, seeks to ban non-compete agreements outside of the sale of a business or dissolution of a partnership. The WMA also follows a similar, unsuccessful, attempt by the federal government to limit non-compete agreements on a national scale earlier this year. Continue Reading Another Year, Another Attempt in the U.S. Senate to Ban Non-Competes Nationwide