Trujillo v. Great Southern Equipment Sales, LLC, No. A08A0245, 2008 WL 269606 (Ga. Ct. App. Feb. 1, 2008).
Reviewing the “Confidentiality and Restrictive Covenant Agreement” signed by Sarah Alexandra Trujillo while employed by Great Southern Equipment Sales, LLC, the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed the part of the trial court’s judgment that enjoined Ms. Trujillo from competing with Great Southern and soliciting its customers.
Ms. Trujillo had worked as a salesperson for Great Southern, a company primarily engaged in the business of selling transportation equipment, for over two years at the time of her resignation and departure for a competitor. In the early months of Ms. Trujillo’s employment, Great Southern’s president gave her on-the-job training; provided her with lists of Great Southern’s customers; and introduced her to many of the company’s customers and suppliers. After nine months of service, she was asked to sign the “Confidentiality and Restrictive Covenant Agreement.” At issue on appeal were the agreement’s non-solicitation and non-competition clauses.
Under Georgia law, restrictive covenants found in an employment contract must be strictly limited as to time, territorial effect, capacity in which the employee is prohibited from competing, and as to overall reasonableness. Moreover, unless a non-solicitation covenant pertains only to those clients with whom the employee had a business relationship during the term of the agreement, the covenant must contain a territorial restriction. Here, the court looked to the language of the non-solicitation provision in finding that it applied to a broad class of customers:
“The non-solicitation restriction set forth in this Section 2 is specifically limited to Customers of Employer with whom Employee had contact (whether personally, telephonically, or through written or electronic correspondence) during the three (3) year period immediately preceding the Separation Date or about whom Employee had confidential or proprietary information because of his/her position with Employer.”
The latter category of customers was not, as Great Southern argued, merely a reiteration of the separate confidentiality clause found in the agreement. Instead, the court said it was “an effort to impermissibly broaden the class of customers whom Trujillo could not solicit.” Because the non-solicitation clause at issue purported to apply to an expansive class of customers, but failed to include a geographical restriction, the court held that the provision was overbroad and unenforceable. Further, Georgia does not employ the “blue pencil” doctrine of severability, so the non-competition clause of the agreement was also unenforceable.