According to the California Supreme Court’s website, the Court’s highly anticipated decision in Edwards v. Arthur Andersen, LLP will be available tomorrow, August 7, 2008 at 10:00 a.m. on the Court’s website.
Trade secret and employment attorneys have been closely following the Edwards case after the Supreme Court granted review of the case on November 29, 2006.
In the lower court, the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District expressly rejected somewhat settled Ninth Circuit case law that provides an exception to the general rule in California that covenants not to compete are unlawful in the employment context pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 16600. The narrow restraint exception essentially provides that a noncompetition agreement is not unlawful where it leaves a substantial portion of the market open to the employee. The lower court expressly found that the narrow restraint exception was a “misapplication of California law when applied to an employee’s noncompetition agreement.” The court further stated “[i]n our view, section 16600 prohibits noncompetition agreements between employers and employees even where the restriction is narrowly drawn and leaves a substantial portion of the market available for the employee.”
The lower court also found that the broadly worded release that Edwards allegedly was required to sign was unlawful because it purportedly waived Edwards’ Labor Code section 2802 rights. Labor Code section 2802, subdivision (a), provides: "An employer shall indemnify his or her employee for all necessary expenditures or losses incurred by the employee in direct consequence of the discharge of his or her duties . . ." The lower court held that “[b]ecause Labor Code section 2802’s indemnity provisions implement public policy, requiring Edwards to waive indemnity rights as a condition of continued employment violated public policy and constituted an independently wrongful act for purposes of . . .[Edwards’] intentional interference with prospective economic advantage claim.”
The issues that the Supreme Court are expected to address in tomorrow’s decision are:
(1) Is a non-competition agreement between an employer and an employee that prohibits the employee from performing services for former clients invalid under Business and Professions Code section 16600, unless it falls within the statutory or judicially-created trade secrets exceptions to the statute?
(2) Does a contract provision releasing "any and all" claims the employee might have against the employer encompass non-waivable statutory protections, such as the employee indemnity protection of Labor Code section 2802?
We will provide a follow-up blog entry once the decision comes out.
By Robert Milligan, James McNairy and Summer Associate Julia Brodsky