Democratic U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced legislation on April 26, 2018, entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (“WMA”). Although the text of the WMA is not yet available, according to various press releases, it would prohibit the use of covenants not to compete nationwide. In Senator Warren’s press release announcing her co-sponsorship of the bill, Senator Warren stated that “[t]hese clauses reduce worker bargaining power, stifle competition and innovation, and hurt Americans striving for better opportunities. I’m glad to join Senator Murphy to put an end to these anti-worker, anti-market agreements.” Continue Reading Democratic U.S. Senators Seek to Abolish Non-Compete Agreements
The Massachusetts legislature is back at it again. Under new leadership, the Joint Committee on Labor & Workforce Development recently scheduled a hearing for October 31, 2017 on the non-compete reform bills proposed in January of this year. While we know little about the hearing, the bills to be discussed are presumably Senate Bill S.988 and companion House Bill H.2366. These identical bills were filed in January 2017 by the same legislators who began this process back in 2009, Senator William Brownsberger and Representative Lori Ehrlich.
As we previously reported, the proposed law brings many past proposals to the table with some new additions as well. We also reported in July and November of 2016 that the House and the Senate were unable to bridge their differences and agree on a compromise bill that year. For a detailed overview of the bills likely to be discussed in the upcoming hearing, please see our prior report.
We will continue to monitor these developments and report back with any updates. Perhaps 2017 is finally the year for non-compete and trade secret reform in Massachusetts after all. Readers of this blog know all too well, however, that this may just be another of the many attempts that the Massachusetts Legislature is unable to see through to its fruition.
On May 19, 2017, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law several amendments to the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act (“TUTSA”), located in Chapter 134A of the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code. The amendments go into effect on September 1, 2017. In doing so, Texas has aligned its statute more closely with federal law and codified recent judicial interpretations of the law.
Two events precipitated the amendments, one legislative, one judicial. In the first, Congress passed the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) in May 2016, which provides a federal cause of action for trade-secret misappropriation. In the second, the Texas Supreme Court announced in In re M-I L.L.C., 505 S.W.3d 569 (Tex. 2016) that a presumption exists that a party is authorized to participate and assist in the defense of a trade-secret misappropriation claim under TUTSA, which presumption cannot be surmounted unless the trial court considers a seven-factor balancing test. These events resulted in the following key changes to the TUTSA: Continue Reading Texas Legislature Clarifies and Expands the Texas Uniform Trade Secrets Act
Since July 1, 2001, Missouri law with respect to non-solicitation clauses has been fairly straightforward. Specifically, § 431.202 of the Missouri Statutes states that a covenant not to solicit between an employer and an employee is presumed reasonable if it is no longer than one year in duration and designed to protect confidential information, customer relationships, and/or good will. Section 431.202 also states that the statute does not apply to covenants not to compete, thereby allowing the courts to decide the enforceability of a non-competition clause on a “case-by-case” basis. (Id. § 3).
A Bill, however, currently pending in the Missouri House of Representatives seeks to abolish Missouri’s non-solicit statute and ban all restrictive covenants except for those restrictive covenants found in a “business to business” setting. Specifically, House Bill 479, introduced by Representative Keith Frederick (R), seeks to eliminate all types of restrictive covenants (non-compete, non-solicit, and non-hire) except when the restrictive covenants involve the sale of a business or are between two corporations engaged in a joint venture. The Bill would go into effect August 28, 2017. Thus, any restrictive covenant agreement between an employer and an employee that is a) controlled by Missouri law and b) entered into after August 28, 2017 would be unenforceable.
In addition to House Bill 479, a recent Federal Court decision in the Eastern District of Missouri also has the attention of non-compete lawyers. In Durrell v. Tech Electronics, Inc., plaintiff Robert Durrell brought suit against his former employer, Tech Electronics, Inc., alleging that he was wrongfully terminated and retaliated against for taking FMLA leave. Durrell’s Complaint further alleges that the restrictive covenants found in his Employment Agreement are unenforceable due to a lack of consideration. The Court denied Tech’s Motion to Dismiss Durrell’s restrictive covenant claims by ruling that at-will employment is “not a source of consideration under Missouri contract law.” Notably, the Court did not address § 431.202’s specific language that a non-solicitation clause is enforceable if it protects confidential information, customer relationships, and/or good will. In fact, the Court does not even mention § 431.202 in its opinion. (Probably because the Court was only asked to address whether “at-will employment” is sufficient consideration for enforcing a restrictive covenant).
We will continue to monitor House Bill 479 (the Bill is currently in “Executive Session”) as well as the Durrell case, and will provide all relevant updates on this blog.
In Spring 2011, the Georgia legislature passed a new restrictive covenant statute, which, for the first time, allowed Georgia courts in reviewing non-competition agreements between employer and employee to blue-pencil or “modify a covenant that is otherwise void and unenforceable so long as the modification does not render the covenant more restrictive with regard to the employee than as originally drafted by the parties.” O.C.G.A. § 13-8-53(d). Since the new Georgia statute only applies to agreements executed after its enactment, there has been limited litigation concerning the meaning and scope of this provision.
Most of the litigation between 2011 and the present has involved requests by a party that the Court strike an offending provision in a non-compete agreement. Recently, the Northern District of Georgia was given the opportunity to determine whether Georgia’s blue-pencil provision also gives Georgia courts the authority to modify an unenforceable non-compete provision. In LifeBrite Labs., LLC v. Cooksey, No. 1:15-CV-4309-TWT, 2016 WL 7840217, at *1 (N.D. Ga. Dec. 9, 2016), the former employer, LifeBrite, sued its former employee, Cooksey, after she began working for a competitor company. Cooksey’s non-compete provision provided as follows:
7.2. Non-Competition. For as long as she is employed and for a period of one (1) year thereafter, employee shall not participate, directly or indirectly, as an owner, employee, consultant, office management position, in any proprietorship, corporation, partnership, limited liability company or other entity, engaged in any laboratory testing that is being sold by employee on behalf of company.
The Northern District of Georgia found that this provision was overbroad and unenforceable as it did not contain any geographic limitation. Consequently, the Court considered whether or not Georgia’s blue-pencil rules allowed it to modify the non-compete provision to insert a reasonable geographic limitation. In reasoning through the analysis, the Court referred to pre-2011 cases in which Georgia courts interpreted a similar non-compete provision in the context of sale of business agreements. In those cases, Georgia courts held that the blue-pencil marks but it does not write. Thus, the NDGA declined to enforce Cooksey’s non-compete and held that in applying Georgia’s blue-pencil statute, “courts may not completely reform and rewrite contracts by supplying new and material terms from whole cloth.”
The NDGA also noted that Georgia’s employers are “sophisticated entities” which “have the ability to research the law in order to write enforceable contracts; courts should not have to remake their contracts in order to correct their mistakes.” This case is simply further caution to Georgia employers to review their non-competition agreements for overbreadth, vagueness, and the absence of essential limiting terms. As always, the attorneys at Seyfarth Shaw LLP are available to assist in these endeavors.
The LifeBrite Laboratories, LLC v. Cooksey case was dismissed with prejudice on January 25, 2017.
Last Friday, on January 20, 2017, the Massachusetts Legislature began its annual tradition of attempting to promulgate non-compete and trade secret reform in the Commonwealth. A new bill has been filed by the same legislators who began this process back in 2009, Senator William Brownsberger and Representative Lori Ehrlich, which brings many of the past proposals to the table with some new additions as well. As we reported in July and November, the House and the Senate were unable to bridge their differences and agree on a compromise bill in 2016.
The bill seeks to adopt much of the Uniform Trade Secrets Act. In addition, it would formally recognize the inevitable disclosure doctrine, providing that “threatened misappropriation may be enjoined upon principles of equity, including, but not limited to, consideration of party conduct before or after commencement of litigation and circumstances of potential use, upon a showing that information qualifying as a trade secret has been, or inevitably will be, misappropriated.”
On the non-compete side, the bill notably limits non-competes (with some exceptions) to a duration of one year from the date of termination, requires that the employee receive the non-compete prior to a formal offer of employment or two weeks prior the commencement of the his or her employment, and requires consideration beyond continued employment for post-hire non-competes. The bill also requires courts to apply the bright-line “red pencil” approach if the non-compete agreement fails to satisfy any of bill’s requirements, but grants courts the discretion to reform or otherwise revise an agreement to comply with certain safe harbors set forth in the bill.
Other provisions of the proposed legislation may cause some consternation for businesses or, at the very least, may require those businesses to change their practices. For example:
- An agreement must expressly state that the employee has the right to consult with counsel prior to signing;
- Employers must review all non-competes with their employees at least once every three years for them to remain valid and enforceable;
- For post-hire non-competes, notice must be given at least ten days before the agreement becomes effective;
- If the employee has breached his or her fiduciary duties, or taken property of the employer, the duration of the non-compete may be extended to two years;
- A geographic reach of any non-compete is that is limited to “areas in which the employee, during any time within the last 2 years of employment, provided services or had a material presence or influence is presumptively reasonable”;
- A restriction that “protects legitimate business interest and is limited to only the specific types of services provided by the employee at any time during the last 2 years of employment is presumptively reasonable”;
- Employers have ten days after the termination of employment to “notify the employee in writing by certified mail of the employer’s intent to enforce the noncompetition agreement.” If the employer fails to do so, the non-compete is deemed waived by the employer. That being said, this requirement does not apply if the employee has unlawfully taken the employer’s property or already breached the non-compete, a non-solicit, an anti-piracy/no-raid covenant, a confidentiality agreement, or a fiduciary duty;
- Non-compete agreements would not be enforceable against (1) employees who are not exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-209, (2) undergraduate or graduate students engaged in short-term employment, (3) employees terminated without cause or laid off, (4) employees who are 18 or under, and (5) non-employees who perform services for less than one year; and
- If the employee is a resident of, or has been working in, Massachusetts for at least thirty days immediately prior to the termination, Massachusetts law will apply, rending any out-of-state choice of law provision unenforceable.
Notably absent from the bill is the inclusion of a provision requiring “garden leave,” forcing employers to pay former employees bound by non-compete agreements fifty percent of their highest annualized salary over the last two years of employment for the restricted period. Such a provision has appeared in many of the proposed bills in the past few years.
We will continue to monitor these developments and report back with any updates. Perhaps 2017 is the finally year for non-compete and trade secret reform in Massachusetts after all. Readers of this blog know all too well, however, that this may just be another New Year’s resolution that the Massachusetts Legislature is not able to keep.
A special thanks to our friend Russell Beck for his thoughtful analysis of, and input into, the latest proposed legislation.
Apparently there may be some life left yet in the Massachusetts Legislature’s attempt to pass non-compete reform this year. As we previously reported, the House and the Senate were unable to bridge their differences and agree on a compromise bill before the formal session wrapped up on July 31.
According to the Boston Business Journal, however, “House and Senate leaders involved in the negotiations that came up just short at the close of formal sessions in July have continued talking, with a White House summit on non-competes serving as a spark plug to rekindle some hope that a compromise could still be brokered.” Among other differences, the Senate bill would have limited non-compete agreements to three months, whereas the House version had a one year limit. Both versions also provided for garden leave clauses, wherein an employee is paid during the restricted period, but the House set the compensation during the garden leave at 50% and the Senate recommended 100%. The major disagreement, however, was over language that would have allowed both the employer and the employee to substitute garden leave pay for a different, mutually agreed upon, arrangement negotiated at the commencement of employment. Even if a compromise deal is reached by the House and the Senate before the end of the year, it may be difficult to get passed in the full Legislature, as a single lawmaker can defeat any bill during an informal session by simply objecting to it.
The Associated Industries of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts High Technology Counsel have both said that they are in favor of something more akin to the House bill.
We will continue to monitor these developments and report back with any updates. It may be that 2016 is the finally year for non-compete reform in Massachusetts after all . . . But we have said that before.
On September 25, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law Senate Bill 1241. SB 1241, effective January 1, 2017, adds Section 925 to the Labor Code to restrain the ability of employers to require employees to litigate or arbitrate employment disputes (1) outside of California or (2) under the laws of another state. The only exception is where the employee was individually represented by a lawyer in negotiating an employment contract.
For companies with headquarters outside of California and employees who work and reside in California, this assault on the freedom of contract is not welcome news. Particularly affected are companies that include forum-selection clauses in contracts with California employees that include non-competition or customer non-solicit provisions. Once SB 1241 becomes effective, it may foreclose—in all but the most unusual circumstances—the sometimes successful strategy of enforcing a non-competition agreement against a California resident through litigation in another state. Continue Reading New California Law May Preclude Use of Forum-Selection Clauses to Enforce Non-Compete Agreements in Employment Contracts
Seyfarth Offers 2016-2017 Edition of 50 State Desktop Reference:
What Employers Need To Know About Non-Compete and Trade Secrets Law
With the passage of the Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) in May 2016, there is now a federal cause of action for trade secrets misappropriation. In addition, some states have passed legislation this year further narrowing the use of non-compete agreements, and both federal and state regulators have increased their scrutiny of such agreements in certain contexts.
Seyfarth’s Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud and Non-Competes Practice Group is pleased to provide the 2016-2017 Edition of our one-stop 50 State Desktop Reference, which surveys the most-asked questions related to the use of non-competes, restrictive covenants, and trade secrets in all 50 states. For the company executive, in-house counsel, or HR professional, we hope this guide will provide a starting point to answer your questions about protecting your company’s most valuable and confidential assets.
We’ve written a lot this summer about the Massachusetts legislature’s latest failed attempt at non-compete reform. Two other states in New England, however, are able to claim accomplishments in that regard. Specifically, Connecticut and Rhode Island each enacted statutes this summer imposing significant restrictions on the use of non-compete provisions in any agreement that establishes employment or any other form of professional relationship with physicians. While Connecticut’s simply law limits the duration and geographic scope of physician non-competes, Rhode Island completely banned such provisions in almost all agreements entered into with physicians.
Effective July 1, 2016, any covenants not-to-compete entered into, amended, or renewed in Connecticut can no longer restrict a physician’s competitive activities (i) for longer than one year and (ii) in a geographic region beyond 15 miles from the “primary site” where the physician practices. Primary site refers to “the office, facility or location where a majority of the revenue derived from such physician’s services is generated” or “any other office, facility or location where such physician practices and mutually agreed to by the parties and identified in the covenant not to compete.” The law also renders such provisions enforceable only if (i) the provision is made in anticipation of a partnership or ownership agreement or (ii) the employment or contractual relationship is terminated by the employer for cause.
Effective July 12, 2016, it is now unlawful in Rhode Island to restrict in any way “the right to practice medicine in any geographic area for any period of time after the termination” of any partnership, employment, or professional relationship with a physician. The law also prohibits any restrictions on the right of physicians “to solicit or seek to establish a physician/patient relationship with any current patient of the employer.” It does not, however, apply in connection with the purchase and sale of a physician practice, provided the restrictive covenant is less than five years in duration.
Entities that employ physicians in Connecticut and Rhode Island should take note of these recent changes to the law and thoroughly review their existing physician non-compete and non-solicitation agreements. These agreements may need significant modifications to be in compliance with the new standards discussed above.