For the third year in a row, the Washington state legislature failed to pass non-compete legislation, declining to take action on two separate bills that would have severely restricted employers’ ability to enforce former employees’ non-competition agreements. Continue Reading Washington State’s Legislature Rains on Non-Compete Critics’ Parade Yet Again
Continuing our annual tradition, we present the top developments/headlines for 2017/2018 in trade secret, computer fraud, and non-compete law.
1. Notable Defend Trade Secrets Act Developments
Just two years after its enactment, the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) continues to be one of the most significant and closely followed developments in trade secret law. The statute provides for a federal civil cause of action for trade secret theft, protections for whistleblowers, and new remedies (e.g., ex parte seizure of property), that were not previously available under state trade secret laws. Continue Reading Top Developments/Headlines in Trade Secret, Computer Fraud, and Non-Compete Law in 2017/2018
This post originally appeared on the Workplace Class Action blog.
Seyfarth Synopsis: On February 1, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina entered an order granting in part, and denying in part, the plaintiff’s motion for class certification in a no-hire antitrust case entitled Seaman v. Duke University, 1:15-CV-462, at 1-2 (M.D.N.C. Feb. 1, 2018) (A copy of the decision can be found here.) The case was brought against Duke University, Duke University Health System (collectively “Duke”), and various University of North Carolina entities and one of its executives (collectively “UNC”). The complaint alleged that the defendants had entered into an agreement not to hire each other’s medical faculty employees in violation of federal antitrust laws. With some notable exceptions it has been difficult for plaintiffs to achieve class certification in wage suppression cases such as Seaman. The ruling is a “must read” for employers, as the Court’s reasoning and conclusions make it difficult to predict whether this case will be helpful to the plaintiffs’ bar in other cases.
Background To The Case
Seaman, an Assistant Professor of Radiology at Duke, contended that she applied for a position at UNC in 2015. She alleged that she was denied consideration due to an agreement among the Duke and UNC defendants that they would not hire each another’s medical faculty employees unless the hire involved a promotion. Seaman alleged that this agreement not only suppressed the compensation of defendants’ medical faculty members, but also their other skilled medical employees. Thus, Seaman sought to certify a class consisting not only of defendants’ medical faculty members, but also their physicians, nurses, and skilled medical staff. Id. at 1-2. Continue Reading Court Certifies Class In Duke-UNC No-Hire Workplace Antitrust Lawsuit
In Seyfarth’s first webinar in its 2018 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Michael Wexler, Robert Milligan, and Joshua Salinas presented 2017 National Year In Review: What You Need to Know About the Recent Cases/Developments in Trade Secrets, Non-Compete, and Computer Fraud Law. The panel reviewed noteworthy cases and other legal developments from across the nation over the last year in the areas of trade secrets and data theft, non-competes and other restrictive covenants, and computer fraud. Plus, they provided their predictions for what to watch for in 2018.
As a conclusion to this well-received webinar, we compiled a summary of takeaways:
- While the Defend Trade Secrets Act provides for an ex parte seizure order, courts have been very unwilling to provide such relief except in extraordinary circumstances.
- In light of recent state laws and appellate court decisions at both the federal and state level in 2017, choice of venue and choice of law provisions must be carefully considered and strategically implemented.
- The ABA’s May 4, 2017, Ethics Opinion encourages lawyers to have an open exchange of communication with their clients about the securities measures their firms are taking to safeguard the clients’ confidential information.
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.
50 State Desktop Reference: What Businesses Need to Know About Non-Compete and Trade Secret Law
It has been an extraordinary year regarding trade secret and non-compete issues. We saw more and more cases filed in federal court asserting claims under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) and for alleged violations of non-competes. Some states passed legislation further narrowing the use of non-compete agreements, and some media outlets, academics, and regulators have continued their criticism of such agreements. We expect over the next year, the law to continue to develop regarding the DTSA’s application, definitions, scope, limitations, benefits and interpretation with regard to the immunity provisions. Our 50 State Desktop Reference is a useful guide to know how the law is currently applied in each state.
Seyfarth’s Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud and Non-Competes Practice Group is pleased to provide the 2017-2018 Edition of our one-stop 50 State Desktop Reference, which surveys the most-asked questions related to the use of covenants and intellectual capital protection 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.
How To Get Your Desktop Reference
To download the pdf of 2017-2018 Edition of the 50 State Desktop Reference, click here.
To request a hard copy of the Desktop Reference, click on the button below.
Robert B. Milligan, Seyfarth Partner and Co-Chair of the Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud & Non-Competes Practice Group, will be a speaker for the “Effective Use of Non-Compete Agreements by International Employers” webinar presented by Practicing Law Institute (“PLI”) on August 10, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. Eastern.
Multi-national employers often find that the appropriate use of non-compete agreements provides a business advantage in the marketplace. Companies often struggle however in implementing a consistent strategy and approach, particularly with the challenges presented by a mobile workforce and continual changes in applicable law. Please join us for an informative presentation by two leading employment lawyers who specialize in formulating non-compete strategies for multi-national employers.
Robert B. Milligan of Seyfarth Shaw LLP and Yvonne Gallagher of Harbottle & Lewis LLP will cover the following topics:
- Creating and maintaining a comprehensive non-compete strategy
- Solutions for addressing the continual changes in applicable law through choice of law, forum, and arbitration provisions
- Discussion of applicable law in key forums and recent developments in United States and Europe
- Integrating non-compete strategy with trade secret and confidential information protections
For more information or to register for the event, click here.
On June 3, 2017, Governor Sandoval signed Assembly Bill 276 into law, amending Nevada Revised Statute 613, which governs non-competition agreements. Notably, the law adds requirements to the enforceability and validity of non-competition agreements, and importantly, now allows courts to “blue-pencil” non-competition agreements, overturning Nevada Supreme Court’s recent decision in Golden Road Motor Inn, Inc. v. Islam.
First, the new law establishes that a non-competition agreement is void and unenforceable unless the agreement satisfies four requirements. The agreement must: (1) be supported by valuable consideration; (2) not impose a restraint greater than what is required to protect the employer; (3) not impose an undue hardship on the employee; and (4) impose restrictions that are appropriate in relation to the valuable consideration supporting the agreement. Continue Reading Nevada Enacts New Non-Compete Law
Hearkening back to the rivalry between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers in the 1980s, Massachusetts courts (as well as others around the country) have increasingly been asked to analyze the application of California law in litigation related to non-competition agreements. As many readers of this blog know, non-competition agreements are generally not enforceable under California law. Thus, even where the subject agreement contains a forum selection clause outside of California, or where the employee may have worked in another state, former employees are increasingly racing to file first in California courts or arguing that California law should be applied, thereby hoping to avoid any restrictions on mobility.
The Business Litigation Session of the Suffolk Superior Court in Massachusetts recently analyzed these issues in a pair of cases involving the application of California law to cases and agreements outside of the state. In FTI, LLC, et al. v. Duffy, et al., three of the plaintiffs’ former employees resigned and shortly thereafter filed suit in California seeking a declaration that the former employees’ non-competition agreements were unenforceable. Five months later, the plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts, alleging breach of the non-competition agreements, trade secret misappropriation, breach of fiduciary duty, unfair competition, and other business torts. The defendants moved to stay the case pending final resolution of the California case. One of the former employees also moved to dismiss the claims against him for lack of personal jurisdiction. Continue Reading The Latest East Coast/West Coast Conflict: Massachusetts Courts Consider the Application of California Law in Non-Compete Litigation
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.