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
This post originally appeared on the Workplace Class Action blog.
Seyfarth Synopsis: There are currently pending at least four class actions claiming that provisions contained in franchise agreements prohibiting the hiring of employees of other intrabrand franchisees without the consent of their employer violate the antitrust laws. That being said, in 1993 the Ninth Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of a franchisor in a similar “no-hire” case. It reasoned that due to the control the franchisor exercised over its franchisees, the franchisor and its franchisees were incapable of conspiring in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act. While the so-called “single enterprise” defense is potentially available, franchisors should be cognizant that in developing that defense, they may create evidence or admissions that would support a subsequent claim that the franchisors are joint employers of their franchisees’ employees. In light of the availability of other defenses, franchisor employers should assess whether the joint employer risk is worth accepting in order to pursue the single enterprise defense. Continue Reading Franchise “No-Hire” Agreement Class Actions And The Single Enterprise Defense
In Seyfarth’s second installment in its 2018 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Scott Humphrey, Erik Weibust, and Marcus Mintz focused on trade secret and client relationship considerations in the banking and financial services industry, with a particular focus on a firm’s relationship with its FINRA members. In addition, the panel covered what to do if trade secrets are improperly removed or disclosed or if a former employee is violating his/her restrictive covenant agreements, how to prosecute a case against a former employee who is a FINRA member, and the impact of the Protocol for Broker Recruiting on trade secrets and client relationships.
As a conclusion to this well-received webinar, we compiled a summary of takeaways:
- Remember that you can seek court injunctive relief (Temporary Restraining Order and, possibly, Preliminary Injunction) before proceeding in FINRA
- The definition of a trade secret varies, but you must take adequate steps to protect them as a company, and the information cannot be publicly available or easily discovered, to merit enforcement under the law.
- Employers can take steps at all stages to protect their confidential information—don’t forget to implement on-boarding and off-boarding procedures, as well as policies and procedures that will be in effect during an employee’s tenure, to protect your information before a problem arises.
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
On Monday, January 29th, Faraday & Future Inc., the electric car manufacturer founded by Chinese billionaire and entrepreneur Jia Yueting, filed a one-count Defend Trade Secrets Act complaint against Evelozcity, Inc., an electric car manufacturer that was recently created by Faraday & Future’s former CFO and CTO. The case is Faraday & Future Inc. v. Evelozcity Inc., 18-cv-00737, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Western Division). Continue Reading Start-Up Car Companies Clash in Electrifying Trade Secrets Case
The Protocol for Broker Recruiting (“Protocol”) allows for reciprocal poaching of brokers. More specifically, if a broker leaves one Protocol firm for another Protocol firm, the broker can a) take certain account information (client names, addresses, telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and account title information) to his/her new firm and b) solicit the clients he/she serviced at his/her former firm. Naturally then, the Protocol’s requirements conflict with confidentiality and restrictive covenant provisions that are commonly found in broker employment agreements and firm policies. Continue Reading Are Financial Services Firms Reconsidering the Protocol?
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.
In a meaty decision involving the intersection of restrictive covenant and franchise law, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio recently denied a request by D.P. Dough Franchising, LLC (“D.P. Dough”), a calzone restaurant franchisor known for late night delivery in college towns across the nation, to enjoin its former franchisee, Edward Southworth, from operating a series of Eddie’s Calzones shops in Athens, Georgia, and Columbia, South Carolina—where D.P. Dough did not even have locations at the time.
D.P. Dough asserted six different causes of action against the defendant, including (1) breach of the franchise agreement, (2) misappropriation of trade secrets, (3) copyright infringement, (4) trademark infringement, trade dress infringement, Ohio Deceptive Trade Practices Act and unfair competition, (5) tortious interference with prospective of contractual business relationships, and (6) unjust enrichment. Continue Reading Federal Court Rules Against Calzone Franchisor in Meaty Lawsuit Against Former Franchisee
Illinois is one of several jurisdictions that recognizes the authority of courts to blue pencil or judicially modify otherwise unenforceable restrictive covenants to be enforceable. See, e.g. Weitekamp v. Lane, 250 Ill. App. 3d 1017, 1028, 620 N.E.2d 454, 462 (4th Dist. 1993) (affirming judicial modification of 300-mile non-compete to specific county); Arpac Corp. v. Murray, 226 Ill. App. 3d 65, 80, 589 N.E.2d 640, 652 (1st Dist. 1992) (affirming the circuit court’s modification of restrictive covenant when it was modified “only slightly” and holding that the balance of the restrictions were reasonable and necessary to protect Arpac’s legitimate business interests).
Recent reported decisions, however, cast doubt on the availability of judicial modification in all but exceedingly limited circumstances. In the past three years, only a handful of cases even mentioned judicial modification and, of those cases, not one actually modified, or affirmed the modification of, an otherwise unenforceable covenant. See AssuredPartners, Inc. v. Schmitt, 2015 IL App (1st) 141863, ¶ 52 (2015) (refusing to modify restrictive covenants because “deficiencies too great to permit modification”); Bankers Life & Cas. Co. v. Miller, No. 14 CV 3165, 2015 WL 515965, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 6, 2015) (deciding choice of law, noting that “Illinois courts are circumspect in their modification” and that “Illinois courts look skeptically at modifications, and may modify covenants only after ensuring that fairness is not harmed”); Fleetwood Packaging v. Hein, No. 14 C 9670, 2014 WL 7146439, at *9 n.7 (N.D. Ill. Dec. 15, 2014) (rejecting a proposed modification that would a create a durational limitation where none existed before, noting that “[e]ven when courts have found judicial reformation to be warranted, the challenged restrictive covenants needed only slight modification to become reasonable”). Continue Reading Illinois Employers Should Not Depend on Blue Penciling to Enforce Restrictive Covenants
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.