Late last spring we reported on the second published decision out of the District of Massachusetts citing the Massachusetts Noncompetition Agreement Act (“MNCA”), NuVasive, Inc. v. Day. On April 8, 2020, the First Circuit issued a decision on the defendant’s appeal, upholding the lower court’s ruling. While the First Circuit’s decision does not directly analyze an agreement that is subject to the MNCA, it is still instructive for out-of-state employers with personnel who may be subject to that law.
Continue Reading The First Circuit Weighs in on the Applicability of Massachusetts’ Non-Compete Law

On April 13, 2020, the Department of Justice’s Antitrust Division and the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Competition released a joint statement and press release regarding “competition in labor markets” and potential agency actions in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. While the agencies’ joint statement appears to be focused on collusion between employers entering into horizontal “no-hire” or “no-poach” agreements, employers in certain industries affected by the crisis should also exercise reasonable care in enforcing vertical restrictive covenants, including non-competition and non-solicitation agreements.
Continue Reading The DOJ and FTC Issue Joint Statement on Competition in Labor Markets in Light of COVID-19: What Effect, If Any, Does This Have on Non-Competes?

As we recently reported, Virginia recently joined Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Washington in passing a new law restricting the use of non-competes against low-wage earners (DC legislators made a similar attempt last year, but there has been no movement on those efforts). Now, Indiana has joined the growing number of states that have recently enacted legislation to restrict the permissible scope of non-compete agreements, although Indiana’s new non-compete law ignores the low-wage issue and instead focuses on a particular occupation: physicians.
Continue Reading A Check-Up on Non-Competes: Indiana Legislature Passes Law to Facilitate Physician Mobility

Legislators in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the site of Patrick Henry’s infamous “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech, have enacted legislation that gives more liberty to low-wage workers looking to leave for greener pastures, joining the ranks of many other states that have passed similar restrictions (stay tuned for a post soon on Indiana’s own recently passed non-compete legislation application to physicians). While the new law was passed quietly, it’s not particularly surprising that the Commonwealth sought to join the trend of restricting non-competes for low earners (see for example similar efforts in DC, Maryland, Maine, New Hampshire, Washington, and Massachusetts)—especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic that is sending unemployment rates soaring.
Continue Reading “Give Me Liberty”: Virginia Legislature Passes Law to Exempt Low-Wage Workers from Employment Restrictions

On Thursday, April 23 at 12 p.m. Central, Seyfarth attorneys Erik Weibust, Marcus Mintz, and Jeremy Cohen are presenting Weathering the COVID-19 Storm With Your Trade Secrets and Customer Goodwill Intact, a webinar is Seyfarth’s Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic Webinar Series.

COVID-19 has changed the way most companies are currently doing business, from requiring

One of the first things a company should do when it suspects that its trade secrets have been compromised or that an employee has violated post-employment restrictive covenants is to conduct an investigation. Doing so will identify and ensure preservation of evidence supporting any claims, and is critical to the ability to demonstrate the need for emergency injunctive relief, especially at a time when courts are taking a rigorous approach to what constitutes a “litigation emergency.” Conducting a prompt investigation also helps to avoid any potential defenses of delay, bad faith, or a failure to investigate.
Continue Reading Conducting Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Investigations Remotely

Imagine this scenario: You are the general counsel of a company in a particularly competitive industry. A key company employee who has access to some of the company’s most sensitive information has been working remotely for the last three weeks as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, and the employee exploits the opportunity to print or download confidential company information to a personal device, including customer lists and product specifications. The employee then gives notice and immediately begins employment with a direct competitor and begins soliciting your top customers. You consult with outside counsel who drafts a complaint and motion for preliminary injunctive relief and expedited discovery. But, as a result of COVID-19, you cannot obtain emergency relief, or the ability to do so is severely limited. What do you do?
Continue Reading Preparing for Trade Secret and Restrictive Covenant Litigation While the Court Near You is Closed

As we have previously reported, courts across the country are adjourning most appearances, including trials, and hearing only “emergency matters” during the current COVID-19 crisis. As a result, obtaining emergency injunctive relief may be more difficult than in normal circumstances. And attempting to obtain injunctive relief to enforce non-compete agreements against employees who are laid off, while permissible in a majority of states, may be particularly difficult now given that we are quickly entering (if not already in) a period of high unemployment. At the same time, some employers are loosening security measures in the name of convenience and efficiency for remote workers, potentially making trade secret misappropriation easier (we have provided tips for avoiding just that). But that does not mean employers are out of luck if an employee (or someone else) misappropriates its trade secrets or steals its customers. Companies that are genuinely and immediately harmed by trade secret misappropriation and breach of restrictive covenants should still seriously consider seeking injunctive relief, particularly if the activity is causing significant harm to their business. Damages are always an available, if not immediate, remedy, however, where injunctive relief may not be practical.
Continue Reading Emergency Injunction Not in the Cards? Damages May Be Your Winning Hand

Seyfarth Synopsis: A recent case out of the Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas highlights the challenges in proving liability against a third-party competitor for knowing participation in breach of duty of loyalty/fiduciary duty, tortious interference with contract, and conspiracy when the third-party competitor participates in the solicitation of current employees. The Court’s opinion emphasizes that although an employee owes a duty of loyalty to her current employer, current employees can generally plan to compete—and communicate among themselves to do so—while still employed. The decision further illustrates the difficulty in proving a third-party competitor participated in any unlawful plans to compete, without some evidence showing the competitor had knowledge of the departing employees’ restrictive covenants and directing the wrongful acts. As such, the opinion demonstrates the importance of enforceable non-compete, non-solicit, and confidentiality agreements with key employees.

One of the worst case scenarios for a company is an entire team—including high level executives—jumping ship to a competitor, and directly competing against the former employer in the same space and market. A recent decision from the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Houston, Texas provides an interesting look into just such a situation, and it reinforces that it is difficult for a company to recoup its damages after a max exodus of employees if it hasn’t taken the necessary precautions ahead of time.
Continue Reading A Herculean Task: Proving a Competitor’s Knowledge and Participation in an Unfair Competition Case

According to a March 26, 2020, News Release issued by the Department of Labor (“DOL”), initial unemployment claims in the United States soared to a seasonally adjusted 3.3 million the week ending March 21, 2020, the greatest single week increase in recorded history, primarily because of layoffs resulting from COVID-19. Indeed, the DOL reports that:

During the week ending March 21, the increase in initial claims are due to the impacts of the COVID-19 virus. Nearly every state providing comments cited the COVID-19 virus impacts. States continued to cite services industries broadly, particularly accommodation and food services. Additional industries heavily cited for the increases included the health care and social assistance, arts, entertainment and recreation, transportation and warehousing, and manufacturing industries.

Some researchers estimate that as many 1 in 5 US employees are subject to non-compete agreements. This means that, in all likelihood, hundreds of thousands of employees who are subject to non-compete agreements were terminated in the last week or so alone.
Continue Reading Enforcement of Non-Compete Agreements During Times of High Unemployment