For the first time in 15 years, the Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”), Massachusetts’ highest court, issued a decision analyzing the enforceability of non-solicitation covenants, the distinction between such covenants in the context of the sale of a business versus employment, and equitable tolling of restrictive covenants. As set forth below, this decision serves as an important reminder to businesses who impose restrictive covenants governed by Massachusetts law.

Factual Background

While the factual background of the case is long and twisty, only a few key details are necessary to rehash here. The defendant Matthew McGovern (“McGovern”) entered into a restrictive covenants agreement with his former co-shareholders of the Prime Motor Group (“Prime”), in exchange for plaintiffs’ agreement to buy out McGovern’s minority share in Prime with no discount. The agreement, which was made a year after McGovern had been terminated as an employee and as part of a resolution of the parties’ dispute concerning McGovern’s alleged violation of an earlier restrictive covenants agreement, prohibited McGovern from hiring, soliciting, or encouraging Prime employees to leave Prime for 18 months. The agreement contained no tolling provision, but provided that plaintiffs would be entitled to injunctive relief if McGovern breached, without needing to prove irreparable harm.  
Continue Reading

Last summer, after a decade of fits and starts, and just minutes before the end of the 2018 legislative session, the Massachusetts legislature finally passed comprehensive non-compete reform, which went into effect on October 1, 2018. It had become almost a sport watching what the legislature would do at the end of each year with that current year’s version of non-compete reform, which ranged from all out bans to merely codifying the common law. (For a recap of the many twists and turns over the years, here is just a smattering of blog posts on the topic)

If you assumed that we would get 2019 off, you would be mistaken. As we pointed out in the pages of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly and Law360, the 2018 law caused as much confusion as it did clarity, and we predicted that amendments and clarifications would be necessary. And it didn’t take long for the first such clarification to be proposed. 
Continue Reading

As we previously covered, a group of 18 state attorneys general in July filed comments with the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”), asking the FTC to incorporate labor concerns when reviewing corporate mergers and to use its enforcement powers under the Sherman Act to stop the use of non-compete, non-solicit, and no-poach agreements in many situations. Many of those same attorneys general recently sent another letter to the FTC, this time urging it to use its rulemaking authority “to bring an end to the abusive use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts.”

In the most recent letter, the attorneys general endorsed the arguments presented in a March 20, 2019, petition submitted to the FTC by various labor unions, public interest groups, and legal advocates, requesting that the FTC initiate rulemaking to classify abusive worker non-compete clauses as an unfair method of competition and per se illegal under the FTC Act for low wage workers or where the clause is not explicitly negotiated. As they did in their previous letter, the attorneys general contend that non-competes “deprive workers of the right to pursue their ambitions and can lock them into hostile or unsafe working environments.” The attorneys general also argue that the arguments in support of non-compete clauses are unpersuasive and that employers can use other “less draconian” ways to recoup their investment in job training, methods of business, and other intangibles. The attorneys general further argued that non-competes burden businesses seeking to hire new employees, which in turn inhibits innovation and drives up consumer costs by suppressing competition.
Continue Reading

Manhattan restaurant Sottolio, Inc., d/b/a Norma Gastronomia Siciliana hired Giuseppe Manco—“a noted  Italian pizza chef, or pizzaiolo”—to consult on its menu. At the same time, Manco and his wife purchased a 9% interest in the restaurant, becoming co-owners of the business. Manco signed a non-compete and non-disclosure agreement in connection with his hiring, under which Manco agreed, for ten years, to not replicate, copy, or duplicate Plaintiff’s confidential information, including its “signature recipes” for arancine, pasta alla norma, caponata, anelletti al forno, and carbonara di mare, or to use the signature recipes within a ten mile radius of Sottolio’s Manhattan restaurant. 
Continue Reading

Joining the wave of jurisdictions limiting the competitive restraints employers may place on low-wage employees is Maryland.  Maryland’s Noncompete and Conflict of Interest Clauses Act (the “Act”)―which passed without Governor Larry Hogan’s signature on May 28, 2019―will take effect on October 1, 2019. Recognizing that certain non-compete and conflict-of-interest clauses violate Maryland’s public policy and are therefore null and void, the Act prohibits employers from mandating that certain employees not join another employer or become self-employed in a same or similar business area. The covered employees are those who earn equal to or less than $15 per hour or $31,200 annually. This prohibition applies even if the parties entered into the employment agreement outside of Maryland and is not restricted to only post-employment actions.  That is, a qualified employee may work for a competitor even during the term of employment.
Continue Reading

On June 28, 2019, Governor Mills signed LD 733, An Act To Promote Keeping Workers in Maine, into law.  The Act places limits on non-compete agreements and bans restrictive employment agreements.

Non-Compete Agreements

The Act defines a non-compete agreement as one restricting the employee “from working in the same or similar profession or in a specified geographic area for a certain period of time following termination of employment.”
Continue Reading

On Tuesday, August 20, 2019, at 12:00 p.m. Central Time, in Seyfarth’s fourth installment of its 2019 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys will focus on the enforcement of non-competes and how the difficulty of enforcement of these restrictive covenants vary by state. Any company that seeks to use non-compete and non-solicitation agreements to protect

The Supreme Court in the UK, the highest court in the country, last week ruled on a restrictive covenant case for the first time in 100 years [Tillman v Egon Zehnder Ltd [2019] UKSC 32 (3 July 2019)].  It has clarified important points on interpretation, the key takeaway being it will now be easier for employers to enforce covenants against departing employees.

Covenants Must Be Necessary to Protect Employer’s Interests

It has long been established in the UK, that restrictive covenants are an unlawful restraint of trade unless they go no further than is necessary to protect the employer’s legitimate proprietary interests. The Supreme Court recognized as such in quoting the colorful language of a court decision from the 15th century criticizing a plaintiff employer looking to enforce a covenant:   
Continue Reading

On July 11, 2019, Governor Sununu signed S.B. 197 into law. S.B. 197 prohibits an employer from requiring an employee who makes 200% of the federal minimum wage ($14.50) to sign a non-compete agreement restricting the employee from working for another employer for a specified period of time or within a specific geographic area. Any

On May 14, 2019, Oregon Governor Kate Brown signed into law HB 2992, which, as of January 1, 2020, requires an employer to provide a terminated employee with a signed, written copy of his or her non-competition agreement within 30 days of his or her termination date.  Failure to do so will render the agreement voidable and unenforceable in the state of Oregon.

Backdrop for HB 2992

Under current Oregon law (ORS 653.295), a non-competition agreement is not enforceable unless the following four requirements are met: (1) the employer informs the employee of the non-competition agreement in a written employment offer received at least two weeks before the employee’s first day, or the agreement is entered into upon promotion; (2) the employee is engaged in administrative, executive, or professional level work; (3) the employer has a protectable interest in requiring the non-competition agreement; and (4) the employee’s gross annual salary and commissions at the time of termination exceeds the median family income for a four-person family.  Furthermore, the term of a non-competition agreement may not exceed 18 months from the date of the employee’s termination.  Any time remaining on a non-competition agreement beyond 18 months is voidable and precluded from enforcement by any Oregon court.
Continue Reading