There are limited exceptions to California’s general prohibition of post-termination non-competition agreements. One such exception is the sale of business exception found in California Business & Professions Code § 16601. This exception allows a buyer to enforce non-compete agreements against a seller if the seller is an “owner of a business entity selling or otherwise disposing of all of his or her ownership interests in the business entity.”

In Blue Mountain Enterprises, LLC v. Owen, 74 Cal. App. 5th 537 (2022), the Court of Appeal found that section 16601 applied to a three year post-termination non-solicitation of customer provision in an employment agreement and upheld the trial court’s decision to enforce the provision against the executive/seller who entered into a joint venture. The court found that section 16601 applied as a matter of law because the defendant “dispos[ed] of all of his … ownership interest” in one transaction agreement while concurrently agreeing under an employment agreement and that both contracts, along with other contracts the parties executed, were drafted to accomplish the parties’ joint venture.  Id. at 553. The court also found that the trial court correctly found that the defendant’s letter for his new business constituted a solicitation as a matter of law because the letter went well beyond an announcement by actively encouraging customers to leave and do business with his new company. Id. at 556.
Continue Reading California Court of Appeal Enforces Non-Solicitation of Customers Provision in Joint Venture Transaction Involving Key Employee

On March 7, 2022, the US Department of the Treasury issued a report entitled “The State of Labor Competition,” (the “Report”)[1] making clear once again that the regulation of anti-competitive practices, including curtailing the use of non-competition covenants, continues to be a core component of President Biden’s agenda. The Report states that its purpose “is to summarize the prevalence and impact of uncompetitive firm behavior in labor markets,” focusing predominantly on practices that firms use to restrain competition for workers in order to lower compensation, including in particular no-poach agreements and non-compete agreements. Citing various research studies and data points, the Report asserts in particular that the lack of labor market competition decreases wages “at roughly 20 percent relative to the level in a fully competitive market,” noting in particular the impact of these practices on low-income workers, workers of color, women, and immigrants, and their contribution generally to income inequality and economic stagnation.
Continue Reading US Department of Treasury Takes Aim at Non-Compete Agreements

Enforceability, Issue Spotting Tools, and Best Practices to Protect Intellectual Capital

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In the fourth installment of the 2022 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys will discuss restrictive covenants, including non-competes, non-solicitations,
Continue Reading Upcoming Webinar! Anatomy of a Restrictive Covenant

In what may seem to be a surprising series of events, given the state’s infamous hostility to restrictive covenants, a California appellate panel recently affirmed a Los Angeles Superior Court judgment effectively enjoining Netflix from soliciting certain employees subject to specific fixed-term employment agreements with Fox. More specifically, the panel—applying reasoning similar to the California Supreme Court’s in Ixchel Pharma, LLC v. Biogen, Inc.—upheld the trial court’s granting of summary adjudication in favor of Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation and Fox 21, Inc. (collectively, “Fox”) on their claim under Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. against Netflix Inc. (“Netflix”) and corresponding injunction in an unpublished but closely followed decision.

In affirming the judgment, the panel expressly rejected Netflix’s contention that the injunction, which prohibits Netflix, “individually … and/or in concert with others,” from “solicit[ing] employees who are subject to [f]ixed-[t]erm [e]mployment [a]greements with [Fox] or induc[ing] such employees to breach their valid [f]ixed-[t]erm [e]mployment [a]greements with [Fox],” constituted “an invalid restraint on employee mobility” under California public policy, Business and Professions Code section 16600, and other statutes concerning personal services contracts. The panel acknowledged each of these arguments and underlying public policy concerns, but ultimately found that they were not supported by the facts at hand, particularly in light of countervailing policies “favoring the stability and predictability of fixed-term employment relationships.” The panel also observed that the injunction had been carefully limited, and narrowly drawn by the trial court to curb wrongful conduct by Netflix without impeding the ability of individual employees to independently seek out new employment.
Continue Reading California Court of Appeal Affirms Injunction Barring Netflix From Poaching Fox Executives, Citing Unfair Competition

Suffice it to say, it’s never a good idea to deliberately violate a trial court’s order, much less do so repeatedly. That, however, is precisely what Khosrow Daneshgari did in Patriot Towing Services, LLC v. Daneshgari, et al. Notwithstanding Daneshgari’s willful contempt, the Georgia Court of Appeals recently ruled that the trial court nevertheless overstepped its authority by extending the expiration date of the parties’ non-compete agreement. See Daneshgari, et al. v. Patriot Towing Services, LLC, Georgia Court of Appeals, Case No. A21A0887, Oct. 21, 2021.
Continue Reading Georgia Court of Appeals Reiterates that Trial Courts Cannot Rely on Equity to Extend a Non-Compete’s Expiration Date

A recent Ninth Circuit ruling in a dispute between two health care staffing agencies clarifies that non-solicitation provisions in business-to-business collaboration agreements are not per se violations of the Sherman Act. Aya Healthcare Services, Inc. v. AMN Healthcare, Inc. No. 20-55679, 2021 WL 3671384 (9th Cir. Aug. 19, 2021).

Background and District Court Proceedings

When hospitals and other health care facilities have nursing shortages, travel nurses provide a temporary solution. Health care facilities often turn to staffing agencies to recruit nurses for these assignments.
Continue Reading Collaborate Away: Ninth Circuit Rules that Non-Solicitation Provisions in Collaboration Agreements Are Not Per Se Violations of Federal Antitrust Law

In the fourth installment of our 2021 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Jesse Coleman, Matt Simmons, and Kevin Green outlined recent legal developments in Texas trade secret and non-compete law and how it is similar to and diverse from other jurisdictions. The webinar also covered how these latest developments impact counseling, litigation, and deals involving companies with employees based
Continue Reading Webinar Recap! How and Why Texas is Different When it Comes to Trade Secrets and Non-Competes

On Tuesday, December 8 at 1 p.m. Eastern, Seyfarth partner and Trade Secrets, Computer Fraud & Non-Competes practice co-chair Robert Milligan is presenting “Negotiating Enforceable Noncompetition and Non-Solicitation Agreements: Compliance with State Statutes and Case Law,” a 90-minute CLE webinar for Strafford.

The webinar will discuss current legislative and case law trends regarding non-compete and non-solicitation agreements, offer best practices
Continue Reading Robert Milligan to Present Latest Developments in Non-Compete Webinar for Strafford

Tens of millions of employees have been laid off or furloughed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now that the reopening process has begun in most states, many of those employees are being rehired and reactivated. For the month of May 2020, the unemployment rate actually started to decline after the massive increase over the prior few months, as businesses began the return to normal and employers who obtained relief from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) restored their workforces to pre-pandemic levels in order to secure loan forgiveness.

One thing that employers may not be considering when they rehire laid off or furloughed employees is what impact this has on prior restrictive covenant agreements with those employees. We previously discussed whether non-competes are enforceable against employees who are laid off. But what about employees who are laid off and then rehired, or furloughed and then reactivated? Are restrictive covenant agreements signed by employees prior to the layoffs or furloughs still enforceable if they ultimately leave and join a competitor down the road? The answer depends on whether the employee was technically, even if temporarily, laid off rather than furloughed, and what state’s law applies.
Continue Reading No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Return to Work May Mean Reduced Protections for Trade Secrets and Customer Goodwill

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 State Attorneys General Keep Pressure on FTC to Regulate Non-Competes