As the global economy falters, a fortunate few companies have seen tremendous growth as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Among the companies benefitting from the shelter-in-place orders currently in effect is Peloton Interactive, Inc. (“Peloton”), which manufactures and distributes home exercise equipment capable of streaming live and pre-recorded classes. Since Peloton’s IPO in late 2019, its shares have jumped over 50%, largely based on its outstanding second quarter results. As people have been shut-out of their gyms, they are frequently turning to alternatives, including Peloton, to stay active (and sane). In full disclosure, that includes the authors of this article and many of our colleagues.
Continue Reading Avoid Spinning Your Wheels: Peloton as a Case Study in the Protection of Customer Goodwill

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

Continuing our annual tradition, we have compiled our top developments and headlines for 2019 & 2020 in trade secret, non-compete, and computer fraud law. Here’s what you need to know to keep abreast of the ever-changing law in this area.

1. Another Year, Another Attempt in Congress to Ban Non-Competes Nationwide

Senators Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Todd Young (R-Ind.) introduced legislation in 2019 entitled the Workforce Mobility Act (“WMA”). The WMA seeks to ban non-compete agreements outside of the sale of a business or dissolution of a partnership.

Not only would the WMA abolish covenants not to compete nationwide, outside of the extremely narrow exceptions highlighted above, but it would also provide the Department of Labor (DOL) and Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with broad enforcement power. If enacted, the legislation would empower the FTC and DOL to enforce the ban through fines on employers who either fail to notify employees that non-compete agreements are illegal or who require employees to sign covenants not to compete. Additionally, the WMA establishes a private right of action for all employees allegedly aggrieved by a violation of the WMA.

The WMA contains a carve out for parties to enter into an agreement to protect trade secrets. As currently drafted, the WMA does not abrogate the scope of protections provided by the Defend Trade Secrets Act.

Presently, there are no generally applicable federal restrictions on non-compete agreements, and enacting such a law would have to pass Constitutional muster. We expect to see continued activity at the federal legislative level to attempt to ban or limit the use of non-competes.

2. New State Legislation Regarding Restrictive Covenants


Continue Reading Top 10 Developments and Headlines in Trade Secret, Non-Compete, and Computer Fraud Law for 2019 & 2020

Within the last five months, the two executive arms responsible for enforcing antitrust laws—the US Department of Justice (“DOJ”) and the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”)—held public workshops to examine the effect of non-compete clauses in employment contracts on the labor market. The DOJ held its workshop on September 23, 2019, while the FTC recently held its own at the top of the year, on January 9, 2020. The purpose of the FTC workshop was “to examine whether there is a sufficient legal basis and empirical economic support to promulgate a Commission Rule that would restrict the use of non-compete clauses in employer-employee employment contracts.”

Why the FTC now wants to regulate in the employment space is not readily apparent apart from attempting to capitalize on a low-hanging fruit populist issue concerning the overreporting of some companies allegedly using non-competes with low-wage workers.
Continue Reading A Solution in Search of a Problem? FTC Hosts Workshop to Consider Authority to Abolish Non-Competes

Seyfarth Partner Erik Weibust was recently named as a co-chair of the Restrictive Covenants/Tortious Interference Subcommittee of the American Bar Association Litigation Section.

The Restrictive Covenants/Tortious Interference Subcommittee is part of the Business Torts & Unfair Competition Committee. The Committee and Subcommittee focus on keeping business litigators fully informed on issues and trends regarding fiduciary

Seyfarth Synopsis: On Friday, August 9, 2019, Governor J. B. Pritzker signed a wide-ranging bill that, among other things, encompasses the Workplace Transparency Act. The Act, which will impact nearly every employer in Illinois: significantly restricts inclusion of non-disclosure and non-disparagement provisions in employment agreements, separation agreements, and settlement agreements; limits an employer’s ability to “unilaterally” require certain terms (including mandatory arbitration) as a condition of employment; creates annual training and disclosure requirements to the Illinois Department of Human Rights, and establishes new civil penalties for non-compliance. The new law includes additional requirements specific to restaurants, bars, hotels, and casinos. Those requirements take effect immediately, whereas the broader employment law changes take effect January 1, 2020.
Continue Reading Newly Enacted Workplace Transparency Act to Change Illinois Employment Law Landscape

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 Maryland Low-Wage Workers Are Exempt from Non-Compete Clauses

In Seyfarth’s fourth installment in its 2019 Trade Secrets Webinar Series, Seyfarth attorneys Kristine Argentine, Eric Barton, and Katelyn Miller focused on the enforcement of non-competes and how the difficulty of enforcement of these restrictive covenants vary by state, especially based on recent legislation in various states.

As a conclusion to this webinar, we

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 First UK Supreme Court Decision on Restrictive Covenants for 100 years