Ars Technica quotes Russell Beck on the New Massachusetts Noncompete Law

Russell Beck was quoted by Ars Technica in a recent article, “REGIONAL ADVANTAGE — Massachusetts gives workers new protections against noncompete clauses,” that discusses the new Massachusetts noncompete law.

Addressing why Massachusetts rejected California’s approach of banning noncompetes, Russell is quoted as follows:

“The legislature made the determination that noncompetes do serve legitimate business purposes and shouldn’t be prohibited,” said Russell Beck, an attorney who helped draft the legislation.

“California has by far the most trade secrets litigation,” Beck pointed out to me. “The inference I draw from that is that companies need to protect their information one way or another; if they can’t use noncompetes, they’re going to use trade secrets law.”

The article was published on August 22, 2018.

For the past nine years, Russell Beck has been advising various members of the Massachusetts Legislature (primarily Senator Will Brownsberger and Representative Lori Ehrlich) and he was the lead drafter of their bills. Most of the language in the current noncompete law is language that Russell Beck drafted or is based on language that he drafted, though a number of the provisions (such as garden leave) were added by others or significantly modified by others.

For up-to-the-minute analysis of legal issues concerning non-compete agreements in Massachusetts and across the United States, read Russell Beck’s blog, Fair Competition Law.

eck Reed Riden LLP is among the leading authorities in trade secret, noncompete, and unfair competition law, and our experience handling these matters is backed by our extensive employment law and business litigation experience. Our hand-picked team combines attorneys with complementary expertise and practical experience.

The Wall Street Journal featured Beck Reed Riden LLP’s noncompete agreement experience. In 2016, the White House issued a report entitled, “Non-Compete Agreements: Analysis of the Usage, Potential Issues, and State Responses,” relying in part on Beck Reed Riden LLP’s research and analysis, including its 50 State Noncompete Survey.

Russell Beck’s work in this area is well recognized; it includes:

  • Over twenty two years of working on trade secret, noncompete, and unfair competition matters
  • Assisting the Obama White House as part of a small working group to develop President Obama’s Noncompete Call to Action
  • Authoring the book Negotiating, Drafting, and Enforcing Noncompetition Agreements and Related Restrictive Covenants (5th ed., MCLE, Inc. 2015), used by other lawyers to help them with their noncompete cases
  • Drafting and advising on legislation for the Massachusetts Legislature to define, codify, and improve noncompetition law
  • Teaching Trade Secrets and Restrictive Covenants at Boston University School of Law
  • Founding and administrating the award-winning blog, Fair Competition Law
  • Establishing and administrating the Noncompete Lawyers and Trade Secret Protection groups on LinkedIn, with over 1,600 members around the world
  • Founded and chaired the Trade Secret / Noncompete Practice for an AmLaw 100 firm

In addition, Russell was honored for his work in this area of law in the 2017 Chambers USA Guide, which stated, “‘Excellent attorney‘ Russell Beck of Beck Reed Riden LLP is a ‘terrific noncompete specialist,’ according to industry commentators. He is a skilled litigator with experience representing clients ranging from individuals to large corporations at both trial and appellate levels.”

Beck Reed Riden LLP is Boston’s innovative litigation boutique. Our lawyers have years of experience at large law firms, working with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups and individuals. We focus on business litigation and labor and employment. We are experienced litigators and counselors, helping our clients as business partners to resolve issues and develop strategies that best meet our clients’ legal and business needs – before, during, and after litigation. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and help you. Read more about us, the types of matters we handle, and what we can do for you here.

Massachusetts Court Warns Employers Not to Coast on Forum Selection Clause

he Business Litigation Session of the Massachusetts Superior Court recently dismissed a noncompete case against a California employee on the basis of forum non conveniens, notwithstanding a Massachusetts forum selection clause and a Massachusetts choice-of-law provision in the defendant’s employment agreement. The case is titled Oxford Global Resources, LLC v. Hernandezand it was issued on June 9, 2017.

This decision calls into question the enforceability of forum selection and choice-of-law provisions in employment agreements with California employees. The decision also characterizes employment agreements (especially with low-level employees) as “contracts of adhesion” that may be subject to more careful judicial scrutiny. Finally, as discussed below, the Hernandez opinion takes a dim view of what constitutes an employer’s “confidential information,” highlighting existing tension in Massachusetts case law.

Background

efendant Jeremy Hernandez was a California resident who was recruited, hired, and employed by Plaintiff Oxford Global Resources, LLC, in California. Hernandez’s employment with Oxford was conditioned on his signing a “protective covenants agreement,” which contained confidentiality, noncompete, and nonsolicitation obligations, as well as a Massachusetts choice-of-law provision and a Massachusetts forum selection clause. Oxford filed the case claiming that Hernandez breached his agreement when he used Oxford’s confidential information to solicit its clients on behalf of a competitor. Hernandez moved to dismiss the case on the basis of forum non conveniens.

As an initial matter, the Court found that because Hernandez had no meaningful opportunity to negotiate the terms of his employment agreement, it was a contract of adhesion that was subject to careful scrutiny. The Court based its finding on the following facts:

  1. Oxford would not have hired Hernandez if he did not sign the agreement.
  2. Oxford did not allege or offer any evidence suggesting that the parties negotiated the choice-of-law or forum selection provisions, or that Oxford had even demonstrated a willingness to discuss the issues.
  3. Hernandez started as an entry-level employee at $50,000 annual salary.
  4. Hernandez possessed no prior industry skill or experience that would have given him bargaining power to negotiate the agreement.

Notably, the Court did not give any weight to “boilerplate language” in the agreement stating that Hernandez had read the agreement and had the opportunity to have his own lawyer review it.

The Court next found that enforcing the agreement’s Massachusetts choice-of-law provision would result in “substantial injustice” to Hernandez. Because Hernandez was a California resident who was recruited, hired, and employed there, California law (generally voiding noncompetes) would otherwise govern the dispute absent a choice-of-law provision. The court ruled that enforcing the provision would deny Hernandez the protections of California law and subject him to a noncompete.

Although some California courts recognize a trade secret exception that permits the enforcement of agreements that are “necessary to protect the employer’s trade secrets,” the Court nevertheless found that the agreement, which provided that Hernandez could not compete against Oxford using its trade secret information, was not enforceable because it defined confidential information so broadly as to include the identities of Oxford’s customers, prospective customers, and consultants. The Court stated:

The non-competition restriction that Oxford seeks to enforce therefore goes far beyond what is permitted under California law or, for that matter, under Massachusetts law.

An employee is free to carry away his own memory of customers’ names, needs, and habits and use that information, even to serve or to solicit business from those very customers. Such “remembered information” is not confidential because the information itself, as distinguished from an employer’s compilation of such information into a list or database, is known to the customers and thus not kept secret by the employer

The Court concluded that:

Since the mere identity of customers is not confidential, the Agreement that Oxford seeks to enforce is the kind of non-competition agreement that is void under California law. Accordingly, the Court held that the choice-of-law provision was not enforceable.

Finding that it was evident that Oxford sought to include a Massachusetts forum selection clause in order to avoid the application of California law, the Court also held that the forum selection clause was not enforceable under California law.

Ultimately, the Court dismissed the case on grounds of forum non conveniens, finding that it would be unfair to compel Hernandez to defend in Massachusetts and that California had a stronger interest in the case.

Import of the Hernandez Decision

ernandez not only underscores the difficulty of enforcing restrictive covenants against California residents, but also generally calls into question the validity of choice-of-law and forum selection clauses, especially where the employee has had no meaningful opportunity to negotiate the terms of his employment agreement.

Notably, in characterizing the employment agreement as a “contract of adhesion,” the Court in Hernandez gave no weight to the affirmative representations in the agreement (stating that the employee had read and had opportunity to have his attorney review the agreement). Historically, the Superior Court has given varying degrees of weight to these types of affirmative representations.

Moreover, Hernandez adds to the argument that (in some instances) employees are permitted to use their employer’s confidential information concerning client names, needs, and habits, as long as that information is “remembered” rather than compiled into a list or database. In this respect, Hernandez highlights the tension that exists in Massachusetts case law regarding confidential information that is stored in an employee’s memory.

Given the evolving case law on these issues, businesses seeking to protect their confidential information should consult with their attorneys before drafting or enforcing these types of agreements.

***

Hannah T. Joseph, the author of this article, is a lawyer in the firm’s litigation practice, whose work in intellectual property has been recognized by, among others, the Boston Bar Association (where she serves as Co-Chair of the Boston Bar Association’s Intellectual Property Committee). Thank you to Monika Zarski for contributing to this article.

Beck Reed Riden LLP is Boston’s innovative litigation boutique. Our lawyers have years of experience at large law firms, working with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups and individuals. We focus on business litigation and labor and employment. We are experienced litigators and counselors, helping our clients as business partners to resolve issues and develop strategies that best meet our clients’ legal and business needs – before, during, and after litigation. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and help you. Read more about us, the types of matters we handle, and what we can do for you here.

50 State Noncompete Chart

Image of US Map for Website HiRes

For Beck Reed Riden LLP’s most-recent chart, please see here. (The post below is from August 2015.)

Beck Reed Riden LLP is pleased to make available its updated 50 state (plus DC) survey chart of noncompete laws. The chart is a summary of employee noncompetition laws and applicable standards throughout the country.

Recent articles in the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal feature Beck Reed Riden LLP’s expertise in noncompete and trade secret issues.

The chart covers the following:

  • Whether noncompete agreements are permitted in the state

  • Governing statutory authority, if any

  • Identification of the protectable interests (also known as legitimate interests or legitimate business interests)

  • Applicable standards for enforcement

  • Industries or professions exempt from noncompete agreements

  • Whether continued employment is sufficient consideration to support a

    BLF 2014_Silver_General

    noncompete

  • Whether the state follows the reformation rule (also known as “judicial modification,” the “rule of reasonableness,” the “reasonable alteration approach,” and the “partial-enforcement” rule), the blue pencil doctrine, or the red pencil doctrine (also known as the “all or nothing” rule)

  • Whether noncompete agreements are enforceable against at-will employees whose employment was terminated without cause

The chart is available for download here.

[pdfviewer width="600px" height="425px" beta="true/false"]http://www.beckreedriden.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Noncompetes-50-State-Survey-Chart-20151214.pdf[/pdfviewer]

This version was updated as of August 23, 2015.

Check back for periodic updates or email us at info@beckreed.com, and we will automatically send the latest updates as they become available.

Please note that the chart is not legal advice, nor is it a substitute for proper legal research and advice. It is provided for informational purposes only.

Beck Reed Riden LLPis among the leading authorities in trade secret, noncompete, and unfair competition law, and our experience handling these matters is backed by our extensive employment law and business litigation experience. Our hand-picked team combines attorneys with complementary expertise and practical experience.

Beck Reed Riden LLP is Boston’s innovative litigation boutique. Our lawyers have years of experience at large law firms, working with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups and individuals. We focus on business litigation and labor and employment. We are experienced litigators and counselors, helping our clients as business partners to resolve issues and develop strategies that best meet our clients’ legal and business needs – before, during, and after litigation. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and help you. Read more about us, the types of matters we handle, and what we can do for you here.

Russell Beck Ranked By Chambers

Russell BeckRussell Beck‘s experience with noncompete and trade secret matters is lauded in the 2014 Chambers USA Guide.

Chambers explains that “Russell Beck of Beck Chambers Logo 2014Reed Riden LLP specializes in noncompete litigation and is a trade secrets expert. He comes highly recommended by his peers for his nationwide practice in this niche. ‘He’s fantastic,’ sources say.”

Russell was first ranked by Chambers USA in its 2010 guide, and was also honored by Chambers USA in 2011, 2012, and 2013.

Beck Reed Riden LLPis among the leading authorities in trade secret, noncompete, and unfair competition law, and our experience handling these matters is backed by our extensive employment law and business litigation experience. Our hand-picked team combines attorneys with complementary expertise and practical experience.

Russell Beck’s work in this area is well recognized; it includes:

  • Over sixteen years of working on trade secret, noncompete, and unfair competition matters
  • Authoring the book Negotiating, Drafting, and Enforcing Noncompetition Agreements and Related Restrictive Covenants (4th ed., MCLE, Inc. 2010), used by other lawyers to help them with their noncompete cases
  • Drafting and advising on the current bill pending before the Massachusetts Legislature to define, codify, and improve noncompetition law
  • Teaching Trade Secrets and Restrictive Covenants at Boston University School of Law
  • Founding and administrating the award-winning blog, Fair Competition Law
  • Establishing and administrating the Noncompete Lawyers and Trade Secret Protection groups on LinkedIn, with over 750 members around the world
  • Founded and chaired the Trade Secret / Noncompete Practice for an AmLaw 100 firm

Beck Reed Riden LLPis Boston’s innovative litigation boutique. Our lawyers have years of experience at large law firms, working with clients ranging from Fortune 500 companies to start-ups and individuals. We focus on business litigation and labor and employment. We are experienced litigators and counselors, helping our clients as business partners to resolve issues and develop strategies that best meet our clients’ legal and business needs – before, during, and after litigation. We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and help you. Read more about us, the types of matters we handle, and what we can do for you here.