On Monday, March 18, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill No. 121, which makes nondisclosure provisions in employment contracts or settlement agreements that are intended to conceal the details of claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment unenforceable and against public policy in New Jersey. Section 1 of the new law warns that a “provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is against public policy and unenforceable.” The law does not define “employment contract” and leaves open to interpretation whether it applies to all agreements between employer and employee, whether an employment agreement, a separation agreement, or a settlement agreement. The prohibition on waiving any procedural right would make arbitration agreements, which by their nature waive the right to a jury trial, also invalid and unenforceable in contravention of the Federal Arbitration Act and recent United States Supreme Court precedent. An immediate challenge to this aspect of the law is likely since it casts doubt on all arbitration agreements between an employer and employee that seek to include claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Section 1 also prohibits a prospective waiver of any right...
Category: Restrictive Covenants
Non-compete agreements clearly are the subject of scrutiny by the New York Attorney General’s office, which just issued guidance called “Non-Compete Agreements In New York State – Frequently Asked Questions” (“Guidance”). The Guidance, in the form of FAQs, generally describes New York common law regarding enforceability of non-competition provisions in employment contracts or standalone restrictive covenant agreements. It notes that a court has the ability to invalidate or modify an overly-broad non-compete. It also provides guidance to employees regarding whether to sign a non-compete, which it states is not a legal requirement but only a potential mandate of an employer. The Guidance includes a list of considerations for employees before they sign a non-compete. Further, it provides contact information within the New York Attorney General’s Office for individuals to obtain assistance to address unreasonable non-competes. Finally, the Guidance describes Attorney General-proposed legislation to prohibit non-competes for workers earning below $75,000 per year. The Attorney General issued the Guidance after a recent matter it handled in which it obtained prospective compliance by an employer regarding its use of non-competes. The matter is the subject of an Attorney General press release. It is imperative that employers who use restrictive covenants in employment...
Last week, in Socko v. Mid-Atlantic Systems of CPA, Inc., the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania decided that restrictive covenants not to compete are unenforceable if made during a worker’s term of employment unless supported by “new and valuable consideration, beyond mere continued employment.” That is so, according to the Court, even if the agreement contains language that would otherwise obviate the requirement of consideration pursuant to the Uniform Written Obligations Act (“UWOA”). That statute provides that “[a] written release or promise . . . shall not be invalid or unenforceable for lack of consideration, if the writing also contains an additional express statement, in any form of language, that the signer intends to be legally bound.”
Trade Secrets Theft by Former Employee Results in a Criminal Conviction Under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act but Still Leaves Uncertainty Over the Scope of the Act
In United States v. Nosal, a federal jury in California convicted a former employee of Korn/Ferry for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”). The evidence showed that the defendant directed his co-conspirators within the firm to use a borrowed password to gain access to trade secrets to be used in establishing their own business. The use of the borrowed password was critical to the successful prosecution under the CFAA because earlier in the case the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an opinion that narrowly interpreted the statute to prohibit only “unauthorized procurement or alteration of information, not its misuse or misappropriation.” The significant aspect of the Ninth Circuit’s interpretation of the CFAA in Nosal is the Court’s conclusion that a violation of the statute does not occur merely because an employee initially uses his authorized access to obtain his employer’s proprietary information even if he does so with the intent to misappropriate it. Presumably, had Nosal’s co-conspirators who accessed the computerized information in question been able to do so using their own passwords, there would have been no “unauthorized procurement” in violation of the CFAA.
A Federal District Court recently refused to dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction because, among several state law claims, the plaintiff – the individual defendant’s former employer – also asserted a claim under the Federal Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA). In NouvEON Tech. Partners, Inc. v. McClure, No. 3:12-CV-633-FDW-DCK, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29208 (March 5, 2013), a North Carolina Federal District Court denied defendants’ Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a myriad of state law claims filed by NouvEON against its former employee (McClure) and her new employer (Smarter Systems).
The federal government continues to take aim at those who violate trade secrets rights. On December 28, 2012, the Theft of Trade Secrets Clarification Act of 2012 (S. 3642) became law, expanding the definition of trade secrets under the Economic Espionage Act (EEA). In addition, as previously reported in a Gibbons IP Law Alert blog, the President is expected to sign legislation recently passed by Congress that triples the damages for a violation of trade secrets protection laws and provides technical changes to patent applications and protections. Also worthy of note is an 82-page report from the U.S. Department of Justice issued last month detailing federal enforcement efforts concerning trade secrets theft.
New Jersey District Court Enjoins Former Financial Services Employee from Taking Customer Information
In a case to be noted by financial services entities that are signatories to the “Protocol for Broker Recruiting,” a New Jersey District Court issued a preliminary injunction to a financial services employer, Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. (“plaintiff”) to prevent a former financial advisor employee from retaining certain client information that he downloaded from his computer prior to his departure from plaintiff. Plaintiff was a party to the “Protocol for Broker Recruiting” that prescribes a method for a departing employee to retain certain client information when leaving for another financial services institution. To grant the injunction, the Court found that plaintiff showed it likely would succeed on its underlying breach of contract claim, it would suffer immediate irreparable harm absent the injunction, defendant would not suffer harm if enjoined, and the injunction favors the public’s interest. The Court essentially decided that if the Protocol is not followed in the first instance, a departing financial representative’s subsequent compliance is tainted and insufficient to withstand subsequent legal challenge.
New Jersey employers should be aware that yesterday Governor Chris Christie signed into law the New Jersey Trade Secrets Act (“the Act”), which for the first time codifies the law in New Jersey concerning the misappropriation of trade secrets. The new law is derived largely from, although is not identical to, the Uniform Trade Secrets Act, variations of which have been adopted in the great majority of states. New Jersey companies who are concerned about potential trade secret misappropriation by current or former employees should study the new law carefully.