As we have written about previously, an increasing number of states, and Washington, D.C., have limited the circumstances under which employers can bind their employees to non-compete and similar agreements, particularly when low-wage workers (however defined) are involved. The courts, however, are not immune to the trend, as evidenced by the April 21, 2022 decision from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals, ADP, Inc. v. Levin. In that case, the Third Circuit affirmed a district court’s denial of a preliminary injunction against a senior executive who had resigned from his Chief Strategy Officer position at his prior employer, ADP, to take over the Chief Executive Officer position at rival Benefitfocus.
The Washington, D.C. Ban on Non-Compete Agreements Act of 2020 (D.C. Act) is on hold once again, this time due to emergency legislation signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser earlier this week. The new legislation pushes the D.C. Act’s effective date from April 1 to October 1, 2022. As reported here, the D.C. Act is one of the most comprehensive bans on employee non-competition restrictions to date. It not only prohibits post-separation non-competes for employees working within the District (consistent with what a handful of states, including California, already do), but also rejects common “anti-moonlighting” provisions that prevent employees from working for another employer, including a competitor, during their employment.
On March 14, 2022, the 9th Circuit affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California’s decision in DePuy Synthes Sales, Inc. v. Howmedica Osteonics Corp. and Stryker Corp., that invalidated the New Jersey forum selection clause in the employment contract of Stryker’s former sales associate as a matter of California law and denied Stryker’s motion to transfer the litigation to New Jersey. Though forum selection clauses are generally enforceable under federal law, the 9th Circuit reasoned that deference must be given to state law in determining the validity of a forum selection clause before considering whether the clause is enforceable under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a).
The case involved a former Stryker medical device sales associate, Jonathan Waber, who was employed by Stryker in California and who signed an employment contract with Stryker without legal representation. The agreement included non-competition and non-solicitation provisions, and also included forum-selection and choice-of-law clauses requiring adjudication of contract disputes in New Jersey. After less than one year of employment with Stryker, Waber left Stryker to work for one of its competitors, DePuy. After receiving a cease-and-desist letter from Stryker, DePuy and Waber preemptively filed a declaratory judgment action in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California against Stryker and its subsidiary, Howmedica.
Non-compete agreements between employers and their employees traditionally are governed by state law. But that did not stop the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (DOJ) from recently filing a statement of interest encouraging a Nevada state court to consider federal antitrust principles to invalidate non-compete agreements between a large medical group and its physician-employees. Taken together with other recent actions by the president and federal enforcement agencies, the DOJ’s decision to file this statement signals a more aggressive approach to non-compete enforcement at the federal level.
As non-competition laws and the scrutiny of non-compete agreements continue to be in the spotlight, several states are revisiting their non-compete laws. Colorado has been in the spotlight after the Colorado Legislature passed S.B. 21-271 on July 6, 2021 in an effort to reform the sentencing provisions related to numerous petty offenses and misdemeanors. As a result, several Colorado laws related to labor and employment are affected, including Colorado’s statute addressing restrictive covenant agreements, C.R.S. § 8-2-113.
Under C.R.S. § 8-2-113, it is unlawful to: intimidate workers in order to limit their ability to engage in lawful work; and enter into covenants that restrict trade, such as non-compete and non-solicitation agreements, unless the covenants fit within limited exceptions provided under the statute. The penalty if convicted for violating the non-compete statute is currently a misdemeanor punishable by a fine between $10–$250, or jail time of not more than 60 days, or both. C.R.S. § 8-2-115. Effective March 1, 2022, the penalty for violating the non-compete statute will be increased to a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail, or a fine of up to $750, or both, as a result of the changes from S.B. 21-271. S.B. 21-271 also amends the text of C.R.S. § 8-2-113 to include the increased penalty as a new subsection (4).
On July 6, 2021, the Colorado legislature passed S.B. 21-271 in an effort to reform the sentencing provisions related to a number of petty offenses and misdemeanors. As a result, several Colorado laws related to labor and employment are affected, including Colorado’s statute addressing restrictive covenant and noncompete agreements, C.R.S. § 8-2-113. Under C.R.S. § 8-2-113, it is unlawful to intimidate workers in order to limit their ability to engage in lawful work; and covenants that restrict trade, such as noncompete and nonsolicitation agreements, are void unless the covenants fit within limited exceptions provided under the statute. Effective March 1, 2022, the penalty for violating the noncompete statute will be increased to a class 2 misdemeanor punishable by up to 120 days in jail, or a fine of up to $750, or both.