After hiring someone, businesses expect not only that their new employee will perform his job adequately, but also that he will do no harm to the company or its ability to do business. Employers know that their expectations are not always met by those employees, which is why the use of employment contracts with non-compete clauses are quite common these days. Our Chicago restrictive covenant attorneys just discovered a recent court decision that details a dispute between an employer and an ex-employee regarding one such employment agreement.
In Zep Inc. v. First Aid Corp., Plaintiff Zep employed the individual Defendants as sales representatives for its industrial cleaning products business pursuant to an employment agreement that contained non-disclosure, non-solicitation, and non-compete provisions. During their employment, Defendants had access to Plaintiff’s customer lists, supplier lists, pricing information, and other proprietary information. Eventually, a competitor, Defendant First Aid, hired the other named Defendants away from Plaintiff and subsequently solicited Plaintiffs clients and other employees.
As a result, Plaintiff filed suit for breach of contract, trade secret misappropriation under the Illinois Trade Secrets Act (ITSA), and tortious interference with contract. Plaintiff contends that First Aid induced the other Defendants to breach the employment agreements they signed with Plaintiff and that the other Defendants used and disclosed Plaintiffs trade secrets. In response, Defendants filed motions to dismiss the claims, which were granted as to three of the individual defendants due to a lack of personal jurisdiction. The Court found that because three of the individual Defendants were residents of Michigan and Ohio, Plaintiff is located in Georgia, and the employment agreements were signed outside of Illinois, they did not have the requisite minimum contacts to give an Illinois court jurisdiction over the matter. Furthermore, Plaintiff had not alleged that any of Defendants’ actions were aimed at Illinois, and neither had their actions caused harm to Plaintiff in Illinois, so specific personal jurisdiction was also improper. The Court denied the remaining motions to dismiss – finding that the non-compete provisions were enforceable because the geographic limitations were reasonable and the non-solicitation clause was limited in scope to Plaintiff’s competitors for a span of one year. Plaintiff’s allegations were also found to be sufficient to support a claim under the ITSA because it had identified a list of confidential information and trade secrets in its pleadings.