What happens when an employee brings substantial expertise and business contacts in a specialized area to a new employer, then the employer changes ownership and attempts to enforce restrictive covenants against him? A recent Illinois appellate case AssuredPartners, Inc. v. Schmitt, 2015 IL App (1st) 141863 (2015) does not bode well for employer plaintiffs.
William S. was a wholesale broker in the lawyers’ professional liability insurance market (LPLI). In 2006 he became a senior vice president for ProAccess, a New Jersey-based insurance brokerage with offices in Chicago. William had formerly been a broker for ProQuest, where he built an extensive network of contacts and brokered millions of dollars in LPLI transactions with insurers in the U.S. and United Kingdom. He signed an employment agreement with ProAccess which provided that the restrictive covenants contained therein did not apply to LPLI activity, in acknowledgement of his pre-existing connections in the area.
In late 2011, ProAccess was acquired by AssuredPartners LLC. According to William, he was told he had to sign a new, more restrictive employment agreement to retain his job and that he could not alter any of its provisions. Schmitt resigned from AssuredPartners in 2013 and began brokering LPLI under a new retail brokerage, and, purportedly, soliciting ProAccess business and customers. AssuredPartners sued William to enforce the restrictive covenants. He filed a counterclaim seeking a declaratory judgment that the covenants were unenforceable as a matter of law. The circuit court found the covenants overbroad and unreasonable because William was “prevented from any business activity related to any type of professional liability insurance, not just LPLI.”
On appeal, AssuredPartners argued it had a legitimate protectable business interest in its “customer expiration” list, which contained information about LPLI customers and which it claimed William “blatantly” stole and used to siphon business away from ProAccess. The plaintiffs contended the noncompetition provision at issue was no broader than necessary to protect the company’s interest in the list. Continue reading ›