4 sentence non-compete. How valid is this?

My non-compete is exactly as follows:

"12. Restriction on post employment competition. For a period of (1-1/2) years after the end of employment, the employee shall not control, consult to be employed by any business similar to that conducted by the company, either by soliciting any of it's accounts or by operating within employer's general trading area."

I have since been fired from my previous company in South Chicago and am working for another in North Chicago. Same line of work. I interpret this as, my employer can only sue me if I solicit any of it's exsisting accounts or working in it's general trading area. What exactly is the "general trading area?".

Anyway, my previous employer is threatening to sue me because now that I'm gone all this accounts are falling apart and I have NOT solicited one single one!

How worried should I be?

PS- I didn't sign the non compete page.

1 answer  |  asked Jul 13, 2006 4:50 PM [EST]  |  applies to Illinois

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Answers (1)

Anthony Cameron

Before you even get to what it says, an essential question is whether this language is binding upon you. The only way to tell that is to examine all the papers you did sign at the time you were given this language. First, was there "consideration"--a benefit to you-in exchange for the "agreement". Second, was that a standalone document or was it a part of package and you possibly "deceived" your employer by simply skipping that page (doubt it but an attorney would have to look a the whole package).

One we get past that, what you have is an extremely poorly drafted Non-Compete and Non-Use/Disclosure. It is more than a simple non-compete. It also appears to be a prohibition on use of info obtained in the course of your other employment.

Finally, there is the ambiguity in the geographic scope of the contract. Here, the duty of being clear is usually on the employer and that may be a good issue.

What I really crave to know is whether there is an attorney's fees clause in the overall agreement. Tactically, that changes everything. If there's not, a good employment attorney would probably just write them one letter and say "here's what's wrong with your position and you will lose a long and arduous legal proceeding and we might even get attorney's fees from you for bad faith pleading." If there's an attorney's fees clause in there, it changes the approach.

I'm too far away to do you any good. The good news for you is that there are many excellent MEL lawyers in Chicago and the Appellate District for Chicago is a bit more favorable for employees than mine.

I saw your other comment about hiring their former employees. It is my suggestion that you see a MEL lawyer before you stir this up any further. Get a good game plan and play it out.

(also be prepared to tell your lawyer how these "threats of suit" are being transmitted to you. That is important.

Best Wishes and would love to hear how you make out.

Anthony B. Cameron
Quincy, IL

posted by Anthony Cameron  |  Jul 13, 2006 8:42 PM [EST]

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