Archive for the ‘Employment Contracts’ Category

In many instances these days, employees are forced under threat of termination, to sign non-compete agreements. In many cases, even if signed, they may never be enforceable if the employee elected to go to another company. Make sure and have an employment law attorney check out your non-compete and advise you on your rights since non-compete laws vary greatly from state to state.

In the event, though, that you are a high-level employee, which access to confidential information, your former employer will probably seek to enforce the non-compete agreement. As is the case with Martin Collins and Ford Motor Company.

Ford Motor Co. is suing Martin E. Collins, a former executive it says is violating a non-compete agreement. Ford hired Collins as general sales manager for Ford and Lincoln in March; he began work May 2 at Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn. Collins managed the entire dealer distribution network for Ford and Lincoln, and provided “ongoing feedback to senior Ford management regarding sales performance, sales trends and progress toward program and budget goals,” according to the lawsuit filed Thursday in Wayne Circuit Court and since moved to U.S. District Court in Detroit.

Ford claims Collins agreed to a confidential information/non-compete agreement prohibiting him from working for a competitor for two years. Collins told Ford he had acquired no confidential information during his tenure at the company.

If you are given a non-compete to sign or have questions about one after resignation or termination, feel free to contact Scott M. Behren and the Behren Law Firm for a free consultation.

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OK so yes this is a generally an employee rights blog, but I am also a self-affirmed Gator hator and Miami Hurricane fan, so I clearly have no sympathy for this arrogant Gator fan, but the whole situation does raise some interesting legal issues to address on this blog.

For those of you who have not been following the story, Renee Gork announced on Twitter that she had been fired by KAKS, a northwest Arkansas radio station that calls itself Hog Sports Radio. Gork had worn a Gator hat Saturday to a news conference with Arkansas Razorbacks football coach Bobby Petrino.

Petrino, whose team lost to the Gators last season 23-20 at Florida, commented on Gork’s hat after answering a question she asked. “And that will be the last question I answer with that hat on,” Petrino said.

Gork, a Florida graduate, said she grabbed the hat without thinking Saturday because it was raining outside. She also said she sent a letter of apology to the university and Petrino.

“Was hoping to publicly apologize to coach Petrino and UA fans on the show today … but I won’t get that chance,” Gork wrote on KAKS’ Twitter account. “I’ve been fired.”

So the question I have been posed is does Ms. Gork have a claim for wrongful termination. Well, my initial gut instinct would be “no.” However, I would first want to take a look at her contract, if she even had a written contract. Based upon the language of the contract, perhaps she could argue that her employer breached her employment contract with her. In some cases it would seem to me that radio and entertainment personalities are hired to “ruffle feathers” and to fire them for doing so might be considered a breach of contract. Would someone fire Howard Stern or Rush Limbaugh for ruffling feathers? Likely not. Of course, I am not saying that Ms. Gork is a Stern or Limbaugh personality, but maybe she was hired to be one of the radio show bad girls. If that was the case maybe the employer breached its contract with when they fired her for wearing her Gators hat to an Arkansas press conference.

Without a contract, unless there is a special Arkansas statute, I dont believe she would have any legal basis to object to the termination. If you do stupid things at work, you run the risk of being fired for it. If you wear inappropriate attire to work, you run the risk of being fired for it. In this case Ms. Gork wore clearly inappropriate attire to work and AND was stupid and was fired for it. Don’t get me wrong, was the whole thing petty and silly if she was otherwise a good employee, YES. However, it does not mean that her employer was not in its rights to terminate her.

What do you all think of this issue?

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While most employees do not have employment contracts and are employees at will, for those of you who have employment contracts, it is important to have them reviewed and negotiated prior to your employment and not once a dispute arises when it is sometimes too late to address the situation. Even where it can be addressed through litigation, you can be talking about quite a bit of time and money that could have been avoided with a little proactive contract drafting.

One recent example of the types of litigation that can evolve over employment contracts is the ongoing dispute between the inventor of the Bratz dolls and his former employer Mattell.

In Mattel, Inc. v. MGA Entertainment, Inc., the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently vacated the trial court’s judgment awarding Mattel ownership rights to the Bratz brand of dolls. This decision was reached, in part, on a finding that the trial court erred in ruling that the employment agreement between Mattel and former employee Carter Bryant, assigned Bryant’s “ideas” to Mattel.

The dispute between Mattel and MGA arose out of Bryant pitching his idea for Bratz to MGA while he was still employed by Mattel. Once Mattel discovered that Bryant originally conceived the Bratz idea while employed by Mattel, Mattel filed suit against MGA and Bryant alleging theories of copyright infringement and breach of the employment agreement.

The Ninth Circuit analyzed Bryant’s employment agreement with Mattel to determine if the assignment of inventions contained in the agreement included Bryant’s ideas. As detailed in the employment agreement, Bryant agreed to “communicate to [Mattel] as promptly and fully as practicable all inventions . . . conceived or reduced to practice by me (alone or jointly by others) at any time during my employment. I hereby assign to the Company . . . all my right, title and interest in such inventions, and all my right title and interest in any patents, copyrights, patent applications or copyright applications based thereon.” The employment agreement went on to specify that “the term ‘inventions’ includes, but is not limited to, all discoveries, improvements, processes, developments, designs, know-how, data computer programs and formulae, whether patentable or unpatentable.” Based on that language, the trial court found that the employment agreement assigned Bryant’s “ideas” to Mattel, even though the word “idea” was not listed in the definition of “inventions.”

In reversing the trial court’s decision, the Ninth Circuit noted that there was ambiguity in Bryant’s employment agreement. The Ninth Circuit reasoned that, even though the employment agreement could be read to include ideas, the text of the agreement does not necessarily compel such a reading. Under contract law, where a contract term is ambiguous the parties are supposed to be given an opportunity to present evidence as to the intent of the parties in drafting the contract. Because the trial court did not allow the parties to present evidence of the parties intent to the jury, the Ninth Circuit reversed the trial court’s rulings and remanded it. What does that mean? Means the parties get to do it all over again in the trial court.

The moral of the story is make sure that you have a clear unambiguous employment agreement with your employer to avoid disputes later on down the road.

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