New Defend Trade Secrets Act Requires Notice in Employee Agreements

pillarsOn Wednesday, President Obama signed into law the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (DTSA). The DTSA sets a single national standard for trade secret protection and gives the option of bringing trade secret cases in federal court and provides for remedies (such as seizure and recovery of stolen trade secrets).  The DTSA also creates whistleblower protections for employees who disclose trade secrets to an attorney or governmental official for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law.  But most urgently for employers, the DTSA contains a new notice requirement that employers need to take action quickly to satisfy.

Effective immediately, any new or updated agreements with employees, consultants or independent contractors that govern trade secrets or confidential information need to include a “notice-of-immunity.”  The notice may be provided via reference to a general policy document rather than restating the entire immunity provisions in each agreement.  An employer that fails to provide this notice will forfeit their right to exemplary double damages and attorneys’ fees in an action brought under the DTSA.

Employers wishing to take advantage of the DTSA’s protections need to revise their standard agreements and ensure that any agreement provided on or after May 11, 2016 includes the required notice-of-immunity.  We recommend that you consult with legal counsel to ensure compliance with this new requirement.

 

The Courts Continue to Debate Restrictive Covenant Enforcement in Illinois – UPDATED 2/20

From time to time, other attorneys with our firm will contribute blog posts on items that may be of interest to members of the labor and employment law community. Today, we are fortunate to have a post contributed by Jason Hirsh, a partner in Levenfeld Pearlstein’s Litigation Group. Jason’s post discusses current Illinois cases at the forefront of labor and employment law that frequently come up when employers draft, or seek to enforce, restrictive covenants in their employment agreements in this changing legal climate . . .

employent contract

Courts in Illinois are in the midst of a significant legal debate relative to whether a post-employment restrictive covenant involving an at-will employee can be enforced if the employee has less than two years of continued employment. This two-year bright line rule first blossomed in the often cited Fifield v. Premier Dealer Servs., Inc., 373 Ill.Dec.379 (1st Dist. 2013) decision. The debate continues to play out in the Chicago federal court.

In Montel Aetnastak, Inc. v. Miessen, 998 F.Supp.2d 694, 716 (N.D. Ill. 2014), Judge Castillo refused to apply the two-year bright line rule presumably adopted in Fifield. Judge Holderman, on the other hand, in Instant Technology, LLC v. Defazio, 12 C 491, __ F.Supp.2d __, 2014 WL 1759184 at *14 (N.D. Ill. 2014), took a contrary view.

On February 6, 2015, in Bankers Life and Casualty Company v. Richard Miller, et al., Case No. 14 CV 3165, Judge Shah waded into this controversy and rejected the two-year bright line rule. Instead, Judge Shah concluded that not only has “the Illinois Supreme Court not spoken on this issue”, but that case law does not support the argument that two years of employment is “necessary” to support a restrictive covenant.

This is a critically important issue affecting employers. Given the obvious uncertainty in the area of restrictive covenant enforcement, we recommend other forms of consideration, such as bonus payments, be considered.

Read the Bankers Life and Casualty Company v. Richard Miller, et al., Case No. 14 CV 3165 decision.

UPDATE (2/20/15) 
On the heels of Bankers Life, on February 13, 2015, in Cumulus Radio Corp. v. Olson, et al., Case No. 15-cv-1067 (C.D. Ill.2015), Judge McDade of the federal court in Peoria, Illinois granted an employer’s motion for a temporary restraining order stating “the Court does not believe that the Illinois Supreme Court would adopt the bright-line test announced in Fifield.”  Judge McDade added that the two-year bright line rule “suffers from a number of analytical problems that make it unsatisfying.”  Judge McDade also stated it also suffers from a “failure to give weight to the reason that an employee’s at-will employment ended.”  Favoring a case-by-case analysis, akin to that suggested by Bankers Life, Judge McDade further criticized the two-year bright line rule stating “[s]uch a rule is overprotective of employees, and risks making post-employment restrictive covenants illusory for employers subject completely to the whimsy of the employee as to the length of his employment.”