On February 17, 2016, the Illinois Appellate Court, First District, issued an opinion in a lawsuit in which an employer sued a former employee for breach and enforcement of his employment agreement and his severance agreement. Bridgeview Bank Group v. Meyer, 2016 IL App 160042 (1st Dist., 2/17/2016). The employee had entered into an employment contract which contained, among other things, a non-competition provision, as well as a confidentiality clause and non-solicitation provisions as to customers and employees. In connection with the termination of his employment, the employee signed a severance agreement, which eliminated the non-competition provision of his employment agreement, but re-affirmed the confidentiality and non-solicitation provisions. The employer filed a lawsuit against the former employee, in which it alleged that he violated the provisions of the employment agreement and the severance agreement. The employer asserted claims under Illinois law for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, tortious interference with business relationships, and violation of the Illinois Trade Secrets Act.
The employer alleged that the employee contacted its customers, divulged confidential information, and made disparaging remarks about the employer. The employer also claimed that the employee interfered with its contractual or prospective contractual relationships with its customers or prospective customers, as well as disclosed its trade secrets and confidential business information. The Appellate Court noted that the lower court had expressed concern about the employer’s customer list, and observed that it did not appear that the former employee had any right to retain the list. Additionally, the Appellate Court stated that under certain circumstances, a customer list may qualify as a trade secret.
In a footnote, the court also recognized and, by implication, cited approvingly, its decision in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, Inc., 2013 IL App (1st) 120327, for the so-called “2-year rule,” requiring two or more years of continued “at-will” employment as consideration to support a post-employment restrictive covenant.