Judge Jolts Electric Supplier in Noncompete Lawsuit

by Arkansas Business Staff  on Monday, Jun. 30, 2014 12:00 am  

Talk about a win for employees.

Not only did U.S. District Court Judge Billy Roy Wilson recently rule in favor of a group of workers who were sued for quitting their jobs to join a competitor, but he awarded the lawyers who represented them attorneys’ fees and costs in the case.

The total amount?

$203,891.80.

The case began after Stuart C. Irby Co. of Jackson, Mississippi, bought Treadway Electric Co. of Little Rock, a provider of electrical supplies, in December 2011.

Treadway operated 14 locations in Arkansas, including a branch in Conway.

Three of the workers at the Conway location, Brandon Tipton, Michael Gilbert and Stephen Padgett, quit in 2013 to join Irby’s competitor, Wholesale Electric Supply Co. of Texarkana, Texas.

Irby then filed a federal civil suit against the workers and Wholesale Electric.

Irby argued that the workers had signed a noncompete agreement about a decade earlier when they were Treadway employees. Irby sued the workers for breach of contract and Wholesale for interfering with a contractual relationship.

The workers and Wholesale asked that the case be thrown out, and Judge Wilson agreed.

“A noncompete agreement that prohibits ordinary competition is not enforceable,” Wilson wrote in his order on the defendants’ motion for summary judgment.

He added that the employees “were as free to walk away from Irby as Irby was to walk away from them.”

 

 

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