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Noncompete agreement deemed enforceable

The Rhode Island Supreme Court has upheld a Superior Court judge’s decision to grant a pest-control company’s request to enforce a former employee’s non-competition agreement.

“The noncompetition agreement at issue is a product of a lawful, bargained-for exchange based on [defendant Brian] Walls’s at-will employment relationship with plaintiff: In consideration for continued employment with plaintiff, as well as plaintiff’s promise to train and qualify Mr. Walls as a licensed exterminator in Rhode Island, Mr. Walls agreed not to solicit business from, or perform pest-control services for, any of plaintiff’s current or former clients for a period of twenty-four months,” Justice Melissa A. Long wrote for the Supreme Court.

“Moreover, the noncompetition agreement at issue withstands our rigorous scrutiny: It is reasonable in scope and does not extend beyond what it necessary to protect plaintiff’s interests. Specifically, it limits its prohibition to a twenty-four-month period, and extends only to plaintiff’s current and previous clients, rather than to a geographic area. This Court has previously upheld similar, more restrictive noncompetition agreements and takes no issue with the language contained in this agreement,” she added.

The defendant argued that the employer breached the agreement by improperly terminating him based on his vocal opposition to receiving a COVID-19 vaccination.

Long noted that while the defendant insisted he was terminated from his position, the plaintiff maintained he left on his own volition. But the circumstances surrounding his departure were immaterial to the enforcement of the noncompete, she said.

“As an ‘at-will’ employee, plaintiff had the ability to terminate him at any time and for any lawful reason. We therefore reject Mr. Walls’s argument that an involuntary termination would preclude enforcement of the noncompetition agreement,” Long wrote.

The 16-page decision is Griggs & Browne Pest Control Co., Inc. v. Walls.