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J.B. Hunt files noncompete lawsuits.

J.B. Hunt Transport Inc. recently filed two lawsuits against former employees who allegedly violated their noncompete agreement by going to work for other trucking companies.

The Lowell trucking company isn't the only employer that has sued its former workers for going to work for a competitor. In 2014, for instance, a federal judge in Arkansas ruled in favor of a group of workers from Treadway Electric Co. of Little Rock, a provider of electrical supplies, who were sued for quitting their jobs to join a competitor.

The number of lawsuits over allegations of breach of contract is on the rise, said Orly Lobel, an employment and labor law professor at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Noncompete agreements are becoming a standard clause in a number of industries and for a variety of position, she said

Years ago, noncompete agreements were typically limited to high-skilled jobs that required "intense knowledge and high pay," Lobel said.

But now, she said, employers look at their employees as being highly valuable and giving the companies their competitive edge.

"And employers feel like employees won't negotiate, and they'll just basically sign whatever clause is introduced," Lobel said.

J.B. Hunt's Cases

J.B. Hunt filed its recent lawsuits in Benton County Circuit Court against two experienced employees who left for other jobs in the trucking industry.

Tyson Wimberly had worked for J.B. Hunt for nearly eight years when he gave notice in February that he was leaving his job as director of sales and marketing to work for Covenant Transport Group of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Wimberly signed a noncompete and nonsolicit agreement while he worked at J.B. Hunt.

It also said that he had access to a database containing approximately 300 of J.B. Hunt's current, former and prospective customers, according to the lawsuit, filed by attorney Christy Comstock of Fayetteville.

The lawsuit said that Covenant recruited Wimberly "as a result of his knowledge of J.B. Hunt's significant customer base and expertise including, but not limited to, his access to confidential and proprietary customer information."

Wimberly is now a senior vice president of sales for convenant.

J.B. Hunt wants a judge to prevent Wimberly from working for Covenant or any of J.B. Hunt's competitors for a year.

Wimberly's attorney told the court that Wimberly's position at Covenant would not affect the business interests of J.B. Hunt.

"Any Order from this Court would merely punish Wimberly by preventing him from maintaining lawful employment," Wimberly's attorney, Cade Cox of North Little Rock, wrote in his response.

Cox also maintains that Wimberly doesn't have J.B. Hunt's customer list or other protected documents. In fact, he argues, Covenant isn't even a competitor of J.B. Hunt. A hearing for a temporary restraining order is set for June 8.

Cox and a spokesperson for J.B. Hunt declined to comment on the case.

J.B. Hunt filed a similar lawsuit against former employee Michael Hagen who left his position as director of sales and marketing in March to work at Yusen Logistics of Secaucus, New Jersey.

Hagen hasn't responded to the lawsuit and didn't immediately return a call for comment.

A hearing in his case is set for June 18.

To Win

Lobel, the law professor, said that noncompetes are enforceable "within reason."

She said a judge would look at several factors, including the noncompete's restriction to the area a former employee can work and how long it would remain in place. And it will also be balanced with whether the employer has a legitimate business interest in enforcing the noncompete.

"Is it protecting against trade secrets or some specific, special clients' relationships?" she asked. "Or is it just trying to prevent competition, which is not reasonable."

Lobel said the judge also will consider whether the noncompete presents "an undue hardship" on the employee.

If the former employee receives a payment as part of a noncompete, she said, that helps show a judge that the noncompete is not "an undue hardship" on the employee.

"It's a helpful aspect, but it's not a necessary requirement for the enforceability of noncompetes," Lobel said.

Mark Friedman

Caption: Orly Lobel
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Title Annotation:Law; J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc
Author:Friedman, Mark
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:May 11, 2015
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