Texas Supreme Court Makes Enforcement of Noncompete Agreements Easier for Employers


On June 24, the Texas Supreme Court issued a long-awaited decision clarifying the standards for enforcement of noncompete agreements under the Texas Business and Commerce Code. In Marsh USA Inc. and Marsh & McLennan Cos. v. Rex Cook, the court considered whether an employee’s receipt of stock options could sustain an agreement that prohibited the employee from soliciting or accepting business from certain customers of Marsh McLennan (Marsh).

Noncompete agreements, which include prohibitions on working for a competitor and limitations on an employee’s ability to solicit customers, are governed in Texas by the Texas Business and Commerce Code. Under that statute, such agreements may be enforced only if they contain reasonable limitations with respect to geography, time, and scope of activity to be prohibited and only if they are “ancillary to or part of an otherwise enforceable agreement.” Texas courts, as well as practitioners and employers, have struggled with this latter requirement. The Cook case represents a significant change in Texas law and a departure from the Texas Supreme Court’s previous analysis of noncompete agreements.

Under previous court decisions, the analytical focus was on the type of consideration provided by the employer in exchange for the employee’s promise to refrain from competing. Specifically, a Texas employer seeking to enforce a noncompete agreement must have been able to show that the consideration it provided to the employee “gave rise to an interest” in restraining competition. For example, an employer’s promise of trade secrets or confidential information was deemed sufficient consideration to support a noncompete agreement whereas simple cash consideration was not.

In Cook, the Texas Supreme Court considered whether an employer’s grant of stock options satisfied the “ancillary” prong of the Texas Business and Commerce Code. Cook joined Marsh in 1983 and signed an agreement under which he could exercise certain stock options in exchange for signing an agreement limiting his ability to solicit or accept business from clients of Marsh with whom he had business dealings during his employment. Cook thus signed the noncompete agreement not when he was provided the original grant of stock options, but rather when he chose to exercise the options.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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