The First District recently considered whether an insurance salesman’s generic LinkedIn invites to some former co-workers violated non-compete provisions in his employment contract.
The plaintiff in Bankers Life v. American Senior Benefits employed the defendant for over a decade as a sales manager. During his employment, plaintiff signed an employment agreement that contained a 24-month noncompete term that covered a specific geographic area (Rhode Island). Plaintiff sued when it learned the defendant sent some LinkedIn connection requests to some former colleagues.
The court granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion on the basis that the plaintiff failed to offer any evidence that the defendant breached the noncompete by trying to induce three of plaintiff’s employees to join defendant’s new agency. Plaintiff appealed.
Plaintiff argued that the LinkedIn requests were veiled, if not blatant, attempts to circumvent the noncompete by inviting former co-workers to join a competitor.
The First District affirmed summary judgment for the defendant. For support, it looked to cases in other jurisdictions that considered if social media overtures can violate employee restrictive covenants. The Court noted that a majority of these cases hold that passive social media postings (LinkedIn and Facebook, mainly) don’t go far enough to violate a noncompete.
The cases that have found that social media breached noncompete obligations involve clear statements of solicitation by the departed employee where he directly tries to sign up a former client or colleague. Since all the defendant did in this case was send generic LinkedIn messages, they didn’t rise to the level of an actionable solicitation.
The Court also rejected the plaintiff’s argument that summary judgment was premature and that the plaintiff should have the opportunity to take more discovery on this issue. Illinois Rule 191 allows a summary judgment opponent to stave off judgment while it takes written and oral discovery to assemble evidence to oppose the motion. But the plaintiff must show a “minimum level of information” showing a defendant is possibly liable before initiating a lawsuit or making a defendant submit to discovery requests.
Since the plaintiff failed to produce any evidence the defendant solicited any of plaintiff’s employees in the prohibited Rhode Island area, summary judgment for the defendant was proper.
LinkedIn generic invites that don’t specifically ask someone to sever his/her relationship with current employer don’t go far enough to constitute improper solicitation;
Summary judgment is “put up or shut up moment;” the party opposing summary judgment must offer evidence that raises a question of material fact that can only be decided after a trial on the merits.