An interesting opinion out of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in Youtie v. Macy’s Retail Holding, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 47383 (June 5, 2009) by Senior Judge Thomas N. O’Neill, Jr.:

On August 1, 2000, Macy’s acquired all of the publicly-held shares of David’s Bridal, Inc. David’s Bridal is a corporation and a clothier specializing in bridal gowns and other formal wear and accessories. Plaintiff had purchased David’s Bridal in 1972, expanded the operations, partnered with Steven Erlbaum beginning in 1989 or 1990 and with Erlbaum made a public offering of David’s Bridal’s stock in 1999. After Macy’s acquired David’s Bridal, plaintiff entered into a contract of employment with a division of Macy’s, Macy’s Retail, on or about October 1, 2001. In accordance with the terms of the agreement, Youtie served as the Executive Vice-President, Product Development and Sourcing of the David’s Bridal division of Macy’s Retail. On November 17, 2006, an affiliate of Leonard Green & Partners signed an agreement with Macy’s to acquire David’s Bridal and consummated the sale and transfer of stock of David’s Bridal to the Leonard Green affiliate on January 31, 2007. As part of the transaction, Macy’s subsidiary Macy’s Retail assigned its employment agreement with plaintiff to David’s Bridal.

In short, Plaintiff claimed that the sale of his division to another company was a termination entitling him to severance. He lost; applying Missouri law (per the contract), the Court held:

The employment contract at issue in this case is one for personal services, which, as a general rule, cannot be assigned without the consent of the employee. Alexander & Alexander, Inc. v. Koelz, 722 S.W.2d 311, 312-13 (Mo. Ct. App. 1986), citing Alldredge v. Twenty-Five Thirty-Two Broad. Corp., 509 S.W.2d 744, 749 (Mo. Ct. App. 1974). However, a mere change in the form in which a business is owned or conducted should not work to prohibit assignment. Id. at 313. Whether there is a change in partnership personnel or structure, the incorporation of a previously unincorporated business, the dissolution of a corporation or a change in corporate structure, "if there is no material change in the contract obligations and duties of the employee, there is no reason for the transfer of the rights from one entity or form to another to work an assignment putatively prohibited by the rule against assignment of personal service contracts." Id.

That’s what happened here, in addition to the employment agreement itself recognizing the possibility of assignment. Hence, summary judgment for the Defendant on Plaintiff’s claims.

Plaintiff probably should have left it alone:

Defendants filed an answer, affirmative defenses and counterclaims on December 17, 2007, alleging that plaintiff breached his employment agreement, misappropriated trade secrets and/or confidential and proprietary information, breached his fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty, engaged in tortious interference with business and employment relations, was unjustly enriched and engaged in unfair competition.

Uh oh. Among other allegations:

Plaintiff does not dispute that the "first cost" data at issue is the cost the manufacturer charged David’s Bridal to manufacture the designs David’s Bridal provided the manufacturer for its Spring 2007 catalogue. Additionally, plaintiff admitted in his affidavit that he "asked for the cost data because [] Erlbaum . . . was interested in what David’s Bridal paid various manufacturers for the dresses they manufactured." Plaintiff further admits that he gave a copy of the cost sheet to Erlbaum but believes that plaintiff provided it to Erlbaum after plaintiff recovered from the surgical procedure he underwent after his January trip to Hong Kong.

Plaintiff also admits that he and his former partner Erlbaum had general discussions about Erlbaum returning to the bridal business. 

It’s never a good idea to share proprietary information about your current employer with your former business partner.

Plaintiff raise a good issue; most of Defendants’ claims were actually a single "trade secrets" claim:

laintiff argues that defendants’ counterclaims for misappropriation of trade secrets and/or confidential and proprietary information, unjust enrichment and unfair competition are preempted by the PUTSA. The relevant section of the PUTSA provides as follows:

(a) General rule.–Except as provided in subsection (b), this chapter displaces conflicting tort, restitutionary and other law of this Commonwealth providing civil remedies for misappropriation of a trade secret.

(b) Exceptions.–This chapter does not affect:

(2) other civil remedies that are not based upon misappropriation of a trade secret; or

12 Pa. C.S.A. § 5308. The dominant view of courts in states that have also adopted the Uniform Trade Secrets Act of 1985 is that preemption exists to the extent that defendants’ counterclaims are based on the same conduct that is said to constitute a misappropriation of trade secrets. See e.g., Motorola, Inc. v. Lemko Corp., 2009 WL 383444, at *10 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 11, 2009); Hecny Trans., Inc. v. Chu, 430 F.3d 402, 404-05 (7th Cir. 2005); Penalty Kick Mgmt. Ltd. v. Coca Cola Co., 318 F.3d 1284, 1296-98 (11th Cir. 2003); Savor, Inc. v. FMR Corp., 812 A.2d 894 (Del. 2002).

Defendants’ counterclaims for misappropriation of trade secrets and/or confidential and proprietary information, breach of fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty, unjust enrichment and unfair competition involve plaintiff’s conduct of requesting and disclosing "first cost" data to Erlbaum. These claims each refer to the same "first cost" data and are wholly based on the same conduct as the conduct that comprises a misappropriation of trade secrets claim. The "first cost" data is the sole information at issue in this case and it is either a trade secret or something less. Thus, these counterclaims are preempted only if the "first cost" data at issue constitutes a misappropriation of a trade secret.

And that’s what would have kicked out most of these claims, except that the parties forgot to brief if the information was actually a trade secret:

A trade secret under the PUTSA is defined as:

Information, including a formula, drawing, pattern, compilation including a costumer list, program, device, method, technique or process that:

(1) Derives independent economic value, actual or potential, from not being generally known to, and not being readily ascertainable by proper means by, other persons who can obtain economic value from its disclosure or use.

(2) Is the subject of efforts that are reasonable under the circumstances to maintain its secrecy.

PUTSA, 12 P.S. § 5302.

However, neither party has properly briefed whether this information qualifies as a trade secret. Plaintiff argues that the PUTSA preempts defendants’ counterclaims but states, without sufficient legal analysis, that the information does not qualify as a trade secret to satisfy the PUTSA because it was readily available to anyone who asked for it. These arguments are contradictory; plaintiff cannot have it both ways. See Callaway Golf Co. v. Dunlop Slazenger Group Am., Inc., 295 F. Supp.2d 430, 437 (D. Del. 2003), stating that arguing that information does not constitute a trade secret and also that other claims are preempted by the Trade Secret Act is contradictory. Defendants did not respond with legal analysis on whether the "first cost" data constitutes a trade secret; instead they merely requested leave to file an amended counterclaim complaint if I find such information to be a trade secret. As this information may qualify as a trade secret, I will not find that the data satisfies lesser standards than those required for a trade secret merely because the issue has not been properly briefed. For this reason, I cannot find that defendants’ counterclaims of misappropriation of trade secrets and/or confidential and proprietary information, breach of fiduciary duty and duty of loyalty, unjust enrichment and unfair competition are preempted at this time because defendants may still be able to recover under such theories in the event that the "first cost" data does not constitute a misappropriation of a trade secret under the PUTSA. Cenveo Corp. v. Slater, 2007 WL 527720, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 12, 2007), stating "that the cases holding that the Trade Secrets Act does not preempt common law tort claims when it has yet to be determined whether the information at issue constitutes a trade secret take the better approach."