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The Courts Government

Can You Be Sued for Quitting? 1057

Posted by Cliff
from the you-can-be-sued-for-anything dept.
An anonymous reader asks: "I work at a large hosting company in Texas, and recently decided to go work for a smaller competitor. I had a great relationship with my employer and wanted to leave on good terms, and I hadn't signed any non-compete or employment agreements . I felt my old company had just gotten too large and I didn't like working there anymore, so I gave them two weeks notice in writing. They were really upset when I insisted on leaving and one week into my last two weeks the V.P. of Sales told me the company was suing me for leaving, and they were also suing my new employer for hiring me. I was shocked, and they then escorted me out of the building. Has anybody ever heard of this happening? Do they have any legal basis for suing me?" It shouldn't have to be said that seeking professional legal representation, in such a situation, is the first thing one should do.
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Can You Be Sued for Quitting?

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  • by Panaqqa (927615) * on Friday February 02, 2007 @06:51AM (#17856766) Homepage
    But without a non-competition agreement I can't see that theirs would go very far. Of course anyone can sue anybody at anytime for anything. Actually winning a judgement is another matter.

    Perhaps your former employer might be better advised to spend the money and effort having a consultant come in and find out why they are losing people - a professional job satisfaction survey, say. If you have found that the work environment has changed enough to motivate you to seek employment elsewhere, then others are likely thinking the same thing. Maybe their threat of a lawsuit is a form of coercive message to other workers that they had better stay... or else!!
    • by da5idnetlimit.com (410908) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:38AM (#17856998) Journal
      Now that's the idea.

      I propose the poor guy sues his company. before it has time to sue him.

      IANAL, but I'm sure a pro can find a few nicely worded offenses commited by this company (Breaking the freedom of choosing its employer, being considered as a serf belonging to the company while slavery has been abolished for some time, moral prejudice for unneeded sufferings, cruelty (in group), libel (?), being an asshole (NOT A CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT, even if 2 centuries of practice make most american think it is), intimidation, unheeded meddling in someone's affairs, etc ...

      Anyhow, if they want to play dumb, he should just play harder...
       
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by catwh0re (540371)
      I think you're right about the coercive lawsuit...

      The company management is clearly poor. The lawsuit is a good indication of this.
      Bad management is probably why the work environment is crap. Which is why people are choosing to leave.
      Chicken and egg.

    • by tclark (140640) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:47AM (#17857054) Homepage

      Perhaps your former employer might be better advised to spend the money and effort having a consultant come in
      You mean, perhaps they should bring in the Bobs [wikipedia.org]?
    • IANAL and all... (Score:5, Informative)

      by Lonewolf666 (259450) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:51AM (#17857068)

      But without a non-competition agreement I can't see that theirs would go very far. Of course anyone can sue anybody at anytime for anything. Actually winning a judgement is another matter.
      AFAIK that is correct. They can cause you some nuisance but probably not win. If this actually goes to court, ask your real lawyer about the chances to recover your legal fees because plaintiff brought a frivolous lawsuit ;-)
    • Shit List (Score:5, Funny)

      by Bios_Hakr (68586) <xptical AT gmail DOT com> on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:55AM (#17857090) Homepage
      You need to keep a shit list. I've been with one company for about 12 years now. For the last 5, I've kept an offline diary about my work there. Every time I think I was wronged, I write about it while it's still fresh in my mind. Every time I do something really good, I write in another diary.

      For your own sake, keep these private. Fireproof box with a combo or a key you *always* keep with you is okay.

      When something goes bad for you, decide how you want to treat it. Do you want to pull out something from the "good book" or from the "bad book".

      If you get threatened, you can easily turn the log over to a lawyer for a quick browse. Something as simple of 15~20 minutes of overtime (why does the boss call at 4:58PM for a chat about an e-mail I sent at 9AM) every week over a few years can leave a company with massive fines. Every racist/sexist joke you hear is handy too.

      Even if nothing ever goes wrong, maybe one of those jackasses will run for office one day. Then, you can call them up and ask them if they remember the time they did Stacy while she was passed out after the office party. Maybe get a nice retirement bonus out of it. Or you could just end up dead like one former President's old buddies. Hmm...
      • by LizardKing (5245) on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:11AM (#17857178)
        Monday 29th:

        Bob from accounts looked at me funny. I'm sure he knows my secret.

        Tuesday 30th:

        I hear the directors laughing in the boardroom. They know too.

        Wednesday 31st:

        Arrived at work to find a crow standing on the window ledge outside my office window. I think this is a sign.

        Thursday 1st:

        The assault rifle, handgun and stun grenades are safely stored behind that old Vax in the machine room.

        Friday 2nd:

        Goodbye cruel world.
      • by StressGuy (472374) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:02AM (#17857938)
        I've been struggling to find ways to be effective where I currently work and, in an effort to do so, I've struck up relationships with people who seem to be doing well and started keeping a journal of observations. The only rule is "be honest, but don't whine".

        It's been helpful, mostly because it has enabled me to thread together events in time that I might not have otherwise seen if I wasn't keeping track. My effectiveness has been improving...but it is also becoming more and more apparant that this is one of the most disfuntional organization I've ever worked for.

        On the plus side, I've picked up some useful skills on how to function in a dis-organized environment and learned some new FEA software along the way. All very useful things to bring to my next gig.

        Keeping an objective journal (not a "shit-list") is a good idea.
    • by suso (153703) * on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:18AM (#17857222) Homepage Journal
      Of course anyone can sue anybody at anytime for anything. Actually winning a judgement is another matter.

      But that's usuaully used as a scare tactic. At least with what we've seen in public news. Its a scare tactic to keep people from doing something like making a parody of strawberry shortcake (Eh hem).

      Suing someone for their livelyhood when you have no legal ground to do so is just plain stupid. Anyone who needed to work and was being tried to prevent that would surely challenge the plaintiff. Who wouldn't challenge that? What was The Planet thinking? Actually, don't answer that.

      I hope this makes people think twice before hosting with The Planet or one of their resellers or one of their resellers or one of their resellers or one of their resellers........

      sig removed
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by zakezuke (229119)
        Suing someone for their livelyhood when you have no legal ground to do so is just plain stupid. Anyone who needed to work and was being tried to prevent that would surely challenge the plaintiff. Who wouldn't challenge that? What was The Planet thinking? Actually, don't answer that.

        It happens often enough. An old obscure band I referended before called Dumptruck [furious.com] was with Big Time records, an indy label. After their contract expired they decided to move up in the world to another label, Big Time sued them
      • I hope this makes people think twice before hosting with The Planet or one of their resellers or one of their resellers or one of their resellers or one of their resellers........

        And that, right there is the crux of this article. Have you ever noticed that every other time there's an Ask Slashdot that complains about an employer or other professional relationship, the offending party isn't named?

        Not only does the article contain the name of the employer, but the submitter linked to them, along with a couple Wikipedia articles describing documents the poster didn't sign. It's like he wasn't looking for advice, and just wanted to announce to a million geeks that Company X is bad.

        Th

    • by meme lies (1050572) on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:18AM (#17857226)
      Maybe their threat of a lawsuit is a form of coercive message to other workers that they had better stay... or else!!

      If this actually happened the way OP described I would guess the VP of Sales (which in my experience isn't all that high of a position in management, and certainly not one to initiate a lawsuit on behalf of the company, but I could be wrong) was just being an ass. Threats of lawsuit are pretty common in this country, and most remain just that-- idle threats. Perhaps the VP of Sales heard the CEO say "I ought to sue him for leaving" in the heat of the moment and took it literally; that kind of thing happens all the time.

      Except...

      The "anonymous reader" was thoughtful enough to name his former employer in the link, in effect smearing the company's name on a website read by hundreds of thousands of people (many in their industry) daily. Assuming this wasn't made up to begin with, the identity of the "anonymous reader" should be easy for the company to discover. If they weren't going to sue before, this may make them angry enough to do so now-- and they might have a better case.
      • If they weren't going to sue before, this may make them angry enough to do so now-- and they might have a better case.

        Just out of curiosity, and assuming of course that everything he wrote is true, what exactly would that better case be? "Your honor, he told the truth about events that he personally witnessed, and in a public forum to boot!"? Or maybe "He directed more traffic to our web site and potentially posted our Google page rank, with malice aforethought!"?

        --MarkusQ

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by cloak42 (620230)
        Neither defamation nor libel can be used as a complaint if what he says is true. Further, they have to be able to prove that he had an intent to defame them by posting what he did, which is difficult. The burden of proof is on the plaintiff in these situations.

        In most states, the labor laws clearly state that employment is at-will. He can leave whenever he wants and they can fire him any time they want and, barring employment or non-competition contracts, they have no means of precluding him from working
      • Personally, I think the cloak of silence around companies that do evil things to their employees is awful. They should be named. It should be out in the open, and people should know. Maybe employers would work harder to find managers who were worth the salaries they were paid if their management's screwups became public knowledge. Especially for something like this.

        If what this anonymous reader says is true, I can't see how the company could win any kind of lawsuit. Sure, it might make them more likely to try. And if they did I'm sure a judge would be happy to award the defendents significant damages for the company trying to waste their time and the courts time with a frivolous intimidation lawsuit.

    • This is an international forum, being used to discuss a state-specific legal issue. People from all over the world, and from all different states will discuss what the "law" is without realizing that they may not be discussing the same thing. Thankfully, this post had the decency to mention the jurisdiction, but what percentage of the people reading *and posting responses* are from Texas?!?

      Next, this post would be 100x more interesting if we learned the outcome of the situation. So what if somebody's e

  • Yes (Score:5, Informative)

    by tgd (2822) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:03AM (#17856812)
    In America you can sue anyone for anything.

    Its a pain in the ass, it'll cost you some money, but they don't have a case so don't let it stress you out. The new company will need to deal with the suit on their end, the likelihood is their attorney can handle your suit as well.

    Its happened to me twice, I think the total it cost me in legal expenses was $500 and a few hours to show up in court.

    You may have good luck counter suing. Blog about it, too. Make sure potential customers of theirs know how they treat their employees.

    The important thing is to not let it stress you out.
  • by WaterDamage (719017) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:03AM (#17856814)
    If they gave you no explanation then they're full of hot air! They're only attempting to discourage you from sharing your knowledge with the smaller competitor. If your future employer refuses to offer you employment due to a possible lawsuit them you may have a VERY big check coming your way if you counter-sue your former employer for defamation and damages.

    I used to work for a Fortune 500 company a few years back that attempted the exact same stunt to a coworker that quit, they were hoping to scare him accepting employment from a much smaller consulting company which happened to compete with them. In the end, the big Fortune 500 employer never sued, but the ex-coworker sued them for defamation and won a real nice 6 figures out of those a$$holes.
  • Silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bloobloo (957543) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:13AM (#17856860) Homepage
    That seems ridiculous. Of course without any evidence to back this story up, Slashdot could probably now be sued by ThePlanet for libel.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:17AM (#17856870)
    My wife had a former employer threaten to sue her if she took a local job in her industry. She went to a lawyer, and showed him the letter. The lawyer basically laughed at it, sent his own letter back and that was that.

    Having said the above, not all lawyers are created equal. Get one who knows what he's doing about employment law. Our local bar association has a lawyer referral service and will give you the names of lawyers with the correct specialization. Call your local bar association and see if they have a similar service.
  • by GBC (981160) * on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:28AM (#17856932)
    On the facts provided, I think the only basis for your old employer being able to sue you would be if there was some form of non-compete in place. In that case, they could sue you for breach of the non-compete clause and they could potentially sue the new employer for inducing you to breach that provision.

    Generally speaking, you should always try to have a written contract of employment so you know where you stand with regards your employment. Just because you didn't sign anything doesn't mean there are no terms under which you are employed - it is just that they have not been reduced to a written form.

    If you were in a particularly senior position and/or handled sensitive information as part of your job, then it is likely that there would some form of non-compete in place. If you are able to, check your staff handbook (if any) and try to obtain a copy of a contract of employment from a friend at your old workplace to see if there is any mention of a non-compete clause. If there is, then it makes your position weaker unfortunately.

    IAAL and I think the only people that ever win in court are the lawyers. It is in everyone's interests to avoid going to court if at all possible as it will be a waste of time, money and effort.

    Perhaps you could try writing to the employer? Explain reasons for leaving, that you want to leave on good terms, wish them well etc. Say you were disappointed to hear that they are considering taking action against you and would like them to explain the basis for doing so.

    Worse case scenario is that they go ahead. Best case, you find out that they were never consider taking action in the first place or they realise they are being silly and move on.

    (Standard disclaimer: Whilst IAAL this should not be considered legal advice. See a local lawyer if you feel the situation warrants it).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Rob the Bold (788862)

      Generally speaking, you should always try to have a written contract of employment so you know where you stand with regards your employment. Just because you didn't sign anything doesn't mean there are no terms under which you are employed - it is just that they have not been reduced to a written form.

      As movie producer Sam Goldwyn (and many others) said: "An oral contract isn't worth the paper it's printed on."

  • by will_die (586523) on Friday February 02, 2007 @07:38AM (#17856994) Homepage
    They can fire you for any reason execpt race,relgion,etc. In other words you are out of luck, just take the week with a smile; or since they fired you go file for unemployment.
    However you could possibly sue them if they broke the employee handbook, that is generally considered a contract and breaking that has lead to million dollar lawsuits. However most companies settle out of court because of the bad press relations with future employees; how would you feel if when researching a company you find a message about that company firing people when they have given thier leave notice? When companies don't want soon to be former employees hanging around they normally just pay them the money for the remaining weeks and escort them out the door.

    As for the lawsuit, time to hire a lawyer. Unless you were some grand person in thier company they probably don't have much of a recourse. You should get a lawyer and see if in Texas you can sue the other company for preventing you from performing in another job and see if filing for unemployment will hurt your case(it may strengthen it since confirms with an outside source that they fired you).
  • Unions (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Per Abrahamsen (1397) on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:04AM (#17857152) Homepage
    Stories like this makes me happy to live in a country where unions are the norm. The union would handle this case, and I wouldn't have to worry about it.

    [ Most of the employers are actually happy with the unions as well, the unions tend to prevent strikes and make the salaries fluctuate less, which makes long time planning easier. ]
    • Re:Unions (Score:5, Insightful)

      by DonnieD701 (735118) <donnied701@noSpAm.excite.com> on Friday February 02, 2007 @09:04AM (#17857464)

      the unions tend to prevent strikes and make the salaries fluctuate less, which makes long time planning easier.
      Yep, they also make sure that even the worst employee keeps their job, and no matter how much you excel, you will still be paid the same amount the schlub only giving 50% does. I've worked in union and non-union shops. I can't stand unions....
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Per Abrahamsen (1397)
        > Yep, they also make sure that even the worst employee keeps their job,

        Not where I live. Firing people is easy, with a few exceptions (like pregnant women). High unemployment benefit has meant that the unions have not demanded "job security" clauses. Since it is much easier to fire people than in most other EU countries, employers are much less reluctant to hire people, and companies can easily adjust to changing market conditions. This also gives us one of the lowest unemployment rates in the EU.
  • by erroneus (253617) on Friday February 02, 2007 @08:27AM (#17857292) Homepage
    In my case, the company I was working for had difficulty paying with checks that didn't bounce. Eventually a couple of us got together with another party to form another business. Somehow they discovered this plan, fired us and threatened the other party with a lawsuit and they wouldn't return our calls.

    Texas is an at-will employment state. It allows either party to terminate employment for any reason or none at all. Employment agreements and non-competes still exist, however, and are often one-sided so one should be careful about working for people like that. (I once got a job offer from just such a company and their non-compete and other employee policies just made me feel creepy so I turned them down flat.)

    The lawsuit is most likely an attempt at preventing him from being hired at a competitor's site. If the poster is truthful about the conditions stated, the employer's suit doesn't have merit and is merely a form of intimidation. This leads back to the other concensus which is the management at the bigger company is just not good. "Executive Hubris" is a term used is a previous Slashdot discussion and perhaps this is yet another example of such. I should hope that other employees at the bigger company are taking note of management's attitude...
  • by VoxCombo (782935) on Friday February 02, 2007 @09:07AM (#17857490)
    Am I the only one who thinks there has to be more to the story? I know there are a lot of silly lawsuits out there, but c'mon...

    Since the company escorted him out of the building they are not trying to leverage him to stay, so they must be trying to recover some damages. I'm not saying the company is right, I'm just saying that a large company with a legal department wouldn't waste their money on a lawsuit unless they had at least a CHANCE to get some money.

    For example.......
    Did he recently get a promotion that included relocation, which carried with it a minumum commitment? Something else? What's the rest of the story OP?
  • Bullshit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shihar (153932) on Friday February 02, 2007 @09:21AM (#17857582)
    Am I the only one that finds it a LITTLE suspicious that this article links to two wikipedia articles, the "evil" hosting company, and is posted by an AC? Can we say smear campaign or disgruntle employee? People, this is a completely transparent ploy to smear the poor bastards who are being accused. It is a travesty that this crap was even posted in the first place. It would have been one thing if the hosting company hand not been named, or if the accuser had named themselves. The fact that only the 'evil' hosting company in question is named and there is absolutely zero evidence that they did anything wrong, not even an angry blog, should be causing all of your bullshit detectors to go off.

    Personally, I am deeply disappointed that this blatant smear was even posted in the first place.
  • SLAM-DUNK! (Score:4, Informative)

    by WgT2 (591074) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:20AM (#17858158) Journal

    If you are working in Texas, you the priviledge in that Texas is a "employment at will" [nrtw.org](PDF) state. The implications are that you can work, or not work, when you want to. That doesn't mean your boss has to keep your employed, but it means they can't stop you from leaving either (and unions can't stop you from working, too).

    From the PDF link above:

    Q: Does an employer need to provide an employee with the reason for terminating him/her?
    A: The Texas Payday Law does not address the issue of termination. Texas, however, is as an "employment at will" state. This means that the employment relationship between employer and employee exists by the agreement of both parties. This gives the employee the right to quit at any time or for the employer to terminate the employee at any time and for any legal reason

    (emphasis mine)

    If I were you, I would have your lawyer look into whether this company has a history of such litigation. If so, I would have your lawyer counter sue, for a lot of money, for legal harassment. This is in light of the "employment at will" and previous behavior.

  • Nice! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anon-Admin (443764) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:29AM (#17858268) Homepage Journal
    IANAL (but my sister-inlaw is an ADA in Texas!)

    1) Can they sue you? Sure they can try, but will it hold up in court? Probably not.
    2) Will you have to defend your self? Sure, so get a lawyer NOW!

    Now for the fun part :)

    3) (IN Texas) By verbally notifying you of their intent to sue, (I hope you have a witness!) they are now financially responsible for the cost incurred in your preparation to defend your self should they not follow through with it. This means that if it was a scare tactic and they had no intent of suing you, they have to pay all your lawyers fees!
    I know this because I used to run a large anonymous service. Every time I received a letter threating to sue me, my attorneys eyes would light up! It was like a bonus check for him :>
    He would put in all the work preparing a defense (and some people can make BIG threats) then when he found their intent was not to sue, we would sue them.

    I hope this helps!!

    Oh, and if you are leaving does that mean that they have an opening. ;) cl@xganon.com

  • by RebornData (25811) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:30AM (#17858282)
    IANAL, but I believe Texas is an "employment at will" state. This means that there is very little regulation of the employer / employee legal relationship outside of a contract / employment agreement. This means that an employer can terminate without cause and no notice, and an employee can leave without notice, without any negative *legal* ramifications.

    However, that doesn't mean they can't sue you... this will force you to spend money on legal representation and make your life a little miserable even if the suit is ruled to be baseless. If it is and you've got a halfway decent lawyer, you might be able to get it dismissed with prejudice and your legal fees covered.

    So why are they suing? Clearly they are burning any bridges with you, and aren't expecting to try to get you back. Unless you are independently wealthy, it's unlikely even if they succeeded that they would be able to collect enough in damages to make this worthwhile. This leaves two explanations I can think of: petty revenge, or to intimidate the rest of the employees. I'm betting on a combination of both, with a heavy dose of intimidation.

    -R
  • by karlandtanya (601084) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:30AM (#17858288)
    If they've got a legitimate claim against you, you'd probably know about it.

    Did you take company documents with you when you left?
    Did you have special access to trade secrets, business plans, etc?
    Did you make any implicit agreement to stick around?
    For example--If the policy manual says you can submit education expenses (get some license or cert) but you have to stick around for 1 year afterward--you agreed to stick around when you submitted the expenses.

    Of course, anybody can sue anybody else for anything, and does it all the time.
    The issue is not necessarily whether they can win the suit or not--you're probably being set out as an example for any other employees that might be thinking of jumping ship.

    Thank you for raising an interesting question on /., but I sincerely hope you're listening the attorney you hired and not just us.
  • by SpinyNorman (33776) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:33AM (#17858342)
    How about suing your old company for hiring you in the first place?! :-)
  • by Compulawyer (318018) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:45AM (#17858490)
    with the following preface: I do not know if I am licensed to practice law in your jurisdiction so I am not giving you legal advice. I am STRONGLY recommending that you consider the following GENERAL advice:
    1. Consult with a lawyer who has an established track record dealing with employment issues involving trade secrets; and
    2. Don't stress out about the threat too much unless you get served with a summons and a court complaint. Even then, (to borrow a phrase from Doug Adams): DON'T PANIC. However, DO get legal counsel and DON'T ignore any time deadlines set by a court.
    3. Don't panic.
  • by mrobinso (456353) on Friday February 02, 2007 @10:55AM (#17858626) Homepage
    I've always felt that giving notice of termination in my field of work (IT) is
    extremely dangerous. If I have root on a number of production servers and access
    to a data center, I've often felt that giving notice leaves you wide open for
    blame if you share root with others. If you give notice and things start screwing
    up, it'll be your fault, bank on it. And if Joe IT across the hall doesn't like
    you, its trivial for him to screw things up deliberately and lay the blame at your
    feet. It's also feasible that if there are severe ill feelings from management
    because you're leaving, what better way to screw you over than to arrange for some
    sabotage (real of pseudo) and blame it on you.

    Not a chance.

    When I decide it's time for me to leave, I gather my things and leave. Great time
    to use up all those vacation days or unused lieu days. If not, sue me. I have a
    lawyer, a really good one, here's her card.

    mike

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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