Non-Compete--Victory for the Little Guy--Louisville KY

Michele Owens, a Louisville court reporter, has had her right to work restored!

After a short tenure of working for a firm, Michele Owens terminated her relationship due to concerns about breaches of the ethical guidelines that govern court reporters, breach of an employment contract, and an overall dissatisfaction with her employment. Upon Ms. Owens’s departure, Ms. Owens was presented with a restrictive non-compete that she claims to have never signed. A co-owner of the firm contacted several court reporting firms to notify prospective employers of her intent to enforce this contract.

The allegation of fraud arises from this non-compete that Ms. Owens claims she never signed. Ms. Owens acknowledges signing a separate document with a signature line that appeared at the top of the page, a Sexual Harassment Policy. The Sexual Harassment Policy was presented to her for signature as a standalone document. When Ms. Owens turned in a copy of the Employee Handbook, the person delivering it for her asked for a copy and was told that the copier was broken, so a copy was never provided to her for her records. Ms. Owens claims that the firm representatives later inserted a very restrictive non-compete contract in front of the Sexual Harassment Policy that she signed, bound it together inside of a larger Employee Handbook, and presented the document as evidence in court in their motion to bar her from working in the Louisville area.

Not a single word of the non-compete contract language appears on the Sexual Harassment Policy that Ms. Owens signed. The Employee Handbook also contained language that nothing in the Employee Handbook constituted a contract. The document that the firm presents as evidence of the non-compete contradicts itself.

Furthermore, the firm's own statements in pleadings and testimony in the injunction hearing are contradictory. In the pleading, the firm claimed to be losing business because of Michele Owens continuing to work in the area and claims to be irreparably harmed. Sworn testimony given by another co-owner of the firm claimed that their business had doubled or tripled, hardly evidence of irreparable harm.

An injunction to bar Ms. Owens from working in a 50-mile radius of Louisville, Kentucky, was ordered by the court on December 28, 2007. Michele had to temporarily place her two children, ages 10 and 12, in the custody of her parents in Texas so that she could continue to work outside of the restricted range. The commute added to her demanding work hours and the stress of ongoing litigation proved to be too much for her to adequately care for her children until such time as her right to work was restored.

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