Rremier Model Management v. Bruce  EWHC
In our last article "Using a haute couture approach to
protecting business secrets," we explored methods that
companies use to protect their confidential information. the issue
has recently come to a head in the case of Premier Model
Management Ltd v Bruce  EWHC 3509(QB).
In this case, Mr Bruce was a senior model booker for Premier.
During the course of his employment, he was prevented from
competing with Premier and from poaching staff and models. He was
also subject to 12-month non-poaching covenants post-termination.
Lastly, Mr Bruce was bound by the common law duty of
confidentiality which applies to all employees both during
employment and indefinitely post-termination.
After handing in his notice, Mr Bruce took sick leave for the
majority of his notice period. In that time, he set up a rival
agency with his partner and began sending confidential information
to his personal email address, including details of models, work
opportunities and terms of business. As a result, Premier summarily
dismissed Mr Bruce and sued him in the High Court for breach of
contract. They also sued his partner and their new company for
inducing the breaches.
The High Court held that by sending confidential business
information to his partner, Mr Bruce was clearly in breach of his
duty of confidentiality. They also held that he was in breach of
his obligation not to compete with Premier during employment, as
his rival agency was incorporated some six months before his
employment ended. The court held that Mr Bruce's partner and
company were both liable in tort for inducing these breaches.
This case demonstrates a robust approach and a willingness by
the courts to safeguard these critical business issues. However, on
a practical point, Premier was lucky that Mr Bruce had been
careless, as it had a wealth of evidence to support its claim. The
penalties imposed by the court on this occasion are draconian, so
in the absence of significant evidence, judges tend to be cautious
about finding that an employee has engaged in unlawful behaviour.
Generally, employees who choose this path tend to be more careful
and covert about their activities. as such, finding evidence to
support a claim for breach of covenants is notoriously difficult
and can be expensive if forensic IT experts have to be brought
Premier's claim was also bolstered by the fact that Mr Bruce
had been competing while still employed by Premier. As such, his
obligations towards his employer were beyond dispute. The court did
find that the 12-month non-poach covenants were valid and
enforceable in this case (because that duration reflects the usual
length of contracts in the industry), however covenants must always
be carefully tailored for each business to ensure enforceability.
Undoubtedly, competitive behaviour post-termination will be harder
to police and claims for breach will be more difficult.
This publication is intended as a general overview and
discussion of the subjects dealt with. It is not intended to be,
and should not used as, a substitute for taking legal advice in any
specific situation. DLA Piper Australia will accept no
responsibility for any actions taken or not taken on the basis of
DLA Piper Australia is part of DLA Piper, a global law firm,
operating through various separate and distinct legal entities. For
further information, please refer to www.dlapiper.com
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