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Restrictive covenants like non-compete agreements and non-solicit agreements are valid if supported by one or more legitimate business interests. Fla. Stat. § 542.335. Those legitimate business interests often include the protection of trade secrets, valuable information that does not qualify as trade secret, existing customers, or future prospective customers. Id. However, legitimate business interests can also include extraordinary or specialized training. Id. This type of legitimate business interest is often pleaded by a former employer seeking to enforce its restrictive covenant against a former employee, but commonly rejected by the fact-finder. Below we identify the facts needed to successfully assert an extraordinary or specialized training legitimate business interest claim and provide some examples demonstrating why claims for extraordinary or specialized training frequently fail. Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale business litigation attorney.  The Mavrick Law Firm represents businesses and their owners in breach of contract litigation and related claims of fraud, non-compete agreement litigation, trade secret litigation, trademark infringement litigation, employment law, and other legal disputes in federal and state courts and in arbitration.

All training does not qualify as extraordinary or specialized training. “To constitute a protectible interest,… the provi[sion] of training or education must be extraordinary.” Hapney v. Cent. Garage, Inc., 579 So. 2d 127 (Fla. 2d DCA 1991), reh’g denied and opinion modified, (Fla. 2d DCA May 15, 1991). Therefore, the training must go “beyond what is usual, regular, common, or customary in the industry in which the employee is employed. Id. Courts reason that extraordinary training allows employees to gain unique skills or an enhanced sophistication that makes it unfair for those employees to use the new skills to compete. Id.

It is difficult to precisely distinguish between training that does and does not qualify as a legitimate business interest because it is a fact-based inquiry that varies industry to industry. Id. Notwithstanding, the case law provides some guidance by demonstrating that routine training does not meet the extraordinary standard. In IDMWORKS, LLC v. Pophaly, 192 F. Supp. 3d 1335 (S.D. Fla. 2016), the court ruled the plaintiff’s training was not a legitimate business interest for three reasons. First, the training provided by the former employer to the former employee was typical of most industries because the plaintiff failed to produce evidence demonstrating the training went beyond industry norms. Id. (“The only testimony about training within the industry came from the Defendant, who testified that the training he received was not different from training he would expect to receive at other companies in the industry.”). Second, the former employer’s provision of a database containing training materials did not create a legitimate business interest because the evidence established that many other companies can access the same database for those same training materials. Id. Third, the evidence revealed that the training materials provided by the employer were optional. Id; see also Autonation, Inc. v. O’Brien, 347 F. Supp. 2d 1299 (S.D. Fla. 2004) (“O’Brien testified that he was not required to attend the various training seminars and only ‘popped in and out’ of the meetings. Accordingly, AutoNation has not demonstrated any specialized training exceeding what would be common or typical in the industry.”).

Likewise, in Dyer v. Pioneer Concepts, Inc., 667 So. 2d 961 (Fla. 2d DCA 1996), the court determined the former employer’s training was unremarkable. The former employer testified its former employee “received training in stripping floors and the use of the equipment leased to grocery stores”, “trained for his management position”, “attended a seminar on the development of interpersonal skills and one on hiring and firing techniques”, and “attended a manufacturer-sponsored seminar which trained Dyer to repair the equipment.” Id. However, none of this training appeared extraordinary. Id.  Consequently, the court rejected the former employers claim to an extraordinary or specialized training legitimate business interests. Id.

Contrast the two cases above with Matthews v. City of Gulfport, 72 F. Supp. 2d 1328 (M.D. Fla. 1999). In Matthews, the court suggested the former employee’s training was specialized because the former employee was a law enforcement officer who received training during her employment. Id.

Although case law on the enforceability of an extraordinary or specialized training legitimate business interest is scant, the authorities are aligned in that routine training will not create a legitimate business interest.

Peter Mavrick is a Fort Lauderdale business litigation lawyer, and represents clients in Miami, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach. This article does not serve as a substitute for legal advice tailored to a particular situation.

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