Brown v. TGS Management Co., LLCAnnotate this Case
Plaintiff Richard Brown appealed a judgment confirming an arbitration award in favor of defendant TGS Management Company (TGS) in an employment contract dispute. The specific statutory right at issue in the underlying dispute was Brown’s right to work in his chosen field free of contractual restraints on competition. The Legislature expressed that right in the simple but sweeping language of Business and Professions Code section 16600: “Except as provided in this chapter, every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade or business of any kind is to that extent void.” Brown worked for TGS for over 10 years. During that time, a substantial portion of Brown’s compensation was a yearly bonus which rewarded Brown’s performance over the previous year with a sizable cash award to be paid over the next two years. In February 2016, TGS terminated Brown’s employment without cause effective March 2016. Over the next month, Brown and TGS attempted to negotiate a confidential separation agreement. TGS prepared a settlement offer in the form of a draft separation and general release agreement (the Draft Separation Agreement), but Brown rejected the offer. TGS terminated Brown as planned, making the termination “without cause” so Brown could keep two bonuses he had earned but not yet received (the deferred bonuses), given the two-year bonus structure in place. In October 2016, Brown filed a complaint against TGS stating claims for declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and reformation of the arbitrator-selection process in the Employment Agreement. The declaratory relief claim sought a declaration Brown could compete with TGS without risking a damages claim for breaching the Employment Agreement or jeopardizing his two deferred bonuses. Brown also sought an injunction against enforcement of the covenant not to compete. Ten days after filing the complaint, Brown filed a petition to compel arbitration. TGS consented, and answered, stating it would not seek to enforce the no-compete clause in Brown's contract, but that he forfeited the two bonuses at issue when he filed a copy of the Draft Separation Agreement, which disclosed the identity of TGS' clients and its bonus formula for computing employee bonuses. The arbitrator granted TGS' motion for summary judgment. On appeal, Brown contended the Court of Appeal had to vacate the judgment because the arbitration award exceeded the arbitrator's powers, “and the award cannot be corrected without affecting the merits of the decision[.]” The Court concluded the arbitrator exceeded his power in issuing an award enforcing provisions of an employment agreement which illegally restricted Brown’s right to work. Consequently, judgment was reversed and the matter remanded for further proceedings.