HOUSTON - Cameron International Corporation has agreed to drop its non-compete case against FMC Technologies Singapore Pte Ltd employee Steven Abbiss.
Cameron International is a leading provider of products and services in the gas and oil industry and does a lot of work in the Middle East.
Abbiss worked as district manager for a group within Cameron Surface Systems, which provides wellhead and valve products for surface gas and oil drilling. He had worked for Cameron for 25 years, working solely in Oman and Yemen.
In June 2016, Abbiss left Cameron to become general manager for one of Cameron’s competitors, FMC. In July 2016, Cameron sued FMC and Abbiss for violation of Abbiss’ non-compete agreement.
In the case it alleged, “Hiring Abbiss, who has intimate knowledge of Cameron’s bidding strategies, margins/costs and competitive strategy, gives FMC an unfair advantage in seeking to take business away from Cameron.”
Cameron also said it invested resources in training Abbiss and giving him important information that he would inevitably share with FMC. It asked that Abbiss should not be able to work anywhere in the Middle East.
Judge Nancy Atlas of the Houston Division of the Texas Southern District Court granted a joint motion to terminate the case. She originally found the non-compete argument to by overly broad.
Richard Hathaway, an attorney with KRC&L in Dallas who works in non-compete enforcement and defense, told the Southeast Texas Record: "A non-compete agreement is basically an exception to the rule that you can’t restrict trade. It’s a companies way to protect their interests, otherwise you don’t have innovation, a way to keep secrets or be competitive.”
In order for a non-compete to be enforceable, it must have a reasonable restriction of time, usually one to three years, a reasonable geographic restriction and a reasonable restriction on scope based on what position the employee held with the company.
In this case, both the geographic restriction and scope restriction were considered unreasonable.
“He worked in Oman, [and Cameron] wanted to prevent him from working in all of the Middle East,” Hathaway said. “If they had said he can’t work in just Oman and Yemen, it would’ve been enforceable.”
Atlas noted the knowledge Abbiss had in the other Middle Eastern countries was generic and wouldn’t affect Cameron’s business in those countries.
In terms of scope, Abbiss was leaving his position at Cameron for a similar position with FMC, which could be enforceable by a non-compete. However, Cameron did not clearly set those boundaries.
“His non-compete says he can’t work for the competitor is any capacity,” Hathaway said. “That’s not reasonable.”
Hathaway said courts often will help the company rework the non-compete to make it less broad.
“Courts don’t like to send employees home jobless,” Hathaway said. "In this situation, though, the courts did not have enough evidence to rework the contract."
Abbiss was able to work for FMC through the trial process.