On January 29, 2024, the Delaware Supreme Court issued an important decision addressing the enforceability of restrictive covenants. As detailed below, in Cantor Fitzgerald v. Ainslie, the court upheld forfeiture-for-competition provisions set forth in a limited partnership (LP) agreement and ruled in favor of the partnership not having to pay out millions to former partners.
In Cantor Fitzgerald, the Delaware Supreme Court decision relied significantly on the following factors in enforcing the LP agreement as written and determining that the disputed provisions were, in fact, enforceable:
- The restrictive covenant did not bar the claimants from engaging in competitive activities.
- Rather, the provisions in question provided, in part, that receipt and retention of prior conditional awards of a portion of their compensation would be subject to the condition precedent that the recipient refrained from competing – in other words, these were forfeiture-for-competition provisions.
- These forfeiture-for-competition provisions were not liquidated damages provisions (triggered by a breach of contract); rather, these provisions set up a condition precedent (not competing with the employer) to the employees’ receipt of the amounts that had been held back.
- The “employee choice doctrine” suggests that courts do not review forfeiture-for-competition provisions for reasonableness where, as here, the employee voluntarily terminates employment (as opposed to remaining employed and vesting in the contingent compensation amounts).