Ms D was a 35-year old nurse practitioner (NP) with several years of solid experience when she was offered a job in a pharmacy. The pharmacy had a medical clinic specializing in weight management, hormone therapy, and aesthetic services, including injectable fillers and laser therapy, and Ms D was offered a position in the clinic. The interviews went well, and she was feeling positive about the potential job. When she accepted the offer and met with human resources to complete the required paperwork, she was informed that she was required to sign an employment contract. The contract was long, with tiny print. Ms D had never been asked to sign an employment contract before. When she questioned the human resources person about it, she was told, “you can’t take the job without signing the contract.” Ms D really wanted the job and was afraid to make too much of a fuss about the employment contract, so she skimmed it quickly, signed it, and began her orientation.
One of the provisions of the employment contract was a noncompete clause, which stated that Ms D would be prevented from practicing within 50 miles of the pharmacy and soliciting any pharmacy patients for 18 months after leaving or being terminated from the job. Ms D had no experience with employment contracts or noncompete clauses and did not really understand the clause at the time she signed the contract.
Over the next 3 years, Ms D saw patients on a daily basis. Her practice within the pharmacy grew as her reputation spread, and new patients began coming in to see her. She developed close relationships with many of her patients, especially the female patients whom she was helping with hormone replacement therapy. While she enjoyed the work itself, she was not as happy with her employer, whom she believed cut corners and kept staff salaries too low.
By the time Ms D had been there for 3 years, she believed that she had helped develop a thriving business in the clinic. She had introduced new offerings and had been innovative in coming up with ways for the clinic to expand. But she thought that her employer was unappreciative and was just looking for a way to replace her with a less expensive employee. She turned out to be right. When she asked for a raise, the company fired her and replaced her with a more junior NP whom they could pay less.
Ms D was unhappy with the termination but decided to use the opportunity to start her own business. She rented space, took care of all the logistics, and launched her own practice. She did not solicit her former patients from the pharmacy’s clinic, and her new business was more than 20 miles away from where she used to work.
Nonetheless, it was not long before she received a notice that her former employer was taking her to court, based on a breach of the noncompete clause in the employment contract. The pharmacy was seeking an injunction against her to prevent her from practicing. Ms D hired an attorney who claimed to specialize in employment contracts. When they went to court, however, the judge ultimately granted the pharmacy’s request for a temporary injunction prohibiting Ms D from soliciting, contacting, or providing services to her past patients. The pharmacy immediately sent out a letter to its patients informing them that due to the judge’s order, Ms D could not legally treat them. Ms D received tearful calls from former patients, begging her to see them, yet she could not.
Six months went by before Ms D was able to find another attorney to take on the case. The attorney appealed the court’s original ruling, arguing that the noncompete clause was overly restrictive and that it prevented patients from seeing the healthcare practitioner of their choice. This time the judge agreed with her, holding that the clause was unreasonably restrictive, and noting that Ms D had not been soliciting her former patients. After that 6-month delay, Ms D was able to launch her business without any legal ramifications.