Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The first noncompete case EVER!

I picked up an interesting tidbit from NPR's Planet Money episode Hire Power. The first noncompete case (that we know of) occurred in England in 1414. It involved a young man training to become a fabric dyer. His name was - what else? John Dyer. 

MATT MARX: He had an agreement with his master that once he had been trained in the fine arts of clothes dyeing, he wouldn't set up his own clothes dyeing shop in the same city. He would go somewhere else. 

ARONCZYK: This agreement was supposed to last for six months after he finished his training. Somehow, the master seemed to think that John Dyer didn't, in fact, wait the whole six months. 

MARX: Apparently he broke that promise, and so his master hauled him into court. 

BERAS: And John Dyer shows up to court. And the judge is like, folks, there are bigger labor issues right now. 

MARX: The bubonic plague had basically wiped out about a third of the labor supply in northern England. 

ARONCZYK: There were not a lot of workers left. Even 70 years after the plague ended, there were still not enough people to do all of the work. 

MARX: And so when the master clothes dyer brought this essentially noncompete lawsuit before the judge, the judge basically said, are you kidding me?

Apparently the judge was actually even harsher than "are you kidding me." Per the wikipedia page on Dyer's Case, the judge exclaimed: 

In my opinion, you might have demurred upon him that the obligation is void, inasmuch as the condition is against the common law; and by God, if the plaintiff were here, he should go to prison until he had paid a fine to the King.
Noncompetes are still disfavored here in the United States, but are often enforced under the right circumstances. 

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