Yes, some employers will take advantage of employees. My friend, Chris McKinney, discusses one such case of a worker for Buc-ees. You know the place with the friendly, smiling beaver? Kelly Rieves was hired by Buc-ees as an assistant store manger in Cypress, Texas. They had her sign a contract which included a clause for “retention pay.” Retention pay is usually used for senior executives. But, Buc-ees imposed it on this assistant store manager. A portion of her pay, about one-third, was designated as retention pay. If she left before 48 months, she would agree to return that retention pay. She did in fact leave after three years. She tried to work out an agreement with her boss before she left. But, he would not discuss it.
The contract provided that she could be fired at anytime. Yet, the retention pay clause remained.
After she left, Buc-ees sued her. The friendly beaver sued her for the amount of retention pay, or $67,000. She lost the lawsuit. The court also awarded attorney’s fees and interest. Now, she owes $100,000. The matter is on appeal. See Chris’ blog post here.
I do not know the specifics of Ms. Rieves’ case. But, many workers who are sued for non-compete clauses often ignore the lawsuit. They hope the suit will go away. But, unfortunately, these lawsuits by prior employers do not just go away. Retention pay clauses might make sense for senior executives who have some bargaining leverage. But, seriously, for an assistant store manger, this is a case of an employer taking advantage of its superior bargaining position.