Judge to ex-Microsoft GM: You can’t take that job at Salesforce.com, either

Matthew Miszewski

A judge in Seattle today denied a former Microsoft general manager’s new attempt to carve out a role for himself at Salesforce.com, saying the revised job proposal would still run afoul of his non-compete agreement with the Redmond company, even if it didn’t precisely match his former Microsoft role.

The preliminary injunction entered by King County Superior Court Judge Kimberley Prochnau includes a provision enjoining the former Microsoft GM, Matthew Miszewski, from “working in a marketing role in salesforce.com’s public or commercial sector anywhere in the world.”

Despite the restrictions, Judge Prochnau said from the bench that she still could envision Miszewski finding a job at Salesforce.com that doesn’t violate his Microsoft agreement.

“He was a major evangelist for Microsoft — he was not a low-level salesperson,” she said, adding later that the “thrust of the order is to preclude him from being the evangelist for Salesforce.com that he was for Microsoft.”

The case highlights the rising rivalry between Microsoft and Salesforce.com in cloud computing, and a thorny conflict between California and Washington employment law.

Miszewski, who was hired as senior vice pres­i­dent for Salesforce.com’s global public-sector business in January, was sued by Microsoft shortly thereafter. In response, he had originally proposed a compromise that would have involved working for Salesforce in the public sector but only in the U.S., to avoid conflicting with his previous role in Microsoft’s international government business. The judge rejected that proposal in February, saying it would still violate his Microsoft agreement.

Under the latest proposal, outlined in court today, Miszewski would have worked only in Salesforce.com’s private sector business in Washington, Oregon and Canada, while promising to work with or contact no more than 20 potential customers.

But the judge today sided with Microsoft, rejecting that proposal, as well.

“I am precluding him from working in the commercial sector to market cloud computing products,” Judge Prochnau said, finding that the role would still run afoul of the non-compete agreement.

However, the judge said she still sees a way for Miszewski to carve out a position for himself at Salesforce.com, not directly involved in marketing or customer outreach, for the eight months remaining under his non-compete agreement with Microsoft. In response to questions from attorneys, she said allowable internal roles could potentially include training other employees.

It’s the latest case to spotlight Microsoft’s standard non-compete agreement, which prevents employees from working in competing positions for as much as a year after they leave. Such agreements have repeatedly been found invalid in California, where Salesforce.com is based. However, they are generally allowed in Washington state if the terms are deemed reasonable.

Miszewski and his lawyer, William Cronin, declined to comment in the courtroom afterward. Miszewski sat silently at his attorney’s table during oral arguments and as the judge ruled.

David Howard, a Microsoft corporate vice president and deputy general counsel, said in a statement that the company is pleased with the ruling.

“The Judge has effectively concluded this inquiry by ruling in Microsoft’s favor,” the statement said.  “Mr. Miszewski is enjoined from working in a role at Salesforce that would violate the employment agreement he signed with us.  As we said at the first hearing in February, this is about safeguarding sensitive and confidential business information and upholding employment agreements designed to protect that information.  Today the court entered an order that again affirms the importance of both.”

  • smart policy

    This is BS. Let the guy work. Microsoft should stop litigating and start creating something, anything interesting and they wouldn’t have to worry so much. This is bad for WA too. Not enforcing non-competes is one reason California’s tech community is so vibrant and successful. The best people get to practice capitalism and go where they’re most wanted.

    • Guest

      Have to agree. Any state that blocks a man’s right to work is a state in which innovation will not occur.

    • Guest

      I totally agree. Why have contracts at all? Why make clear to all parties what they can expect at the beginning of a venture? Ludicrous!

    • Thís is BS!

      “…and start creating something, anything interesting…”

      Hmm, and what did you create today that was even mildly interesting?

      • bigpicture

        Should he be like MS and try create a monopoly at every turn. As indicated in Paul Allen’s book the company seems to have had the rotten monopoly strategy from the start.

  • JeeBee

    So this guy is skilled at something, and he isn’t allowed to use that skill in his next job. That majorly impacts (for the year the non-compete is active) on the wages he can potentially earn. In which case if Microsoft doesn’t want him working for anybody else, they can damn well pay him to sit on his arse for that year – aka a one year notice period with enforced gardening leave.

    • Acd

      … which he certainly got as part of the compensation *while* he was working at MS …

  • http://www.jrotech.com/ Jeff Rodenburg

    Kai Fu Lee gets to go work at Google, but this guy can’t join SalesForce? Lee was involved in major strategic decisions for Microsoft. Not to make light of his role, but sales & evangelism doesn’t generally have the market influence as someone in Lee’s position. Microsoft is probably trying to establish grounds for this scenario in the future.

  • http://www.facebook.com/yakasha William Finn

    Why is it so hard for some people to understand? MS did not force Miszewski to sign the contract he signed. They did not force him to cash his paychecks, or use his health-care plan, or contribute to his 401k, or exercise his stock options. Miszewski, and Miszewski alone DECIDED that all the $$ MS was throwing at him was worth the 1 year non-compete clause.

    If Miszewski has $$ trouble now, tough. He should have planned better. If he has job troubles now, tough. He should have planned better.

    I have been presented 2 non-compete clauses in my career history. I refused to sign both of them. 1 company refused to hire me without it. Tough for me. I went somewhere else.

    I’m not sure if I agree with California blocking non-compete clauses. On one hand, we’re all adults very capable of reading the terms of employment and deciding if we want to agree to them. On the other hand, I’m familiar with the history of our economy and know full well that businesses have more money, time, and ability to “wait it out” to find good enough employees that will agree to just about anything; think about the time before unions.

    For this particular case, at this particular time, there are plenty of businesses that don’t do the non-compete garbage. Miszewski made a mistake, and now has to wait the year out before he can do what he wants to do.

  • Grane

    I have zero sympathy for this guy – he was general manager which means he got paid a lot. The higher up you go the harder it should be to break out of these deals, it would be BS if MS tried to block a low to mid-level person who really just needed a job.

  • Guest

    I see it more as a reason not to work at Microsoft. Why limit your career options by going there?