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In order to plead a cause of action for breach of contract, a plaintiff must allege (1) the existence of a valid and enforceable contract, (2) substantial performance by the plaintiff, (3) a breach by the defendant, and (4) resultant damages.
in 2004, plaintiff Bankers Life and Casualty Company (“Bankers Life”), an Illinois company selling insurance and financial products, hired defendant Gregory P. Gelineau as the branch sales manager responsible for its Warwick, Rhode Island office. In 2006, Gelineau signed an employment agreement with Bankers Life that contained certain noncompetition provisions, stating in relevant part that Gelineau shall not, personally or through the efforts of others, induce or attempt to induce any agent, branch sales manager, field vice president, employee, consultant, or other similar representative of the Company, to curtail, resign or sever a relationship with the company. Gelineau's employment with Bankers Life ended on or about January 15, 2015. Gelineau was subsequently hired by American Senior Benefits LLC ("ASB") as its senior vice president. ASB was regarded as a competitor of Bankers Life. Subsequently, Bankers Life filed a complaint alleging breach of contract against Gelineau and six other defendants. According to Bankers Life, after joining ASB, Gelineau recruited or attempted to recruit Bankers Life employees and agents from the Warwick, Rhode Island office by sending LinkedIn requests to connect to three employees. It was alleged that when the employees clicked onto Gelineau’s profile, they would see a job posting for ASB. Gelineau filed a motion for summary judgment stating that he did not breach any provisions of his contract. Gelineau averred that he never used LinkedIn to send direct messages to Bankers Life agents or employees in the Warwick, Rhode Island area regarding ASB or any other possible professional opportunities. The circuit court granted Gelineau's motion for summary judgment holding that, after reviewing all the submissions, Bankers Life failed to identify any solicitation or other breach of contract by Gelineau. Bankers Life appealed.
Did Gelineau breach his contract with Bankers Life when the former sent LinkedIn invites to Bankers Life’s employees?
The Court noted that the invitations to connect via LinkedIn were sent from Gelineau’s LinkedIn account through generic e-mails that invited recipients to form a professional connection, and they did not contain any discussion of the employer, no mention of the competitor, no suggestion that the recipient view a job description on the employee's profile page, and no solicitation to leave their place of employment and join the competitor. According to the Court, in order to violate his contract, Gelineau would have to actually directly recruit individuals working in the Warwick, Rhode Island area. Under the circumstances of the case, Bankers Life failed to provide any evidence or affidavits from its employees stating that Gelineau directly contacted and solicited them to leave the employer and join the competitor. As such, the judgment of the circuit court was affirmed.