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In the first decision to reach the Nevada Supreme Court on whether state district courts may modify or "blue pencil" non-competition agreements, the high court has concluded that doing so would violate Nevada law. Golden Road Motor Inn Inc. d/b/a Atlantis Casino Resort Spa v. Islam, 132 Nev. Adv. Op. 49 (July 21, 2016). The 4-3 decision signals a clear change in direction that affects the enforceability of non-competition agreements in Nevada.The Court explained that under Nevada law, an overly broad term prohibiting an employee from "employment, affiliation, or service" with a competitor, which "extends beyond what is necessary" to protect the former employer's interests, is unreasonable and "renders the noncompete agreement wholly unenforceable."Distinguishing this case from prior published decisions, the court reasoned that exercising "judicial restraint when confronted with the urge to pick up the pencil is sound public policy … as our use of the pencil should not lead us to the place of drafting." The court explained its role as interpreting contracts, not writing them, and that altering a contract, even minimally, would "conflict with the impartiality that is required of the bench…."Further, the court stated that "[a] strict test for reasonableness is applied to restrictive covenants in employment cases because the economic hardship imposed on employees is given considerable weight." Employers clearly hold a superior bargaining position when such contracts are presented to employees and, in the context of a restraint of trade, the court said that "a good faith presumption benefiting the employer is unwarranted."This clear change in direction affects the enforceability of non-competition agreements in Nevada. Employers must ensure that non-competition provisions are drafted clearly and are reasonable in all respects. Employers must be mindful of whether the provisions "extends beyond what is necessary" to protect their interests. Questions to ask include:
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