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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Did Par Ridder get off lightly?

Much of the coverage of Ramsey County Judge David Higgs’ decision that new Star Tribune publisher Par Ridder must step down from his position for a year has made note of the strictness of the decision. The Star Tribune’s coverage called it an “extraordinary step,” and other outlets referred to it as a “sweeping victory” for the Pioneer Press. But considering the standards that are often applied in non-compete cases, it seems the news could have been worse for Ridder and the Star Tribune.

Most non-compete agreements in creative fields follow similar terms: You can’t work for a direct competitor for two years; if you do, you might be subject to an injunction to keep you from working there, and might be forced to pay the legal costs of your former employer, and maybe even punitive damages. And Higgs is forcing the Star Tribune to pay the Pioneer Press’s legal fees in the Ridder case, to the tune of $5 million – not exactly pocket change.

But letting Ridder return to the Star Tribune after just a year – especially considering the extraordinary circumstances of the case, which included the pilfering of confidential budget and advertising data – seems lenient.

Higgs did rule that the non-compete agreement Ridder signed wasn’t valid. However, he did say the non-compete of another former Pioneer Press executive, Jennifer Parratt, was valid, and yet she was also enjoined from working at the Star Tribune for only a year.

If there was ever a non-compete controversy that seems to call for textbook punishment, the Ridder case seemed to be it. One could argue that Ridder and the Strib should thank their lucky stars that this “extraordinary step” was so ordinary.

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