Ex-TQL broker Jacob Patterson has been embroiled in a legal battle with TQL for nearly 17 months after the freight brokerage sued him for allegedly violating his noncompete agreement when he went to work for PBJ Express in Joplin, Missouri. Patterson lodged his suit against TQL in mid-August, claiming his former employer had harmed his job prospects when he entered into employment discussions with USI Insurance Services (a longtime TQL client). Over the past five years, TQL has filed nearly 500 lawsuits, many over noncompetes, in Clermont County, Ohio.
On Oct. 14, TQL filed suit against Patterson’s former employer, PBJ Express, separately just weeks after Clermont County, Ohio, Judge Kevin T. Miles denied the freight brokerage’s motion to amend its complaint. Miles noted the case’s urgency, stating, “[it] is impacting [Patterson’s] ability to work and provide for himself.” TQL attorney Chris Brown did not return FreightWaves’ request for comment.
Some TQL employees equate the brokerage’s aggressive litigation tactics over noncompetes to being held hostage. A TQL employee, who spoke to FreightWaves anonymously for fear of retaliation, said: “I am rooting for Jacob as I’ve been wanting to leave TQL for years…That noncompete traps us here unless we want to change industries for a year.”
One former employee described TQL’s work culture as “toxic.” In Aug., CEO Ken Oaks sent a companywide email offering a $2,000 incentive to resign, with a midnight deadline. The former employee said “plenty” took the payout but was still subject to the non-compete. “[Leaders] don’t push people to quit. They push them to be better,” the former employee (anonymous for fear of retaliation) told FreightWaves.
TQL is suing PBJ Express, but owner Patrick Brown has no regrets about hiring Patterson as VP of Operations. Despite Patterson resigning in August when learning of the litigation, Brown praised him for trying to protect PBJ. During his 15 months there, PBJ grew from 3 employees/14 trucks to 10 employees/35 trucks. Though PBJ used to book 75% of its loads with TQL, Brown believes the brokerage chose to stop working with PBJ after Patterson joined.
Brown said his business recovered after developing solid relationships with other brokerages. “I don’t have any mud to sling at TQL—they’ve never done anything wrong to me until now by suing me,” he said. “We’ve done nothing wrong, but fighting them will be expensive.”
Current TQL employees are looking to move on from the freight brokerage claim some companies refuse to interview them for potential jobs for fear of being sued for violating a non-compete. Attorney Pete Patterson, a partner at Washington-based boutique litigation firm Cooper & Kirk, represents his brother Jacob Patterson in Jacob Patterson’s suit against TQL and TQL’s suit against him.
“We looked at the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas docket for the last five years, and there are between 400 and 500 cases with TQL as the plaintiff…I suspect that most, if not the vast majority, are.” The lawsuit claims that the freight brokerage’s language in the noncompete is so expansive that it would prohibit Jacob Patterson from even driving for DoorDash.
“We’re not contesting TQL’s noncompete, but it’s overbroad, and the one-way fee shifting is inequitable. The contract says if TQL sues you and wins, you have to pay their legal fees, but if you win and TQL loses, TQL doesn’t have to pay your legal fees.” – Patterson.
Pete Patterson said TQL recently filed a motion to dismiss Jacob Patterson’s suit against the freight brokerage giant, alleging the case “demonstrates the extraordinary measures TQL will take to harm [an employee’s] career prospects.”
Jacob had been in employment discussions with USI Insurance Services. Chris Brown, TQL’s general counsel, told Austin that hiring Jacob would “hurt [USI’s] business relationship” as TQL is a 20-year client of USI. Pete has filed an amended complaint to include additional allegations against TQL, and a status hearing is set for Nov. 4. Jacob is currently unemployed.
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