Working one to two days a week at her new job was not enough to make ends meet for physician’s assistant Caroline Raftopol, but her opportunities for more work were limited by a noncompete agreement.
She had agreed not to work within 15 miles of any dermatology office run by her previous employer, Dr. Cindy Hoffman, for two years, so all but one of the offices run by her new employer, Hudson Dermatology, were off limits.
That agreement, a judge has ruled, was too restrictive.
Hoffman sued Raftopol in September for $50,000 and asked Westchester Supreme Court for an order forbidding her former employee from working at any of Hudson Dermatology’s offices.
“It is far from clear,” Justice Terry Jane Ruderman wrote in a Jan. 10 opinion, how a physician’s assistant “provides the type of unique services contemplated by the ‘learned profession’ cases concerning physicians.”
Raftopol earned her physician’s assistant license in 2012. Four months later she landed her first job, working for Hoffman in the Carmel, Hyde Park and Yorktown Heights offices, at a base salary of $70,000.
In 2016, she gave notice that she would be leaving, and in May 2017 she began working for Hudson Dermatology in Fishkill, more than 15 miles from Hoffman’s offices. Hudson also operated offices within the 15-mile-radius in Kingston, Poughkeepsie, Somers and White Plains.
Hoffman argued that her company could be harmed because her former employee was privy to trade secrets and confidential customer lists.
Raftopol was spotted at Hudson Dermatology’s office in Somers, after the lawsuit was filed, in apparent violation of a restraining order temporarily barring her from working near Hoffman’s offices.
Raftopol responded that she went to Somers for training, was not paid and did not treat patients.
Her lawyer also pointed out that Dr. Ross Zeltser, a physician-owner of Hudson Dermatology, also provides services to Hoffman.
How can Hoffman seek to enforce an agreement based on a physician assistant’s knowledge of a company’s practices and patients, the lawyer argued, while Zeltser, a physician who actually treats the plaintiff’s patients, works at the same competing dermatology practice.
The restriction would preclude Raftopol, who lives in Mount Vernon, from working for dermatologists in Putnam, lower Dutchess and northern Westchester counties.
The judge weighed Hoffman’s interests in protecting her practice from unfair competition against Raftopol’s interest in pursuing her livelihood.
Hoffman had not established, Ruderman ruled, that Raftopol has “either the knowledge or the power to impact the profitability” of her business.
Raftopol had already acknowledged that she cannot solicit Hoffman’s patients, Ruderman noted, and had agreed to abide by that restriction.
The judge endorsed that pledge by granting a preliminary injunction that bars Raftopol from soliciting Hoffman’s clients for two year.
She denied Hoffman’s request to stop Raftopol from working, for now, at Hudson Dermatology.