LifeWay files suit over contract, Thom Rainer disputes

"Rainer claims he received 'a written and amicable release from publishing' with the Southern Baptist Convention entity in October 2019, he discussed his publishing activities with LifeWay’s attorney and he 'assumed all was well' until receiving notice of the lawsuit Monday (Sept. 28)." - BPNews

Related: "This looks bad for LifeWay."

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Bert Perry's picture

Apparently, when Rainer resigned the Presidency of LifeWay, the company bound him to a noncompete agreement which precluded him from doing what he does best--writing Christian books--until the end of next year.  

It will be interesting to see LIfeWay's response, as this seems to say "our policy is to prevent servants of God from exercising their vocation if they choose to leave our employment."  Noncompete agreements are generally abusive even outside the church, preventing good people from exercising their vocational gifts, but it's especially reprehensible when being done for what is arguably a ministry.

(there is a big difference between nondisclosure, which I honor and respect, and noncompete....we passed the 13th Amendment 155 years ago, after all)

And let's be honest; are evangelicals so full of great thinkers that the only thing to do to prevent confusion and mayhem is to compel some of them to stop thinking and writing?  Come on, Lifeway, unless things are not as they seem, this stinks, badly. 

Further update:  here's a screen shot from the legal action. So the suit is real, and it is based on a noncompete agreement.  LifeWay has some 'splainin' to do.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

josh p's picture

This is a strange one for sure. A non compete for ministry is so weird. 

T Howard's picture

I have a non-compete obligation as well. However, my company is obligated to pay me during my non-compete period if I choose to leave the company to work for a competitor. In other words, if I leave my company to work for a competitor, I can't begin my role there until after the non-compete period is over. However, until the period is over, my company agrees to pay me my current salary.

12 years ago, my former VP left the company to work for another retailer. My company continued to pay her to sit at home for 6 months until her non-compete time was completed. That's a pretty sweet deal.

Mark_Smith's picture

The NDA/NC assumes Rainer stayed on as Chief Advisory Officer until Oct 31, 2020, which is a year after he was to resign "no later than" after Lifeway found a new CEO. But Rainer left earlier than that because the CEO search went relatively fast and Rainer wanted to move on. Rainer thinks they resolved the NDA earlier than the Oct 31, 2020 date, but Lifeway obviously claims no. That's the basics.

Rainer was also to be paid his old salary during this period.

The non-compete agreement also specifically mentions Tyndale as a competitor that Rainer could not contract with. It is Tyndale that Rainer is now releasing books with.

Mark_Smith's picture

I suspect the confusion is over a book B&H was going to release. The lawsuit mentions the proposed name. Due to COVID, they did not release the book and there is a document that releases the book to Rainer and gives him full rights to it. I suspect Rainer is going to claim during this time Lifeway released him from the NC, or at least they did so verbally. Rainer then went to Tyndale, repackaged the book, and went on.

Bert Perry's picture

Tom, understood, but I'm at a loss as to how it serves the cause of Christ to use a non-compete instead of a non-disclose.  Again, the message is "let's sideline a servant of Christ for a while."  Um, why?

It's also not clear to me precisely what super-secret information Rainer would have disclosed by writing a book.  Even if he was willing to reveal LifeWay's secrets, which I doubt, he would have been able to pass them on to his editors....how?

Never mind that in the world of publishing, it's a little about market research, finance, and publishing contracts, but really far more about relationships.  Whatever good or bad Rainer did at Lifeway was largely built around that last bit, and that's something that Tyndale already knows.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Paul J's picture

It is interesting what change if any to the agreement was made where they asked Thom to return his payments and he has been doing that since late Spring.  The key is what "consideration" is he getting to give up some of his right to employment.