My question involves labor and employment law for the state of: Texas
Not sure if anyone knows the answer to this or not. I was hired by a company earlier this year and was made to sign an employment contract. It stated that since they had put me through training for my job, I had to work a minimum of 3 years for their company. If I quit my job to work in a different field, there would be no penalty. However, if I quit to work for another company doing the same work, I would have to pay them $30,000; the amount they said it cost to train me. They said it prevented other companies from swooping in and luring employees away with a slightly higher pay, after my company paid money to train me. That sounded fair so I signed it.
10 months later I decided it wasn't the job field for me. Hated it with a passion. So I quit to go back to what I was doing before, in a totally unrelated field, on the other side of the country. I now got a notice in the mail saying I'm being sued for $30k for quitting my job before the 3 years are up. So I call and tell them it's crap, because I followed the contract by not working in the same industry as stated in the contract. They said the contract doesn't read that way. According to them, the contract says I have to work for them for 3 years PERIOD, or I have to pay them $30k. So I go to get my copy of the contract out of my files. It's missing, got lost in the move somehow. So they fax me over a copy of the contract, and sure enough, it says I can't quit them at all and work anywhere or I owe them 30k.
First of all, I know it didn't say that when I signed it. I believe they replaced the page with another one that said that. Of course, tough to prove.
Second, can they even do this? It reminds me of indentured servitude, or the company store. It's not as if they "own" me, and if I don't slave away for them, I have to pay them an outrageous amount of money. It's like blackmail. I hated my job, they treated me like crap, made verbal promises they didn't keep (that I should have gotten in writing), and now because I finally said "enough" and moved on with my life in a totally unrelated field on the other side of the continent, I have to pay them??!!
EDIT: Even though I live on the other side of the country now, they are saying the national company I am working for is based in Texas, so it doesn't matter that I'm working in a different geographical area, I'm still working for a company that is based in their geographical area. And even though it's in a totally unrelated industry, I still have to repay them the training costs.
I'm not really sure what to do. I just moved, started a new job, have absolutely $0 because of the move, and I can't hire a lawyer. Right now I almost can't afford the quarter it would cost to call one on a pay phone. Can they do this? Should I tell them to get lost? Should I just settle with them and offer to pay them $20/month until my debt is paid off? Do I need to make a quick trip to Mexico to sell a kidney so I can pay them $30k in a timely manner? Who the heck even has $30k laying around? Do Judges actually order people to pay employers an amount that could take 20 years to pay off and ruin someone's life? Or is this just threats to make other employees afraid to leave?