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© 2016 Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

Hold on to Your (Top) Hat: ERISA Section 502(a)(3) May Be Used to Enforce the Terms of a “Top-Hat” Benefits Plan

Thanksgiving is typically a time for gratitude, gathering with family, and acts of kindness among fellow men and women. But in one recent case, a bank used Thanksgiving to force-feed a separation agreement to its outgoing president.

The bank later claimed that the ex-officer had released his rights to benefits under a “top-hat” benefits plan, even though it was not mentioned in the separation agreement. In Buster v. Compensation Committee of the Board of Directors of Mechanics Bank, the plaintiff alleged, and the court agreed, that the bank’s interpretation of the separation agreement did not fly.

Steven Buster worked as president of Mechanics Bank between 2004 and 2012. During his tenure, Mechanics Bank had two retirement plans. The first was the Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan (SERP), a so-called “top-hat plan” because it was available only to a few, select senior employees. The accrual of benefits for the SERP was frozen in 2008. In that year, the bank adopted a separate Executive Retirement Plan (ERP). Read More ›

A Bitter Pill for Ex-Rite Aid GC: Delaware Court Finds His 2015 Suit for Indemnification Untimely

Remember 2002? That year, A Beautiful Mind won best picture, and the University of Maryland won the NCAA basketball tournament. It is also the year that Rite Aid and its former General Counsel, Franklin Brown, began litigating over Brown’s indemnification rights. They are still fighting, which brings us to Brown v. Rite Aid Corp., CA No. 11596-VCL, the latest chapter in the 14-year-long dispute.

The Delaware Chancery Court is generally a forgiving forum for an director or officer seeking to vindicate indemnification or advancement rights conferred by a Delaware company. But there are limits, and a recent decision by the Chancery Court in the Brown case concerned one such limit: a claim for indemnification must be brought within three years of final disposition of the proceeding that triggered the indemnification demand. Read More ›

A Funny Thing Happened to the Forum Selection Clause

ColoseumWhen an employee sues an employer, the forum selection clauses in her employment agreement can affect where the claims can be litigated—but only if those clauses are enforced.

For example, we previously discussed a court’s decision not to enforce an employee’s agreement to arbitrate because the employer failed to countersign her employment agreement.

Two recent decisions from the federal district courts further illustrate how boilerplate forum selection clauses can impact an employee’s litigation rights upon termination, and how employees can avoid those clauses. Read More ›

Fired for Taking the Fifth: Famous Firings in History

The Department of Justice’s recent Yates Memo creates a new emphasis on individual accountability for corporate or entity wrongdoing. It also enhances the risk to corporate employees that they will need to choose between cooperating with an employer’s investigation—and potentially incriminating themselves—or asserting their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and risking their jobs. (For examples of this dilemma, see our posts here and here.)

But being fired for “taking the Fifth” is not a recent phenomenon.

In the last century, this issue arose in the 1950s, when employment contracts more commonly contained “good conduct” or “morals” clauses. Read More ›

A Fifth Amendment Right to Not Talk to Your Employer?

An employee who is accused of participating in corporate wrongdoing can face potentially life-changing choices almost immediately. When a company learns of alleged wrongdoing, it is likely to start an internal investigation into the misconduct. As part of the investigation, attorneys or other investigators will seek to interview those with relevant knowledge, including employees who are allegedly involved in the wrongdoing.

When that happens, the employees face a critical choice: do I stay silent, or do I talk to the investigators? If the employees refuse to talk, they could be fired; if they do talk, the government could use their statements against them in a criminal case. Read More ›

Last Chance to Nominate Suits by Suits for the ABA Blawg 100!

Every year, the ABA Journal selects 100 of the best law blogs. It is currently accepting nominations for the 10th annual version of this list. If you enjoy reading Suits by Suits, we hope that you’ll take a few moments to nominate us.

All you have to do is click on this link and answer a handful of questions (including providing our URL, http://www.suitsbysuits.com/). It’s easy.

Nominations are due no later than 11:59 p.m. CT on Aug. 7, 2016.

We hope you’ll consider nominating Suits by Suits. But regardless, thanks for reading.

Employees Who Don’t Cooperate With Company Investigations Can Be Terminated for Cause

When a company learns that its employees may have done something unlawful, it should try to get the facts and figure out whether wrongdoing actually occurred. One way to do this is to conduct an internal investigation, in which attorneys or other investigators collect documents and interview employees to gather information about what happened.

But what happens when employees refuse to cooperate? Can they be fired and denied severance benefits that would otherwise have been due? Read More ›

Active Shooter Drill Backfires on Employer

After a spate of horrific shootings at schools and businesses across the country, employers started conducting unannounced “active shooter” drills to train employees how to react if a murderous gunman shows up at their workplace. Unsurprisingly, some of these unannounced drills have gone awry.

In 2013, the Pine Eagle Elementary School in Halfway, Oregon, population 286, held an active shooter drill that was too much for its employees to bear. Now, Pine Eagle finds itself in the middle of a lawsuit in Oregon federal court, brought by former teacher Linda McLean. Read More ›

The Inbox – Spin It Your Way

It is the norm for high-achieving employees to strive for and tout their successes. Recently, however, one person’s novel reaction to failure—his own termination—may show a future employer as much about his character as any of his considerable accomplishments.

Sree Sreenivasan was plucked from Columbia’s School of Journalism a few years ago to become the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s chief digital officer. According to Quartz, Mr. Sreenivasan brought the famed museum into the digital age through inventive social outreach efforts and a revamped, mobile-friendly website. Read More ›

What Employers and Employees Need to Know About the Defend Trade Secrets Act

Owners of stolen trade secrets now have another weapon in their arsenal.

Last month, President Obama signed the Defend Trade Secrets Act (the DTSA), which creates a new cause of action in federal court for the misappropriation of trade secrets. The DTSA does not preempt state laws governing misappropriation of trade secrets, so employers and other trade secret owners may now bring actions under the DTSA and applicable state laws. See 18 U.S.C. § 1838. Read More ›