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© 2016 Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

The Yates Memo’s Illusory “Extraordinary Circumstances” Exception

Many of us in the white collar defense bar have written and spoken about the changes wrought by the Yates Memo, but one issue not receiving much attention is the “extraordinary circumstances” exception to the Yates Memo’s application. What is this “extraordinary circumstances” exception?

According to the Memo, “absent extraordinary circumstances, the United States should not release claims related to the liability of individuals based on corporate settlement releases.” This is the much discussed elimination of all-encompassing corporate settlement releases. But the Memo states that there may be “extraordinary circumstances” which justify a corporate settlement that includes releases for the relevant individuals. “Any such release of ... civil liability due to extraordinary circumstances must be personally approved in writing by the relevant Assistant Attorney General or United States Attorney.” Read More ›

Kiss Your Retaliation Suit Hello: Company Faces Trial after Changing Explanation for Firing

When an employee brings a lawsuit alleging that his employer retaliated or discriminated against him, courts typically assess the claim by using a burden-shifting approach. Under this approach, after the employer offers a “legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason” for its actions, the employee has to come forward with evidence showing that the reason was pretextual.

The recent decision in Stephenson v. Potterfield Group LLC serves as an example of how an employee can meet this burden. Read More ›

Federal Whistleblower Statutes Aren’t a Cure-All

When Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank Acts, it included protections for employees who blow the whistle on wrongdoing by their employers. However, those whistleblower protections don’t apply to every report of wrongdoing. Rather, they come into play only when an employee reports particular types of misconduct.

For example, in a recent decision (Erhart v. BofI Holding, Inc.), a federal court in California dismissed claims by an internal auditor (Erhart) against his employer (BofI Holding), ruling that Erhart didn’t plausibly allege that he had been engaged in the "protected activity" necessary to qualify for the whistleblower protections of those statutes. Read More ›

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, 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 ›