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© 2014 Zuckerman Spaeder LLP

Showing 15 posts from August 2012.

Labor Day: The Day Americans Celebrate Working By Not

Labor DayOK, that’s an old joke.  But Labor Day is about more than back-to-school sales and beaches.  This is a short post looking back at the history of Labor Day. 

But wait, you say: isn’t this a blog about disputes between high-level employees and their companies, often where there’s an employment contract at issue?  Yes, absolutely it is.  That’s the bullseye of our focus.  Look broadly at that target, though, and what you see is friction: friction in the relationship between an employer and its employees.  We are most intrigued when the friction involves a senior executive and a company.   We are also intrigued when disputes arise because an employer asked a job applicant about his religious beliefs or required him to disclose his Facebook password in order to apply, or a company fired an employee shortly after learning that she was pregnant, or a company claims that a former sales agent violated the non-compete provision in her contract by selling a competitor’s products in the company’s territory – even when that job applicant or employee is not at the C-level.  That’s because the same laws against discrimination apply to all of us, and courts apply the same principles of contract interpretation regardless of whether the employment contract is between a CEO and a Fortune 500 company, or a first-year sales associate and a family-owned business.

This weekend, the labor movement – involving employers, employees, and, ultimately, complicated and regulated contracts – is drawing our attention.  So, enough about why we’re writing about Labor Day: let’s get to it.    Read More ›

A Big Bill for Biller: Whistleblowers and Confidentiality Agreements

Many of the cases we talk about here on Suits by Suits are breach of contract cases brought by executives against their former employers.  Sometimes, however, the employer turns the tables, bringing an action against a former executive for breaching its confidences.  When that happens, the executive can find himself owing the company a lot of money, rather than the other way around.

Such was the fate of a former lawyer for Toyota named Dimitrios Biller, the subject of the Ninth Circuit’s recent opinion in Biller v. Toyota Motor Corp., 668 F.3d 655 (9th Cir. 2012).   Read More ›

You Lied on Your Resume – So What?

We previously covered former Yahoo! CEO Scott Thompson, who may have cost himself $10 million by inflating his credentials in a resume.   Resume problems are not a one-off in the world of Suits by Suits.

One way in which untruths on resumes can come to light is through a defense called the after-acquired evidence doctrine, which employers can assert in response to wrongful termination or discrimination claims.   Read More ›

The Inbox

It feels like most of Suits by Suits' home city of Washington has gone on vacation this week.  Perhaps, then, it's no coincidence that news about employee travel expenses has filled the Inbox. 

We start this trip with news of a four-star Army general, William "Kip" Ward -- who until recently commanded the Army's operations in Africa -- facing demotion for unauthorized and extravagant travel.  Maybe he should have followed Hannibal's lead and gone by elephant -- or George Washington's example of travel by rowboat

At the same time, some Republican lawmakers are questioning Attorney General Eric Holder's use of FBI planes for what they claim is personal and inapproriate travel. 

Also, here's an interesting article in the New York Times, noting that top candidates for some jobs are negotiating for exemptions from company travel policies as part of their employment agreements.  No Motel 6 for these folks. 

‎“Wow, all these pregnant girls, what are we going to do with them?”‎

For the second time during this quiet week in late August, pregnancy is in the headlines. 

The first time, of course, involved Rep. Todd Akin, a candidate for the U.S. Senate from Missouri who claimed – and then swiftly retracted – that women who are “legitimately raped” don’t get pregnant.  That’s led pregnancy – and abortion politics – to dominate news coverage. 

But here’s another story with pregnancy at its core: this week, a federal judge in Manhattan ruled that a former buyer for fashion house Gucci can move forward with her case alleging that the luxury-goods company fired her after she became pregnant.  Read More ›

A Blog Post On Risk and Insurance: Really, It's Not As Painful As It Sounds (And It May Even Save You A Lot Of Money)

I need to start off with a confession: my name is Bill and I’m an insurance lawyer.  (“Welcome, Bill”).  I’m going to be writing about insurance as it applies to employment-related disputes.  Even though you may think insurance is a very dry subject, I promise to make it as interesting as I can – although there will be no dancing green lizards in any of these posts.  And, if you work for (or defend) a company that can face suits by employees, you may find these posts very helpful when it comes to protecting your corporate bottom line from those suits. 

Many of the other folks who write on this blog are able to tell great tales of high-profile fights between executives and their companies.  Those are important stories and they are at the core of what this blog is about.  My perspective on employment disputes is somewhat different: I look at whether a company’s insurance policies can provide the company with a defense against an action brought by an employee (or reimbursement for fees and costs when a company defends itself), and whether those policies will cover a judgment or settlement of the case.  It can be a little esoteric at times, and I spend a lot of time thinking about the meaning of individual words in an insurance policy. Read More ›

Word of the day: Indemnification. It’s how an airport governing board is paying for one of its ‎members to sue to contest his removal from the board itself. ‎

A hullabaloo.  A brouhaha.  Even, perhaps, a ruckus, if you will. 

Those words describe what’s been happening with the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) board – the entity that oversees our two main airports in this region, Washington-Dulles and National (formally “Ronald Reagan National,” but National to us Washingtonians who have lived in the area more than ten years).  The airports themselves are running fairly well. 

The problem is with another thing the MWAA board is overseeing – construction of the Silver Line, a $6.8 billion, 29-mile extension of the Washington subway out to the Washington-Dulles airport.  The Silver Line has been a fierce battleground for all of the parties involved – Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia (which partly finance the project through their funding of the subway system), taxpayers along the route of the line (who add more money), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (which contributes the largest share).  Those parties, and others, fight nearly continuously on all sorts of issues – from whether the last station should be in the Dulles terminal or outside of it, through the composition of the labor force building it, and where it should go.  And, of course, their respective shares of the cost of the projectRead More ›

The Inbox - August 17, 2012

This week in suits by suits:

  • Two former interns amended their class action lawsuit against Fox Entertainment, arguing that Fox's unpaid internship program violated minimum wage and overtime laws by effectively using unpaid interns to replace regular employees.  The lawsuit alleges that unpaid interns were used as "a crucial labor force on its productions," serving as production assistants, bookkeepers, secretaries, and janitors.
  • Deborah Sturgeon and ten other named plaintiffs filed a class action against AT&T, arguing that AT&T's lunch break policies for technicians -- which allegedly prohibit technicians eating in their vehicles from playing music, using the vehicle's heating or air conditioning, and from reading or otherwise using the balance of their lunch hour for personal activities -- effectively amount to requiring those employees to work through lunch without pay.
  • California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a civil suit against Help Hospitalized Veterans (HHV), a charitable organization based in California that provides hospitalized veterans with therapeutic arts & crafts activities.  The Attorney General's lawsuit alleges that certain officers and directors of HHV breached their fiduciary duties by wasting charitable assets on excessive compensation and retirement payments to its officers, golf memberships, and a condominium, and also alleges improper accounting and self-dealing in connection with HHV's fundraising efforts.  The suit seeks the removal of the named officers and directors, restitution, civil penalties, and punitive damages.  In 2008, HHV's then-president, Roger Chapin, was required to testify before Congress regarding similar allegations.
  • In perhaps the strangest item on this list, U.S. District Court Judge J. Paul Oetken denied a terminated employee's motion for summary judgment on her breach of contract claims against her former employer, Watson Enterprises, Inc. (WEI), a Mercedes-Benz dealership in Greenwich, Connecticut, as well as dismissed the employer's counterclaims for unjust enrichment and civil theft.  Judge Oetken allowed both parties to proceed to trial on the central allegation -- whether the employee was "worthless" and hired solely because she was the mistress of one of WEI's former partners.  Salacious details (safe for work) from the record are excerpted by Courthouse News Service.
  • A federal jury in Washington D.C. awarded $3.5 million to a lifeguard who was sexually harassed by her supervisor at the Takoma Aquatic Center, a public swimming pool in Takoma Park, Maryland.
  • U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema required a plaintiff alleging discrimination in her termination by her employer, Navy Federal Credit Union, to pay nearly $34,000 in legal fees incurred as defense costs after Judge Brinkema advised the plaintiff at a pretrial conference that her lawsuit could not survive summary judgment.  The plaintiff proceeded anyway, and the Court ordered her to pay defense costs associated with defending the motion.

Religious Accommodation Under Title VII: Is It The Happiest Place On Earth If You Can’t Wear Your Hijab?

We continue our examination of the many things today's CEOs need to keep in mind -- things they may not have taught in business school.  Today, it's the sometimes hot-button issue of the role of religion in the workplace, this time with a look at a recently-filed lawsuit that’s drawn considerable public attention.  (See also here and here.)

Now, most businesses have some sort of dress code, including Zuckerman Spaeder.  When a company’s employees routinely interact with customers and the public – say, a retail store or restaurant – many employers go beyond a simple dress code in an effort to establish a company-wide uniform “look.”  Perhaps no place on earth goes quite as far as Disneyland, where employees are considered “cast members” and – even when not dressed as a giant cartoon mouse – are asked to reflect certain “themes” throughout the park.

So what happens when one of those “cast members,” a young Muslim woman working as a hostess at a Disney café, requests the right to wear a hijab, the traditional Muslim headscarf? Read More ›

Claims That “Arise Out Of” An Employment Agreement: It May Be Broader (And More ‎Significant) Than You Think

Sexual discrimination claims continue to be big news in the world of suits by suits.  We’ve previously commented at some length regarding the novel issues raised in the sexual harassment lawsuit brought by former Kleiner Perkins partner Ellen Pao.

Today, we turn to a related and equally unique issue:  a sexual orientation claim brought under the auspices of the Americans With Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1201 et seq.  Although there is no federal statute that protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation generally, Brian Anthony Martinez, the former international managing director of television for Bloomberg Media, brought a lawsuit against his former employer in 2011, alleging that he was terminated after Bloomberg discovered that he had undergone therapy for domestic abuse from his male partner, thus (arguably) bringing his claims under the ADA. Read More ›