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Showing 13 posts from May 2013.

The Inbox - May 31, 2013

Our Suits by Suits Inbox this week:

The Inbox -- Three Day Weekend Edition (5/24/2013)

As we here at Suits by Suits get ready for a rare (but welcome!) three-day weekend, you might want to kick back, relax, and enjoy the week in disputes between executives and their employers.  We'd say crack open a cold one for us as well, but given that it's before noon on a Friday and you're probably at work, that might not be the best advice we've ever given.  On a related note:  this blog does not provide legal advice or constitute an attorney-client relationship.

Against the Odds, High Court Will Hear Whistleblower Case

Supreme CourtYesterday, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear the case of Jackie Hosang Lawson and Jonathan Zang, two former Fidelity employees who seek to reverse the dismissal of their Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower claims.  In this post last week on Suits by Suits, we outlined Lawson and Zang’s petition to the Court and described the long odds that petitioners face when they ask the Supreme Court to review their cases.  The U.S. government also didn’t do Lawson and Zang any favors when it told the Court that it shouldn’t take their case.  Now that Lawson and Zang have bucked the odds, they might be feeling like they bought that lucky PowerBall ticket.

The Court has outlined the question presented by Lawson and Zang’s case as follows: 

Section 806 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1514A, forbids a publicly traded company, a mutual fund, or “any ... contractor [or] subcontractor ... of such company [to] ... discriminate against an employee in the terms and conditions of employment because of” certain protected activity. (Emphasis added). The First Circuit held that under section 1514A such contractors and subcontractors, if privately-held, may retaliate against their own employees, and are prohibited only from retaliating against employees of the public companies with which they work.

. . .

Is an employee of a privately-held contractor or subcontractor of a public company protected from retaliation by section 1514A?

To prevail, Lawson and Zang must convince the Court that the answer is yes. Read More ›

The Inbox - May 17, 2013

Indian Hawthorne FlowersMay flowers are blooming, and so is the Suits by Suits news:

  • CEO dismissals hit a 10-year high in 2012, according to The Corporate Board’s study of CEO succession practices.  Matteo Tonello of the Corporate Board published this summary of the study on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation.
  • The Anderson County Council is talking settlement in its long-running dispute with former county administrator Joey Preston, reports Bill Poovey of GSA Business.   The South Carolina legislators have spent $3 million in legal fees in their unsuccessful effort to recover Preston’s $1 million severance package.  That money would have bought a lot of Skins’ hot dogs.
  • We previously brought you the story of David Nosal, a former Korn/Ferry executive who was facing trial on charges of gaining unauthorized access to Korn/Ferry’s system and stealing trade secrets.  Joanne Lublin of the Wall Street Journal reports that the trial did not turn out well for Nosal: he was convicted on all counts.  Nosal told Lublin that he is confident that the verdict will be reversed.
  • New Mexico legislators criticized the large buyout offered to the new head coach at the state university, reported Alex Goldsmith at kqre.com.  Craig Neal will get $1 million plus up to $300,000 if the school decides to fire him in the next four years.  In his defense, Neal could have pointed to Mike Krzyzewski, who received $9.7 million from Duke in 2011 (when, incidentally, the Blue Devils lost to 15-seed Lehigh in the NCAA tournament).
  • More sports news: Sean Newell of Deadspin reports that warm and fuzzy coach Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots may have cut a player, Kyle Love, because he was diagnosed with diabetes.  Newell’s post discusses the Americans with Disabilities Act, which could have protected Love from termination based on his condition, and the at-will employment doctrine.

Supreme Court Considering Whether to Accept Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Case

Supreme CourtOnly a handful of employment cases make it all the way to the Supreme Court’s august chambers at One First Street.  That’s largely because the Court has discretion whether or not to review cases decided by lower courts of appeals.  Thousands of unhappy litigants file petitions for writ of certiorari every year, asking for review from the highest court in the land.  Almost all are turned away.

Tomorrow, the Court will consider whether to accept an appeal by Jonathan Zang and Jackie Lawson in a case that has significant implications for the Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower protection provision, 18 U.S.C. § 1514A.  Section 1514A, which was passed as a response to the Enron and other financial scandals of the early 2000s, prohibits public companies, as well as “any other officer, employee, contractor, subcontractor, or agent of such company,” from retaliating against “an employee” for protected activity.  The issue in Zang and Lawson’s case is whether Section 1514A protects employees of privately-held companies, if those companies are working as contractors for public companies. Read More ›

Farmers Insurance Wins Summary Judgment on Ex-Employee’s Breach of Contract

Legal ContractAs we’ve covered before on Suits by Suits, summary judgment can be a powerful weapon for a party to a civil lawsuit.  By granting summary judgment, a court can resolve a claim before trial, meaning that it’s never heard by a jury.  The standard for granting summary judgment, found in Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, is well-known to civil litigators: it is appropriate when there are no genuine issues of material fact and the case can be decided as a matter of law. 

In a recent case from the District of Minnesota, Farmers Ins. Exchange v. West, the Farmers Insurance Group used summary judgment effectively on both offense and defense.  First, it won a ruling that its former district manager, Theodore West, breached his appointment agreement and that Farmers suffered damages as a result.  Then, on defense, it knocked out West’s counterclaims for breach of contract and discrimination.

So what happened in West’s case, and why did Farmers prevail? Read More ›

The Inbox - May 10, 2013

This week in Suits by Suits:

Martensen v. Koch, Venue, and You

Yesterday we looked at a California federal court decision in Martensen v. Koch, in which ex-Oxbow executive Kirby Martensen has sued billionaire William Koch, alleging kidnapping, false imprisonment, conspiracy, and other claims related to his alleged treatment at the hands of Oxbow employees at the Bear Ranch in Colorado.  Specifically, we looked at what the decision means in terms of whether a court can maintain personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state defendant; in the Martensen case, the clear take-away is that committing any portion of an alleged wrong within a state counts as having committed the wrong within that jurisdiction.  So even though most of Kirby Martensen’s kidnapping and false imprisonment allegations relate to conduct that took place in Colorado, because he was allegedly placed on a private plane owned by Oxbow and flown to Oakland, California before being released, the court found that (for purposes of personal jurisdiction) Martensen’s alleged false imprisonment “that began on [Koch]’s private ranch by [Koch]’s agents [in Colorado] continued unbroken until [Martensen]’s release in Oakland, California,” and thus gave rise to personal jurisdiction over Koch in California.

Personal jurisdiction, however, is only the first step in the process of figuring out where you can and should be sued.  Personal jurisdiction determines whether a court has any power over you at all, and is based on the principle – expressed in depth in yesterday’s post – that if you have never set foot in the state of Wyoming, you cannot be compelled to appear in Court in Wyoming.(*)  But just because a state has personal jurisdiction over you doesn’t mean that state is the best place to handle a dispute.  This is the question of venue.  Read on. Read More ›

Martensen v. Koch, Personal Jurisdiction, and You

As you probably know, we here at Suits by Suits have been fascinated by the strange case of Kirby Martensen, the former Oxbow Group executive who alleged that he was kidnapped and falsely imprisoned by billionaire William Koch.  We teased for you last week that Koch’s motion to dismiss, to strike, and in the alternative to transfer venue of the case from California to Colorado was denied, and the case will proceed.

Now, we’ve gotten our hands on the judge’s decision and had a chance to review it in depth; particularly if you’re a civ pro geek like me, it’s worth a read.  Even if you’re not, the decision helps any potential litigant -- and really, isn’t that all of us? -- understand where we can expect to sue or be sued.  Read on.... Read More ›

The Inbox, May Day Edition

May DayAs a blog focused on employment issues, we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least note that the week that’s ending included May Day, which has long been known as International Workers’ Day.  Although this day’s somewhat curious history includes support from Marxists, Socialists, and the Catholic Church, it really got its start after a bloody bombing and riot in Chicago’s Haymarket Square.  

Fortunately for us at Suits-by-Suits, the employment disputes we deal with most – mainly executives and the companies that employ them – don’t lead to bloody confrontation, only (sometimes) litigation.  Though even litigation sometimes has its moments

Anyway, here’s what has come over that transom that has piqued our interest:  Read More ›