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Showing 10 posts from April 2014.

State-by-State Smackdown News: Massachusetts to Decide Whether to Ban Noncompetes

Momentum continues to build in Massachusetts for that state to adopt the California model and ban the enforcement of employee covenants not to compete in the state.  Last fall, we told you that Gregory Bialecki, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development under Gov. Deval Patrick (D), went on record as saying that the administration supports the “outright elimination of enforceability” of noncompetes in Massachusetts in a story broken by Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe.

Of course, there is often a world of a difference between a politician “supporting” something and being willing to actually spend political capital to try and bring about actual legislation.  At first, Gov. Patrick’s support was limited to 2013’s H.B. 1715, which (as we explained here, over a year ago) would not have prohibited noncompetes, but would have instead created a statutory regime that prohibited such clauses that exceeded six months in length.  That bill failed to pass the legislature in 2013. Read More ›

Is It a Defense to the Buffalo Jills’ Minimum Wage Claim That They "Agreed" to Be Independent Contractors?

Cheerleading SilhouetteOn Friday, we described a lawsuit brought recently by five Buffalo Jills cheerleaders claiming that they should have been paid the minimum wage for all of the hours that they worked for the squad but were not. We said that a key issue in the case is whether the Jills are employees or independent contractors for purposes of New York wage and hour law because employers are required by the law to pay employees – but not independent contractors – the minimum wage. The lawsuit raises another question: is it a valid defense to the Jills’ claims that the defendants required them to sign contracts expressly agreeing that they are "independent contractors"? Here is one of those rare legal issues with a simple answer, at least under the federal wage and hour law called the Fair Labor Standards Act: No. As recently as last year, the U.S. Supreme Court said of the Fair Labor Standards Act: "The FLSA establishes federal minimum-wage, maximum-hour, and overtime guarantees that cannot be modified by contract."

So companies should beware that having people who work for them agree in writing that they are independent contractors does not inoculate the companies from wage and hour claims. And people who work for companies should know that just because they signed something saying that they are independent contractors does not necessarily mean that they are for purposes of the wage and hour laws.  They may in fact be entitled under the law to be paid the minimum wage and overtime.

The Inbox, Almost Perfect Baseball-Wise Edition

Here as we approach the close of April, we’ve noticed (in something of our Moneyball moment) that three of the four cities where Zuckerman Spaeder has offices – New York, Baltimore, and Washington – host baseball teams that have won more than half their games thus far this season.  Our colleagues in Tampa are the only ones with a team winning below .500.  Maybe we can make up for that by opening an office in Milwaukee, where the Brewers have won nearly 75% of their games. 

In any event, the items below came over our transom this work and are worthy of note in the world of executive employment disputes:

  • Mary Willingham, the controversial University of North Carolina staff member whose comments on student-athlete literacy were widely circulated, has resigned, citing a hostile work environment in the flak over her views. 
  • A federal judge in New York dismissed Veramark Technologies’ suit against its former VP of sales and his new employer Cass Information Systems; the court held that Veramark’s non-compete agreement with the former VP was not enforceable because Veramark couldn’t show it was needed to protect its existing customer relationships. 
  • Speaking of non-competes, another columnist in the Boston Globe – which has extensively covered Governor Deval Patrick’s proposal to ban non-competes – has come out in support of that ban
  • An Alabama newspaper published this “how-to” guide to whistleblowing this week. 
  • 64,000 technology workers in the Silicon Valley have tentatively settled their lawsuit against Apple, Google, Intel, and Adobe, alleging those companies colluded to keep down wages and limit “poaching” employees from one company to another.  The settlement is reportedly for $324 million, and comes just a few days after the employees argued against Apple’s motion that they could not use statements about the character of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
  • A bill in the Iowa State Senate that would expand whistleblower protections moved to the full body this week
  • A former bank examiner’s whistleblower suit against the Federal Reserve was dismissed this week, after a federal judge in New York ruled that she had not connected her allegations of wrongdoing at J. P. Morgan with her termination. 

Buffalo Jills Boo Bosses but Lawsuit Raises Question: Are NFL Cheerleaders "Employees" Protected by Minimum Wage Laws?

CheerleaderIn a lawsuit filed on Tuesday, five Buffalo Jills cheerleaders claim that the Buffalo Bills NFL franchise and two companies that manage the squad are violating New York wage and hour laws. The Jills allege that they are "employees" for purposes of New York law and therefore must be paid the minimum wage - $8 per hour in New York – for their work as Jills. We have explored wage and hour laws – the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and similar state laws – here at Suits by Suits before but not the employee versus independent contractor distinction that is the key to many wage and hour cases and on which the Jills’ case could turn. Read More ›

Can You “Negligently” Fire Someone?

Insurance Claim Form - REJECTEDThe answer to that question, at least according to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, is “no.” 

It seems straightforward, but getting to that “no” requires a little bit of an understanding of insurance – in this case, directors’ and officers’ (“D&O”) insurance.  A D&O policy was at issue in this case, Forest Meadows Owners Assoc. v. State Farm Ins. Co., in which the policyholder – a condominium association – was sued by an employee it had fired, and sought coverage from its insurer.   Read More ›

The Inbox – April 18, 2014 – The Easter Bunny Edition

Easter bunny

    • A Seattle judge has denied Relator.Com operator Move Inc.’s motion to prevent Errol Samuelson from working for its rival Zillow as Chief Industry Development Officer. Move Inc. argued that Mr. Samuelson will inevitably disclose trade secrets that he allegedly took from Move Inc. in his work for Zillow and therefore should not be allowed to work there. The theory of inevitable disclosure of trade secrets is one we have examined before.
    • WaPo’s Jenna McGregor explains why Henrique de Castro’s severance pay for 15 months at Yahoo totals $58 million; it has to do with high stock prices.  We considered earlier how de Castro’s contract may have required Yahoo to pay him severance despite performance issues.
    • Forbes blogger Todd Hixon welcomes efforts in Massachusetts to abolish non-competes because, in his view, non-competes hurt innovation. The differences in state laws on non-competes and shifting attitudes towards them have been a major focus of ours here at Suits by Suits.
    • The Florida Supreme Court ruled yesterday that the Florida Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination in the workplace for pregnancy, even though the Act does not explicitly say anything about pregnancy. The high court reasoned in a 6-1 decision that the Act’s prohibition against gender discrimination covers discrimination based on pregnancy. Peguy Delva claims in the case that real estate developer Continental Group denied her extra shifts and did not schedule her for work after she returned from maternity leave. Federal law expressly prohibits pregnancy discrimination.

Executive in the Middle – Texas Monthly and The New York Times Company Duke It Out in Court over Top Editor Jake Silverstein

Newspaper Tempers FlareYou can read about it in the Times:  the publisher of Texas Monthly sued The New York Times Companylast week over Jake Silverstein leaving his post as editor-in-chief of Texas Monthly to be editor of The New York Times Magazine.  Silverstein had a three-year contract with the Texas publisher that was supposed to run through February 2015.  The publisher claims that The New York Times Company tortiously interfered with that contract, causing Silverstein to break it.  This is a common scenario for sought-after executives when they switch companies:  the companies fight in court over them but not against them.  The executive in the middle may feel like she dodged a bullet by not being named as a defendant in the lawsuit.  In fact, it is not so simple. Read More ›

In Battle of Words, Former Netflix Exec Says That Company Defamed Him

Apple iPad displaying NetflixJerry Kowal doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about his former employer, Netflix.  In a recent lawsuit filed in California Superior Court, he claims that Netflix was a “cold and hostile company,” with a “cutthroat environment.”

According to Courthouse News’s description of Kowal’s complaint, Netflix didn’t have very nice things to say about Kowal, its former content acquisition executive, either.  Kowal alleges that when he told Netflix he was leaving for Amazon, Netflix lashed out by accusing him of stealing confidential information and passing it on to Amazon.  As a result of these accusations and Amazon’s “strict liability policy,” he was fired.

Now, Kowal has sued Netflix, its CEO Reed Hastings, executive Ted Sarandos, and Amazon, alleging a number of torts including defamation, false light invasion of privacy, civil conspiracy, intentional interference with employment relationship, blacklisting and wrongful termination.  Kowal’s suit shows that an employer’s decision to accuse a departed employee of wrongdoing carries with it a significant litigation risk, especially if the employee loses his job as a result of the accusation. Read More ›

The Inbox: April 4, 2014

We here at Suits By Suits used up pretty much all of our literary creativity in drafting last week’s Inbox, a stirring tribute to the late, great director John Hughes as seen through the cast of his seminal film, The Breakfast Club.  So this week, in the words of Joe Friday, you get just the facts, ma’am – which is to say, a terse rundown of the week’s developments delivered in a gruff, no-nonsense style:

  • This Wednesday, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued an interim final rule and public requests for comments regarding the employee protection provisions of the Consumer Financial Protection Act of 2010, the portion of the Dodd-Frank Act that established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect whistleblowers who report violations of various consumer protection laws.  The interim final rule describes the process that OSHA investigators and administrative law judges will take in evaluating whistleblower complaints under this statute, and mirror regulations OSHA has implemented over the last few years with respect to other whistleblower statutes under its jurisdiction.
  • We’ve previously discussed the Illinois appellate court’s 2013 decision in Fifield v. Premier Dealer Services, which altered the landscape of noncompete law in Illinois by seemingly declaring a bright-line rule that an employee must have worked for his or her employer for two years in order for the employer to subsequently enforce a noncompete clause.  This week, attorneys writing in the National Law Review analyze a recent decision by a federal District Court judge applying Illinois law, Montel Aetnastak v. Miessen.  In that case, the Court refused to follow Fifield and apply a “bright-line” two-year test, instead holding that the appellate court holdings have been “contradictory” and that there has been no “clear direction from the Illinois Supreme Court,” thus permitting that court to enforce a noncompete clause against an employee who had worked for her employer for only 15 months.  We will be watching to see how the state courts respond; we wouldn’t be surprised to see a certified question to the Illinois Supreme Court to resolve the status of Fifield with finality.
  • While the Hobby Lobby case has garnered national attention these past few weeks, a new dispute between religious employers and employees may be brewing in Hawaii.  The Roman Catholic Church has rolled out a new Teacher Employment Agreement that permits teachers at 36 parochial schools in Hawaii to be terminated for “living immorally,” defined as “adultery, homosexual activity, same sex unions, procuring, abetting or promoting abortion, euthanasia or in vitro fertilization, and unmarried cohabitation.”  The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission will scrutinize the contract to determine if the new contract violates Hawaii’s state law protections against discrimination based on marital status and sexual orientation, particularly with respect to teachers who teach purely secular subjects.  The superintendent of Hawaii Catholic Schools has argued that even secular teachers at parochial schools are “role models whose job is also a ministry,” thus falling under a ministerial exemption.  We’ll continue to monitor this situation.
  • Relatedly, a New York appellate court upheld a $1.6 million verdict (including $1.2 million in punitive damages) against Gloria’s Tribeca, Inc. and chief owner Edward Globokar, who own and operate a chain of Mexican restaurants in New York City called “Mary Ann’s.”  The restaurants would hold weekly, mandatory “prayer meetings” in which chef Mirella Salemi was insulted, told she was “going to hell” for being gay, and, in at least once case, was instructed to fire another employee for being gay.  (Salemi refused.)  The appellate court rejected the restaurant’s First Amendment claims, holding instead that the practices violated the New York City Human Rights Law.

Oh, and just one more thing:

  • Long-standing consumer advocate (and perennial Presidential candidate) Ralph Nader has launched “Nader’s Penny Brigade,” a grassroots organization with the goal of bringing attention to what Nader calls the growing disparity between executive compensation and average worker pay.  The first item on Nader’s agenda has to do with the accounting measures used in how large corporations accrue profits in relation to bonuses paid to top executives; an issue that we’ve previously highlighted in this space.  The organization’s name stems from Nader’s plea that shareholders donate one penny for every share that they own to fund oversight.  We just thought you might like to know.

More on Non-Competes in Florida: Defining the “Legitimate Business Interest”

In researching and writing Monday’s blog post, I came across another unique wrinkle in the Florida statute that governs covenants not to compete, § 542.335 of the Florida Statutes.  I think it's worth examining that provision in more detail as part of our ongoing efforts to educate employers and employees as to the varying state-by-state nuances in different jurisdictions that can affect the ultimate questions as to whether and how that state will enforce an employee’s covenant not to compete. Read More ›