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Showing 11 posts from June 2014.

The Inbox – World Cup Edition

On Thursday, even though the United States lost to Germany, they moved on from the Group of Death to take on Belgium in the World Cup round of 16. In honor of US Soccer’s achievement, we are glad to present this footy-themed edition of the Inbox.

  • The New York Post continues to report on the controversy surrounding last week’s decision to terminate American Apparel CEO Dov Charney. In this piece, one of our editors achieved his goal of being quoted in that paper, although neither he nor Charney got a clever rhyming front-page headline.
  • A New Jersey judge issued a red card to a shareholder lawsuit against Johnson & Johnson, tossing the case out on summary judgment. MassDevice.com reported that the judge decided that J&J acted in good faith when it decided not to claw back $40 million that had been paid to its former CEO, William Weldon.
Read More ›

SEC’s First Anti-Retaliation Action Under Dodd-Frank Act Carries Warning for Employers

The Securities & Exchange Commission gained significant new enforcement powers in the Dodd-Frank Act of 2010.  Under the Act, the SEC can award bounties to whistleblowers who provide information leading to successful enforcement actions.  It has already exercised this power, making eight whistleblower awards since starting its whistleblower program in late 2011.  The Dodd-Frank Act also allows the SEC to sue an employer who retaliates against a whistleblower, but the SEC hasn’t previously taken that step. 

Ten days ago, that changed.  The SEC announced that it had charged Paradigm Capital Management and owner Candace King Weir with engaging in prohibited trades and retaliating against a head trader who reported the trades to the SEC, and that Paradigm and Weir had settled the charges for $2.2 million.  Without its new enforcement authority under Dodd-Frank, the SEC wouldn’t have been able to bring the retaliation charge. 

According to the SEC’s press release, Paradigm “removed [the whistleblower] from his head trader position, tasked him with investigating the very conduct he reported to the SEC, changed his job function from head trader to a full-time compliance assistant, stripped him of his supervisory responsibilities, and otherwise marginalized him.” 

The formal order issued by the SEC further describes what happened to the whistleblower.  The day after the trader told Paradigm that he had reported these particular trades to the SEC, Paradigm removed him from his position.  The trader and Paradigm tried to negotiate a severance package, but when that fell through, Paradigm brought him back to investigate trades and work on compliance policies – but not to resume his head trading responsibilities.  Read More ›

…And All He Got Was a Fashionable T-Shirt: American Apparel Terminates Its CEO

Green t-shirtLast week, American Apparel announced that its board had decided to terminate Dov Charney, the company’s founder, CEO, and Chairman, “for cause.”  (We’ve discussed the meaning of terminations “for cause” in prior posts here and here.)  The board also immediately suspended Charney from his positions with the company.  Although the board didn’t initially disclose the reasons for its action, Charney is not new to controversy; in recent years, he has faced allegations of sexual harassment and assault.

The reasons for Charney’s termination have now become public, and they aren’t pretty.  In its termination letter, available here, the board accuses Charney of putting the company at significant litigation risk.  It complains that he sexually harassed employees and allowed another employee to post false information online about a former employee, which led to a substantial lawsuit.  The board also says that Charney misused corporate assets for “personal, non-business reasons,” including making severance payments to protect himself from personal liability.  According to the board, Charney’s behavior has harmed the company’s “business reputation,” scaring away potential financing sources. Read More ›

The Inbox: June 20, 2014

Whiste against a blue suit tieThis has been a noteworthy week here at Suits by Suits for developments in the law concerning whistleblowers; in addition to our in-depth articles we published this week, we also saw the following developments:

Of course, not everything that happened this week involved whistleblowers; here are a few other Suits by Suits that may be of interest:

  • The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in a case that will determine whether mortgage loan officers are “employed in a bona fide executive, administrative, or professional capacity” and thus exempt from mandatory overtime pay requirements.
  • Finally, the Washington Post documented the fallout over years’ worth of complants about American Apparel’s CEO Dov Charney (as well as photographer Terry Richardson) for multiple alleged instances of sexual misconduct.  Despite founding the company, the American Apparel board of directors ultimately suspended Charney for a 30-day cure period as required by contract before he can be terminated.  Charney’s bizarre conduct is alleged to include wandering through American Apparel offices in his underpants, masturbating in front of a (female) reporter, among other behvaiors that led one plaintiff to describe his leadership as a “reign of sexual terror.”  The Post also called out Richardson’s “aesthetic of hipster softcore pornography” (which it then documents by reproducing a half-dozen advertising shots of young-looking models).

Second Circuit To Weigh Whether Whistleblower Protections Extend Internationally

International FlagsWhile we’re talking about whistleblowers, it’s worth noting that two days ago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit heard oral argument on appeal from the a federal district court’s opinion in Meng-Lin Liu v. Siemens AG, 978 F.Supp.2d 325 (S.D.N.Y. 2013). This case raises the significant question as to whether the anti-retaliation provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(h)(1)(a), apply to an employee who is terminated by a non-U.S. corporation that does business in (and is regulated by) the United States. Read More ›

Mandatory Arbitration Clauses Do Not Necessarily Protect Employers From Whistleblower Suits

Protect shield with question markOne recurring topic here at Suits by Suits is the default corporate practice of including mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts; we’ve written frequently about that practice.  Such clauses typically specify that “the parties agree to submit any dispute arising out of this Agreement to binding arbitration.” Read More ›

The Inbox - Friday the 13th of June Edition, 2014

  • Netflix is challenging the lawsuit filed against it by its former content acquisitions executive Jerry Kowal, whom Netflix fired before he could resign to work for Amazon last summer.  Kowal's claims against Netflix - which we examined earlier - include defamation.  Netflix now claims that Kowal took its confidential documents - downloading them while on vacation weeks before he left for Amazon.  
  • A 48-year-old former director of Disney's story department has sued Disney in Los Angeles Superior Court for age discrimination, claiming that Disney fired him after 26 years and replaced him with a woman in her late 20s or early 30s.  
  • Twitter's COO Ali Rowghani resigned this week, although he will continue as an employee of the company.  Reportedly, he had little to do after CEO Dick Costolo took on more responsibilities at the struggling company.  Rowghani and Costolo exchanged friendly tweets about his resignation, so we would be surprised to see a suit by suit emerge.
  • SunTrust Bank is paying $300,000 to settle a charge by the EEOC that one of its branch managers in Sarasota sexually harassed three women who reported to him by, for example, allegedly repeatedly trapping one of them at the teller's desk using his body and telling another that she should wear a bathing suit to work.

Interested in Today's Debate on Non-Competes - Including for Camp Counselors? See This Week's New York Times

Campground SignNon-competes are a frequent topic here on Suits by Suits.  We have discussed how the laws of the 50 states vary - and boy do they. Some states (like California) flat out prohibit non-competes, while some states (like Delaware) not only permit non-competes but enforce broad restrictions on employment.  Meanwhile, in boardrooms and statehouses (like Massachusetts's), a debate is raging about whether non-competes are in the public's interest - especially in today's world, where our work force is highly mobile and the states are in an arms race to attract start-up tech companies (and all those jobs).  For those of us interested in the debate, three recent items in The New York Times should not be missed: an article reporting on the proliferation of non-competes in unexpected fields (such as summer camp counseling); a discussion among lawyers, professors and lobbyists about the merits or lack thereof of non-competes; and an opinion by New York Times Editorial Board that non-competes hurt workers - especially low-wage and unskilled workers lacking the bargaining power to resist entering into non-competes. 

The Inbox: Sunny Summer Skies Edition

Picture of sunny skySummer humidity has arrived here in the mid-Atlantic, but the skies are blue and the thermometer isn’t creeping above 90 as of yet.  Here are some tidbits of executive-employer news to print and read in the shade when it’s time to cool off: 

  • Not that the White House needed more controversy right now, but the Office of Special Counsel is investigating 37 whistleblower claims arising from 19 different Veterans Administration facilities, reports Jack Moore of Federal News Radio.  The range of misconduct that the whistleblowers allegedly disclosed includes “improper scheduling practices, the misuse of agency funds and inappropriately restraining patients.”
  • Chris Cassidy of the Boston Herald writes that the Massachusetts House Speaker, Robert DeLeo, and the state’s governor, Deval Patrick, are clashing over noncompete agreements.  Patrick has been pushing to ban the prohibitions, while DeLeo and his allies argue that they should remain because employees have shown a willingness to live with them.
  • “I’m Number One!”  In the CEO world, the top-ranked executive in terms of compensation is Charif Souki of Cheniere Energy Inc., who raked in $142 million last year.  Now, Souki’s compensation has sparked a disgruntled shareholder lawsuit, according to Zain Shauk, Caleb Melby and Laura Marcinek of Bloomberg.  The lawsuit has led Cheniere to push off its annual meeting by three months.  Shareholder advisory firms are telling the company’s stockholders that they should not vote to approve further expansion of its executive compensation.
  • Darren Heitner, writing for Forbes, brought us the story of a football agent’s lawsuit against Octagon, his former employer.   Doug Hendrickson, who now works for Relativity Sports, alleges that the noncompete provision in his employment agreement with Octagon is an illegal restraint of trade under California law.  Hendrickson has represented Marshawn Lynch in the past; no word as to whether his lawyers are familiar with Beast Mode.

Does Dodd-Frank Protect Whistleblowers Who Don’t Report to SEC? Another Court Chooses Sides in the Debate

A book opened with a magnifying glassIn 2010, Congress passed the Dodd-Frank Act, strengthening legal protections for employees who report violations of the securities laws.  However, as we’ve covered here, here, and here, the courts have diverged widely as to whether an employee must report directly to the SEC in order to be shielded from retaliation.

In Asadi v. GE Energy (USA), LLC, which we addressed in this post, the Fifth Circuit decided that to meet Dodd-Frank’s definition of a “whistleblower” – and to be protected by its anti-retaliation provision – an employee must in fact provide information to the SEC.    However, most of the district courts that have addressed the issue have decided that an employee need not report to the SEC in order to be protected from adverse actions by his or her employer. Read More ›