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Showing 5 posts from June 2015.

Non-Solicitation Clauses: They’re Up to You, New York

National employers sometimes include choice-of-law provisions in their employment agreements, selecting one particular state’s law even for employees who don’t work in that state.  For example, a company based in Massachusetts might ask its California employees to sign agreements selecting Massachusetts law.  Applying one state’s law to all of the employer’s relationships can make outcomes more predictable, especially when the employer knows that law well.

But not always, as the New York Court of Appeals held earlier this month in Brown & Brown, Inc. v. Johnson.  In Brown & Brown, the Court of Appeals refused to apply an employment agreement’s selection of Florida law, holding that New York law should determine whether a customer non-solicitation provision in that same agreement was enforceable.  Read More ›

Part 2 – How to Motivate Executives to Perform at Their Highest Level Through a Bankruptcy

In our last post, we discussed differences between “pay to stay” arrangements, which face stricter scrutiny in bankruptcy cases, and “Produce Value for Pay” plans, which provide incentives for executives based on strong corporate performance.  As promised, we now examine two cases that illustrate acceptable ways for companies to motivate their executives to perform through a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The first is the case of Chassix Holdings, Inc., which manufactures parts for approximately two-thirds of automobiles made in North America.  After a sequence of unfortunate financial and operational setbacks during 2014, Chassix found itself a petitioner under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code last month.  Included among the operational setbacks was the fact that approximately 1,100 employees voluntarily left Chassix during 2014.  Since it was critical to have a work force with the proper experience, skill, and know-how to manufacture the auto parts, Chassix found itself exploring ways to enhance its compensation options prior to the petition date in order to retain more of its employees.  Unfortunately, it didn’t finish these plans prior to the petition date.

Chassix took a couple of important steps in designing its KERP and seeking authority from the bankruptcy court to implement it.  First, and foremost, it limited its KERP to a pool of employees who were not company “insiders.”  Therefore, the bankruptcy court applied the more liberal standard of business judgment when it evaluated the plan, even though Chassix had not established and regularly implemented the plan before its bankruptcy petition.  Under this standard, and considering the pre-petition employee turnover and the support of the various creditor constituencies, the bankruptcy court approved the KERP.  Read More ›

How to Motivate Executives to Perform at Their Highest Level Through A Bankruptcy

At the outset, the answer to the question posed in this article seems simple: employers should just pay their employees as much as is reasonably possible.  However, when a corporation finds itself in Chapter 11 reorganization, the Bankruptcy Code restricts the use of some traditional motivational methods.  Simultaneously, competitors might make tempting job offers to quality employees, inducing them to leave the business.  This combination of factors can distract employees from the main task of getting the debtor through the reorganization process. 

To provide sufficient compensation and persuade employees to remain with the business, a debtor can attempt to adopt a key employee retention plan (KERP for short), also known as a “pay to stay” arrangement.  This is in contrast to a “Produce Value for Pay” plan that provides incentives for strong corporate performance. Read More ›

Sixth Circuit Upholds Financial Planner’s Sarbanes-Oxley Win

Section 1514A of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act shields a whistleblower from retaliation if he reports “conduct [that he] reasonably believes” violates certain laws, including Securities and Exchange Commission regulations.  Last month, the Sixth Circuit held that the question of a whistleblower’s “reasonable belief” is a “simple factual question requiring no subset of findings that the employee had a justifiable belief as to each of the legally-defined elements of the suspected fraud.”  Rhinehimer v. U.S. Bancorp Investments, Inc., No. 13-6641 (6th Cir. May 28, 2015).  Based on this principle, the court affirmed a $250,000 verdict in favor of the plaintiff, Michael Rhinehimer.

According to the Court’s opinion, Rhinehimer was a financial planner for U.S. Bancorp who helped his elderly customer, Norbert Purcell, set up a trust and a brokerage account.  In November 2009, Rhinehimer went on disability leave, and asked a colleague not to conduct any transactions with Purcell.  The colleague didn’t follow the instructions, and instead put Purcell into investments that Rhinehimer believed were unsuitable.  (Unsuitability fraud under the securities laws occurs when a broker knows or reasonably believes certain securities to be unsuitable to a client’s needs, but recommends them anyway.)    Rhinehimer complained about the trades, but his superiors warned him that he should “stay out of the matter” and stop criticizing the colleague.  After Rhinehimer hired a lawyer, he was placed on a performance improvement plan and fired after he failed to meet it. Read More ›

The Inbox – Orwell’s Big Brother Has An App For That

Big Brother is watching you, or at least tracking your movements through your smartphone. According to the Washington Post, employers have steadily increased their use of GPS-enabled technology to track the movements and location of “field employees” like salespeople and delivery drivers. In fact, a 2012 study by the Aberdeen Group cited an increase of over 30% in the tracking of employees over the previous 5 years. Legitimate reasons exist to track field employees, such as making sure that drivers take the best routes and sales calls are conducted efficiently. But it’s more tricky to justify the tracking of employees who are off the clock.  For example, Myrna Arias, a former sales executive with Intermex, was allegedly fired for disabling a tracking app called Xora StreetSmart when she was off duty. Now Ms. Arias has sued the company, alleging wrongful termination and invasion of privacy. Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the ACLU, cautions employers against collecting off-the-clock data, because it opens the door to discriminatory practices. Mr. Stanley wondered, "What happens if an employer doesn't like the choices a worker makes in their personal lives and retaliates professionally?" 

We discussed emerging trends in the c-suite recently, and found that companies are increasingly tying executive compensation to performance. For those that do not, we can imagine a corporate shareholder version of peasants storming the castle with pitchforks in hand, thanks to say-on-pay voting. In the case of JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon’s 2014 compensation, the shareholders’ rebellion led to a relatively low approval rate for Dimon’s and other executives’ compensation. According to USA Today, 61.4% of shareholders approved the payouts, which starkly contrasts with an average 90% approval rating for companies that seek shareholder input on salary and bonus plans. Advisory firm ISS encouraged shareholders to rebuke the plan when they learned of Dimon’s $7.4 million cash bonus. ISS advised that “[t]he reintroduction of a large discretionary cash bonus in the CEO’s pay mix, without a compelling rationale, has substantially weakened the performance-basis of his pay.” If corporate leadership can provide a strong rationale for a big bonus, it’s more likely that the shareholders will drop their pitchforks and fall in line.  Read More ›