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P. Andrew Torrez
Email | 410.332.1245

P. Andrew Torrez, named one of Maryland's star lawyers by Benchmark, is a partner in Zuckerman ‎Spaeder’s Baltimore office. He represents both plaintiffs and defendants in complex commercial ‎litigation matters at trial and on appeal.‎

Showing 83 posts by P. Andrew Torrez.

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 ›

The State-By-State Smackdown - New York vs. Florida: When Two Seemingly Similar Things Are Not The Same

In our recurring “State-by-State Smackdown” series on the evolving law with respect to covenants not to compete, we’ve described the traditional balancing-test approach that is the law in the majority of jurisdictions as the Legitimate Business Interest or “LBI” test.  In understanding this shifting landscape, we’ve typically highlighted statutes and/or judicial opinions in jurisdictions that have begun to shift away (or even depart entirely) from the classical LBI analysis.

Today, we’re doing something a little different, taking our cue from a recent New York state appellate decision:  Brown & Brown, Inc. v. Johnson, 980 N.Y.S. 2d 631 (App. Div., 4th Dep’t, February 7, 2014).  Read on. Read More ›

The Inbox: March 7, 2014

RollsRoyceImageThe biggest news of the week in Suits by Suits is the Supreme Court’s decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC, which was handed down on Tuesday.  Our Jason Knott weighed in with two excellent, in-depth pieces examining both the majority opinion as well as the concurring and dissenting opinions (including the very unusual dissenting lineup of Sotomayor, Kennedy, and Alito).  We think this is a groundbreaking decision for whistleblowers and employers that will continue to affect the legal landscape for years.  Other analysts have weighed in on Lawson, including the ABA and The Wall Street Journal (subscription required).

Of course, that’s not all that happened in the news this week:

  • We’re monitoring a recently-filed lawsuit by AK Steel Corp., alleging that its former employee, Thomas Miskovich, violated his noncompete contract and tortiously interfered with AK Steel’s business when he jumped ship for Novelis Corp.  Norvelis has responded that it is in the aluminum business – not the steel business – and thus is not a “competitor” of AK Steel.  A federal district court in Ohio rejected AK Steel’s request for a TRO but will hear arguments for a preliminary injunction in two weeks; we’ll be sure to keep you posted.
  • Writing for Forbes, Steve Parrish has some practical advice for employers in crafting executive compensation packages that reduce tax burdens on employees, including the issuance of restricted stock that employees forfeit if they leave the company as a kind of “golden handcuff.”
  • But wait!  Before you rush out and draft lucrative new compensation packages, keep in mind that such packages remain a touchy subject among shareholders.  We’ve talked about the “say-on-pay” provisions of the Dodd-Frank Act on multiple occasions; this week, we saw something similar happen across the Atlantic.  After shareholders rejected a more lucrative compensation package, Julius Baer – a private bank based in Switzerland – reduced CEO Boris Collardi’s pay by nearly 11% in 2013.  And Rolls-Royce announced a plan to claw back any executive bonuses paid out to employees who subsequently come under investigation (“in the case of serious non-compliance with the Rolls-Royce code of conduct, reputational damage or gross misconduct”).
  • On balance, though, such reductions in executive compensation remain the exception, rather than the norm.  So while eyebrows were raised, we weren’t surprised to learn that GlaxoSmithKline PLC increased CEO Andrew Witty’s 2013 compensation by 63% despite ongoing investigations by the Chinese government into alleged kickbacks and fraud that have led to the arrest of four Glaxo executives in China.
  • And Witty isn’t the only executive to bring home the bacon; Wells Fargo’s CEO John Stumpf – already the highest-paid bank CEO in the U.S. – was awarded $1 million in restricted stock as part of his 2013 compensation, and, just days after RadioShack announced that it may close as many as 1,100 retail stores in light of its second straight annual loss, the company announced raises and bonuses for top executives, including a half-million-dollar retention bonus for CEO Joseph Magnacca.
  • Relatedly:  Excellus BlueCross Blue Shield – the largest not-for-profit insurer in New York – revealed earlier this week that it had paid outgoing CEO David Klein a $12.9 million retirement bonus and former CFO Emil Duda $10.95 million in retirement pay, which it says were “industry norms at the time the agreements were made.”  Key to the packages were noncompete clauses that were said to have kept the officers from working for Excellus’s competitors.
  • Putting it all together:  MoneyNews’s Dan Weil, analyzing a study performed for The Wall Street Journal, suggests that for purposes of awarding compensation bonuses, many companies are using non-standard methods of computing their earnings – particularly by excluding certain expenses that would otherwise affect the company’s bottom line under generally accepted accounting principles – in ways that reward executives for the upside but fail to calculate downside risks.  And Antony Jenkins, CEO of international financial giant Barclays PLC, suggests that executive bonuses are necessary to retain key staff; after Barclays cut compensation in 2012, nearly 700 high-level U.S. employees left, presumably for richer pastures.  Barclays reversed course and awarded increased bonuses in 2013 to avoid a “death spiral” of further departures.

The Inbox - February 7, 2014

Our legal world was abuzz this week with the news that the law firm of Quinn Emmanuel will inaugurate a "work away week" in which its lawyers will be given $2,000, told to travel to anywhere in the world (so long as they have 24/7 internet access) and work from the beach or travel destination of your choice.  We here at Suits by Suits aren't quite so fortunate, but we do have all the inside information about the latest disputes between employers and employees:

Alex Rodriguez Teaches Us How to Read a Complaint

A few days before Alex Rodriguez filed his Complaint against Major League Baseball (and, somewhat surprisingly, the Major League Baseball Players Association, his own union), we set out the basic legal framework that will govern A-Rod’s efforts to overturn the arbitration award suspending him for the entire 2014 season.  Now, I’m a baseball lawyer, so obviously I had a unique interest in this particular case, but I also continue to think that the A-Rod case is instructive in the larger context that we write about here at Suits by Suits.

Specifically, A-Rod isn’t just one of the most famous – or infamous, depending on your perspective – baseball players in the world; he’s an employee having a very well-publicized dispute with his employers.  The law that governs A-Rod’s attempts to vacate Fredric Horowitz’s arbitration award is the exact same law that would apply to virtually any private sector employee whose employment-related dispute is governed by arbitration; namely, the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.

So, what does A-Rod’s complaint have to teach us as employers or employees?  One thing it can do is to emphasize the importance of reading a complaint backwards.  Read on to discover why. Read More ›

A-Rod, Part III: What About 60 Minutes?

Alex RodriguezIf you’re following our coverage of the Alex Rodriguez story at all (See our Part 1, a general primer; and Part 2 on the specifics of the 162-game suspension), you probably watched last night’s 60 Minutes, which contained interviews with Tony Bosch of Biogenesis, who claims that he personally administered banned Performance Enhancing Substances to Alex Rodriguez; MLB executive Rob Manfred; and one of Alex Rodriguez’s attorneys, Joseph Tacopina, Esq.

Concurrent with the airing of the program, sports journalists began reporting that the Major League Baseball Players Association (“MLBPA,” the players’ union) was “furious” at MLB’s participation in the TV program.  The MLBPA subsequently issued the following statement:

MLB's post-decision rush to the media is inconsistent with our collectively-bargained arbitration process, in general, as well as the confidentiality and credibility of the Joint Drug Agreement, in particular.  After learning of tonight's "60 Minutes" segment, Players have expressed anger over, among other things, MLB's inability to let the result of yesterday's decision speak for itself.  As a result, the Players Association is considering all legal options available to remedy any breaches committed by MLB.

Let’s evaluate those two arguments. Read More ›

More on A-Rod: How Did The Arbitrator Pick 162, Anyway?

After writing a basic primer on Alex Rodriguez’s appeal, there’s one question I’ve gotten more than any other:

Q:  How does the arbitrator have the authority to impose a 162-game suspension on A-Rod?  Doesn’t the Joint Drug Agreement (titled “Major League Baseball’s Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program” and referred to as the “JDA”) specify that the punishment is a 50-day suspension for a first offense and 100 days for the second?

A:  Sort of.  Section 7.A. of the JDA provides that a player who “tests positive for a Performance Enhancing Substance, or otherwise violates the Program through the use or possession of a Performance Enhancing Substance, will be subject to the discipline set forth below,” and those punishments are the ones you see quoted in popular sports media; i.e., 50 days for a first offense, 100 for a second, and a “permanent suspension” from MLB subject to the right to apply for reinstatement for a third.  Id. at 22 (emphasis added).  There’s also a catch-all provision, Section 7.G.2, which provides that any player “may be subjected to disciplinary action for just cause by the Commissioner for any Player violation of Section 2 not referenced in Section 7.A through 7.F above,” and Section 2 in turn covers all Prohibited Substances.  Id. at 25.

Note those italics.  MLB didn’t charge A-Rod with one (or even multiple) test violations; it charged him with generally violating MLB’s Program through the alleged use of performance enhancing substances and suspended him for 211 games.  Now one could argue – and Alex Rodriguez’s lawyers almost certainly did argue during the arbitration – that MLB had no authority to impose a 211-game suspension under the JDA.  The arbitrator thus presumably heard and responded to those arguments; if he refused to hear them, A-Rod certainly has a great argument on his side on appeal pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(3), as I discuss in the previous post.  (I note that, so far, neither A-Rod nor his lawyers have suggested that they were denied the opportunity to make that or any other argument.)

But let’s assume A-Rod made that argument to the arbitrator and lost.  Now the question is:  what must the arbitrator do with it?  The arbitrator’s authority to address grievances comes from Article XI of the Basic Agreement, as previously discussed.  Subsection B, in turn, provides that the arbitrator, after hearing all evidence and argument relating to any grievance, “may affirm, modify, or reverse the decision from which the appeal is taken.”  Id. at 44.  MLB’s decision was to suspend A-Rod for 211 games, and the arbitrator thus modified it downward to 162 games.  A-Rod is free to argue that the arbitrator’s decision to do so was erroneous (or even arbitrary); I’ve already explained why that’s not likely to be a winning argument.

Could A-Rod characterize an argument that the arbitrator “exceeded [his] powers” in imposing a 162-game suspension in light of Section 7.A of the JDA?  He could, but in my experience, courts have generally not been receptive to such an argument.  See, e.g., Certain Underwriters at Lloyd’s, London v. Ashland, Inc., 967 A.2d 166 (D.C. 2009).  The bottom line is that even if the arbitrator disregarded the 50/100/lifetime structure set out in the JDA, that fact standing alone is unlikely to provide grounds for reversal of the award by a federal court.

Your Guide to the Alex Rodriguez Appeal

Breaking news:  An arbitrator for Major League Baseball (MLB) has issued a final decision determining that New York Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez should be suspended for 162 games – the complete 2014 MLB season – plus any and all postseason games.  This decision reduces the suspension initially imposed by MLB (211 games), and, because it will be without pay, costs A-Rod $25 million.  (Perversely, the suspension benefits the Yankees, who will not only be freed from their payroll obligations to A-Rod for 2014, but relieved of certain luxury tax obligations as well under MLB rules.)

Via a statement released earlier today, A-Rod says that he and his lawyers are headed to federal court.  What awaits him there?  To understand that, we need to understand the legal landscape that applies to major league baseball players.

The relationship between Alex Rodriguez, the New York Yankees, and MLB is governed by the Basic Agreement, a contract that was negotiated in 2012 between the existing MLB teams and the players’ union, called the Major League Baseball Players Association (“MLBPA”).  The current Basic Agreement runs until 2016, at which point the union and MLB will sit down and collectively bargain for a new one.

Under the Basic Agreement, disputes between a player and his team are governed by Article XI (the “Grievance Procedure”).  Id. at 38.  Those disputes, in turn, are ultimately settled by arbitration pursuant to XI.B.  Id. at 44.  The Basic Agreement provides that the “decision of the Arbitration Panel shall constitute full, final and complete disposition of the Grievance appealed to it.”  Id.

That’s where we are now; A-Rod has followed the Grievance procedures and has now obtained a “full, final and complete disposition” of his Grievance, reducing his suspension from 211 to 162 games.  How does he get from there into federal court?

The answers are two-fold:  first, because the Basic Agreement is a product of private collective bargaining, it is subject to the federal Labor-Management Relations Act, which in turn provides for federal jurisdiction over disputes regarding rights created by or substantially dependent upon a collective bargaining agreement (such as the Basic Agreement).  29 U.S.C. § 185(a); see also Caterpillar, Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386 (1987).  So that means A-Rod can file suit in federal court based on federal law, regardless of what the Basic Agreement or any state laws happen to say.

But what does that federal law say?  As it turns out, this is a topic we’ve discussed frequently here at Suits by Suits; the same law that governs virtually all individual arbitration clauses contained in employment agreements also governs here:  the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.  The FAA, in turn, provides four ways in which a litigant can vacate an arbitration award:

(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means;

(2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in the arbitrators, or either of them;

(3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced; or

(4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not made.

9 U.S.C. § 10(a).  If you want to skip to the punch line, our own Jason Knott summarized it perfectly a few months ago:  “When a federal court confirms an arbitration award, it isn’t newsworthy, because that’s what everyone expects will happen.  But when a court tosses an arbitrator’s decision, it creates headlines.”  So why exactly does A-Rod face such an uphill scenario?

The biggest reason isn't what the FAA says; it's what it doesn't say.  Note that those four statutory grounds for reversing an arbitration award do not include “mistake of law” or even “gross mistake of law.”  They don’t include incompetence, stupidity, or carelessness.  As the U.S. Supreme Court has noted, when a collective bargaining agreement specifies that an arbitrator’s award is “final,” a court may not evaluate whether the arbitrator applied “correct principles of law” or not.  United Steelworkers of America v. Enterprise Wheel & Car Corp., 363 U.S. 593, 598-99 (1960).  Thus, even if the arbitrator had no basis for imposing a 162-game suspension on A-Rod, that fact standing alone would not be sufficient to permit a federal court to overturn the arbitration award under the FAA.

Summarizing this (and other) holdings, we lawyers typically describe the FAA’s standards for vacating an arbitration award as procedural rather than substantive; that means that a successful challenge must show that there was something wrong with the way in which the arbitration was conducted, and not just the result the arbitrator reached.  This is the dual-edged nature of binding arbitration; like it or not, you’re usually stuck with even an egregiously wrong outcome.  (For this reason, we told you how some employers are reconsidering whether mandatory arbitration clauses with their executives are good business policy.)

We do not yet know what transpired during A-Rod’s arbitration.  But what we do know is that, if Rodriguez is going to prevail in federal court, he’s almost certainly going to need to show that the process itself was unfair in some way.  Maybe he can do this; perhaps there were key pieces of evidence that the arbitrator refused to admit (9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(3)).  So far, however, A-Rod’s allegation is that the arbitrator “blatantly disregarded the law and the facts.”  That allegation – even if true – is probably not enough for him to succeed in overturning the arbitration award.

As more details are forthcoming – and if Alex Rodriguez and/or his lawyers detail allegations that fit more closely within the four grounds set forth for vacatur under the FAA – we’ll continue to update and evaluate.

The Inbox: January 10, 2014

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night – and certainly not a batch of freezing rain and ice that’s currently paralyzing the greater Baltimore-Washington area right now – stays your trusty editors from the swift completion of their appointed rounds; namely, bringing you the weekly roundup of Suits by Suits:

  • And finally:  there’s been much coverage of Colorado’s law legalizing recreational use of marijuana – my personal favorite story is “I just bought pot for the first time with my boss’s money!” – but, as those killjoys at the Wall Street Journal note, Colorado employers remain free to prohibit marijuana use by their employees and back up such prohibitions with regular, mandatory drug tests.  (The same story does note that drug use at the workplace has been on the decline for a decade, and that marijuana use accounted for just 2% of positive tests in 2012.)