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- The Basics: An Introduction to Indemnification and Advancement
- The Inbox: March 7, 2014
- A Look at the Concurring and Dissenting Opinions in the Supreme Court's Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Decision
- Supreme Court Allows Employees of Private Contractors to Bring Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Retaliation Claims
- The Inbox, Why Does The Shortest Month Feel So Long Edition
- E-mailing Work Documents to Your Personal Account Looks Fishy, Says NY Appeals Court in New Non-Compete Opinion
- Whistleblower or wrongfully terminated employee? California Supreme Court says: whistleblower
- The Inbox, How Many More Decades Until Spring Edition
- Vanterpool v. Cuccinelli: Threading the Needle to Preserve a Free Speech Claim Against a Government Employer without Admitting to Lying Earlier About Who Spoke
- Vanterpool v. Cuccinelli (yes that Cuccinelli) Sheds Light on Political Patronage Dismissals
- After-Acquired Evidence
- Age Discrimination
- Arbitration and ADR
- Breach of Contract
- Civil Litigation
- Dodd-Frank Act
- Equal Pay
- Executive Compensation
- Family Medical Leave
- Fiduciary Duties
- First Amendment
- Government Employers and Employees
- Monthly Roundup
- Motions to Dismiss
- Noncompete Agreements
- Pregnancy Discrimination
- Preliminary Injunction
- Religious Discrimination
- Sarbanes-Oxley Act
- Severance Agreements – Change-in-Control Provisions
- Social Media
- Statutes of limitations
- Summary Judgment
- The Basics
- The Inbox
- Title VII
- Trade Secrets
- Vicarious Liability
- Wage and Hour
- Workplace Conditions (Occupational Safety and Health)
- Wrongful Termination
Blogs We Like:
The AmLaw Daily
The BLT: The Blog of LegalTimes
Connecticut Employment Law Blog
The D&O Diary
Delaware Employment Law Blog
DeNovo: A Virginia Appellate Law Blog
The Employer Handbook
Executive Pay Matters
The Federal Criminal Appeals Blog
Grand Jury Target
Screw You Guys, I’m Going Home: What You Need To Know Before You Scream “I Quit,” Get Fired, Or Decide to Sue the Bastards
Trade Secrets & Noncompete Blog
Virginia Appellate News & Analysis
WSJ Law Blog
Jason Knott, a partner in Zuckerman Spaeder’s Washington office, represents individuals and companies in civil litigation, white-collar criminal matters, and government investigations. Some of his favorite cases have been “Suits by Suits.”
Showing 102 posts by Jason M. Knott.
Imagine sitting on the board of directors of a Fortune 500 company. You might think it’s a life of corporate jets, cushy board meetings, and prestige. (Although, the press will tell us, it’s not really that way anymore, thanks to Enron.) But even if corporate service would truly be the good life, what would happen to you if an aggrieved shareholder sued you for allegedly breaching your fiduciary duties to the company? Would you have to deplete your bank account to pay expensive lawyers for years of costly litigation?
The answer is found in the rights of indemnification and advancement (which we have previously discussed here, here, and here in connection with a trade secret case against a Goldman Sachs employee). Indemnification and advancement are two overlapping, yet different, rights that corporate directors, officers, and employees may have when it comes to the payment of their legal fees in lawsuits brought against them because of their corporate service.
Indemnification is the reimbursement of fees after those fees have been incurred. This right, as the Delaware Supreme Court has written, “allows corporate officials to defend themselves in legal proceedings secure in the knowledge that, if vindicated, the corporation will bear the expense of litigation.” The words “if vindicated” cannot be emphasized enough – they show that in order to establish a right to indemnification, the officer may have to prevail in the proceeding.
Advancement, meanwhile, is exactly what it sounds like: payment of fees by the company in advance of the final resolution of the proceeding. Advancement is an important companion to the right of indemnification, because it provides officials with immediate relief from the financial burden of investigations and legal proceedings. No vindication required – although the official may have to pay back what she receives if the final decision doesn’t go her way.
To determine an individual’s right to indemnification or advancement, courts will first look to the statutes governing the business, which may either require or permit those rights. Because many companies are incorporated in Delaware, we’ll take a look at what Delaware law has to say on this subject. Read More ›
A Look at the Concurring and Dissenting Opinions in the Supreme Court's Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Decision
In yesterday's post, we covered the background of Tuesday's Supreme Court decision in Lawson v. FMR, LLC, and took an in-depth look at Justice Ginsburg's majority opinion. Today, we look at what the other Justices had to say.
Justice Scalia, joined by Justice Thomas, signed on to Justice Ginsburg's opinion in principal part, but also authored his own opinion. Justice Scalia and Justice Thomas subscribe to the position that a judge, in reading and interpreting a statute, should not examine what Congress said in places other than the statutory language, such as in committee reports and floor speeches. Based on that judicial philosophy, Justice Scalia criticized Justice Ginsburg for her “occasional excursions beyond the interpretative terra firma of text and context, into the swamps of legislative history.” Read More ›
Supreme Court Allows Employees of Private Contractors to Bring Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Retaliation Claims
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that may have sweeping implications for whistleblowers and employers. In Lawson v. FMR LLC, the Court decided that the anti-retaliation provision of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 (18 U.S.C. § 1514A) allows an employee to bring a claim even if that employee works for a private contractor or subcontractor of a public company. The Court’s decision could lead to a wide range of Sarbanes-Oxley lawsuits by outside counsel, private accountants, cleaning services, and others.
Lawson was a split decision. Justice Ginsburg, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Breyer, and Justice Kagan, and by Justices Scalia and Thomas “in principal part,” wrote for the majority. Justice Scalia wrote a separate concurrence, joined by Justice Thomas. And in an unusual grouping, Justice Sotomayor authored the dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Alito. Today, we'll tackle Justice Ginsburg's opinion; tomorrow, we'll take a look at what Justices Scalia and Sotomayor had to say.
But first, a little background. Read More ›
Love is in the air as couples celebrate Valentine’s Day with chocolates, flowers and romantic dinners. But there’s no love lost between some employers and their executives, as this week’s Inbox shows:
- BLR.com reports on a fascinating case involving Bruce Kirby, former CEO of Frontier Medex. In a lawsuit in Maryland federal district court, Kirby alleged that he was the beneficiary of a change-in-control severance plan and that Frontier kept him on for over a year solely for the purpose of defeating his severance benefits, even though it told him it was going to terminate him before that. The court ruled that he was not contractually entitled to severance, but could pursue a claim that Frontier interfered with his benefits, violating ERISA.
- Retired Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation attorney Joe Sommer is asking the Ohio Supreme Court to review a decision that limited the application of whistleblower protections in that state. He believes that the Franklin County Court of Appeals overly limited whistleblower claims when it ruled that an employee had to report criminal conduct in order to be protected from retaliation.
- According to Benefits Pro, the EEOC “slammed” CVS over its severance deals in a lawsuit against the company in Illinois federal court. The lawsuit alleges that CVS required employees to sign severance agreements with five pages of small print, some of which bargained away the employees’ rights to communicate to agencies about practices that violated the law. CVS says that nothing in those agreements barred employees from going to the EEOC with complaints.
- Hook ‘em, Mack! Former Texas football coach Mack Brown, who resigned after this season, did get some love from his employer, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports that he will receive $2.75 million that he was owed under his contract in event of termination. He will also get a cushy $500k job this year as special assistant to the president for athletics.
- John O’Brien of Legal News Line reports that a California appellate court will allow a whistleblower’s claim of retaliation under the False Claims Act to be heard in state court. Dr. Scott Driscoll, a radiologist, claims that he was fired for complaining that his employer was committing Medicare fraud. When the employer sued him in state court, Driscoll counterclaimed for FCA violations. The California court decided that it had jurisdiction to hear the claim, rejecting the employer’s argument that federal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over FCA retaliation claims.
Twice as Nice for Employers: Federal Courts of Appeals Affirm Sarbanes-Oxley, Kansas Whistleblower Dismissals
For those of us who follow whistleblower law, Wednesday was a big day – and a good one for employers. In two separate federal appellate decisions, courts affirmed the dismissal of whistleblower actions based on very different issues. For potential whistleblowers and employers alike, the decisions demonstrate yet again the importance of the particular requirements and scope of the law that a whistleblower relies on to support his claim.
The first decision, Villanueva v. Department of Labor, No. 12-60122 (5th Cir. Feb. 12, 2014), comes to us from the Fifth Circuit. It involves William Villanueva, a Colombian national who worked for a Colombian affiliate of Core Labs, a Netherlands company whose stock is publicly traded in the U.S. Villanueva claimed that he blew the whistle on a transfer-pricing scheme by his employer to reduce its Colombian tax burden, and that his employer passed him over for a pay raise and fired him in retaliation for his whistleblowing. Read More ›
Our state and federal courts generally have two levels of courts: trial and appellate courts. The archetypal trial court is the knock-down, drag-out venue of TV drama, where judges issue quick rulings and juries weigh the testimony and documents to make their mysterious decisions. Appellate courts are much more monastic (and thus, much less entertaining for TV’s purposes). There, learned panels of esteemed judges review cold court records and legal tomes, reviewing the parties’ arguments and applying the law in order to reach their thoughtful and detailed decisions.
Appellate courts may not even entertain every argument that a party seeks to make. For the most part, to argue in the appellate court that the trial court made a mistake, a litigant has to “preserve” the error below – meaning that the litigant must give the trial court the opportunity to rule on the issue in the first instance. The failure to preserve error has tripped up many an appeal.
The case of Jeff Gennarelli, the former regional vice president of American Bank and Trust Company (ABT), gives us yet another example of this stumbling block. Read More ›
No, this headline is not a pun about the closed on-ramps to the George Washington Bridge. Rather, it’s meant to acknowledge that as the New Year gets into full swing, folks are starting to ramp up their analysis of ongoing issues in disputes that involve executives and their employers. We’ve seen a number of interesting stories and summaries cross our desk:
- Ben James of Law360 published a thorough recap of the lingering questions about Dodd-Frank’s whistleblower protections. We’ve got one more question: will the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Lawson v. FMR LLC (we covered the oral argument here) affect a whistleblower’s choice between initially pursuing a Dodd-Frank claim in federal court, or filing a Sarbanes-Oxley claim with the Department of Labor? Right now, some courts are putting a narrow construction on who can sue under Dodd-Frank, so if the Lawson Court takes an expansive view of Sarbanes-Oxley, it may give new life to that statute as an appealing option for whistleblowers.
- What’s not ramping up: romance in the home of the new president of Alabama State University. Debra Cassins Weiss of ABA Journal reports that Gwendolyn Boyd, who is single, will not be allowed to “cohabit with a romantic partner in the university residence so long as she is single,” according to her employment contract. Boyd says she has “no issue” with the provision. Sorry, suitors. (Which, by the way, would be a good name for our group of loyal readers.)
Ashwin Dandekar and Emily Hua live in California. They worked for Campbell Alliance, a biopharma consulting group, in California. Yet when Campbell Alliance sued Dandekar and Hua for violating their noncompete and confidentiality agreements, it sued them in federal court in North Carolina. And the judge in New Bern has now denied the employees’ bid to send the case back to California, meaning they will have to litigate 3,000 miles away from home. Campbell Alliance Group, Inc. v. Dandekar, No. 5:13-CV-00415-FL (Jan. 3, 2014). What gives?
A forum selection clause, that’s what. Typically, in federal court, a court has the discretion to transfer a case to any other district where it “might [otherwise] have been brought,” in order to serve “the convenience of the parties [and] the interest of justice.” 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). In making the transfer decision, courts consider the plaintiff’s choice of forum, the residence of the parties, the convenience of parties and witnesses, and other factors that involve whether it’s easier and makes more sense to litigate a case in one location over another. But when there’s a forum selection clause – i.e., a provision in a contract that says a lawsuit over it shall be brought in a particular state – that clause can be a significant factor in the transfer analysis. Indeed, in a decision one month ago, the Supreme Court confirmed that forum-selection clauses should typically decide the issue of which federal court should hear a case. Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for the Dist. of Texas, No. 12-929 (Dec. 3, 2013). Read More ›
Michigan Prof Gave Up Privilege Over Communications With His Attorney When He Gave Up His Hard Drive, Martoma Court Rules
Picture an employee who finds himself in legal trouble or has a dispute with his employer, and hires a personal attorney to work through the issue. The employee might think that his communications with his attorneys are privileged and immune from discovery in litigation. But what if the employee uses his work computer to store those communications, and then hands over his computer to his employer upon resignation? How does that affect the privilege?
A recent ruling from Judge Gardephe of the U.S. Southern District of New York answers this question in a way that employees in this situation won’t like. The ruling involves the ongoing trial of Mathew Martoma of SAC Capital Advisors for alleged insider trading. (For press coverage of the trial, see CNN and the New York Times.) A key witness against Martoma will be Sidney Gilman, a former professor at the University of Michigan who says that he provided tips to Martoma about a failing drug trial. In advance of trial, Martoma’s lawyers asked the court to order Gilman to produce his attorneys’ work product. They argued that Gilman had knowingly waived any privilege over that work product because it was stored on hard drives that Gilman returned to the University when he resigned.
The court sided with Martoma and against Gilman and the U.S. government, which joined Gilman in arguing against disclosure. Judge Gardephe ruled that at the time Gilman returned his hard drives, he was in an “adversarial posture” with the University because it had announced that it was investigating his activities. By “returning electronic devices” to his adversary that “contained alleged work product material, Dr. Gilman waived whatever work product protection might otherwise exist with respect to the materials stored on these devices.” Gilman argued that his disclosure was involuntary because he was pressured to return the devices or lose his pension benefits. But Judge Gardephe disagreed, writing that “pressure is not sufficient to demonstrate that production is involuntary.” Rather, production through “compulsory legal process” is required in order to show that a disclosure was involuntary and not a waiver. Read More ›
This past holiday week, many moviegoers took in The Wolf of Wall Street, which is the latest glamorization of Wall Street misdeeds to hit the big screen. Of course, the most famous moment from a financial flick is still Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good” speech in 1987’s Wall Street.
Greed isn’t always good, as Joseph F. “Skip” Skowron III, a former portfolio manager for Morgan Stanley, could probably tell you. Skowron’s admitted misconduct has cost him not only his freedom, but also $31,067,356.76 that he must pay back to his employer. Morgan Stanley v. Skowron, No. 12 Civ. 8016(SAS), 2013 WL 6704884 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2013).
The big judgment arises from Skowron’s August 2011 plea agreement with the government, in which he admitted that he participated in a three-year insider trading conspiracy. As news reports described, Skowron used insider tips from a French doctor to avoid losses in hedge funds he managed, and then lied to the SEC about the tips. The judge in Skowron’s criminal case sentenced him to five years in jail, and ordered him to pay restitution to Morgan Stanley of 20% of his compensation over the time of the conspiracy.
Morgan Stanley then sued him to recoup the rest. In that lawsuit, it moved for summary judgment based on New York’s “faithless servant” doctrine. Under that doctrine, if an employer can show that an employee was disloyal – either because he engaged in “conduct and unfaithfulness” that “permeate[d] [his] service in its most material and substantial part, or because he breached “a duty of loyalty or good faith” – it can recover all of the compensation that the employee was paid during the period of disloyalty. Phansalkar v. Andersen Weinroth & Co., 344 F. 3d 184 (2d Cir. 2003). Read More ›