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- You’re In the Zone… Of A Massive Punitive Damages Verdict for a Pregnant Manager
- The Inbox - Love Me Tinder
- Fired for Taking the Fifth: Part 1 – The Private Sector Employee
- Can A Whistleblower Break the “Law” to Blow the Whistle?
- Complaint Provides Further Details About Former CFO’s Defamation Suit Against Walgreen
- This Year’s Scariest Posts on Executive Disputes
- Employee Wins Cross-Country Wage War Against CEO
- The Supreme Court’s Recent Decision on the Taxation of Severance Payments
- The Inbox - What Would Woody Guthrie Think?
- A Closer Look At The Defamation Suit By Walgreen’s Former Finance Chief
- "Key Man" Provisions
- After-Acquired Evidence
- Age Discrimination
- Arbitration and ADR
- Breach of Contract
- Change-in-Control Provisions
- Civil Litigation
- Dodd-Frank Act
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- Government Employers and Employees
- Monthly Roundup
- Motions to Dismiss
- Noncompete Agreements
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- Sarbanes-Oxley Act
- Section 1983
- Severance Agreements
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- The Basics
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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
Showing 56 posts in Civil Litigation.
On Monday, AutoZone found itself on the wrong end of a $185 million verdict in favor of a former store manager, Rosario Juarez. Yes, you read that right. $185 million. This stunning verdict appears to have been the result of Juarez’s allegations of discrimination and retaliatory discharge, combined with an insider turned witness who provided extremely damaging testimony against the auto parts retailer.
In her complaint, Juarez alleged that AutoZone had a “glass ceiling” for women employees, which it kept in place through a hidden promotion process where open positions were not posted. According to Juarez, she succeeded in cracking the glass ceiling, securing a store manager position, but when she became pregnant, she was treated differently by her district manager. After giving birth, she complained about the unfair treatment and was soon demoted by the manager, who told her that she could not be a mother and handle her job. Later, she was terminated as the result of a loss prevention inquiry, in which she refused to participate in a “Q&A” statement about a theft at the store. Juarez alleged that the loss prevention department’s request for a statement was a pretext to fire her.
We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog discussing allegations of pregnancy discrimination like these (see, for example, here, here and here). The short of it is that a company can’t treat pregnant women, or women who have given birth, differently than it treats other employees. But we’ve never covered a verdict for pregnancy discrimination that looked more like a Powerball win than a litigation result. Read More ›
A whistleblower generally shouldn’t break the law in order to prove his claims. Indeed, the Whistleblowers Protection Blog says that this is a “basic rule,” and cautions that an employee who breaks the law while whistleblowing in order to get evidence will suffer from attacks on his credibility and may even be referred for criminal prosecution. However, the parameters of this rule aren’t always so easy to follow, as the Supreme Court heard last week in the case of Department of Homeland Security v. MacLean.
The MacLean case arose from a warning and text message. In July 2003, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) warned MacLean, a former air marshal, and his colleagues about a potential plot to hijack U.S. airliners. Soon after, however, the TSA sent the marshals an unencrypted text message, canceling all missions on overnight flights from Las Vegas. MacLean was concerned about this reduction in security, and eventually told MSNBC about it. The TSA then issued an order stating that the text message was sensitive security information (SSI). When it found out that MacLean was the one who disclosed the message to MSNBC, it fired him.
MacLean didn’t take this while reclining; he challenged his dismissal before the Merit Systems Protection Board. But he lost. The Board decided that TSA didn’t violate the federal Whistleblower Protection Act by firing MacLean for his disclosure, because MacLean’s disclosure violated a TSA regulation that prohibited employees from publicly disclosing SSI. Read More ›
When we first examined Wade Miquelon’s suit against his former employer, Walgreen, we didn’t have access to his complaint. Now we do. The complaint sheds more light on Miquelon’s allegations, helping to explain why they are causing a spiral of problems for the drug company.
As you may recall from our last article on the case, Miquelon alleges that Walgreen defamed him (in layman’s terms, lied) when it told the Wall Street Journal and investors that he had botched the earnings forecast for the 2014 fiscal year, and that his finance unit was “weak” with “lax controls.” According to Miquelon’s complaint, Walgreen executives made these negative statements for an entirely different reason: they had an “unchecked desire” to push Walgreen’s merger with Alliance Boots to completion. Miquelon alleges that an activist investor had threatened him for being “too conservative,” and that rather than standing up for him, the company’s CEO and its largest shareholder decided to disparage him in order to “deflect investor disappointment” and push through the merger.
Miquelon’s complaint is also somewhat of a public relations document, because it praises his work and goes into his interactions with the CEO and shareholder in great detail. It even says that Miquelon was next in line to be CEO (although the complaint also says he turned down that chance, instead deciding to move on). As to the allegedly botched earnings forecast, the complaint says that Miquelon recognized the problem well in advance of the call in which the company announced it was withdrawing its earnings goal. It also says that he was pressured at the same time by the company’s CEO to raise his estimate of earnings per share that would result from the Alliance Boots merger. The most explosive allegation on this front is that the CEO told him that he had “no choice” but to approve a $6.00 earnings per share estimate, rather than a lower one that would hurt the merger. Read More ›
In honor of Halloween, we are looking over our shoulder at some of the most frightening news that we have brought to you this year on Suits by Suits:
- Earlier this week, we told you the tale of a CEO who was hauled into court thousands of miles away and slapped with an employee’s wage bill. That’s the kind of stuff executive nightmares are made of.
- Bonfires are part of what makes Halloween special. Unless they involve torching a laptop, destroying evidence, and getting hit with an adverse inference for spoliation at trial, which is what happened to one unhappy executive.
- The SEC announced its presence as a boogeyman for employers who punish whistleblowers, filing its first Dodd-Frank anti-retaliation action against one company and ordering a $30 million bounty for another employee.
- Terror babies are scary, as anyone who’s seen Rosemary, Chucky, and Damien on screen knows. Now, we have more terror babies to add to the mix, thanks to the bizarre saga of Rep. Louis Gohmert and fired Texas art director Christian Cutler.
- Ever been lost in a hall of mirrors? Just think how confused this executive was, after her employer told her that she wasn’t releasing her claims for a shareholder payment and then defeated those same claims based on … her release.
- And perhaps the scariest story of all: the company that lost a non-compete dispute and then had to pay $200,000 of its opponent’s legal fees. That’s like finding a razor blade in your Mounds bar.
The Supreme Court of Washington’s recent decision in Failla v. FixtureOne Corporation is noteworthy on two levels.
First, it involved the surprising claim by a salesperson, Kristine Failla, that the CEO of her employer (FixtureOne) was personally liable for failing to pay her sales commissions. Typically, if an employee had a claim for unpaid commissions, you’d expect the employee to assert that claim against her company, not the chief. But under the wage laws of the state of Washington, an employee has a cause of action against “[a]ny employer or officer, vice principal or agent of any employer ... who ... [w]ilfully and with intent to deprive the employee of any part of his or her wages, [pays] any employee a lower wage than the wage such employer is obligated to pay such employee by any statute, ordinance, or contract.” Read More ›
Today, we discuss taxes – specifically, the taxation of severance payments. It has long been recognized that severance payments are “income” to an employee, and that employers must withhold federal income taxes from the payments. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court made clear that severance payments also are “wages” subject to FICA taxes, and that an employer must withhold FICA taxes as well. The case, United States v. Quality Stores, 134 S. Ct. 1395 (2014), resolved a split among two federal appellate courts that had led many employers to seek a refund of the employer share of FICA taxes paid to the IRS on severance payments.
FICA is the federal payroll tax on wages that funds Social Security and Medicare. The tax is paid by both employers and employees. Each pays 7.65% on the first $106,800 of the employee’s annual wages and then 1.45% on amounts exceeding that threshold. Employees never see their share of the tax – employers are required to withhold and pay the employee’s share to the IRS.
In the 2008 case of CSX Corporation v. United States, 518 F.3d 1328, the Federal Circuit agreed with the IRS that a form of severance called supplemental unemployment compensation benefits (or SUB payments) falls within the broad definition of “wages” subject to FICA taxes. But several years later in Quality Stores, the Sixth Circuit reached the opposite conclusion, holding that SUB payments are not wages subject to FICA taxes. 693 F.3d 605 (2012). The court reasoned that because section 3402(o)(1) of the Internal Revenue Code states that SUB payments shall be treated “as if” they are wages for income-tax withholding, they are not in fact wages. Read More ›
The news hasn’t been great for Walgreen Co. over the past couple of months. According to the Wall Street Journal, in early July, chief financial officer Wade Miquelon slashed his forecast for pharmacy unit earnings to $7.4 billion from $8.5 billion. Miquelon left the company in early August. Shortly thereafter, the Journal ran an article stating that Miquelon’s “billion-dollar forecasting error” had cost Miquelon his job and alarmed Walgreen’s big investors.
Now, Walgreen is fighting a battle on another front – against Miquelon. Last week, Miquelon sued Walgreen in state court in Illinois, alleging that the company, its CEO, and its largest shareholder had defamed him. According to Miquelon, the company’s big investors were told that Walgreen’s finance department was “weak” and had “lax controls.”
The four things that a defamation plaintiff must typically prove to prevail are: (1) the defendant made a false statement about him; (2) the statement was published, i.e., made, to one or more other persons; (3) the defendant was at least negligent in making the statement; and (4) the publication damaged the plaintiff. Thus, if Walgreen and the other defendants can show that any harmful statements they made about Miquelon were true, they stand a good chance of defeating his claims. On the other hand, as we covered in this article, if Miquelon can prove that the defendants engaged in a “premeditated scheme” to do him harm by falsely criticizing his performance, he might be able to recover a substantial verdict. Read More ›
Judge Approves $20 Million in Executive Bonuses From Bankrupt Company, Finding That Incentives Weren't "Lay-ups"
A bankruptcy can be hazardous to the health of an executive’s bonus check. Sometimes, however, an executive can survive an attack on a bonus in a bankruptcy, and come out clean on the other side. For example, we covered here how one executive succeeded in keeping most of his incentive payments based on the timing of those payments.
Now, we have another lesson in how executives can keep their bonus checks despite a bankruptcy, from Judge Christopher S. Sontchi of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware. The company at issue in the case was Energy Future Holdings Corp. (EFH), a holding company with a portfolio of Texas electricity retailers. EFH filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April of this year. Read More ›
Government Investigations: The Treacherous Path to Obtaining (and Keeping!) Defense Costs Paid Under D&O Policies
For my first foray into blog-writing, allow me to tell a cautionary tale intersecting two of my favorite topics: defending companies and individuals in government investigations and Directors and Officers (D&O) Liability Coverage. As a contract junkie who enjoys reading, interpreting, and arguing contract language, parsing through various interrelated D&O policy provisions to glean favorable language for my white collar clients offers hours of amusement (lest ye be worried about me, I do have other hobbies). D&O policies can be effectively used to defray defense costs incurred due to a government investigation. The trick is keeping the money.
The recent suit between Protection Strategies, Inc. (PSI) and Starr Indemnity & Liability Co. in the Eastern District of Virginia, case 1:13-cv-00763-LO-IDD, illustrates how difficult keeping the money can be. PSI is an Arlington, Va.-based defense contractor. In January 2012, PSI received a subpoena from the NASA Office of the Inspector General and a search warrant issued by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. On February 1, 2012, the NASA OIG executed the search warrant at PSI’s headquarters. In addition to the company itself, several of PSI’s current and former officers were informed that they were also targets of the NASA OIG investigation. PSI retained Dickstein Shapiro to represent it and hired separate counsel to represent the individual targets and other company employees. Read More ›
Last week, we covered the Third Circuit’s decision that Goldman Sachs bylaws didn’t clearly establish a vice president’s right to advancement of his legal fees for his criminal travails. The vice president, software programmer Sergey Aleynikov, isn’t giving up easily, however.
Law360 reports that Aleynikov has filed a petition for panel rehearing or rehearing en banc. In the federal appellate courts, this is a step that parties can take when they disagree with the decision of the three-judge panel that heard their case. In a panel rehearing, the panel can revisit and vacate its original decision; in a rehearing en banc, the entire Third Circuit could consider the issue.
Aleynikov contends in his petition that the panel misapplied a doctrine of contractual interpretation called contra proferentem. In plain English, contra proferentem means that a court will read the written words of a contract against the party that drafted it. The panel in Aleynikov’s case disagreed as to whether under Delaware law (which governs his dispute), the doctrine can be used to determine whether a person has any rights under a contract. The two-judge majority said that it can’t, and therefore refused to use the doctrine when it decided whether Aleynikov – as a Goldman vice-president – fell within the definition of an “officer” entitled to advancement under the company’s bylaws. In dissent, Judge Fuentes asserted that “Delaware has never suggested that there is an exception to its contra proferentem rule where the ambiguity concerns whether a plaintiff is a party to or beneficiary of a contract.”
In his petition, Aleynikov asks the whole Third Circuit to decide who is right: Judge Fuentes or the majority. He also cites additional Delaware cases that he says support his position, including one “unreported case” that was brought to his counsel’s attention “unbidden by a member of the Delaware bar who read an article commenting on the panel’s decision in The New York Times on Sunday, September 7, 2014.” Sometimes, to establish a right to advancement rights, it takes a village.