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- Visions of an Improper Noncompete Provision: Texas Court Rejects LASIK Clinic’s Injunction Request Against Former Doctor
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Showing 11 posts in Motions to Dismiss.
On Tuesday, November 12, the Supreme Court will hear argument in the most-watched case of this Term (at least for those of us who edit this blog). The case, Lawson v. FMR LLC, presents the question of whether an employee of a privately-held contractor of a public company can bring a whistleblower retaliation claim against his or her employer under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002. The plaintiffs in the case, and the parties who have appealed to the Supreme Court, are Jackie Lawson and Jonathan Zang.
In their lawsuit, Lawson and Zang claim that their employers – a group of privately-owned Fidelity subsidiaries that serve as “investment advisers” to publicly-held Fidelity mutual funds – retaliated against them for raising concerns about fraud. Here’s a handy chart from Fidelity’s brief that illustrates the relationship between the parties:
The First Circuit dismissed Lawson and Zang's claims, holding that Sarbanes-Oxley’s anti-retaliation provision only protects employees of public companies. Because Lawson and Zang worked on the blue side of the chart, and not the yellow side, they couldn’t bring a claim for retaliation. (The mutual funds on the yellow side have no employees; they do their business through their contractors on the blue side.)
What do Lawson and Zang argue?
The parties spend a lot of time parsing the language of the Sarbanes-Oxley anti-retaliation provision (18 U.S.C. § 1514A). In their opening and reply briefs, Lawson and Zang argue that the plain text of the law shows that Congress intended to shield employees of contractors of public companies from retaliation for reporting corporate misconduct. If Congress didn’t mean to protect those employees, they say, it wouldn’t have prohibited retaliation by “any officer, employee, contractor, subcontractor, or agent” of “such [public] company.” Under Fidelity’s reading of this provision, the language about contractors would only come into play if a contractor retaliated against a public company employee, and because that doesn’t happen in the real world, the use of the term “contractor [or] subcontractor” would be meaningless. Read More ›
A judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York ruled Monday that the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower protection provision does not protect an employee in China who was allegedly fired for raising concerns about corruption. Judge William H. Pauley III found “no indication” that Congress wanted Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision to apply extraterritorially, and as a result invoked the “strong presumption” against the international application of U.S. laws. Liu v. Siemens A.G., No. 13 Civ. 317 (WHP) (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 2013).
The plaintiff in the case, Meng-Lin Liu, is a Taiwanese resident who worked as a compliance officer for Siemens China. Liu alleged that he was fired after giving a speech, attended by the Siemens China CEO, in which he claimed that Siemens would lose 30% of its business if it started following its compliance guidelines. Two months after his firing, Liu reported to the SEC that Siemens had violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA). He then brought his suit for whistleblower retaliation, asserting that although Siemens is a German company, it has listed American depository receipts on the New York Stock Exchange. Read More ›
Federal Judge Upholds Jurisdiction Based on Employer’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) Claim Against Former Employee
In a decision last week, Judge Ewing Werlein Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas addressed the question of whether an employer had successfully alleged a claim under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), such that the employer could properly bring its numerous claims against former employees and their companies in federal court. He ruled that the employer had properly pleaded the CFAA claim, and that as a result, the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the case. Beta Technology, Inc. v. Meyers, Civ. No. H-13-1282, 2013 WL 5602930 (S.D. Tex. Oct. 10, 2013).
Before we get into the substance of the decision, some background is in order. Subject matter jurisdiction is an important issue for federal judges. If there’s no basis for subject matter jurisdiction, a case doesn’t belong in federal court. First-year civil procedure students learn this rule from the venerable decision in Capron v. Van Noorden, in which the Supreme Court allowed a plaintiff to obtain reversal of a final judgment because he hadn’t properly alleged that the court below had subject matter jurisdiction over his claim.
The two main categories for federal jurisdiction in non-criminal cases are diversity jurisdiction and federal question jurisdiction. Diversity jurisdiction, as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 1332, permits the federal courts to hear disputes between citizens of different states – i.e., “diverse” citizens – so long as more than $75,000 is at stake. Federal question jurisdiction, which is defined in 28 U.S.C. § 1331, allows the federal courts to address “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” And under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, once the court has jurisdiction to hear one claim, it can hear any other claims that form “part of the same case or controversy,” even when those claims drag additional parties into the mix. Read More ›
Virginia Supreme Court Last Week: Courts Should Not Rule on Non-Compete's Enforceability in a Factual Vacuum
Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed a trial court’s ruling that a non-compete agreement was unenforceable on its face as a matter of law. The VSC held that the trial court should not have decided the enforceability of the agreement on a demurrer (more about what that means below) because, in Virginia, whether a non-compete is enforceable (or valid) turns on whether it is “reasonable under the particular circumstances of the case” – that is, whether it is “narrowly drawn to protect the employer’s legitimate business interest, is not unduly burdensome on the employee’s ability to earn a living, and is not against public policy.” According to the VSC, this means that the particular circumstances of the case matter, and that the enforceability of a non-compete should not be decided “in a factual vacuum.” Read More ›
A recent decision by a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, illustrates an important point about the trade secrets laws that is often missed: you can be liable even if you merely took your former company’s trade secrets (such as by downloading them onto your thumb drive) but did not use them or disclose them to anyone else. That’s what a company executive in the Alexandria case allegedly did, and the court allowed her former employer’s claim that she violated the Virginia Uniform Trade Secrets Act (the VUTSA) (which parallels many states’ trade secrets laws) to go forward. Read More ›
Paula Deen Ruling Reminds Us: Title VII Protects White Employees Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Association with Black Employees
Last week, a federal court in Georgia dismissed Lisa T. Jackson’s race-based discrimination claim against Paula Deen, her brother Earl “Bubba” Heirs, and their restaurant businesses. Earlier events in the Jackson v. Deen case – including Deen’s deposition testimony and what it may mean for alter ego liability – caught our attention at Suits by Suits. This recent ruling interests us as a reminder that it is not always the case that a white employee who works in an environment that is hostile to blacks has no claim for damages against her employer for race-based discrimination. Read More ›
It’s unseasonably cool here in Washington, DC, where most of our Suits by Suits editors toil. News about the latest in disputes between employers and executives, however, is always in season. Here are the latest headlines:
- Ruth Simon and Angus Loten of the Wall Street Journal brought us this excellent take on the rising tide of non-compete litigation. According to Simon and Loten, non-compete agreements are spreading beyond the executive ranks to sales representatives, engineers, and researchers. For more, check out our ongoing State-by-State Smackdown series on the changing law of non-competes in various states (here, here, here . . . and here).
- A conference call hosted by AOL’s chief exec Tim Armstrong took an unpleasant turn when Armstrong fired – on the spot – Abel Lenz, an employee who was videotaping the call. The New York Times reported that Armstrong later admitted that he made a “mistake” in the hasty firing, which was broadcast to a thousand employees. Lenz’s photos of his last moments at AOL later surfaced online at jimromenesko.com.
- The Third Circuit upheld a decision by the Luzerne County (PA) Retirement Board to terminate the benefits it was paying to a former county clerk, William Brace, based on Brace’s guilty plea to a bribery charge. Brace claimed that the termination violated his constitutional rights, but the court disagreed, holding that Brace was not entitled to a hearing before the decision. Brace’s crime appears to have been the acceptance of a $1,500 tailor-made suit from a county contractor, which puts this case in the unique category of Suits by Suits over Suits.
- Matt Reynolds of Courthouse News Service reported that IMAX has sued a competitor for trade secret misappropriation. IMAX’s complaint alleges that Gary Tsui, a former IMAX employee, sold its 2-D and 3-D conversion technology to the competitor, GDC Technology USA, which is now using the secrets to compete with IMAX. It calls Tsui an “international fugitive.” Sounds like this case may be exciting enough for the big screen.
- A former U.S. Bank manager, Serge Adamov, has successfully appealed the dismissal of his claim that he was terminated in retaliation for complaints of discrimination based on his Azerbaijani origin. The Sixth Circuit held that when an employee does not exhaust his remedies in the Department of Labor before bringing suit in federal court, that failure does not deprive a district court of jurisdiction over the case. As a result, because the bank did not raise a failure to exhaust as part of its motion to dismiss Adamov’s suit, the district court could not raise it on its own as a ground to get rid of the claim.
This week in suits by suits:
- St. Louis-based Reliance Bank founder Jerry Von Rohr sued the bank for more than $400,000 in back pay and benefits, seeking a declaratory judgment that the bank is not prohibited from paying his severance package under the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), which otherwise limits payments of so-called "golden parachutes."
- Maximillian Coreth, former managing director for Lehman Brothers, appealed a bankruptcy court's dismissal of his $19.6 million breach of contract lawsuit against Barlcays Capital Inc. to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit. Coreth is arguing that Barclays assumed the obligations under his employment contract with Lehman Brothers when Barclays purchased Lehman Brothers in September of 2008. Barclays successfully argued to the bankruptcy court and the U.S. district court that its Asset Purchase Agreement did not grant third-party beneficiaries any rights. We'll discuss this case (and these important issues) in depth in the coming days.
- A federal district court judge split the baby in a lawsuit brought by former Detective William Hawkins against the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, upholding the Department's general policy regarding its employees' disclosures of information to the media under the First Amendment, but found that the policy was unconstitutional as applied to Hawkins when he was disciplined for speaking to the Washington Post in 2009.
- A Texas state appellate court held that the architectural firm Nortex Foundation Designs, Inc. of Fort Worth, Texas wrongfully terminated a draftsman, Adam Young, who objected to copying designs that he felt infringed upon others' copyrights, holding that Young could not be fired for refusing to follow orders for which he had a "good faith belief" to be criminal.
- In a pair of excellent articles we think will be of interest to many of our readers, the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation (1) tackled the critical question: "How Costly Is Corporate Bankruptcy for Top Executives?" and (2) hosted a survey piece by Richard J. Sandler, a partner at Davis Polk, entitled "Recent Developments in Executive Compensation Litigation." Both are well worth a read.
- A former schoolteacher, Teresa Kemmer, has sued the Cumberland, Tennessee County Board of Education in federal court, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Ms. Kemmer's complaint alleges, among other things, that after she reported the alleged harassment to her supervisor, she requested to transfer schools but was told "that if she wanted a job she needed to stay where she was."
- Finally, here's one that's just bizarre. In October of 2012, Oxbow Carbon executive Kirby Martensen filed a federal lawsuit against his former employer billionaire William Koch; he's supposedly the "quiet" one, unlike his more high-profile brothers Charles and David (although William donated $2 million to a Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney's "Restore Our Future" SuperPAC in 2012). Martensen's lawsuit alleges that Koch kidnapped him, imprisoned him at Bear Ranch in Aspen, Colorado, and interrogated him in the company of a Gunnison County deputy allegedly on hand to "make sure he didn't run away." Koch is back in the news after having filed a motion to dismiss in mid-January of this year; Martensen says that local police officers support his version of events. You can bet we'll continue to monitor this case.
For a baseball player, batting .100 won’t get you into the Hall of Fame. But for Rosanne Ott, a former Black Hawk helicopter pilot turned portfolio manager, batting .100 kept her case alive. See Ott v. Fred Alger Mgmt., Inc., No. 11 Civ. 4418 (LAP) (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 27, 2012).
Ott sued her former employer Fred Alger Management (“Alger”), associated companies, and Alger’s CEO/CIO for alleged violations of the Investment Advisors Act, breach of contract, and the Dodd-Frank Act’s whistleblower provisions. She also filed a derivative claim against the CEO/CIO on behalf of Alger’s shareholders for breach of fiduciary duty. In her 10-count, 65-page amended complaint, Ott alleged that Alger had adopted a trading policy for her fund (the Health Sciences Fund) that allowed other Alger funds to make better trades at her fund’s expense.
Alger and the other defendants moved to dismiss. For four counts, Ott didn’t respond, and for five others, the district court decided that she had not adequately alleged supporting facts. That left only her whistleblower claim, based on the anti-retaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, 15 U.S.C. § 78u-6(h)(1)(A)(i). (Say that cite three times fast.) Read More ›
This week in suits by suits and other related items of interest:
- The EEOC has brought a lawsuit against Pace Solano -- a firm that provides services to disabled adults -- on behalf of a woman who claims that her hiring offer was rescinded after Pace Solano learned that she has partial paralysis in one of her hands.
- Four former sales representatives have brought a federal class action lawsuit against New York-based drug manufacturer Forest Laboratories, Inc., seeking more than $100 million in damages. The lawsuit alleges that Forest Labs engaged in pervasive sexual discrimination against women, denying female employees -- particularly those who became pregnant or had young children at home -- the same pay, bonuses, and promotions as its male employees.
- Mary Ruotolo, the former executive director of a New York chapter of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, has sued her former employer under a New Jersey state whistleblower statute, alleging retaliatory termination after she began raising concerns about her chapter's financial condition. Ms. Ruotolo's suit also alleges fraudulent inducement in connection with her hiring.
- In a case we continue to monitor, Law360 (membership required) reports that two former ArthroCare Corp. executives moved to dismiss a lawsuit by the SEC demanding repayment of bonuses and stock profits under section 304 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, arguing that the SEC's interpretation -- which would seek to clawback bonuses from executives even where those individuals have not been specifically charged with any wrongdoing -- would violate constitutional principles of fairness and due process. A separate motion sought to declare Section 304 "void for vagueness."
- Law360 also reports that the trustee overseeing the Radar Networks, Inc. bankruptcy has reached a stipulation permitting a lawsuit to go forward against outgoing Yahoo, Inc. CEO Ross Levinsohn -- a former Radar director -- and other former Radar insiders, alleging fraud and conversion of approximately $3 million in Radar assets. The trustee concluded that permitting the lawsuit would be "in the best interests of the estate" and recommended approval by the bankruptcy court. Levinsohn replaced Scott Thompson as CEO of Yahoo! after Thompson was forced to resign amidst allegations of resume padding, as we discussed previously.
- Speaking of Yahoo!, Elizabeth Dilts of Law.com's Corporation Counsel has written an interesting article discussing non-compete agreements in light of Marissa Mayer's recent decision to leave Google, Inc. to become CEO at Yahoo! (following Levinsohn and Thompson). Yahoo! is, of course, one of Google's chief competitors.