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Showing 23 posts in Summary Judgment.

Employee Wins Cross-Country Wage War Against CEO

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 ›

Goldman Sachs Programmer Asks Third Circuit to Take Another Look at Advancement Case

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.

An Officer or a Vice President: Goldman Sachs Programmer Must Prove Advancement Case to Jury After Appellate Ruling

Computer programmer with code in backgroundThe case of Sergey Aleynikov, a former vice president at Goldman Sachs, has drawn a lot of media attention, including these prior posts here at Suits by Suits. Aleynikov was arrested and jailed for allegedly taking programming code from Goldman Sachs that he had helped create at the firm. His story even inspired parts of Michael Lewis’s book Flash Boys. A federal jury convicted him of economic espionage and theft, but the Second Circuit reversed his conviction, holding that his conduct did not violate federal law. Now, Aleynikov is under indictment by a state grand jury in New York.

Unsurprisingly, Aleynikov wants someone else to pay his legal bills – Goldman Sachs. And it is no surprise that Goldman, which accused him of stealing and had him arrested, doesn’t want to bear the cost of his defense. In 2012, Aleynikov sued Goldman in New Jersey federal court for indemnification and advancement of his legal fees, along with his “fees on fees” for the lawsuit to enforce his claimed right to fees. As we discussed in this post, indemnification means reimbursing fees after they are incurred, and advancement means paying the fees in advance. Advancement is particularly important for those employees who cannot float an expensive legal defense on their own dime. Read More ›

Release of Claims Means Exactly What It Says – Even When It Doesn’t

Image of General Release FormIf you’re confused by this headline, you’re not alone.  But you can’t be as confused as Debourah Mattatall must be after losing her lawsuit against her former employer, Transdermal Corporation.

The origin of Mattatall’s lawsuit, appropriately enough, was another lawsuit.  Mattatall used to own a company called DPM Therapeutics Corporation.  DPM’s minority shareholders sued her to prevent her from selling the company to Transdermal.  She went ahead with the sale anyway, and signed a Stock Purchase Agreement and Employment Agreement with Transdermal.  According to Mattatall, Transdermal didn’t fulfill its obligations under those deals, citing a lack of funds.

After Mattatall’s sale to Transdermal was final, Transdermal brought its own suit against the DPM minority shareholders.  All parties, including Mattatall, eventually settled the two shareholder cases.  Before agreeing to the settlement, Mattatall complained about the money that she was owed under the Stock Purchase Agreement and Employment Agreement.  Transdermal’s counsel assured her that her claims were “wholly extraneous” and she would be “free to pursue” her claims against Transdermal. 

In the written settlement, however, everyone released the claims that they “had, has or hereafter may have” against any other party.  Thus, even though Transdermal hadn’t sued Mattatall, according to the language of the release, she was giving up her claims against it.  The settlement also included a “merger clause,” under which all prior understandings were “merged” and “supersede[d].” Read More ›

E-mailing Work Documents to Your Personal Account Looks Fishy, Says NY ‎Appeals Court in New Non-Compete Opinion

Non-lawyers often wonder why folks in our profession spend so much time and money poring over the documents and e-mails each side usually has to produce in litigation.  Sometimes, these document reviews are the legal equivalent of looking for the proverbial needle in a haystack.

And sometimes, you find the proverbial needle – or needles.  And when you do, and the success or failure of the case turns on that e-mail, or set of e-mails, then the time and money spent on the search for those things turns out to have been a wise and necessary investment. 

Take the case of TBA Global, LLC v. Proscenium Events, LLCTBA is an event planning company that “produces live event programs and marketing presentations for companies and branded products.”  In the course of its work, it hired three senior employees – Santoro, Shearon, and Cavanaugh.  While the exact terms of their agreements differ from each other, all three signed non-compete agreements with TBA that provided that if they ever left the company, they would not “directly or indirectly, communicate with clients or prospective clients” of the company for a period of time (one year for two of the executives, and two years for the other).   Read More ›

Morgan Stanley Socks “Faithless Servant” With $31 Million Judgment

Butler and Silver ServiceThis 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 ›

Sniff, Sniff: The Pungent Odor Of Sexual Harassment?

Ah, the smells of the holiday season: fresh-cut evergreen trees, just-baked cookies and other goodies, bowls of tasty fruit punch.  Take a deep whiff wherever you are.  Breathe it in deep. 

But be careful about sniffing those smells, though. 

That is the apparent lesson from the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision in Tonia Royal’s retaliation lawsuit against her employer, an apartment management company named CCC&R Tres Arboles.  The appellate court held that the trial court incorrectly gave the apartment company summary judgment, because too many material facts about the basis for Ms. Royal’s firing were in dispute.  And many of those facts relate to the behavior of other CCC&R employees, who Ms. Royal alleged sexually harassed her by sniffing her in a rather curious and uncomfortable manner.   Read More ›

The Inbox – December Rain Edition

Weather gurus are predicting snow, sleet, and rain for our area over the weekend.  Although my kids are hoping for the white fluffy stuff, this amateur prognosticator is predicting a downpour.  In keeping with this theme, the week’s biggest employment news is Robinson Cano’s $240 million deal with the Seattle Mariners (who are well accustomed to rainy skies).  But our sights here at Suits by Suits are on matters a little less lucrative:

  • You still have a chance to win free admission to our Dec. 10 webinar, “Whistleblower Watch: Big Issues in the Latest Whistleblower Cases Under Dodd-Frank, Sarbanes-Oxley, and the Internal Revenue Code.”  For more details on this prize, click here.
  • The First Circuit affirmed a summary judgment ruling in favor of Strine Printing Company against a former sales representative who claimed that his firing resulted in an “oleaginous mass of perceived wrongs.”  The decision addresses a number of employment-related claims, including unjust enrichment, breach of an implied or express employment contract, and misrepresentation.
  • We’ve previously covered the exploits of Larry Conners.  Despite his year-long non-compete agreement, the St. Louis newsman is headed back to TV – as a pitchman.  He’ll be a spokesman for John Beal Roofing.
  • Jeff Green of Bloomberg Businessweek brought us the latest trend in executive hiring – the “golden hello.”  These are multi-million dollar signing bonuses designed to entice new candidates to join the team.  Among them: the $45 million that Zynga paid to entice an industry vet, Don Mattrick.  Some are skeptical of the arrangements, noting that they don’t correlate with successful performance.
  • A Louisiana appellate court has affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit by former professors at Louisiana College, writes Charles Huckabee of the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The professors claimed that they should have been able to use certain books in teaching classes on religion and values, which were prohibited by the college’s administration.  The court refused to intervene on the ground that it was a religious dispute not proper for court involvement.
  • Dominic Patton of Deadline Hollywood covered Jeff Kwatinetz’s suit against Prospect Park.  The producer and talent manager wants a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to decide whether a noncompete provision in his agreement with Prospect Park can permissibly bar him from competing for five years.   

It Was The Added "0" That Did It -- Among Other Things

Here's a tip that applies when you're negotiating any contract, although in this case we learn it from a negotiation over a severance contract: it's a rather bad idea to make a material change - like, perhaps, increasing the severance payment from 14 weeks of pay to 104 weeks - and then have the other side sign it, without telling them you inserted that change in their draft.

That tip comes from the Sixth Circuit's decision last week in St. Louis Produce Market v. Hughes. Two other helpful tips come from this case.  One, for executives seeking to claim under a severance agreement, is to return any of the company's property if it's a condition precedent to obtaining your severance benefit.  The other, for those people and their lawyers, is to not willfully disobey the court's discovery orders if you're litigating over the severance agreement.  Read More ›

Cough Syrup Manufacturer Suffers Bad-Tasting Appellate Defeat

Cough SyrupWhen Yu-Hsing Tu worked at pharmaceutical company UCB Manufacturing, he signed a strict confidentiality agreement.  In the agreement, Tu promised that he would never disclose any of UCB's “secret or confidential information,” including a laundry list of items such as “designs, formulas, processes, . . . techniques, know how, improvements, [and] inventions.”  Tu's work was important to UCB: he helped formulate its cough syrup products, including Delsym, and had significant knowledge of its “Pennkinetic system” for controlled release of cough medication in liquid form. 

In 2001, Tu left UCB and started working for his friend Ketan Mehta at Tris Pharma.  Soon after, Tu and Tris Pharma began formulating generic versions of UCB’s cough syrups.  Six years later, Tris's competitive products were on the market, and UCB lost a lot of market share. 

UCB immediately went to court and sued Tu and Tris for misappropriation of trade secrets, breach of contract, and unfair competition.  It asked for a preliminary injunction -- a court order early in the lawsuit that would require Tris to stop using its trade secrets until the merits were finally decided.  After a five-day hearing focused on the misappropriation claim, the trial judge denied the injunction, maintaining the status quo for Tris.

Shortly after that win, Tu and Tris took the offensive in the litigation, moving for summary judgment.  At that point, UCB made a decision that would end up costing it later on: it voluntarily gave up its claim for misappropriation of trade secrets.  The trial court then granted Tu and Tris’s motion for summary judgment on the other claims, relying on its finding during the preliminary injunction phase that Tu and Mehta were credible when they testified that they didn’t misuse UCB’s confidential info.  UCB appealed. Read More ›