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Showing 32 posts in The Basics.

The Basics: An Introduction to Indemnification and Advancement

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 ›

The Basics: Dodd-Frank vs. Sarbanes-Oxley Whistleblower Law

The Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower laws are hot topics right now.  A split of authority is developing in the federal courts over how an employee can qualify as a whistleblower and bring a retaliation claim under Dodd-Frank.  And the Supreme Court will hear argument next Tuesday in a case, Lawson v. FMR LLC, that will require it to decide whether private employers can be subject to Sarbanes-Oxley retaliation claims by their employees.

As we at Suits by Suits continue to watch these issues, we thought it would be helpful to step back for a broader view of these important whistleblower laws.  In the table linked here, we have summarized the important facets of each law.  This table will serve as a reference point for new developments, placing them in the broader context of these whistleblower protections.  

The Basics: Sarbanes-Oxley vs. Dodd-Frank

Federal Judge Upholds Jurisdiction Based on Employer’s Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) Claim Against Former Employee

Laptop locked with padlockIn 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 ›

Trade Secrets - Even if You Didn't Use or Disclose Them You Can Be Liable

Data TheftA 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 ›

Virginia Supreme Court Last Week: Courts Should Not Rule on Non-Compete's Enforceability in a Factual Vacuum

Red VacuumLast 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 ›

How You Came To Have Today Off

If you've ever wondered how Labor Day came to be -- how it got its name, why Americans celebrate it (and what exactly we are supposed to celebrate, between the car sales, barbecues and end-of-summer beach getaways), we've got the answers for you right here, in a look at Labor Day we posted last summer.  Enjoy it -- and then go enjoy the day!  Our regular posts about disputes between executives and employers will resume once we get past this beach traffic

Paula Deen Ruling Also Reminds Us: Title VII Protects Employees Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Association with People of Other Races Outside of the Workplace

Basketball On Tuesday, we examined the dismissal by a Georgia federal court of Lisa T. Jackson’s race-based discrimination claim against Paula Deen and others, and noted that, under Title VII, an employer may not discriminate against an employee for associating with employees of another race.  But we don’t want you to be left with the impression that the association has to be between co-workers.  Courts also have recognized “interracial association” Title VII claims for associations occurring outside of the workplace.  The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is one such court. Read More ›

Paula Deen Ruling Reminds Us: Title VII Protects White Employees Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Association with Black Employees

Whirlpool WasherLast 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 ›

Former CEO of BDO Is Stuck with Arbitrator's Decision That BDO Does Not Have to Indemnify Him in Criminal Case

Earlier this week, a New York state court declined to second-guess an arbitrator’s decision that BDO, USA does not have to indemnify or pay the legal bills of its former CEO, Denis M. Field, in his criminal case.

As we have noted here before, the first battle in a legal dispute between a company and its former executive is often over whether the dispute will be decided by a judge (and, ultimately, a jury) or a private arbitrator. Field v. BDO underscores why the stakes for that battle are so high: if you don’t like the arbitrator’s decision, you almost certainly will be stuck with it. That’s because the standard that courts apply in reviewing arbitrators’ decisions – even decisions about what the law requires – is a very forgiving standard. By contrast, the standard that appellate courts apply in reviewing trial judges’ decisions is less forgiving, which means that losers in the courts have a better shot at reversing decisions they don’t like than losers in arbitration. Read More ›

Paula Deen's Testimony May Also Have Some of the Ingredients for an Alter Ego Theory of Liability

Fried Chicken Yesterday, we observed that Paula Deen’s deposition testimony in the case filed by Lisa Jackson may be used to prove that one or more companies owned by Deen must pay for Jackson’s damages resulting from assault and battery by Deen’s brother, Earl “Bubba” Heirs, assuming that Jackson proves assault and battery. We said that, if Heirs worked for the companies, and the companies knew of Heirs’ misconduct and either expressly adopted it or implicitly approved of it, then the companies could be found vicariously liable based on a theory of ratification.  But what if Heirs only worked for one of the companies?  If Heirs is found liable, could the other companies also be found liable?  They could, based on a theory of alter ego, and Deen’s testimony may be helpful in supporting the theory. Read More ›