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Showing 45 posts in Wrongful Termination.

In Battle of Words, Former Netflix Exec Says That Company Defamed Him

Apple iPad displaying NetflixJerry Kowal doesn’t have a lot of nice things to say about his former employer, Netflix.  In a recent lawsuit filed in California Superior Court, he claims that Netflix was a “cold and hostile company,” with a “cutthroat environment.”

According to Courthouse News’s description of Kowal’s complaint, Netflix didn’t have very nice things to say about Kowal, its former content acquisition executive, either.  Kowal alleges that when he told Netflix he was leaving for Amazon, Netflix lashed out by accusing him of stealing confidential information and passing it on to Amazon.  As a result of these accusations and Amazon’s “strict liability policy,” he was fired.

Now, Kowal has sued Netflix, its CEO Reed Hastings, executive Ted Sarandos, and Amazon, alleging a number of torts including defamation, false light invasion of privacy, civil conspiracy, intentional interference with employment relationship, blacklisting and wrongful termination.  Kowal’s suit shows that an employer’s decision to accuse a departed employee of wrongdoing carries with it a significant litigation risk, especially if the employee loses his job as a result of the accusation. Read More ›

Political Intrigue, Sex, And Money

college system troubleWe see – and report on – plenty of whistleblower complaints here at Suits-by-Suits. We’re mostly interested in how those complaints play out legally, and what they can teach us about ways to avoid, or manage, whistleblower disputes and what leads to them.  But outside of the law, some complaints include alleged facts that just tell a compelling story in and of themselves. 

How about these allegations in Glenn Meeks’ wrongful termination complaint against Chicago State University: Financial mismanagement, a romantic relationship between top university executives, high-level posts filled with unqualified personnel, intrigue on the university’s board of trustees after Meeks complained of these things, and – a bonus, from a storytelling perspective – a suspicion of improper interference by the Governor of Illinois in the whole thing. 

And another bonus: Meeks filed his complaint in Illinois state court just two weeks after another whistleblower at the same university was awarded $2.5 million  Read More ›

Lousiana College Did Not Renew Its Executive Vice President's Contract After He Accused His Boss of Misdirecting Funds to Tanzania - Is That Wrongful Termination?

SerengetiRegular readers of Suits by Suits know that employees – including executive-level employees with lucrative employment contracts and low-level employees who are at-will and have no contract – may claim wrongful termination against their former employers if the employees were fired in violation of “public policy.”  Recently, the former Executive Vice President of Louisiana College, Timothy Johnson – who had an employment contract with the College – filed a lawsuit alleging that the College retaliated against him after he raised concerns that the College’s President misdirected the contributions of a large donor to a project in Tanzania. A link to Johnson’s complaint is in this recent report about the lawsuit.  A photo taken in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is above. Read More ›

Whistleblower or wrongfully terminated employee? California Supreme Court says: ‎whistleblower

There’s often a fine line between being a bona fide whistleblower and being just an angry plaintiff suing for wrongful termination.  The plaintiff’s allegations of whistleblowing conduct can often be very similar to the conduct that gave rise to him or her being fired – setting up something of a Rorschach blot test for the court that is trying to figure out what’s really going on. 

That’s the position doctor Mark Fahlen found himself in.  Doctor Fahlen was fired by his employer, a group of doctors working at a hospital in California.  The doctor said he was fired, in part, because he complained – as a whistleblower – about nurses in the hospital failing to provide adequate care for his patients because they failed to follow his instructions.  The group of doctors fired Fahlen after the hospital revoked his privileges (apparently a necessary part of being a member of the group) because it said Fahlen had angry fights with those same nurses – and, therefore, he was fired because he wasn’t a suitable employee.  So, essentially the same factual allegations could be whistleblowing or a basis for termination.   Read More ›

The Inbox - Valentine's Day Edition

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 ›

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 ›

Argument Recap: Five Takeaways from Lawson v. FMR LLC

Supreme CourtOn Tuesday, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Lawson v. FMR LLCAs we explained in this post, Lawson presents the question of whether Sarbanes-Oxley’s whistleblower anti-retaliation provision (Section 806 of Sarbanes-Oxley, codified at 18 U.S.C. § 1514A) shields employees of privately-held contractors of public companies such as the plaintiffs, who are employees of investment advisers for Fidelity mutual funds.  We editors of Suits by Suits don’t often get the chance to report live on the cases we cover, but an argument at One First Street was too tempting to pass up, even on a blustery Washington day.  Here are five major takeaways that we drew from the argument (with the caveat that reading the tea leaves from an oral argument is always a difficult proposition):

1.      The Court is uncomfortable with the scope of potential Sarbanes-Oxley claims that would result from the Fidelity employees’ interpretation of the statute.

A number of Justices pressed Eric Schnapper, who argued for the Fidelity employees, and Nicole Saharsky, arguing for the United States in support of the employees, as to how the Court could limit the reach of the statute if it holds that Sarbanes-Oxley allows employees of private companies to bring whistleblower retaliation claims.  Justice Breyer posed a hypothetical involving an employee of a privately-held gardening company who reports on mail fraud by his employer, is fired, and then brings a whistleblower anti-retaliation claim, arguing that he is covered by Sarbanes-Oxley because his company has gardening contracts with public companies.  Schnapper argued that the statute as written would cover the gardener, but the Justices were less convinced that Congress intended this kind of reach for Sarbanes-Oxley.  Justice Breyer even commented that the fear of expanding the statute to cover “any fraud by any gardener, any cook, anybody that had one employee in the entire United States” was the “strongest argument” against the Fidelity employees’ position. Read More ›

The Inbox

First Aid BoxThe federal government is closed, but the Suits by Suits news continues to roll in:

  • Johnson & Johnson shareholders are amending their derivative suit against the company and its directors, alleging that the company didn’t act properly when it decided that the lawsuit was not in J&J’s best interest.  According to Joshua Alston of Law360 (subscription required), the shareholders argue that an investigation conducted by K&L Gates was a whitewash and that former CEO Bill Weldon shouldn’t have been paid $175 million over a six-year period.  On the bright side, Weldon may have had a better tenure than the similarly well-compensated Alex Rodriguez.
  • In more J&J news, subsidiary DePuy Synthes sued three of its former sales reps and their new company, Globus Medical, Inc., for allegedly violating noncompete agreements.  Brad Perriello of Mass Device described the allegations, which accuse Globus of recruiting the reps “in an effort to rapidly build its own business . . . by appropriating and capitalizing on the goodwill, customer relationships, and confidential information that DePuy Synthes necessarily entrusts to its sales employees.” 
  • It’s not hard to translate how Rosetta Stone wants this forum dispute to come out.  Carolina Bolado of Law360 (again, subscription required) reports that competitor Open English sued the company, along with several new hires, in Florida for allegedly breaching noncompete agreements.  Rosetta filed a lawsuit in the employees’ home state of California seeking a declaration that the agreements weren’t violated, and has now asked the Florida judge to dismiss in favor of that lawsuit.  Open English, meanwhile, argues that it won the race to the courthouse and is entitled to take its legal talents to South Beach.
  • Big whistleblower news last week, as the SEC announced an award of $14 million to a whistleblower under its Dodd-Frank bounty program.  Further details were not forthcoming, as the law protects recipients of bounties from having their identities revealed.  Given all the press about miserable lottery winners, this could be a very good thing for them.
  • A Virginia sheriff’s deputy is suing his former boss, claiming that he was fired after he reported that another officer slapped an inmate at the county jail.  Rhonda Simmons of the Culpeper Star-Exponent writes that the deputy, who is pursuing a wrongful termination claim, was rehired after the sheriff who fired him was voted out of office.

Sleeping With The Enemy Executive

Coke and PepsiA Baltimore police officer claimed she was fired because she got married.  The police department agreed.  The problem was that the officer married Carlito Cabana, an incarcerated murderer and the “supreme commander” of a prison gang called Dead Man, Inc.  The question presented was whether the police department’s action violated the officer’s “constitutional right to marry and to engage in intimate association.”  The Maryland courts didn’t think much of that claim, see Cross v. Baltimore City Police Dep’t, and it does seem as though the police department had a point. 

But what about Mr. Cabana?  Surely Cabana’s “employer,” nominally a private corporation, could not have been pleased with his choice of spouse, either.  (Let’s ignore Dead Man’s failure to register to do business in Maryland.)  Could the Dead Man board have fired Cabana for marrying a cop?  Could a legitimate private employer (like the Coca-Cola Co.) have fired an executive for marrying an employee of its mortal adversary (like PepsiCo)?  Read More ›