Monday, January 15, 2018
William Morris Endeavor and the Wahlberg/Williams Pay Disparity: A Role for Agency Law in Equality and Justice?
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King, Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail, Alabama, 16 April 1963, in Atlantic Monthly August 1963
I had wanted to post a tribute to Dr. King here early on Monday. However, after posting the Emory conference announcement, I moved on to other work, and that work filled up the available time in the day. So, this late post including the quote above will have to suffice.
As I read meaningful quotes from Dr. King on social media and elsewhere all day on Monday, I found myself thinking of examples of inequality and injustice. Many are compelling; many are meaningful. Some are current events; and some of those involve business law questions.
For a number of days now (since before MLK Day) we have been showered with news stories relating to the compensation disparity between Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams for reshooting scenes from All the Money in the World in the wake of Kevin Spacey's replacement in the film resulting from allegations of sexual misconduct. (See here, among other places.) Most folks who follow Hollywood business issues know that gender discrimination is common. My sister, a visual effects producer (her current movie is Downsizing, which I enjoyed and recommend), has suffered the effects.
But I found myself focusing on the role of William Morris Endeavor Entertainment LLC (WME), the talent agency that represented both Wahlberg and Williams. Talent agents are regulated by guilds and unions as well as under California law (as represented here). But they also have fiduciary duties. Why did Wahlberg's contract not include a reshoot covenant (giving him the leverage to negotiate an outsized reshoot fee) while Williams's contract did? Did WME fail to act in a manner consistent with any applicable duty of care--or maybe loyalty--as an experienced agent representing both actors--with knowledge of an overall gender pay gap? Of course, there are many other possible explanations for the difference, and we are not privy to the terms of the two actors' talent contracts with WME (including any enforceable private ordering around agency law rules or confidentiality or privacy clauses). But the related questions seem worth asking.
Specifically, we might ask whether there is a question of WME's care, competence, or diligence under Section 8.08 of the Restatement (Third) of Agency. And, among other things, Section 8.11 of the Restatement (Third) of Agency imposes a duty of candor on agents that may be applicable here. And were there differences in the benefits that WME got out of each agreement that may have affected the firm's ability to act loyally for the principal's benefit under Section 8.01 of the Restatement (Third) of Agency? We may never know.
Intermediation likely cannot cure the evils of inequality and injustice. But where intermediaries are agents or otherwise owe fiduciary duties to their clients, those fiduciary duties may cause--or at least incentivize--the intermediaries to use their experience and knowledge to correct gender, racial, and other inequities where they exist. This is something I will continue to ponder.
Friday, January 12, 2018
Over the break, I watched the documentary Overnighters on Netflix.
In short, the documentary chronicles the story of a pastor who opens the church to migrant workers in North Dakota during the energy boom in that state. The pastor faces pushback from his congregation, neighbors, and city officials who do not appreciate having these men - some with criminal records - housed so close.
In my opinion, the pastor is right, and the congregants are wrong, about the purpose of a church. The church should be in a community to serve, especially its needy neighbors. That said, the logistics of how to serve may be up for debate. Also, it is at least arguable that by serving the migrant workers the church strayed from serving its congregation. It would have been helpful if the church had a clear statement on its purpose and priorities. Many social enterprises have extremely vague purpose statements, which I do not think are very helpful. Benefit corporations are often required by statue to "benefit society and the environment." A purpose statement like that would not have helped the church in Overnighters much at all. A statement that showed that those in need would be prioritized over the comfort of the congregants (or vice-versa) would have been more helpful.
The more valid complaint from the congregation, is the claim that an appropriate process for initiating the housing program was not followed. Sometimes even if stakeholders agree on the ultimate action taken by the organization, the stakeholders will still be upset if they are not included, or listened to, in the decision making process. I think this complaint is likely also found in businesses. Assuring the proper processes are set forth and followed can be quite important for businesses, especially in closely-held and family run businesses, where the stakeholders are deeply invested.
The documentary is depressing and does not paint a pretty picture of human nature, but I do think things would have worked out a bit better for most of those involved if purpose, priorities, and process were paid more attention. Of course, that is much easier written than done.
Wednesday, January 10, 2018
Swedish clothing giant H & M caused a huge stir this week with an ad campaign depicting a young black boy in a sweatshirt that proclaimed him the "Coolest Monkey In the Jungle." The company's misstep is surprising given the public condemnations of the use of the word "monkey" in Europe over the past few years when soccer fans have used it as a slur against black players. Notwithstanding H & M's many apologies, several megastars have denounced the company and some have even pulled their fashion collaborations. As usual, several have called for boycotts of the retailer. But will all of this really matter? The sweatshirt was still for sale in the UK days for days after the controversy erupted, and the Weeknd, one of the megastars who vowed to never work with H & M, still has his 18-piece H & M collection available online and available for purchase on the store's U.S. portal.
I'm headed out of the country tomorrow and in my quest for a new sweater, I glanced in the H & M store in my local mall earlier today. The store was packed and likely with fans of the artists who called for a boycott. No one was walking with picket signs outside. But as I have written about here, here, here, here and at other times on this blog, I'm not sure that young American consumers--H & M's fast fashion demographic--have the staying power to sustain a boycott. Perhaps the star power behind this boycott will make a difference (but I doubt it).Wall Street hasn't punished the store either. The stock did not take a major hit. Moreover, CNBC has reported that in December, the company reported its biggest quarterly drop in ten years. This means that H & M's pre-existing financial woes will make it even more difficult to determine whether a boycott actually affected the bottom line.
Time will tell regarding the success of this latest boycott effort but in the age of hashtag activism, I don't have much confidence in this latest boycott effort.
Friday, January 5, 2018
In 2017, I was 25 out of 34 (73.5%). (Yes, I set 34 resolutions; I may be crazy).
The biggest realization I had this year was that I struggled with resolutions that required daily/weekly tracking. A daily/weekly resolution has at least three issues: (1) if screw up once, you’ve blown the resolution for the year, (2) just tracking the resolution takes habit formation and daily/weekly time, and (3) creating a daily/weekly habit is generally difficult.
So, instead of a resolution to run 5x a week, I had better luck with an achievement goal like “run a mile under 5 minutes by the end of the year.” If the achievement goal was tough enough to require roughly 5x a week running then the achievement goal could get you to basically the same place as the weekly goal without the meticulous tracking requirement and with allowing occasional time off. The bigger achievement goals, however, may need to be broken into smaller steps.
My toughest resolution for 2018, and I “only” have 22 resolutions this year, will probably be “at least 15 minutes of quiet/reflection/prayer before any screens (computer, TV, phone, etc.)” I think I had to structure this one as a daily goal, as its importance is tied up in getting each day off to a good start. We will see how it goes - so far so go, but we are only 5 days deep in 2018. It is possible that I will not do this every day, but the “stick” is that I don’t get any internet use that day either.
Best of luck to all in 2018, whether you choose to make resolutions for the year or not.
Wednesday, January 3, 2018
At a time when many boards may be thinking of tax planning and possible M & A deals, they may have to start focusing more on the unseemly topic of their executives' sex lives because the flood of terminations and resignations due to sexual misconduct shows no signs of slowing down. One of the most shocking but underreported terminations in 2017 related to VISA. The CEO, one year into the role, chose to terminate one of his most valuable executives after an anonymous tip about sexual misconduct. He wanted his employees to know that the corporate culture and values mattered. Board members should look closely at the VISA example.
We will continue to see the rise of the #MeToo movement spurred on in part by the messaging from a star-studded task force formed to address Hollywood issues and the establishment of a multimillion-dollar legal defense fund to help blue-collar workers. Even Supreme Court Chief Justice Roberts addressed sexual harassment in the court system in his Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary. More people than ever may now choose to come forward with claims of harassment or assault. Whether companies choose to terminate wrongdoers or the accused choose to resign "to spend more time with their families," it's a new day. As I've written here, companies will need to re-evaluate policies and training to navigate these landmines.
Board members will need to step up too. Boards of any size institution (including nonprofits) need to take the job of CEO succession planning seriously because the chief executive could leave, retire, or die. Boards must not only consider the possibility of a harassment scandal in the C-Suite but they must also worry about their fellow board members. Unfortunately, a KPMG study revealed that only 14% of board members believe they have a detailed succession plan for themselves. Members of the C-suite will also need to think more clearly about succession planning in the lower ranks. HR may have to redouble efforts to ensure that high-potential employees have no skeletons in the closet that have been swept under the rug.
In the meantime, I and other former members of the Department of Labor Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee have written an op-ed in the Boston Globe. Even if I had not co-authored the piece, as a former defense-side employment lawyer and compliance officer, I would recommend that company leaders take a look at it. Some of our recommendations for strengthening corporate culture are below:
1) have a trustworthy, independent system, with multiple reporting mechanisms, staffed with the proper skills to conduct swift, full, and fair investigations and to carry them to a just resolution, observing principles of confidentiality and discretion, and including ongoing protection of those who report;
2) make sure that there is a clear, credible anti-retaliation policy that protects accusers and witnesses who come forward in good faith;
3) require strong accountability for all levels of management for reporting and responding to complaints;
4) implement specific policies that direct bonuses, raises, and other incentives and opportunities to those who, in addition to meeting business targets, actively prevent and respond appropriately to harassment, retaliation, and other compliance problems. Consider clawbacks if unsupportive behavior later comes to light. Call out injurious behavior (without necessarily naming names) and credit exemplary behaviors;
5) periodically assess the culture and require an independent outside entity to confidentially administer anonymous surveys and interviews. The best of these use benchmarked and validated questions that can provide insight into the effectiveness of the compliance program and whether employees trust the system; and
6) make sure to involve unions and other formal and informal employee groups in developing new policies.
I wish all of our readers a happy and healthy new year. I wish board members and company executives good luck.
Thursday, December 21, 2017
Earlier this week, President Trump gave his annual speech on national security. As in the past, he failed to stress human rights (unlike his predecessors) but did allude to cooperation, even with China and Russia, when warranted by geopolitical interests. Over the last several months, he has touted bilateral trade agreements. Coincidentally, my latest law review article on a potential bilateral investment treaty with Cuba came out the same day. As you may recall, Trump recently reversed some Obama-era policies on Cuba over human rights. My article may help his administration reconcile some of the apparent contradictions in his policies. The abstract is below.
You Say Embargo, I Say Bloqueo—A Policy Recommendation for Promoting Foreign Direct Investment and Safeguarding Human Rights In Cuba
The United States is the only major industrialized nation that restricts
trade with Cuba. Although President Obama issued several executive orders
that have facilitated limited trade (and President Trump has scaled some
back), an embargo remains in place, and by law, Congress cannot lift it until,
among other things, the Cuban government commits to democratization and
human rights reform. Unfortunately, the Cuban and U.S. governments
fundamentally disagree on the definition of “human rights,” and neither side
has shown a willingness to compromise. Meanwhile, although some U.S.
investors clamor to join their European and Canadian counterparts in
expanding operations in Cuba, many have an understandable concern
regarding the rule of law and expropriation in a communist country. Bilateral
investment treaties aim to address those concerns.
After discussing the legal and political barriers to lifting the embargo, I
propose a partial solution to the stalemate on human rights, which will: (1)
facilitate foreign direct investment in Cuba; (2) protect investor interests
through a bilateral investment treaty; and (3) require an examination of
human rights impacts on the lives of Cuban citizens before investors can
receive the protection of the treaty.
Specifically, I recommend the inclusion of human rights clauses in bilateral
investment treaties (BITs) and investor-state dispute mechanisms as a condition precedent
to lifting the embargo. My solution also requires “clean hands” so that investors seeking relief must
provide proof that their business interests have not exacerbated or been
complicit in human rights abuses, rebut claims from stakeholders that their
business interests have not exacerbated or been complicit in human rights
abuses, or both. Finally, I propose revisions to the 2016 U.S. National Action
Plan on Responsible Business Conduct to incorporate human rights
requirements in future BITs and other investment vehicles going forward.
Anyone with connections to Rex Tillerson is free to pass it on. Happy Holidays to all.
Tuesday, December 19, 2017
A recent case in Washington state introduced me to some interesting facets of Washington's recreational marijuana law. The case came to my attention because it is part of my daily search for cases (incorrectly) referring to limited liability companies (LLCs) as "limited liability corporations." The case opens:
In 2012, Washington voters approved Initiative Measure 502. LAWS OF 2013, ch. 3, codified as part of chapter 69.50 RCW. Initiative 502 legalizes the possession and sale of marijuana and creates a system for the distribution and sale of recreational marijuana. Under RCW 69.50.325(3)(a), a retail marijuana license shall be issued only in the name of the applicant. No retail marijuana license shall be issued to a limited liability corporation unless all members are qualified to obtain a license. RCW 69.50.331(1)(b)(iii). The true party of interest of a limited liability company is “[a]ll members and their spouses.”1 Under RCW 69.50.331(1)(a), the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board (WSLCB) considers prior criminal conduct of the applicant.2
(b) No license of any kind may be issued to:. . . .(iii) A partnership, employee cooperative, association, nonprofit corporation, or corporation unless formed under the laws of this state, and unless all of the members thereof are qualified to obtain a license as provided in this section;
True party of interest: Persons to be qualified
Sole proprietorship: Sole proprietor and spouse.General partnership: All partners and spouses.Limited partnership, limited liability partnership, or limited liability limited partnership: All general partners and their spouses and all limited partners and spouses.Limited liability company: All members and their spouses and all managers and their spouses.Privately held corporation: All corporate officers (or persons with equivalent title) and their spouses and all stockholders and their spouses.Publicly held corporation: All corporate officers (or persons with equivalent title) and their spouses and all stockholders and their spouses.
Multilevel ownership structures: All persons and entities that make up the ownership structure (and their spouses).
(1) A corporation has the officers described in its bylaws or appointed by the board of directors in accordance with the bylaws.(2) A duly appointed officer may appoint one or more officers or assistant officers if authorized by the bylaws or the board of directors.(3) The bylaws or the board of directors shall delegate to one of the officers responsibility for preparing minutes of the directors' and shareholders' meetings and for authenticating records of the corporation.(4) The same individual may simultaneously hold more than one office in a corporation.
Requirement for and duties of board of directors.
(1) Each corporation must have a board of directors, except that a corporation may dispense with or limit the authority of its board of directors by describing in its articles of incorporation, or in a shareholders' agreement authorized by RCW 23B.07.320, who will perform some or all of the duties of the board of directors.(2) Subject to any limitation set forth in this title, the articles of incorporation, or a shareholders' agreement authorized by RCW 23B.07.320:(a) All corporate powers shall be exercised by or under the authority of the corporation's board of directors; and(b) The business and affairs of the corporation shall be managed under the direction of its board of directors, which shall have exclusive authority as to substantive decisions concerning management of the corporation's business.
(4) Persons who exercise control of business - The WSLCB will conduct an investigation of any person or entity who exercises any control over the applicant's business operations. This may include both a financial investigation and/or a criminal history background.
December 19, 2017 in Corporations, Current Affairs, Entrepreneurship, Family Business, Joshua P. Fershee, Legislation, Licensing, LLCs, Management, Nonprofits, Partnership, Shareholders, Unincorporated Entities | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, December 15, 2017
Recently, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that Russia will be banned from the 2018 Winter Games for systemic doping.
If you have not watched Icarus (on Netflix) on this topic, I recommend it. The documentary starts slowly, and the story-line is a bit disjointed, but the information uncovered about state-sponsored doping in Russia is fascinating and depressing. Even if you are not a sports fan, you may be interested in the parts in the documentary related to the alleged involvement of the Russian government.
It has been a busy semester, but I am working (slowly) on a journal article on morality clauses in sports contracts. Doping is often specifically mentioned in these contracts, and doping is a sad reality in many sports. Doping also betrays, I think, improper prioritization. While we are starting to see more attention paid to courage and compassion in sports, "winning" has often been promoted as the top priority. Hopefully we will see more people (and countries) who compete with passion, but also with integrity.
Monday, December 11, 2017
While I was in France last week touring and attending an academic conference, a French music legend died and was mourned. Johnny Hallyday, the King of French rock 'n' roll (known widely as the "French Elvis"), died earlier this month at the age of 74 after a battle with lung cancer. I learned of this in a circuitous way--because one of his songs, Quelque Choses de Tennessee (Something of Tennessee), was playing on the radio in a hotel shuttle van and caught my attention (for obvious reasons, although the song refers to Tennessee Williams, not the state, as it turns out). Also, I happened to be in Paris the day of his funeral, when many roads (including the Avenue des Champs-Élysées) were blocked off for the related activities.
Curiosity about the song and the singer led me to the Internet. My Internet searching revealed Hallyday as the singer and described an interesting life. This guy loved the United States--not only adopting rock 'n' roll, but also writing lyrics about this country based on his U.S. travels. Perhaps most famous is Mon Amérique à Moi (My America and Me), which includes the following lyrics near and dear to my heart (sung in French, of course):
My America is modest and quiet
She says to me, "Good morning!" with a big smile
Serves hot coffee, vanilla apples
Invites me to spend Christmas in Tennessee
And to go horseback riding in West Virginia . . . .
Cool. Honestly, I am amazed that I hadn't heard of this guy before. I am sorry that he left this world before I knew of his music. But I am glad to have found it.
My research also revealed that Johnny Hallyday had business-related law issues--specifically French wealth tax law issues. Of course, show business--like other businesses--generates income and, therefore, income taxes. An article on Hallyday's death in Variety, for example, notes that "he struggled for a long time to reimburse 100 million francs in back taxes." A CATO Institute article (quoting from a book coauthored by the author of the article) offers a bit more information:
Hallyday created a media sensation when he fled to Switzerland in 2006 to avoid the tax. He has said that he will come back to France if Sarkozy “reforms the wealth tax and inheritance law.” Hallyday stated: “I’m sick of paying, that’s all … I believe that after all the work I have done over nearly 50 years, my family should be able to live in some serenity. But 70 percent of everything I earn goes to taxes.”
Interestingly, in addition to his time in Switzerland, Hallyday resided for many of his last years in Los Angeles for tax reasons.
So, here's to Johnny Hallyday, a fan of U.S. culture who brought that culture to the French populace. May he rest in peace, free of illness, pain, and French wealth taxes. And may his music be a lasting memory and legacy. Check it out, if you are unfamiliar with it. It has some Elvis, some Johnny Cash, and something else in it.
Thursday, December 7, 2017
Two weeks ago, I asked whether companies were wasting time on harassment training given the flood of accusations, resignations, and terminations over the past few weeks. Having served as a defense lawyer on these kinds of claims and conducted hundreds of trainings, I know that most men generally know right from wrong before the training (and some still do wrong). I also know that in many cases, people look the other way when they see or hear about the complaints, particularly if the accused is a superstar or highly ranked employee. Although most men do not have the power and connections to develop an alleged Harvey Weinstein-type "complicity machine" to manage payoffs and silence accusers, some members of management play a similar role when they ignore complaints or rumors of inappropriate or illegal behavior.
The head in the sand attitude that executives and board members have displayed in the Weinstein matter has led to a lawsuit arguing that Disney knew or should have known of Weinstein's behavior. We may see more of these lawsuits now that women have less fear of speaking out and Time honored the "Silence Breakers" as the Person of the Year. As I read the Time article and watched some of the "silence breakers" on television, it reminded me of 2002, when Time honored "The Whistleblowers." Those whistleblowers caused Congress to enact sweeping new protection under Sarbanes-Oxley. Because of all of the publicity, companies around the country are now working with lawyers and human resources experts to review and revamp their antiharassment training and complaint mechanisms. As a result, we will likely see a spike in internal and external complaints. But do we need more than lawsuits? Would more women in the boardroom and the C-Suite make a difference in corporate culture in general and thereby lead to more gender equity?
Last week, Vĕra Jourová, the EU Commissioner for Justice and Gender Equality put forth some proposals to redress the gender pay gap in Member States’ businesses. She recommends an increase in the number of women on boards for companies whose non-executive Boards are more than 60% male. These companies would be required to “prioritize” women when candidates of “equal merit” are being considered for a position. Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands have already previously rejected a similar proposal.
I'm generally not in favor of quotas because I think they produce a backlash. However, I know that many companies here and abroad will start to recruit more female directors and executives in an effort to appear on top of this issue. Will it work? We will soon see. After pressure from institutional investors such as BlackRock and State Street to increase diversity, women and minorities surpassed 50% of S & P open board seats in 2017. Stay tuned.
Friday, December 1, 2017
I have written about Etsy in at least three past posts: (1) Etsy becoming a certified B Corp, (2) Etsy going public, and (3) Delaware amending it's public benefit corporation laws (likely, in part, to help Etsy convert to a PBC, which Etsy would need to do to maintain its certification because it incorporated in a non-constituency statute state that does have a benefit corporation statute (Delaware)).
In May, some questioned whether Etsy would keep its social focus after a "management shakeup." In September, B Lab granted Etsy an extension on converting to a PBC. That article claims that B Lab would reset the deadline for conversion to 2019, if Etsy re-certified as a B Corp by the end of 2017 and would commit to converting to a PBC.
The 2019 date was 4 years from the 2015 Delaware PBC amendments (instead of 4 years from Etsy's first certification). One of B Lab's co-founder reportedly said that the statutory amendments were needed because the original 2013 version of the Delaware PBC law was "perfectly fine for private companies and unworkable for public companies."
Just a few days ago, however, Etsy announced that it would abandon its B Corp certification and not reincorporate as a Delaware PBC. Josh Silverman (CEO since the May shakeup) is quoted in that New York Times article as saying "Etsy’s greatest potential for impact is helping sellers — many of whom are women running small businesses — increase their sales." He sounds a lot like Milton Friedman's article The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits. Mr. Silverman also said that Etsy "had the best of intentions, but wasn’t great at tying that [sales] to impact....Being good doesn’t cut the mustard.”
Other than the New York Times article, the press around Etsy's announcement to let its B corp certification lapse seems to be relatively light. In the short-term at least, this move probably hurts B Lab and the social enterprise community more than it hurts Etsy given how few big companies are certified. In the long-term, however, Etsy may experience significant negative consequences, as it seems that this move to drop its certification is being done in conjunction with Etsy shedding a lot of the culture that made it a beloved company.
Update: Perhaps Etsy is bracing for competition from Amazon. (Or maybe, and this is complete speculation on my part, Etsy is trying to make itself a more attractive acquisition target for Amazon, if Amazon realizes it cannot replicate Etsy on its own. Now, it is debatable whether Etsy is more valuable with or without its B Corp certification).
Friday, November 17, 2017
Paul Caron (Pepperdine) reports that Wake Forest Law has become the 10th law school to accept the GRE. The law school will continue to accept the LSAT.
Those ten law schools (in chronological order, from earliest adopter to most recent adopter) are:
- Washington University,
- St. John's,
- Texas A&M,
- Wake Forest
This shift to accepting the GRE at Wake Forest Law has, apparently, been in the works for over 18 months, and Christine Hurt (BYU) had a nice post on some of the early discussion. Around that time, in February of 2016, Arizona became the first law school to accept the GRE.
Like Christine Hurt, I think this move to including the GRE is probably a good thing, especially if the GRE is shown to be just as predictive as the LSAT. The GRE is offered much more frequently than the LSAT and some pre-law students will have already taken the GRE. Also, I am generally in favor of competition, and the LSAC/LSAT has had a monopoly on law school admissions tests for quite a long time.
It looks like U.S. News is already converting GRE scores into comparable LSAT scores for ranking purposes. If U.S. News had not acted, this would have been a pretty big loophole for law schools to exploit.
For pre-law advisors, like me, I think we should definitely let students know of the GRE option at some schools. The GRE may be an especially good option for students who are likely to go to graduate school, but are not yet entirely sure which direction they will go. It also may give students more options if the LSAT's limited testing dates do not work for them. Finally, I don't think the GRE has logic game questions, which some students really struggle with, and therefore students could avoid those questions with the GRE. On the downside, only about 5% of ABA-accredited schools currently accept the GRE. That said, I expect the number of law schools accepting the GRE to rise rapidly over the next few years.
Sunday, November 12, 2017
I am putting together a panel or discussion group (depending on how many folks respond positively) for the SEALS conference for next summer, which is scheduled to be held August 5-11, 2018, at the Marriott Harbor Beach Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale, Florida (details here).
Here is the proposed title and a brief draft description (which may have to be shortened for the submission):
The Role of Corporate Personhood in Masterpiece Cakeshop
The United States Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in the case of Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission on Dec. 5, 2017 (SCOTUSblog summary here). The issue presented in that case is: “Whether applying Colorado's public accommodations law to compel the petitioner to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the free speech or free exercise clauses of the First Amendment.” A group of corporate law professors have filed an amicus brief in support to the CCRC (available here). One of the two arguments in that brief is: “Because Of The Separate Legal Personality Of Corporations And Shareholders, The Constitutional Interests Of Shareholders Should Not Be Projected Onto The Corporation.” This [panel] [discussion group] features [paper presentations] [a dialogue] on the pros and cons of this argument, together with related analysis and observations. Please note that the Supreme Court will likely have issued its opinion in the case by the time of the panel/discussion.
Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to participate in this program, letting me know if you are interested in presenting a paper, participating in a discussion, or both. Also, let me know if you know of anyone else who may want to participate—or just pass this on to others. I must file the proposal soon in order to ensure its consideration (the “best practices” deadline for submissions has already passed).
November 12, 2017 in Business Associations, Call for Papers, Conferences, Constitutional Law, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Family Business, Stefan J. Padfield | Permalink | Comments (0)
Wednesday, November 1, 2017
Every year, the United Nations holds a symbolic but important vote on a resolution condemning the U.S. embargo against Cuba and every year the United States and Israel are the only two countries to vote against it. Last year, the United States abstained in accordance with the rapprochement that the Obama administration began in 2014. A few hours ago, the U.S. and Israel stood alone and voted once again against the UN resolution, while 192 other nations voted for it. Ambassador Haley explained that the vote demonstrated, “continued solidarity with the Cuban people and in the hope that they will one day be free to choose their own destiny.” Prior to the vote she announced to the General Assembly that "today, the crime is the Cuban government's continued repression of its people and failure to meet even the minimum requirements of a free and just society… The United States does not fear isolation in this chamber or anywhere else. Our principles are not up for a vote … We will stand for respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms that the member states of this body have pledged to protect, even if we have to stand alone." The United States is indeed isolated in its thinking. Furthermore, the vote and the embargo inflame tensions with allies in Latin America that the U.S. needs for the war on terror and drug smuggling.
I feel strongly about this issue having visited the island three times in the past two years to research business and human rights issues. I’ve sat on a panel with Cuban lawyers and judges in Havana to discuss the embargo. I’ve attended countless seminars and meetings with lawyers and businesses who want to trade with Cuba. At the American Bar Association International Law Section meeting last week there were at least 6 sessions on Cuba. The world wonders why the United States places so much attention on this tiny island nation.
A few minutes ago, I put my finishing touches on my third law review article on Cuba (I had to wait to add in the UN vote). I argue that if and when the U.S. lifts the embargo and considers a bilateral investment treaty, it should require human rights provisions as a condition precedent for investor-state dispute resolution. I will post more about the article when it’s finally published but here’s a sneak peek of an argument relevant to today’s UN vote and the United States’ purported concern about the lack of human rights in Cuba:
[P]rior to lifting the embargo, the United States needs to examine its own record on human rights and how it treats other violators, otherwise it will have no credibility with the Cuban government. The U.S. Congress demands human rights reform in Cuba but has not been consistent in its own business dealings with other authoritarian or socialist regimes. For example, although the U.S. Department of State has criticized Cuba’s human rights record, China, another communist country with a poor human rights record, is the United States’ third largest trading partner. The United States lifted its trade embargo with Communist Vietnam twenty years ago and major U.S. companies now operate there today even though the U.S. government has leveled some of the same human rights criticism against Vietnam as it has against Cuba. The communist government of Laos did not fare much better than Cuba in human rights states department reports, but the U.S. government actively promotes potential investment opportunities there. This inconsistency in approach to human rights violators diminishes the U.S. government’s integrity in negotiating with Cuba. Tellingly, in its 2017 World Report, Human Rights Watch, a respected NGO, warned of the dangers of the Trump Administration from a human rights perspective. This hardly puts the U.S. in a strong bargaining position with Cuba when discussing the conditions on lifting the embargo.
The Trump Administration still has not released its official changes to the trade rules that it announced in June. In the meantime, although it’s hardly easy to do business in Cuba or with the Cuban government, U.S. businesses now remain in limbo until the implementing rules come into force. To be clear, I do not condone the human rights violations that the Cuban government commits against its people. In my upcoming article, I propose mechanisms to prevent foreign investors from perpetuating violations themselves. However, these same businesses that cannot do business with Cuba have no problem doing business with Russia, China, or other regimes with oppressive human rights records. Perhaps the Trump administration has not read State Department and NGO reports on those countries, but I have. Today, the hypocrisy was once again on full display for the world community to see.
Tuesday, October 31, 2017
When the indictment for Paul Manafort and Richard Gates was released yesterday, I decided to take a look, in part because I read that the charges included claims that the defendants "laundered money through scores of United States and foreign corporations, partnerships, and bank accounts." (Manafort Indictment ¶ 1.)
It did not take long for people to note an initial mistake in the indictment. The indictment states that Yulia Tymoshenko was the president of the Ukraine prior to Viktor Yanukovych. (Id. ¶ 22.) But, Dan Abrams' Law Newz notes, "Tymoshenko has never been the president of the Ukraine. She ran in the Ukrainian presidential election against Yanukoych in 2010 and came in second. Tymoshenko ran again in 2014 and came in second then, too." Abrams continues:
The Tymoshenko flub is a massive error of fact, but it doesn’t impinge much–if any–on the narrative contained in the indictment itself. The error doesn’t really bear upon the background facts related to Manafort’s and Gates’ alleged crimes. The error also doesn’t bear whatsoever upon the laws Manafort and Gates are accused of breaking. Rather, it’s an error which bears upon the credibility of the team now seeking to prosecute the men named in the indictment.
Perhaps. It is a high-profile mistake, but it doesn't go to the core of the charges, so I think this may overstate it a bit. Still, it is hardly ideal, and it's definitely an unforced error. And unfortunately, there is a second such error.
Paragraph 12 of the indictment provides a chart of entities that were "owned or controlled" by the defendants. The chart headings provide "Entity Name," "Date Created," and "Incorporation Location." But a number of the entities are not corporations. They are LLCs, and you do not "incorporate" an LLC. You form an LLC. (Also, just to be clear, LLCs are not "partnerships," either. They are LLCs.)
Similar to the Tymoshenko error, the type of entity does not appear to impact the underlying narrative or charges. For example, entity type does not appear to impact the "conspiracy to launder money" count. And other jurisdictions, such as Cyprus, do tend to merge the corporate concept with the company concepts in a way that might make the chart headings less wrong than it is for U.S. entities. Nonetheless, it would not have been that hard to go with "Entity Origin" or "Formation Location."
Okay, so all of this is rather nitpicky, and I get that. The underlying charges are serious, and I hope and expect that the charges and the surrounding facts (not these mistakes) will be the focus of the legal process as it runs its course. But, it is also proper, I think, to work toward getting the entire document right. Details matter, and at some point could mean the difference between winning and losing, even if that does not appear to be the case this time around.
Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Today I sat through a panel at the ABA International Law Section Meeting entitled, I, Robot - The Increasing Use and Misuse of Technology by In-House Legal Departments. I have already posted here about Ross and other programs. I thought I would share other vendors that in-house counsel are using according to one of the panelists:
- Deal point - virtual deal room.
- Casetext - legal research.
- Disco AI; Relativity; Ringtail - apply machine learning to e-discovery.
- Ebrevia; Kira Systems; RAVN - contract organization and analysis.
- Julie Desk - AI "virtual assistant" for scheduling meetings.
- Law Geex - contract review software that catches clauses that are unusual, missing, or problematic.
- Legal Robot - start-up uses AI to translate legalese into plain English; flags anomalies; IDs potentially vague word choices.
- LexMachina - litigation analytics.
- NeotaLogic - client intake and early case assessment.
- Robot Review - compares patent claims with past applications to predict patent eligibility.
- Ross Intelligence - AI virtual attorney from IBM (Watson).
These and their future competitors lead to new challenges for lawyers, law professors, and bar associations. Will robots engage in the unauthorized practice of law? What are the ethical ramifications of using artificial intelligence in legal engagements? How much do you tell clients about how or what is doing their legal research? What about data security issues for this information? How do we deal with discovery disputes? Can robot lawyers mediate? Why should lawyers who bill by the hour want the efficiency of artificial intelligence and machine learning? Finally, how do we help students develop skills in “judgment” and how to advise and counsel clients in a world where more of the traditional legal tasks will be automated (and 23% of legal task already are)? These are frightening and exciting times, but I look forward to the challenge of preparing the next generation of lawyers.
Monday, October 16, 2017
Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets. Oh, My!
My UT Law colleague Jonathan Rohr has coauthored (with Aaron Wright) an important piece of scholarship on an of-the-moment topic--financial instrument offerings using distributed ledger technology. Even more fun? He and his co-author are interested in aspects of this topic at its intersection with the regulation of securities offerings. Totally cool.
Here is the extended abstract. I cannot wait to dig into this one. Can you? As of the time I authored this post, the article already had almost 700 downloads . . . . Join the crowd!
Blockchain-Based Token Sales, Initial Coin Offerings, and the Democratization of Public Capital Markets
Jonathan Rohr & Aaron Wright
Best known for their role in the creation of cryptocurrencies like bitcoin, blockchains are revolutionizing the way tech entrepreneurs are financing their business enterprises. In 2017 alone, over $2.2 billion has been raised through the sale of blockchain-based digital tokens in what some are calling initial coin offerings or “ICOs,” with some sales lasting mere seconds. In a token sale, organizers of a project sell digital tokens to members of the public to finance the development of future technology. An active secondary market for tokens has emerged, with tokens being bought and sold on cryptocurrency exchanges scattered across the globe, with often wild price fluctuations.
The recent explosion of token sales could mark the beginning of a broader shift in public capital markets—one similar to the shift in media distribution that started several decades ago. Blockchains drastically reduce the cost of exchanging value and enable anyone to transmit digitized assets around the globe in a highly trusted manner, stoking dreams of truly global capital markets that leverage the power of a blockchain and the Internet to facilitate capital formation.
The spectacular growth of tokens sales has caused some to argue that these sales simply serve as new tools for hucksters and unscrupulous charlatans to fleece consumers, raising the attention of regulators across the globe. A more careful analysis, however, reveals that blockchain-based tokens represent a wide variety of assets that take a variety of forms. Some are obvious investment vehicles and entitle their holders to economic rights like a share of any profits generated by the project. Others carry with them the right to use and govern the technology that is being developed with funds generated by the token sale and may represent the beginning of a new way to build and fund powerful technological platforms.
Lacking homogeneity, the status of tokens under U.S. securities laws is anything but clear. The test under which security status is assessed—the Howey test—has uncertain application to blockchain-based tokens, particularly those that entitle the holder to use a particular technological service, because they also present the possibility of making a profit by selling the token on a secondary market. Although the SEC recently issued a Report of Investigation in which it found that one type of token qualified as a security, confusion surrounds the boundaries between the types of tokens that will be deemed securities and those that will not.
Blockchain-based tokens exhibit disparate features and have characteristics that make current registration exemptions a poor fit for token sales. In addition to including requirements that do not fit squarely with blockchain-based systems, the transfer restrictions that apply to the most popular exemptions would have the perverse effect of restricting the ability of U.S. consumers to access a new generation of digital technology. The result is an uncertain regulatory environment in which token sellers do not have a sensible path to compliance.
In this Article, we argue that the SEC and Congress should provide token sellers and the exchanges that facilitate token sales with additional certainty. Specifically, we propose that the SEC provide guidance on how it will apply the Howey test to digital tokens, particularly those that mix aspects of consumption and use with the potential for a profit. We also propose that lawmakers adopt both a compliance-driven safe harbor for online exchanges that list tokens with a reasonable belief that the public sale of such tokens is not a violation of Section 5 as well as an exemption to the Section 5 registration requirement that has been tailored to digital tokens.
Friday, October 6, 2017
I assume most readers are familiar with Stonyfield Yogurt, and perhaps a bit of its story, but I think the podcast goes far beyond what is generally known.
The main thing that stuck out in the podcast was how many struggles Stonyfield faced. Most of the companies featured on How I Built This struggle for a few months or even a few years, but Stonyfield seemed to face more than its share of challenges for well over a decade. The yogurt seemed pretty popular early on, but production, distribution, and cash flow problems haunted them. Stonyfield also had a tough time sticking with their organic commitment, abandoning organic for a few years when they outsourced production and couldn't convince the farmers to follow their practices. With friends and family members' patient investing (including Gary's mother and mother-in-law), Stonyfield finally found financial success after raising money for its own production facility, readopting organic, and finding broader distribution.
After about 20 years, Stonyfield sold the vast majority of the company to large multinational Group Danone. Gary explained that some investors were looking for liquidity and that he felt it was time to pay them back for their commitment. Gary was able to negotiate some control rights for himself (unspecified in the podcast) and stayed on as chairman. While this sale was a big payday for investors, it is unclear how much of the original commitment to the environment and community remained. Also, the podcast did not mention that Danone announced, a few months ago, that it would sell Stonyfield.
Personally, I am a fan of Stonyfield's yogurt and it will be interesting to follow their story under new ownership. I also think students and faculty members could benefit from listening to stories like this to remind us that success is rarely easy and quick.
Thursday, October 5, 2017
On Monday, the Supreme Court heard argument on three cases that could have a significant impact on an estimated 55% of employers and 25 million employees. The Court will opine on the controversial use of class action waivers and mandatory arbitration in the employment context. Specifically, the Court will decide whether mandatory arbitration violates the National Labor Relations Act or is permissible under the Federal Arbitration Act. Notably, the NLRA applies in the non-union context as well.
Monday’s argument was noteworthy for another reason—the Trump Administration reversed its position and thus supported the employers instead of the employees as the Obama Administration had done when the cases were first filed. The current administration also argued against its own NLRB’s position that these agreements are invalid.
In a decision handed down by the NLRB before the Trump Administration switched sides on the issue, the agency ruled that Dish Network’s mandatory arbitration provision violates §8(a)(1) of the NLRA because it “specifies in broad terms that it applies to ‘any claim, controversy and/or dispute between them, arising out of and/or in any way related to Employee’s application for employment, employment and/or termination of employment, whenever and wherever brought.’” The Board believed that employees would “reasonably construe” that they could not file charges with the NLRB, and this interfered with their §7 rights.
The potential impact of the Supreme Court case goes far beyond employment law, however. As the NLRB explained on Monday:
The Board's rule here is correct for three reasons. First, it relies on long-standing precedent, barring enforcement of contracts that interfere with the right of employees to act together concertedly to improve their lot as employees. Second, finding individual arbitration agreements unenforceable under the Federal Arbitrations Act savings clause because are legal under the National Labor Relations Act gives full effect to both statutes. And, third, the employer's position would require this Court, for the first time, to enforce an arbitration agreement that violates an express prohibition in another coequal federal statute. (emphasis added).
This view contradicted the employers' opening statement that:
Respondents claim that arbitration agreements providing for individual arbitration that would otherwise be enforceable under the FAA are nonetheless invalid by operation of another federal statute. This Court's cases provide a well-trod path for resolving such claims. Because of the clarity with which the FAA speaks to enforcing arbitration agreements as written, the FAA will only yield in the face of a contrary congressional command and the tie goes to arbitration. Applying those principles to Section 7 of the NLRA, the result is clear that the FAA should not yield.
My co-bloggers have written about mandatory arbitration in other contexts (e.g., Josh Fershee on derivative suits here, Ann Lipton on IPOs here, on corporate governance here, and on shareholder disputes here, and Joan Heminway promoting Steve Bradford’s work here). Although Monday’s case addresses the employment arena, many have concerns with the potential unequal playing field in arbitral settings, and I anticipate more litigation or calls for legislation.
I wrote about arbitration in 2015, after a New York Times series let the world in on corporate America’s secret. Before that expose, most people had no idea that they couldn’t sue their mobile phone provider or a host of other companies because they had consented to arbitration. Most Americans subject to arbitration never pay attention to the provisions in their employee handbook or in the pile of paperwork they sign upon hire. They don’t realize until they want to sue that they have given up their right to litigate over wage and hour disputes or join a class action.
As a defense lawyer, I drafted and rolled out class action waivers and arbitration provisions for businesses that wanted to reduce the likelihood of potentially crippling legal fees and settlements. In most cases, the employees needed to sign as a condition of continued employment. Thus, I’m conflicted about the Court’s deliberations. I see the business rationale for mandatory arbitration of disputes especially for small businesses, but as a consumer or potential plaintiff, I know I would personally feel robbed of my day in court.
The Court waited until Justice Gorsuch was on board to avoid a 4-4 split, but he did not ask any questions during oral argument. Given the questions that were asked and the makeup of the Court, most observers predict a 5-4 decision upholding mandatory arbitrations. The transcript of the argument is here. If that happens, I know that many more employers who were on the fence will implement these provisions. If they’re smart, they will also beef up their compliance programs and internal complaint mechanisms so that employees don’t need to resort to outsiders to enforce their rights.
My colleague Teresa Verges, who runs the Investor Rights Clinic at the University of Miami, has written a thought-provoking article that assumes that arbitration is here to stay. She proposes a more fair arbitral forum for those she labels “forced participants.” The abstract is below:
Decades of Supreme Court decisions elevating the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) have led to an explosion of mandatory arbitration in the United States. A form of dispute resolution once used primarily between merchants and businesses to resolve their disputes, arbitration has expanded to myriad sectors, such as consumer and service disputes, investor disputes, employment and civil rights disputes. This article explores this expansion to such non-traditional contexts and argues that this shift requires the arbitral forum to evolve to increase protections for forced participants and millions of potential claims that involve matters of public policy. By way of example, decades of forced arbitration of securities disputes has led to increased due process and procedural reforms, even as concerns remain about investor access, the lack of transparency and investors’ perception of fairness.
I’ll report back on the Court’s eventual ruling, but in the meantime, perhaps some policymakers should consider some of Professor Verges’ proposals. Practically speaking though, once the NLRB has its full complement of commissioners, we can expect more employer-friendly decisions in general under the Trump Administration.
 Murphy Oil USA v. N.L.R.B., 808 F.3d 1013 (5th Cir. 2015), cert. granted, 137 S. Ct. 809, 196 L. Ed. 2d 595 (2017); Lewis v. Epic Sys. Corp., 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016), cert. granted, 137 S. Ct. 809, 196 l. Ed. 2d. 595 (2017); Morris v. Ernst & Young, LLP, 834 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2016), cert. granted, 137 S. Ct. 809, 196 L. Ed. 2d 595 (2017)
Friday, September 29, 2017
I recently finished Elizabeth Pollman and Jordan Barry's article entitled Regulatory Entrepreneurship. The article is thoughtfully written and timely. I highly recommend it.
This Article examines what we term “regulatory entrepreneurship” — pursuing a line of business in which changing the law is a significant part of the business plan. Regulatory entrepreneurship is not new, but it has become increasingly salient in recent years as companies from Airbnb to Tesla, and from DraftKings to Uber, have become agents of legal change. We document the tactics that companies have employed, including operating in legal gray areas, growing “too big to ban,” and mobilizing users for political support. Further, we theorize the business and law-related factors that foster regulatory entrepreneurship. Well-funded, scalable, and highly connected startup businesses with mass appeal have advantages, especially when they target state and local laws and litigate them in the political sphere instead of in court.
Finally, we predict that regulatory entrepreneurship will increase, driven by significant state and local policy issues, strong institutional support for startup companies, and continued technological progress that facilitates political mobilization. We explore how this could catalyze new coalitions, lower the cost of political participation, and improve policymaking. However, it could also lead to negative consequences when companies’ interests diverge from the public interest.