Wednesday, February 14, 2007
Contracts are all about promoting mutually beneficial exchanges. And it turns out office romances can also fall into that category. National Public Radio reports that companies may benefit from facilitating such romances. Romantically involved employees are happy, productive, loyal employees (once they get over the early part of the relationship, which apparently involves extra-long lunch breaks, pining, wool-gathering and other negative externalities associated with employees thinking about something other than the bottoom line). As Southwest Airlines has discovered, two romantically-connected employees can share information about the company and become more than the sum of their parts. As of 2002, Southwest employed more than 1000 married couples.
In order to protect themselves from sexual harassment suits in connection with such romances, companies are adopting so-called "love contracts." Love Contracts (also called Relationship Contracts) are apparently especially common in the entertainment industry. They permit employees to disclose their office romances while also shielding employers from liability. A sample form Relationship Contract can be found here.
What a lovely gift to get that special someone this Valentine's Day!
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
In a 72-page opinion, Justice Ramos of the New York Supreme Court's Commercial Division, denied Richard Grasso's motions to dismiss claims broght against him by the State of New York and granted motions dismissing Mr. Grasso's counterclaims. The full opinion can be found on the Commercial Division's website (Index No. 401620/2004, Motion No. 28). According to press reports, the ruling will require Grasso to repay up to $100 million of a $140 million payment he received in 2003 as compensation for his services as CEO and Chairman of the Board of the New York Stock Exchange.
Grasso brought a counterclaim for breach of contract, alleging that he was entitled to $6.2 million in benefits because the NYSE terminated him without cause in 2003. Justice Ramos dismissed the counterclaim, even assuming that any such claim had not been waived when Grasso voluntarily waived entitlement to benefits beyond the $140 million already paid, on the ground that Grasso's employment agreement provided for termination benefits only upon written notice of termination and no such written notice was provided.
Justice Ramos conceded that the result was harsh:
Though harsh, the Court is compelled to hold that without a written ntoice, no matter the circumstances, Mr. Grasso must fail because a written notice is required by all of the contracts he signed (Ramos Oct. 18 2006 Op. at 18).
Still, he viewed his ruling as compelled by prior precedent and by Section 15-301(4) of New York's General Obligations Law.
Stay tuned, as Grasso plans an appeal.
Friday, October 6, 2006
The United Steel Workers announced today that 15,000 members who work at 16 Goodyear plants in the United States and Canada are going on strike today. The union had entered into a three-year agreement with Goodyear that expired in July. Talks apparently broke down over planned plant closings. The union claims that it agreed to the closing of one plant in 2003 and also accepted wage, pension and health care cuts. Given those sacrifices, the union is now unwilling to accept Goodyear's current plan, which reportedly contemplates two more plant closings.
While Goodyear has yet to issue its own press release (stay tuned for updates!), the Houston Chronicle reports that the company characterizes its offer as containing terms to which the union agreed in its contracts with other tire makers. Goodyear intends to "minimize impact" on its customers by relying on non-union plants and salaried workers at its union plants.
[Update: Still no press release from Goodyear on the strike, but follow this link for news reports on this strike gathered by LabourStart.org.]
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Based on the statute of frauds, a Delaware court recently granted an employer's motion for summary judgment and dismissed a doctor/employee's claim for breach of an oral employment contract.
Dr. Aurigemma sued his employer, a rehabilitation center,
for violation of an alleged oral agreement pursuant to which the doctor alleged he was to
serve as medical director for the employer. The doctor alleged that he entered into an oral agreement on
September 4, 2003, whereby he agreed to serve as medical director for one year
beginning October 1, 2003. The employer
denied any such agreement and contended that, even by the doctor’s own
contention, the contract was not enforceable because the statute of frauds required that it be in writing.
The court held for the employer. The statute of frauds requires that a contract be in writing when it is not capable of being performed in one year. In this case, the doctor’s alleged oral agreement was for exactly one year of employment – but he allegedly entered into the agreement roughly a month before the commencement of his service as medical director under that agreement. The court held:
The general rule regarding the Statute of Frauds can be stated as follows: "An oral contract for a year's services to begin more than one day after the contract is entered into is invalid under that provision of the statute of frauds making invalid an oral contract not to be performed within a year." The time within which such a contract is to be performed is reckoned from the making of the contract, not from the time the performance is to begin." Although this rule of law has never been explicitly expounded in Delaware, it appears to be the widely accepted construction of this particular provision of the Statute of Frauds.
(footnotes omitted). Thus,
the alleged oral agreement came within the statute of frauds, necessitating
that it be reduced to writing.
The court further held that no exception to the statute of frauds applied. The doctor argued that he partially performed the alleged contract to serve as medical director by assuming the duties of acting medical director on September 4, 2003. In response, the employer argued that the partial performance exception is limited to real estate and financial transactions and does not apply to service or employment contracts. Moreover, the employer argued, even though Dr. Aurigemma began to perform as interim medical director, this was not a partial performance of permanent medical director position duties. The court held:
Delaware law is clear that the part performance doctrine does not apply to oral contracts not to be performed within one-year. "It is ... uncontroverted that partial performance of services under an oral contract not to be performed within a year does not remove the contract from the operation of the Statute of Frauds so as to affect the portion of the services not performed." This view has been expressed as the majority view and is supported by case law in many jurisdictions. The purpose of the Statute of Frauds is to prevent frauds that may occur if oral contracts were permitted in certain areas of the law. The Indiana Supreme Court recently penned an excellent recitation of the purpose of the Statute of Frauds in considering an argument identical to that offered here by Dr. Aurigemma. In Coca-Cola
Co.v. Babyback International, Inc., that court said:
This purpose would be undermined if a party's conduct could form the basis for establishing and enforcing a claimed oral agreement not to be performed within one year simply because the same party's conduct arguably provided the only explanation for the agreement. Such an approach would invite persons to concoct and seek enforcement of fictitious contracts on grounds that the existence of an agreement would provide the only possible explanation for such persons' conduct. In contrast to real estate contracts, where evidence of part performance is relatively clear, definite, and substantial, the nature of evidentiary facts potentially asserted to show part performance of an agreement not performable within one year would be vague, subjective, imprecise, and susceptible to fraudulent application.
Aurigemma v. New Castle Care LLC,2006 WL 2441978 (Del.Super. Aug. 22, 2006).
Thursday, June 22, 2006
Today is the eve of the looming deadline for thousands of General Motors workers to decide if they are going to be part of one of the biggest employee buyout programs in corporate history. The offer in an oversimplified nutshell:
All hourly GM workers are eligible for some form of incentive, whether it's a $35,000 retirement bonus or a $140,000 lump-sum buyout. Retirees would get to retain their health care plans, but those who take the buyout would relinquish their pension and health care plans.
Workers must notify GM of their decisions by Friday.
The decision has many GM workers torn -- interesting descriptions of the risks and rewards being weighed by the workers faced with this decision (and they are both financial and psychological) are here and here. (Ironically (or not so ironically), today's news reports that GM's "turnaround" has lead to a good Q2).
So, if you were a long-time GM employee eligible for the $140,000 lump sum payout, would you stay or would you go? It is estimated that 20,000 employees will accept the offer.
[Meredith R. Miller]
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
No one can accurately measure how much value a good CEO adds to a large public company. No one knows how many people there are out there who have the skills and training to run large public companies. No one can accurately tell, even after the fact, whether a particular CEO was good or bad, or merely lucky or unlucky. When you couple this with the fact that the employment relationship is the ultimate relational contract, where the parties are not bargaining at arms' length, it's not surprising that you see people getting paid very large amounts of money. Our colleage Richard Bales over at Workplace Prof Blog has an interesting post about a method companies are using to mask exactly how much money the CEO gets.
Thursday, March 16, 2006
Employees of an Israeli parent company whose division has been spun off by the parent do not automatically become employees of the new company, according to a recent decision by the Israeli Supreme Court.
Rather, the workers can choose to remain employees of the former enterprise. In a fractured decision that resulted in three separate opinions -- none a majority -- the Court appears to have held that the employees' contract is with the parent and cannot be transferred without employee consent. If the parent no longer needs the employees, it can terminate them pursuant to whatever limitations and agreements it had with them previously.
Shoshana Gavish and Avi Ordo of Tel Aviv's S. Horowitz & Co., recount the decision in Do Employees Have The Right to Refuse to be Employed by Another Employer, in The Event of an Enterprise "Changing Hands"?
Monday, December 19, 2005
In Oregon, ORS 653.295 provides that a noncompetition agreement is unenforceable unless certain conditions are met. For example, under the statute, a noncompete is only enforceable if it was signed at the initial time of employment. In a recent case, an Oregon appellate court addressed an employee’s suit to enforce a noncompete -- the employer was attempting to get out of its payment obligations under the noncompete by claiming that the agreement was executed during the course of employment and, therefore, was not enforceable.
Here's what happened:
Plaintiff was hired by defendant in 1973 to work as its chief engineer. In 1996, plaintiff planned to retire and informed defendant of that fact. To induce plaintiff to continue in its employ, defendant offered and plaintiff agreed to a two-year, part-time employment contract "following your retirement on August 3, 1996. The employment contract provided that plaintiff would work up to 300 hours per year at $1,040 per month, and would receive medical benefits equivalent to what he had received as a full-time employee during the two years of the contract and for an additional eight years following. The contract also specified that [plaintiff’s work would no longer include production engineering, field engineering or field service, but would include consulting on design and sales assistance.]
The part-time employment contract was also subject to plaintiff's entering into a noncompetition agreement with defendant. The noncompetition agreement recited that "[plaintiff] intends to retire on August 3, 1996, and [defendant] desires to have an agreement with [plaintiff] not to compete" and provided that defendant would pay plaintiff $30,000 per year for a period of ten years as consideration for the agreement, to begin on August 3, 1996. The noncompetition agreement specified that plaintiff would not directly or indirectly compete or disclose information he learned or obtained while working for defendant that was not already available to the public. In the event of plaintiff's death, payments due under the contract would be made to a person specified by plaintiff, provided that his estate was bound by the terms of the agreement. In 1998, the part-time employment contract was modified by the parties to extend it an additional eight years, until 2006. Under the modification, plaintiff agreed to work up to 200 hours per year for $1,200 per month, with medical benefits to continue throughout the period of the contract and up to eight years following its expiration.
The employer made the payments required under the noncompetition agreement until 2003, when it declared the agreement "void and not enforceable" under ORS 653.295. The employer argued that the noncompete was executed after the employee’s initial employment. The employee sued for breach of contract. The appellate court affirmed the decision of the trial court and enforced the noncompete.
After reviewing the statutory history of the phrase “initial employment,” the court held that:
because plaintiff's new employment relationship with defendant began after he retired and because his employment was as a consultant rather than as a chief engineer, the noncompetition agreement is enforceable under the statute. Here, plaintiff gave notice to defendant that he intended to retire on August 3, 1996. With his retirement on that day, plaintiff's employment relationship as chief engineer with defendant ended. But for the new agreement to employ plaintiff as a consultant, there would have been no employment relationship between them. The subsequent agreement to employ plaintiff in a different capacity as a consultant operated to create a new employment relationship that had not existed before. Under the agreement that employed him as a consultant, plaintiff's job responsibilities and working hours decreased dramatically, resulting in a completely different employment relationship from the one that had existed previously.
The court noted that its reasoning was consistent with “the legislature's intent to protect employees from the coercive effect of employers requiring a noncompetition agreement in the midst of the employment term as a condition of continued employment.” Because the employee intended to retire, the employer “lacked the leverage of a continuing employment relationship that concerned the legislature.”
McGee v. The Coe Manuf. Co. (Or. Ct. App. Dec. 7, 2005).
[Meredith R. Miller]
Thursday, December 15, 2005
I agree that any claim or lawsuit relating to my service with [DiamlerChrysler] or any of its subsidiaries must be filed no more than six (6) months after the date of the employment action that is the subject of the claim or lawsuit. I waive any statute of limitations to the contrary.
In 2001, the company had forced Clark into early retirement as part of a "salaried workforce reduction." He worked his last day on August 31, 2001. On September 8, 2003, Clark filed an action against the company, alleging age discrimination. The trial court applied the shortened 6-month statute of limitations in Clark's employment contract and dismissed the action. The appellate court affirmed. The court rejected Clark's argument that the agreement was an unenforceable contract of adhesion, and rejected his argument that it was unconscionable because Clark had " failed to present any evidence that he had no realistic alternative to employment with [DaimlerChrysler]."
Judge Neff dissented; she would have held that the contract provision was both procedurally and substantively unconscionable.
[Meredith R. Miller]
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Contractual pre-dispute waivers of jury trials are not effective in California, according to a recent ruling by the state supreme court in Grafton Partners, L.P. v PriceWaterHouseCoopers L.L.P. (August 5, 2005).
Parties can agree in advance to arbitration, said the court, but they cannot agree in advance to have their case tried by a judge instead of a jury. What is striking is that this is not a consumer case, but one between sophisticated business entities. Christopher R. Ball and John M. Grenfell of New York’s Pillsbury Winthrop offer a brief report on the case.
Monday, November 28, 2005
A judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania recently refused an employer’s request to enforce a non-competition clause against a former employee. The court held that the agreement lacked consideration and the restrictions were unreasonably overbroad.
Robert Bodell worked as a sales representative for Fres-co, a manufacturer and distributor of “flexible packaging materials.” In 1998, three weeks before he began employment with Fres-co, Bodell signed a confidentiality and non-competition agreement. All of Fres-co’s 350 employees signed the same agreement. In 1999, Fres-co had the employees sign a slightly revised agreement based on concerns that the 1998 agreement was overbroad. So, in 1999, during his employment with Fres-co, Bodell signed a new non-compete, promising, among other things, not to work for any of Fres-co’s competitors for one year after termination of his employment.
Inevitably, Bodell left Fres-co and went to work for Ultra
Flex, a Fres-co competitor. Fres-co sought
injunctive and declaratory relief against Bodell, alleging
breach of the 1999 confidentiality and non-solicitation agreement. The court denied the request, holding that the
1999 agreement was not supported by “new consideration” – under
According to the language of the 1999 Agreement, Bodell signed it "in consideration of the nullification of a prior confidentiality and non-competition agreement." The 1999 Agreement differed from the 1998 Agreement in that it (1) reduced the restricted period from two years to one year; (2) introduced and defined the phrase "line of business;" and (3) eliminated a liquidated damages provision. Fres-co characterizes these lessened restrictions as consideration.
* * *
However, as Fres-co has conceded, the company had employees sign the 1999 Agreement because it was concerned that the 1998 Agreement might be unenforceably overbroad. If the 1998 Agreement is unenforceable, there were no prior restrictions on Bodell's post-Fres-co activity. In that case the 1999 Agreement's non-compete language would not decrease the period of a restriction (as Fres-co contends), but rather it would increase restrictions on Bodell's post-Fres-co activity by creating a new a one-year restriction where none existed before. This hardly constitutes consideration.
Moreover, Fres-co admits that every employee, however lowly, had to sign the same 1999 Agreement and was not permitted to negotiate any terms. Fres-co argues this was done for consistency across the organization. No doubt this method was administratively convenient and achieved consistency, but whether such an agreement was permissible under Pennsylvania law is quite a different matter. Lacking consideration since gratuitously sought, the 1999 Agreement fails to satisfy Pennsylvania's requirements and is thus unenforceable on this basis alone.
The court further held that, even if Bodell had received consideration for the 1999 agreement, it was unenforceable because (1) the restrictions were not reasonably necessary for Fres-co’s protection and (2) the restrictions were not reasonably limited in duration and geographic extent.
Finally, the court refused to exercise its equitable powers to rewrite the contract terms:
Having recognized an overbreadth problem with its 1998 Agreement, Fres-co failed properly to address it. Now it asks this Court to take on a wholesale rewriting that properly belongs to corporate decision-makers working with their counsel. We decline this expansive invitation to exercise our equitable powers to help this employer stifle legitimate competition by a salesman merely seeking to ply his trade.
Fres-co Sys. USA, Inc. v. Bodell (E.D.
[Meredith R. Miller]
Thursday, November 3, 2005
The New York Times is reporting that the musicians at Radio City Music Hall are striking over salaries and overtime pay. Apparently the high-kicking Rockettes will continue to perform in the holiday spectacular, albeit to taped music. Although there was some speculation that the Rockettes might also walk, word had it that their contracts forbid sympathy strikes.
Tuesday, November 1, 2005
About 1,000 N.Y.U. graduate student teaching assistants lost their union representation back in August when their contract with the university expired. At that time, following a policy reversal by the Bush-controlled NLRB, the university decided it would no longer recognize a graduate student union.
In the end, N.Y.U. offered the union the right to continue to represent the graduate assistants on economic matters if it would forgo the right to present grievances to an outside arbitrator. The university said that some of the grievances the union had filed interfered with academic decision-making. The union denied that it had encroached on N.Y.U.'s academic rights and rejected the offer.
At the time, the university said it would continue to increase the $18,000 minimum stipend by $1,000 a year for the next several years, and would continue to pay for health insurance.
The graduate students have threatened a strike next week. In August, protests at the university resulted in 76 arrests.
[Meredith R. Miller]
Friday, October 14, 2005
Law.com reports that, increasingly, the nation's largest 250 law firms are turning to temporary attorneys -- "contract attorneys" -- to wade through seemingly infinite piles of discovery documents. The article explains:
Firms commonly bring in contract attorneys through agreements with staffing agencies that do much of the screening for them. Firms generally charge the client by the hour, with a markup for what they pay the temp agency.
With growing frequency, however, corporate clients themselves are taking bids from staffing agencies and guiding the selection of contract attorneys who will work with law firms, said Robert Singer, former executive director at Weil, Gotshal & Manges of New York, who in August became chief executive officer of De Novo Legal, a staffing company in New York.
In addition, he said that more corporate counsel are supplementing their own staffs with contract work.
The firms report that the "greatest advantage to the arrangements is saying goodbye to the extra labor -- and their wages -- when the job is finished." Some contract attorneys say that they like the freedom of choosing when to work, or the ability to supplement income when solo practice is slow.
The firms hand down large discovery-related tasks to contract lawyers -- an "unwelcome" task for most associates. This arrangement provokes the question: what are first year associates doing these days?
Moreover, the additon of contract attorneys creates another tier in the hierarchy of attorney labor at these law firms, which raises issues of employee "integration."
[Meredith R. Miller]
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
Is a release of an employee's retrospective and prospective claims under the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA") enforceable? The Fourth Circuit says no; the Fifth Circuit says yes.
In Taylor v. Progress Energy, Inc., 415 F.3d 364 (4th Cir. 2005), the Fourth Circuit recently held that an employee's retrospective and prospective FMLA claims cannot be waived or settled by private agreement between the employee and employer. In Taylor, an employee was terminated based upon medical related absences, which her employer misinformed her were not covered by the FMLA. Upon her termination from employment, she signed a general release in exchange for additional severance and benefits. The Fourth Circuit held that, to the extent it waived FMLA claims, the general release was not enforceable because the FMLA regulations (CFR 825.220(d)) do not allow an employee to waive her rights under the FMLA.
The Fourth Circuit disagreed with the analysis of the Fifth Circuit in Faris v. Williams WPC-I, Inc., 332 F.3d 316 (5th Cir. 2003). In Faris, the Fifth Circuit interpreted the regulations to include only current employees, and held that a former employee could waive FMLA claims.
From law.com, drafting advice to employers in the Fourth Circuit:
unless they want to invite scrutiny by seeking approval of the DOL or a court. . ., employers should modify their general release agreements used within these states to remove any reference to the waiver of FMLA claims and avoid the catchall language that was deemed unenforceable in Taylor. The result is that employers in the 4th Circuit that pay severance to their departing employees in exchange for a general release of claims do so fully aware of the fact that the employees may turn around and sue for violations of the FMLA.
Alternatively, for employers in the Fourth Circuit and circuits that have not yet decided the issue:
employers can choose to leave their agreements unchanged and continue to condition eligibility for severance pay upon a release of all claims, including those arising under the FMLA. Employers opting for this approach run the risk that this provision will be invalidated. Therefore, these employers should ensure that they the release contains "severability" language stating that if one provision of the agreement is struck down, the remaining provisions remain intact.
Another possible approach:
eliminate reference to the FMLA, retain the catchall provision and add a sentence that the general release agreement applies to the waiver of claims "except to the extent such waiver is prohibited by law." At such time as an employee who signs a release commences an FMLA action, the employer can determine whether it wishes to raise the general release agreement as an affirmative defense to the employee's claims.
[Meredith R. Miller]
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Playing off Frank’s earlier post about murder-for-hire in India, I recently came across this article that discusses how few employee benefits there are when your employment contract is with the mob. As the story put it, mafia members often leave with “bronze caskets” rather than with “golden parachutes.” Interesting, as was the discussion in Freakonomics about the pay structure for drug dealers. Low-level “employees” are willing to put up with pay close to minimum wage and extremely violent working conditions because they, usually in vain, hope to become the leader of the gang someday and make millions.
Friday, February 4, 2005
Two items from our colleages over at LaborProf Blog: A new book on how market mechanisms may shape employment relationships in the year ahead, and a new service that allows employers not only to see each and every web site heir employees visit, but how much bandwidth is used—and calculate the cash loss to the employer.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004
National Hockey League owners, locked in a labor dispute with the players’ union, are reportedly going to reject the union’s latest offer of a 24 percent decrease in player salaries.
The owners have been demanding a hard salary cap—linking total player salaries to a percentage of league revenues—like that in some other sports. A league spokesman said that the players’ proposal would solve the league’s short-term financial difficulties, but doesn’t create a long-term solution. The lockout, which has been in effect since September, threatens to cause the loss of the entire season.
Graduate students at the University of Iowa picketed yesterday, protesting policies by the school’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences that require them to add an extra hour of work for each hour of sick time they take.
The grad students’ union picketed outside Schaeffer Hall (left), as part of its negotiations on a new two-year contract with the university. A spokesman for the Iowa City school said that grad students have "overarching responsibilities" during the semester—such as covering all the material in a course—that require such extra work.