Friday, July 26, 2019
I'm at the tail end of teaching my summer transactional lawyering course. Throughout the semester, I've focused my students on the importance of representations, warranties, covenants, conditions, materiality, and knowledge qualifiers. Today I came across an article from Practical Law Company that discussed the use of #MeToo representations in mergers and acquisitions agreements, and I plan to use it as a teaching tool next semester. According to the article, which is behind a firewall so I can't link to it, thirty-nine public merger agreements this year have had such clauses. This doesn't surprise me. Last year I spoke on a webinar regarding #MeToo and touched on the the corporate governance implications and the rise of these so-called "Harvey Weinstein" clauses.
Generally, according to Practical Law Company, target companies in these agreements represent that: 1) no allegations of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct have been made against a group or class of employees at certain seniority levels; 2) no allegations have been made against independent contractors; and 3) the company has not entered into any settlement agreements related to these kinds of allegations. The target would list exceptions on a disclosure schedule, presumably redacting the name of the accuser to preserve privacy. These agreements often have a look back, typically between two and five years with five years being the most common. Interestingly, some agreements include a material adverse effect clause, which favor the target.
Here's an example of a representation related to "Labor Matters" from the June 9, 2019 agreement between Salesforce.com, Inc. and Tableau Software, Inc.
b) The Company and each Company Subsidiary are and have been since January 1, 2016 in compliance with all applicable Law respecting labor, employment, immigration, fair employment practices, terms and conditions of employment, workers' compensation, occupational safety, plant closings, mass layoffs, worker classification, sexual harassment, discrimination, exempt and non-exempt status, compensation and benefits, wages and hours and the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act of 1988, as amended, except where such non-compliance has not had, and would not reasonably be expected to have, individually or in the aggregate, a Company Material Adverse Effect.
c) To the Company's Knowledge, in the last five (5) years, (i) no allegations of sexual harassment have been made against any employee at the level of Vice President or above, and (ii) neither the Company nor any of the Company Subsidiaries have entered into any settlement agreements related to allegations of sexual harassment or misconduct by any employee at the level of Vice President or above.
The agreement has the following relevant definitions:
"Knowledge" will be deemed to be, as the case may be, the actual knowledge of (a) the individuals set forth on Section 1.1(a) of the Parent Disclosure Letter with respect to Parent or Purchaser or (b) the individuals set forth on Section 1.1(a) of the Company Disclosure Letter with respect to the Company, in each case after reasonable inquiry of those employees of such Party and its Subsidiaries who would reasonably be expected to have actual knowledge of the matter in question.
Even though I like the idea of these reps. in theory, I have some concerns. First, I hate to be nitpicky, but after two decades of practicing employment law on the defense side, I have some questions. What's the definition of "sexual misconduct"? What happens of the company handbook or policies do not define "sexual misconduct"? The Salesforce.com agreement did not define it. So how does the target know what to disclose? Next, how should an agreement define "sexual harassment"? What if the allegation would not pass muster under Title VII or even under a more flexible, more generous definition in an employee handbook? When I was in house and drafting policies, a lot of crude behavior could be "harassment" even if it wouldn't survive the pleading requirements for a motion to dismiss. Does a company have to disclose an allegation of harassment that's not legally cognizable? And what about the definition of "allegation"? The Salesforce.com agreement did not define this either. Is it an allegation that has been reported through proper channels? Does the target have to go back to all of the executives' current and former managers and HR personnel as a part of due diligence to make sure there were no allegations that were not investigated or reported through proper channels? What if there were rumors? What if there was a conclusively false allegation (it's rare, but I've seen it)? What if the allegation could not be proved through a thorough, best in class investigation? How does the target disclose that without impugning the reputation of the accused?
Second, I'm not sure why independent contractors would even be included in these representations because they're not the employees of the company. If an independent contractor harassed one of the target's employees, that independent contractor shouldn't even be an issue in a representation because s/he should not be on the premises. Moreover, the contractor, and not the target company, should be paying any settlement. I acknowledge that a company is responsible for protecting its employees from harassment, including from contractors and vendors. But a company that pays the settlement should ensure that the harasser/contractor can't come near the worksite or employees ever again. If that's the case, why the need for a representation about the contractors? Third, companies often settle for nuisance value or to avoid the cost of litigation even when the investigation results are inconclusive or sometimes before an investigation has ended. How does the company explain that in due diligence? How much detail does the target disclose? Finally, what happens if the company legally destroyed documents as part of an established and enforced document retention and destruction process? Does that excuse disclosure even if someone might have a vague memory of some unfounded allegation five years ago?
But maybe I protest too much. Given the definition of "knowledge" above, in-house and outside counsel for target companies will have to ask a lot more and a lot tougher questions. On the other hand, given the lack of clarity around some of the key terms such as "allegations," "harassment," and "misconduct," I expect there to be some litigation around these #MeToo representations in the future. I'll see if my Fall students can do a better job of crafting definitions than the BigLaw counsel did.
July 26, 2019 in Compliance, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Ethics, Law School, Lawyering, Litigation, M&A, Management, Marcia Narine Weldon, Teaching | Permalink | Comments (0)
Monday, July 8, 2019
Avid BLPB readers may have noticed that I failed to post on Monday of last week. I was traveling from Portugal to Spain that day. I did plan to make this post then, but travel scrambles (thanks to the Porto metro) and delays (thanks to Ryanair) prevented me from getting to a computer with Internet access until late in the day. By then, I was too exhausted to post. So, you get last Monday's post this Monday! No harm done; this post is not time-sensitive.
Ever heard of Graham's port? The Graham's port lodge was founded by brothers William and John Graham back at the beginning of the 18th century. Fast-forward 150 years, and the Graham family sells the then-very-successful Graham's port business to another family. That second family still runs the Graham's business today.
But a Graham descendant still wanted to be in the port business. He thought he had a "better way." So, 11 years after the Graham family sold Graham's, John Graham (not the same one, obviously!) established the Churchill port lodge. Here's what the Churchill's website says about its formation as a business:
Churchill’s was founded in 1981 by John Graham, making it the first Port Wine Company to be established in 50 years. The Founder wanted to continue his family’s long Port tradition but at the same time create his own individual style of Port. He named the Company after his wife, Caroline Churchill.
I went to a port wine tasting at the Churchill's lodge in Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal last Monday with my husband and daughter. We tasted the uniqueness of the Churchill's product. (My daughter, who is not a port wine fan, actually enjoyed what she tasted at Churchill's.) The wine is less sweet than one would expect from a port wine. John Graham himself explains why:
My Ports are made with as much natural fermentation, and with as little fortification brandy, as possible. I like to make wines in the most natural way. Above all I look for balance. I believe I brought this balance to Churchill’s Ports. There is a consensus around the characteristics that define our house style which are easily identified.
While we were at the tasting, we took a tour and learned the basic facts I relate here.
I was enchanted by the business story! Headline: A Graham founds Churchill's after the Graham family sells Graham's. A bit confusing, but a great narrative involving family business, M&A (and corporate finance more generally), intellectual property, business formation, and more. We learned, for example, that the grapes are foot-treaded (stomped on by human feet). Imagine the interesting employment questions. (The shifts are twelve hours and there are stems and seeds in with the grapes . . . .) And the tasting is still done by John Graham himself, raising questions about key man insurance and business succession planning. (We were told that John Graham has chosen a successor taster--not a member of the family. But we did not ask about management.) Finally, a major real estate acquisition--buying a vineyard (Quinta da Gricha) with a special terroir--is part of the tale.
I am scheming to find ways to integrate what I learned into my teaching this year. I know I will find places to work aspects of the story in--particularly in Advanced Business Associations and Corporate Finance. Because I teach on a dry campus, no wine tasting will take place during the lessons. But maybe an optional out-of-class session could be planned. Hmmm . . . .
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
Tom Rutledge posts the following over at the Kentucky Business Entity Law Blog:
LLC Members Are Not the LLC’s Employees
There is now pending before the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals of a suit that may turn on whether the relevant question, namely whether an LLC member is an employee of the LLC, has already been determined by a state court. In that underlying judgment, the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri, issued a judgment dated October 9 18, 2017 in the case Joseph S. Vaughn Kaenel v. Warren, Case No.: 15 AC-CC 00472. That judgment provided in part:
As an equity partner of Armstrong Teasdale, LLP, [Kaenel] is not a covered employee protected by the Missouri Human Rights Act.
I am curious as to which case this is that is pending. Tom knows his stuff and knows (and respects) the differences between entities, so I assume there is more to than appears here.
For example, the fact that a state court determined that an LLP equity partner is not an employee does not inherently answer the question of whether an LLC member is an employee. It could, but it does not have to do so.
In addition, I'd want to know more about the relationship between the LLC member and the entity. I am inclined to agree that an LLC member is not generally an employee merely by virtue of being a member. But I am also of the mind that an LLC member could also be an employee. In fact, there are times when counsel would be wise to advise a client who is an LLC member to also get an employment contract is she wishes to get paid. I am assuming there is not an employment contract here for the Eighth Circuit case.
However, suppose in the operating agreement all the members agree to pay one member for certain services. Or perhaps the compensated member gets priority payouts because of her agreement to do certain work for the entity. That would, as far as I am concerned, at least muddy the waters.
I'll be interested to see where this one goes (and, perhaps, what I have missed). But as far as I am concerned, LLC members can also be LLCs employees, even though the general answer is that they are not.
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
Employee Stock Options in Unicorns: Scholarship At the Intersection of Securities Law and Employee Benefits
Friend of the Business Law Prof Blog Anat Beck recently posted a draft of her article entitled Unicorn Stock Options - Golden Goose or Trojan Horse? on SSRN. I heard presentations on earlier versions of this piece, which I personally find quite intricate and interesting. An excerpt fro the SSRN abstract follows:
This article examines a contemporary puzzle in Silicon Valley – is there a shift in unicorn employees expectations that results in labor contracting renegotiations? It explores the challenges faced by unicorn firms as repeat players in competitive technology markets. It offers the following possible solutions. First, new equity-based compensation contracts, and critiques them. Second, alternatives to the traditional liquidity mechanisms, and critiques them.
It concludes with proposals to remove legal barriers to private ordering, and new mandatory disclosure requirements.
The article has been picked up by the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance and Financial Regulation and linked to in a Matt Levine column for Bloomberg. This is a good read, especially for those of you interested in entrepreneurial business law (which is Anat's speciality).
Saturday, September 1, 2018
Did I lose you with the title to this post? Do you have no idea what a DAO is? In its simplest terms, a DAO is a decentralized autonomous organization, whose decisions are made electronically by a written computer code or through the vote of its members. In theory, it eliminates the need for traditional documentation and people for governance. This post won't explain any more about DAOs or the infamous hack of the Slock.it DAO in 2016. I chose this provocative title to inspire you to read an article entitled Legal Education in the Blockchain Revolution.
The authors Mark Fenwick, Wulf A. Kaal, and Erik P. M. Vermeulen discuss how technological innovations, including artificial intelligence and blockchain will change how we teach and practice law related to real property, IP, privacy, contracts, and employment law. If you're a practicing lawyer, you have a duty of competence. You need to know what you don't know so that you avoid advising on areas outside of your level of expertise. It may be exciting to advise a company on tax, IP, securities law or other legal issues related to cryptocurrency or blockchain, but you could subject yourself to discipline for doing so without the requisite background. If you teach law, you will have students clamoring for information on innovative technology and how the law applies. Cornell University now offers 28 courses on blockchain, and a professor at NYU's Stern School of Business has 235 people in his class. Other schools are scrambling to find professors qualified to teach on the subject.
To understand the hype, read the article on the future of legal education. The abstract is below:
The legal profession is one of the most disrupted sectors of the consulting industry today. The rise of Legal Tech, artificial intelligence, big data, machine learning, and, most importantly, blockchain technology is changing the practice of law. The sharing economy and platform companies challenge many of the traditional assumptions, doctrines, and concepts of law and governance, requiring litigators, judges, and regulators to adapt. Lawyers need to be equipped with the necessary skillsets to operate effectively in the new world of disruptive innovation in law. A more creative and innovative approach to educating lawyers for the 21st century is needed.
For more on how blockchain is changing business and corporate governance, come by my talk at the University of Tennessee on September 14th where you will also hear from my co-bloggers. In case you have no interest in my topic, it's worth the drive/flight to hear from the others. The descriptions of the sessions are below:
Session 1: Breach of Fiduciary Duty and the Defense of Reliance on Experts
Many corporate statutes expressly provide that directors in discharging their duties may rely in good faith upon information, opinions, reports, or statements from officers, board committees, employees, or other experts (such as accountants or lawyers). Such statutes often come into play when directors have been charged with breaching their procedural duty of care by making an inadequately informed decision, but they can be applicable in other contexts as well. In effect, the statutes provide a defense to directors charged with breach of fiduciary duty when their allegedly uninformed or wrongful decisions were based on credible information provided by others with appropriate expertise. Professor Douglas Moll will examine these “reliance on experts” statutes and explore a number of questions associated with them.
Session 2: Fact or Fiction: Flawed Approaches to Evaluating Market Behavior in Securities Litigation
Private fraud actions brought under Section 10(b) of the Securities Exchange Act require courts to make a variety of determinations regarding market functioning and the economic effects of the alleged misconduct. Over the years, courts have developed a variety of doctrines to guide how these inquiries are to be conducted. For example, courts look to a series of specific, pre-defined factors to determine whether a market is “efficient” and thus responsive to new information. Courts also rely on a variety of doctrines to determine whether and for how long publicly-available information has exerted an influence on security prices. Courts’ judgments on these matters dictate whether cases will proceed to summary judgment and trial, whether classes will be certified and the scope of such classes, and the damages that investors are entitled to collect. Professor Ann M. Lipton will discuss how these doctrines operate in such an artificial manner that they no longer shed light on the underlying factual inquiry, namely, the actual effect of the alleged fraud on investors.
Session 3: Lawyering for Social Enterprise
Professor Joan Heminway will focus on salient components of professional responsibility operative in delivering advisory legal services to social enterprises. Social enterprises—businesses that exist to generate financial and social or environmental benefits—have received significant positive public attention in recent years. However, social enterprise and the related concepts of social entrepreneurship and impact investing are neither well defined nor well understood. As a result, entrepreneurs, investors, intermediaries, and agents, as well as their respective advisors, may be operating under different impressions or assumptions about what social enterprise is and have different ideas about how to best build and manage a sustainable social enterprise business. Professor Heminway will discuss how these legal uncertainties have the capacity to generate transaction costs around entity formation and management decision making and the pertinent professional responsibilities implicated in an attorney’s representation of such social enterprises.
Session 4: Beyond Bitcoin: Leveraging Blockchain for Corporate Governance, Corporate Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management
Although many people equate blockchain with bitcoin, cryptocurrency, and smart contracts, Professor Marcia Narine Weldon will discuss how the technology also has the potential to transform the way companies look at governance and enterprise risk management. Companies and stock exchanges are using blockchain for shareholder communications, managing supply chains, internal audit, and cybersecurity. Professor Weldon will focus on eliminating barriers to transparency in the human rights arena. Professor Weldon’s discussion will provide an overview of blockchain technology and how state and nonstate actors use the technology outside of the realm of cryptocurrency.
Session 5: Crafting State Corporate Law for Research and Review
Professor Benjamin Edwards will discuss how states can implement changes in state corporate law with an eye toward putting in place provisions and measures to make it easier for policymakers to retrospectively review changes to state law to discern whether legislation accomplished its stated goals. State legislatures often enact and amend their business corporation laws without considering how to review and evaluate their effectiveness and impact. This inattention means that state legislatures quickly lose sight of whether the changes actually generate the benefits desired at the time off passage. It also means that state legislatures may not observe stock price reactions or other market reactions to legislation. Our federal system allows states to serve as the laboratories of democracy. The controversy over fee-shifting bylaws and corporate charter provisions offers an opportunity for state legislatures to intelligently design changes in corporate law to achieve multiple state and regulatory objectives. Professor Edwards will discuss how well-crafted legislation would: (i) allow states to compete effectively in the market for corporate charters; and (ii) generate useful information for evaluating whether particular bylaws or charter provisions enhance shareholder wealth.
Session 6: An Overt Disclosure Requirement for Eliminating the Duty of Loyalty
When Delaware law allowed parties to eliminate the duty of loyalty for LLCs, more than a few people were appalled. Concerns about eliminating the duty of loyalty are not surprising given traditional business law fiduciary duty doctrine. However, as business agreements evolved, and became more sophisticated, freedom of contract has become more common, and attractive. How to reconcile this tradition with the emerging trend? Professor Joshua Fershée will discuss why we need to bring a partnership principle to LLCs to help. In partnerships, the default rule is that changes to the partnership agreement or acts outside the ordinary course of business require a unanimous vote. See UPA § 18(h) & RUPA § 401(j). As such, the duty of loyalty should have the same requirement, and perhaps that even the rule should be mandatory, not just default. The duty of loyalty norm is sufficiently ingrained that more active notice (and more explicit consent) is necessary, and eliminating the duty of loyalty is sufficiently unique that it warrants unique treatment if it is to be eliminated.
Session 7: Does Corporate Personhood Matter? A Review of We the Corporations
Professor Stefan Padfield will discuss a book written by UCLA Law Professor Adam Winkler, “We the Corporations: How American Businesses Won Their Civil Rights.” The highly-praised book “reveals the secret history of one of America’s most successful yet least-known ‘civil rights movements’ – the centuries-long struggle for equal rights for corporations.” However, the book is not without its controversial assertions, particularly when it comes to its characterizations of some of the key components of corporate personhood and corporate personality theory. This discussion will unpack some of these assertions, hopefully ensuring that advocates who rely on the book will be informed as to alternative approaches to key issues.
September 1, 2018 in Ann Lipton, Compliance, Conferences, Contracts, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Human Rights, Intellectual Property, International Business, Joan Heminway, Joshua P. Fershee, Law School, Lawyering, LLCs, Marcia Narine Weldon, Real Property, Shareholders, Social Enterprise, Stefan J. Padfield, Teaching, Technology, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)
Friday, April 6, 2018
Within the next few weeks, the Supreme Court will decide a trio of cases about class action waivers, which I wrote about here. The Court will decide whether these waivers in mandatory arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (which also applies in the nonunion context) or are permissible under the Federal Arbitration Act.
I wonder if the Supreme Court clerks helping to draft the Court's opinion(s) are reading today's report by the Economic Policy Institute about the growing use of mandatory arbitration. The author of the report reviewed survey responses from 627 private sector employers with 50 employees or more. The report explained that over fifty-six percent of private sector, nonunion employees or sixty million Americans must go to arbitration to address their workplace rights. Sixty-five percent of employers with more than one thousand employees use arbitration provisions. One-third of employers that require mandatory arbitration include the kind of class action waivers that the Court is looking at now. Significantly, women, low-wage workers, and African-Americans are more likely to work for employers that require arbitration. Businesses in Texas, North Carolina, and California (a pro-worker state) are especially fond of the provisions. In most of the highly populated states, over forty percent of the employers have mandatory arbitration policies.
Employers overwhelmingly win in arbitration, and the report proves that the proliferation of these provisions has significantly reduced the number of employment law claims filed. According to the author:
The number of claims being filed in employment arbitration has increased in recent years. In an earlier study, Colvin and Gough (2015) found an average of 940 mandatory employment arbitration cases per year being filed between 2003 and 2013 with the American Arbitration Association (AAA), the nation’s largest employment arbitration service provider. By 2016, the annual number of employment arbitration case filings with the AAA had increased to 2,879 (Estlund 2018). Other research indicates that about 50 percent of mandatory employment arbitration cases are administered by the AAA (Stone and Colvin 2015). This means that there are still only about 5,758 mandatory employment arbitration cases filed per year nationally. Given the finding that 60.1 million American workers are now subject to these procedures, this means that only 1 in 10,400 employees subject to these procedures actually files a claim under them each year. Professor Cynthia Estlund of New York University Law School has compared these claim filing rates to employment case filing rates in the federal and state courts. She estimates that if employees covered by mandatory arbitration were filing claims at the same rate as in court, there would be between 206,000 and 468,000 claims filed annually, i.e., 35 to 80 times the rate we currently observe (Estlund 2018). These findings indicate that employers adopting mandatory employment arbitration have been successful in coming up with a mechanism that effectively reduces their chance of being subject to any liability for employment law violations to very low levels.
This data makes the Court's upcoming ruling even more critical for American workers- many of whom remain unaware that they are even subject to these provisions.
Friday, February 16, 2018
Corporate Governance, Compliance, Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management in the Trump/Pence Era
This may be obsolete by the time you read this post, but here are my thoughts on Corporate Governance, Compliance, Social Responsibility, and Enterprise Risk Management in the Trump/Pence Era. Thank you, Joan Heminway and the wonderful law review editors of Transactions: The Tennessee Journal of Business Law. The abstract is below:
With Republicans controlling Congress, a Republican CEO as President, a “czar” appointed to oversee deregulation, and billionaires leading key Cabinet posts, corporate America had reason for optimism following President Trump’s unexpected election in 2016. However, the first year of the Trump Administration has not yielded the kinds of results that many business people had originally anticipated. This Essay will thus outline how general counsel, boards, compliance officers, and institutional investors should think about risk during this increasingly volatile administration.
Specifically, I will discuss key corporate governance, compliance, and social responsibility issues facing U.S. public companies, although some of the remarks will also apply to the smaller companies that serve as their vendors, suppliers, and customers. In Part I, I will discuss the importance of enterprise risk management and some of the prevailing standards that govern it. In Part II, I will focus on the changing role of counsel and compliance officers as risk managers and will discuss recent surveys on the key risk factors that companies face under any political administration, but particularly under President Trump. Part III will outline some of the substantive issues related to compliance, specifically the enforcement priorities of various regulatory agencies. Part IV will discuss an issue that may pose a dilemma for companies under Trump— environmental issues, and specifically shareholder proposals and climate change disclosures in light of the conflict between the current EPA’s position regarding climate change, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord, and corporate commitments to sustainability. Part V will conclude by posing questions and proposing recommendations using the COSO ERM framework and adopting a stakeholder rather than a shareholder maximization perspective. I submit that companies that choose to pull back on CSR or sustainability programs in response to the President’s purported pro-business agenda will actually hurt both shareholders and stakeholders.
February 16, 2018 in Compliance, Corporate Governance, Corporate Personality, Corporations, CSR, Current Affairs, Employment Law, Marcia Narine Weldon, Securities Regulation, Shareholders | Permalink | Comments (0)
Saturday, February 3, 2018
Time's Up for Board Members: Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against CEOs of Wynn and the Humane Society Should Send a Message
Perhaps I'm a cynic, but I have to admit that I was stunned when the news of hotelier Steve Wynn's harassment allegations at the end of January caused a double-digit drop in stock price. What began as an unseemly story of a $7.5 million settlement to a manicurist at one his of his resorts later morphed into a story about his resignation as head of the finance chair of the Republican National Committee. Not only did he lose that job, he also lost at least $412 million (the company at one point lost over $3 billion in value). His actions have also led regulators in two states to scrutinize his business dealings and settlements to determine whether he has violated "suitability standards." Nonetheless, Wynn has asked his 25,000 employees to stand by him and think of him as their father. The question is, will the board stand by him as it faces potential liability for breach of fiduciary duty?
The Wynn board members should take a close look at what happened with the Humane Society yesterday. That board chose to retain the CEO after ending an investigation into harassment allegations. A swift backlash ensued. Major donors threatened to pull funding, causing the CEO to resign. A number of board members also reportedly resigned. However, not all of the board members resigned out of principle. One female director resigned after stating, " Which red-blooded male hasn’t sexually harassed somebody? ... [w]omen should be able to take care of themselves.” Unfortunately, the reaction of this board member did not surprise me. She's in her 80s and in my twenty years practicing employment law on the defense side, I've heard similar sentiments from many (but not all) men and women of that generation. Indeed, French actress Catherine Deneuve initially joined other women in denouncing the #MeToo movement before bowing to public pressure to apologize. We have five generations of people in the workplace now, and as I have explained here, companies need to reexamine the boundaries. What may seem harmless or "normal" for some may be traumatic or legally actionable to someone else.
As the Wynn and the Humane Society situations illustrate, the sexual harassment issue is now front and center for boards so general counsels need to put the issue on the next board agenda. As I wrote here, boards must scrutinize current executives as well as those they are reviewing as part of their succession planning roles to ensure that the executives have not committed inappropriate conduct. Because definitions differ, companies must clarify the gray areas and ensure everyone knows what's acceptable and what's terminable (even if it's not per se illegal).This means having the head of human resources report to the board that company policies and training don't just check a box. In fact, board members need to ask about the effectiveness of policies and training in the same way that they ask about training on bribery, money laundering, and other highly regulated compliance areas. Boards as part of their oversight obligation must also ensure that there are no uninvestigated allegations against senior executives. Prudent companies will review the adequacy of investigations into misconduct that were closed prematurely or without corroboration.Companies must spend the time and the money with qualified, credible legal counsel to investigate claims that they may not have taken seriously in the past. Because the #MeToo movement shows no signs of abating, boards need to engage in these uncomfortable, messy conversations. If they don't, regulators, plaintiffs' counsel, and shareholders will make sure that they do.
Friday, January 26, 2018
On Wednesday, I spoke with Kimberly Adams, a reporter for NPR Marketplace regarding CSX's decision to require its CEO to disclose health information to the board. I don't have a link to post, sorry. As you may know, CSX suffered a significant stock drop in December when its former CEO died shortly after taking a medical leave of absence and after refusing to disclose information about his health issues. CSX has chosen the drastic step of requiring an annual CEO physical in response to a shareholder proposal filed on December 21st stating, “RESOLVED, that the CEO of the CSX Corporation will be required to have an annual comprehensive physical, performed by a medical provider chosen by the CSX Board, and that results of said physical(s) will be provided to the Board of Directors of the CSX Corporation by the medical provider.” Adams asked my thoughts about a Wall Street Journal article that outlined the company's plans.
I'm not aware of any other company that asks a CEO to provide the results of an annual physical to the board. As I informed Adams, I hope the board has good counsel to avoid running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act, HIPAA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, and other state and federal health and privacy laws. While I believe that the board must ensure that it takes its role of succession planning seriously, I question whether this is the best means to achieve that. I also remarked that although a CEO would know in advance that this is a condition of employment and would negotiate with the aid of counsel what the parameters would be, I was concerned about the potential slippery slope. How often would the CEO have to update the board on his/her health condition? Who else would have access to the information? Will this deter talented executives from seeking the top spot at a corporation?
One could argue that the health of the CEO is material information. But if that's the case, why haven't more shareholders made similar proposals? Perhaps there haven't been more of these proposals because the CSX situation was extreme. Shareholders were asked to bless the $84 million compensation package of a man who was so ill that he required a portable oxygen tank but who refused to disclose his condition or prognosis. Hopefully, other companies won't take the same approach.
Tuesday, January 23, 2018
As regular readers know, I am particular about language and meaning, especially in the business-entity space related to limited liability companies (LLCs). I think because of that, I was drawn to a new paper from Shu-Yi Oei (Boston College), The Trouble with Gig Talk: Choice of Narrative and the Worker Classification Fights, 81 Law & Contemp. Probs. ___ (2018). The abstract:
The term “sharing economy” is flawed, but are the alternatives any better? This Essay evaluates the uses of competing narratives to describe the business model employed by firms like Uber, Lyft, TaskRabbit, and GrubHub. It argues that while the term “sharing economy” may be a misnomer, terms such as “gig economy,” “1099 economy,” “peer-to- peer economy” or “platform economy” are just as problematic, possibly even more so. These latter terms are more effective in exploiting existing legal rules and ambiguities to generate desired regulatory outcomes, in particular the classification of workers as independent contractors. This is because they are plausible, speak to important regulatory grey areas, and find support in existing laws and ambiguities. They can therefore be deployed to tilt outcomes in directions desired by firms in this sector.
This Essay’s analysis suggests that narratives that are at least somewhat supportable under existing law may be potent in underappreciated ways. In contrast, clearly erroneous claims may sometimes turn out to be hyperbolic yet harmless. Thus, in evaluating the role of narrative in affecting regulatory outcomes, it is not only the obviously wrong framings that should concern us but also the less obviously wrong ones.
There are several interesting points in the piece, and find this part of the conclusion especially compelling:
I cannot prove that the deployment of gig characterization is the only reason certain legal treatments and outcomes (such as independent contractor classification for workers) seem to be sticking, at least for the moment. My narrower point is that while gig and related characterizations appear innocuous and accurate relative to the sharing characterization, this set of descriptors may actually be doing more work in terms of advancing a desired regulatory outcome. The reasons they are able to do more work are that (1) gig characterization speaks to an important and material legal ambiguity, (2) the gig characterization is plausibly accurate, even if deeply contested, and (3) the proponents of gig characterization have been able to use procedural and other tools to shore up gig characterization and defeat its competitors. These observations may be generalized beyond the gig context: While the temptation is to focus on narratives and characterizations that are clearly wrong, this Essay suggests that we should also pay attention to more subtle narratives that are less clearly wrong, because such narratives may be doing more work by virtue of being “almost right.”
This last point is one that resonates with me on the LLC front, where people insist on comparing or analogizing LLCs to corporations. There are times when such a comparison or analogy is "almost right," and it is in these circumstances that the perils of careless language can cause the most trouble because the same comparison or analogy can get made later when doing so is clearly wrong.
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.
Monday, December 25, 2017
Merry Christmas to all celebrating today. I am enjoying a white Christmas in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with my dad and my brother and his husband, joined later today by my son and his fiancée (who had to work the night shift last night--she's a hospital nurse). For the first time in many, many years--I think since before I was married in 1985--I am separated from my husband this Christmas. He is back in Tennessee with my daughter, who celebrated her 26th birthday yesterday. Their work schedules didn't accommodate holiday travel this year. My daughter, in particular, worked yesterday and will work again tomorrow. The working world is a different place now during the holidays than it was when I was a child.
As I sit here with a blood orange mimosa on Christmas morning, that observation set me to thinking about blue laws and Christmas. (Ann and I are thinking along similar lines this week, it seems . . . .) A lot of folks save their shopping--including shopping for alcohol--until somewhat the last minute. This year, Christmas is on a Monday, meaning that Christmas Eve--a prime shopping day--was on a Sunday. I wondered whether any blue laws prevented stores from being open or alcohol from being sold yesterday (or today, for that matter) . . . .
Back in 2006, when Christmas also was on a Monday, National Public Radio's All Things Considered covered this story from a South Carolina perspective. Tennessee law, TCA § 57-3-406(e) (2016), provides as follows:
No retailer shall sell or give away any alcoholic beverage between eleven o'clock p.m. (11:00 p.m.) on Saturday and eight o'clock a.m. (8:00 a.m.) on Monday of each week. No retail store shall sell, give away or otherwise dispense alcoholic beverages except between the hours of eight o'clock a.m. (8:00 a.m.) and eleven o'clock p.m. (11:00 p.m.) on Monday through Saturday. The store may not be open to the general public except during regular business hours. Likewise, all retail liquor stores shall be closed for business on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.
So, folks in Tennessee could not buy drinking alcohol yesterday from any store but can buy spirits today (absent applicable local ordinances to the contrary) from a retail store that is not a liquor store (if I am reading that correctly).
Massachusetts, my immediate former home state, has many exceptions to its blue laws, including allowing certain retail establishments to be open on Sundays, provided that rank-and-file (non-executive, non-administrative over a certain pay grade) retail employees are paid time-and-a-half if the business employs more than seven people. See MGL c. 136, § 6(50). This exception does not apply to any state-defined legal holiday (and to Christmas, when it is on a Sunday), but the exception does apply to the day following Christmas when Christmas occurs on a Sunday. The exception for alcohol sales is more detailed and includes:
The retail sale of alcoholic beverages not to be drunk on the premises on Sundays by retail establishments licensed under section 15 of chapter 138; provided, however, that notwithstanding this chapter, a municipality may prohibit the retail sale of alcoholic beverages on Sundays by licensees under section 15 by vote of the city council or board of selectmen; provided further, that there shall be no such sales prior to the hour of 10:00 a.m. or on Christmas Day if Christmas occurs on a Sunday; and provided further, that establishments operating under this clause which employ more than 7 persons shall compensate all employees for work performed on a Sunday at a rate of not less than one and one-half of the employee's regular rate. No employee shall be required to work on a Sunday and refusal to work on a Sunday shall not be grounds for discrimination, dismissal, discharge, deduction of hours or any other penalty.
Whoever on Sunday keeps open his shop, warehouse, factory or other place of business, or sells foodstuffs, goods, wares, merchandise or real estate, or does any manner of labor, business or work, except works of necessity and charity, shall be punished by a fine of not less than twenty dollars nor more than one hundred dollars for a first offense, and a fine of not less than fifty dollars nor more than two hundred dollars for each subsequent offense, and each unlawful act or sale shall constitute a separate offense.
Even where retail establishments may be open, states may regulate work on Christmas--and on other holidays, too--designated as legal holidays by the state. I grew up with a system of federal and state holidays that serve this purpose. But The Legal Genealogist tells us that Christmas has not been a government-designated holiday from work for very long. The Tennessee list for 2017 can be found here. The Massachusetts legal holiday list is here.
Anyway, lest I bore you with my holiday blue law musings, I will close now by wishing you a happy continuing holiday season from here in Pittsburgh. Enjoy time with and memories of family and friends. From my house to yours, this brings wishes for a lovely holiday week. Enjoy.
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.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
A recent Pennsylvania opinion makes all sorts of mistakes with regard to a single-member limited liability company (LLC), but in dissent, at least some of the key issues are correctly framed. In an unreported opinion, the court considered whether a company (WIT Strategy) that required an individual to form an LLC as a predicate to payment was an employee eligible for unemployment compensation. WIT Strategy v. Unemployment Compensation Board of Review, 2017 WL 5661148, at *1 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2017). The majority explained the test for whether the worker was an employee as follows:
The burden to overcome the ‘strong presumption’ that a worker is an employee rests with the employer. To prevail, an employer must prove: (i) the worker performed his job free from the employer's control and direction, and (ii) the worker, operating as an independent tradesman, professional or businessman, did or could perform the work for others, not just the employer.
Id. at *3. (quoting Quality Care Options v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 57 A.3d 655, 659-60 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2012) (citations omitted; emphasis added)).
As to the first prong, the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR) determined, and the court confirmed, that WIT Strategy had retained control over the claimant consistent with the type of control one exerts over an employee. I might disagree with the assessment, but the test is correct, and the analysis reasonable, if not clearly correct. Assessment of the second prong, though, is flawed.
The court quotes the UCBR's conclusions:
The [UCBR] does not find that [C]laimant was operating a trade or business, customarily or otherwise. The only reason [C]laimant formed the LLC was because WIT required it, claiming that it needed to pay [C]laimant through the LLC. WIT also claimed that doing so was a ‘common agency model’ for its kind of agency. The [UCBR] does not credit WIT's testimony. Rather, although [C]laimant did perform two projects for other entities, each for under $600 [.00], there is no evidence that [C]laimant solicited business through her LLC since its inception in 2013 through her termination in 2015. [C]laimant worked for WIT 40 hours per week and did not have employees of the LLC to solicit business for her. Further, although WIT claimed that all its team members were required to have additional clients through their LLCs to share with it, WIT did not prove that [C]laimant had such clients. As [C]laimant did not operate a trade or business, but rather the LLC was formed as a type of shell corporation, the fact that [C]laimant was the single-member owner is not dispositive. [C]laimant was not customarily engaged in a trade, occupation, profession or business.
The legal form by which Claimant provided public relations and communications services to WIT-provided clients and to her own clients is irrelevant. A sole proprietor may establish a single-member LLC for many reasons, the obvious being a desire to limit individual liability. It is not known what the Board meant by a “shell corporation,” and there is no evidence on this point. A limited liability company is not even a corporation. The Pennsylvania Associations Code provides as follows:One or more persons may act as organizers to form a limited liability company ....15 Pa. C.S. § 8821. A single-member LLC, such as Jilletante Creative, is a perfectly lawful and valid alternative to a sole proprietorship.
Claimant continued to operate as an LLC even after her separation from WIT. The record includes Claimant's two-page detailed proposal to a potential client on “Jilletante Creative, LLC” letterhead, signed as “Jilletante Creative, LLC; By: Jillian Ivey, sole member.” R.R. 10a-11a. Jilletante Creative is not a sham or “shell” corporation, and characterizing it as such is a red herring in the analysis of whether Claimant worked for WIT clients as an employee of WIT or as an independent contractor.
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)
Wednesday, August 2, 2017
Good morning from gorgeous Belize. I hope to see some of you this weekend at SEALS. A couple of weeks ago, I posted about the compliance course I recently taught. I received quite a few emails asking for my syllabus and teaching materials. I am still in the middle of grading but I thought I would provide some general advice for those who are considering teaching a similar course. I taught thinking about the priorities of current employers and the skills our students need.
1) Picking materials is hard- It's actually harder if you have actually worked in compliance, as I have, and still consult, as I do from time to time. I have all of the current compliance textbooks but didn't find any that suited my needs. Shameless plug- I'm co-authoring a compliance textbook to help fill the gap. I wanted my students to have the experience they would have if they were working in-house and had to work with real documents. I found myself either using or getting ideas from many primary source materials from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, the Institute of Privacy Professionals, DLA Piper, the Federal Sentencing Guidelines for Organizational Defendants, policy statements from various governmental entities in the US (the SEC, DOJ Banamex case, and state regulators), and abroad (UK Serious Frauds Office and Privacy Office). Students also compared CSR reports, looked at NGO materials, read the codes of conducts of the guest speakers who came in, and looked at 10-Ks, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and other climate change documents for their companies. I also had students watch YouTube videos pretending that they went to CLEs and had to write a memo to the General Counsel so that s/he could update the board on the latest developments in healthcare compliance and risk assessments.
2) This should be a 3-credit course for it to be an effective skills course- My grand vision was for guest speakers to come in on Mondays for an hour and then I would lecture for the remaining time or I would lecture for two hours on Monday and then students would have simulations on Wednesday.This never happened. Students became so engaged that the lecturers never finished in an hour. We were always behind. Simulations always ran over.
3) Don't give too much reading- I should have known better. I have now taught at three institutions at various tiers and at each one students have admitted- no, actually bragged- that they don't do the reading. Some have told me that they do the reading for my classes because I grade for class participation, but I could actually see for my compliance course how they could do reasonably well without doing all of the reading, which means that I gave too much. I actually deliberately provided more than they needed in some areas (especially in the data privacy area) because I wanted them to build a library in case they obtained an internship or job after graduation and could use the resources. When I started out in compliance, just knowing where to look was half the battle. My students have 50 state surveys in employment law, privacy and other areas that will at least give them a head start.
4) Grading is hard- Grading a skills course is inherently subjective and requires substantive feedback to be effective. 40% of the grade is based on a class project, which was either a presentation to the board of directors or a training to a group of employees. Students had their choice of topic and audience but had to stay within their industry and had the entire 6-week term to prepare. Should I give more credit to the team who trained the sales force on off-label marketing for pharmaceuticals because the class acting as the sales force (and I) were deliberately disrespectful (as some sales people would be in real life because this type of training would likely limit their commissions)? This made their training harder. Should I be tougher on the group that trained the bored board on AML, since one student presenter was in banking for years? I already know the answers to these rhetorical questions. On individual projects, I provide comments as though I am a general counsel, a board member, or a CEO depending on the assignment. This may mean that the commentary is "why should I care, tell me about the ROI up front." This is not language that law students are used to, but it's language that I have tried to instill throughout the course. I gave them various versions of the speech, "give me less kumbaya, we need to care about the slave labor in the factories, and less consumers care about company reputation, and more statistics and hard numbers to back it up." Some of you may have seen this recent article about United and the "non-boycott, which validates what I have been blogging about for years. If it had come out during the class, I would have made students read it because board members would have read it and real life compliance officers would have had to deal with it head on.
5) Be current but know when to stop- I love compliance and CSR. For the students, it's just a class although I hope they now love it too. I found myself printing out new materials right before class because I thought they should see this latest development. I'm sure that what made me think of myself as cutting edge and of the moment made me come across to them as scattered and disorganized because it wasn't on the syllabus.
6) Use guest speakers whenever possible- Skype them in if you have to. Nothing gives you credibility like having someone else say exactly what you have already said.
If you have any questions, let me know. I will eventually get back to those of you who asked for materials, but hopefully some of these links will help. If you are teaching a course or looking at textbook, send me feedback on them so that I can consider it as I work on my own. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next week, I will blog about how (not) to teach a class on legal issues for start ups, entrepreneurs, and small businesses, which I taught last semester.
Wednesday, April 19, 2017
Ratings behemoth Bill O'Reilly is out of a job at Fox News “after thorough and careful review of the [sexual harassment] allegations” against him by several women. Fox had settled with almost half a dozen women before these allegations came to light, causing advertisers to leave in droves once the media reported on it. According to one article, social media activists played a major role in the loss of dozens of sponsors. Despite the revelations, or perhaps in a show of support, O’Reilly’s ratings actually went up even as advertisers pulled out. Fox terminated O’Reilly-- who had just signed a new contract worth $20 million per year-- the day before its parent company’s board was scheduled to meet to discuss the matter. The employment lawyer in me also wonders if the company was trying to preempt any negligent retention liability, but I digress.
An angry public also took to social media to expose United Airlines' after its ill-fated decision to have a passenger forcibly removed from his seat to make room for crew members. However, despite the estimated 3.5 million impressions on Twitter of #BoycottUnited, the airline will not likely suffer financially in the long term because of its near monopoly on some key routes. United’s stock price nosedived by $800 million right after the disturbing video surfaced, but has rebounded somewhat with EPS beating estimates. Check out Haskell Murray's recent post here for more perspective on United.
Pepsi and supermodel Kendall Jenner also suffered more embarrassment than financial loss after people around the world erupted on social media over an ad that many believed trivialized the Black Lives Matter movement. Pepsi pulled the controversial ad within 24 hours. Some believe that Pepsi may suffer in sales, but I’m not so sure. Ironically, Pepsi’s stock price went up during the scandal and went down after the company apologized.
Pepsi and United both suffered public relations nightmares, but the skeptic in me believes that consumers will ultimately focus on what’s most important to them- convenience, quality, price, and in Pepsi’s case, taste. I recently attended my 25th law school reunion, and all of my colleagues who used a ride sharing app used Uber nowithstanding its well-publicized leadership scandals and the #deleteuber campaign. Indeed, many social media campaigns actually backfire. The #grabyourwallet boycott of Ivanka Trump’s brand raised public awareness but may have actually led to its recent record sales.
Reasonable people can disagree about whether social media campaigns and threats of consumer boycotts actually cause long-standing and permanent changes in corporate culture or policy. There is no doubt, however, that CEOs and PR departments will be working more closely than ever in the age of viral videos and 24-hour worldwide Twitter feeds.
Monday, February 27, 2017
Later this week, I will head to Indiana to present at and attend a social enterprise law conference at The Law School at the University of Notre Dame. The conference includes presentations by participating authors in the forthcoming Cambridge Handbook of Social Enterprise Law, edited by Ben Means and Joe Yockey. The range of presentations/chapters is impressive. Fellow BLPB editors Haskell Murray and Anne Tucker also are conference presenters and book contributors.
Interestingly (at least for me), my chapter relates to Haskell's post from last Friday. The title of my chapter is "Financing Social Enterprise: Is the Crowd the Answer?" Set forth below is the précis I submitted for distribution to the conference participants.
Crowdfunding is an open call for financial backing: the solicitation of funding from, and the provision of funding by, an undifferentiated, unrestricted mass of individuals (the “crowd”), commonly over the Internet. Crowdfunding in its various forms (e.g., donative, reward, presale, and securities crowdfunding) may implicate many different areas of law and intersects in the business setting with choice of entity as well as business finance (comprising funding, restructuring, and investment exit considerations, including mergers and acquisitions). In operation, crowdfunding uses technology to transform traditional fundraising processes by, among other things, increasing the base of potential funders for a business or project. The crowdfunding movement—if we can label it as such—has principally been a populist adventure in which the public at large has clamored for participation rights in markets from which they had been largely excluded.
Similarly, the current popularity of social enterprise, including the movement toward benefit corporations and the legislative adoption of other social enterprise business entities, also stems from populist roots. By focusing on a double or triple bottom line—serving social or environmental objectives as well as shareholder financial wealth—social enterprises represent a distinct approach to organizing and conducting business operations. Reacting to a perceived gap in the markets for business forms, charters, and tax benefits, social enterprise (and, in particular, benefit corporations) offer venturers business formation and operation alternatives not available in a market environment oriented narrowly around the maximization or absence of the private inurement of financial value to business owners, principals, or employees.
Perhaps it is unsurprising then, that social enterprise has been relatively quick to engage crowdfunding as a means of financing new and ongoing ventures. In addition, early data in the United States for offerings conducted under Regulation CF (promulgated under the CROWDFUND Act, Title III of the JOBS Act) indicates a relatively high incidence of securities crowdfunding by social enterprise firms. The common account of crowdfunding and social enterprise as grassroots movements striking out against structures deemed to be elitist or exclusive may underlie the use of crowdfunding by social enterprise firms in funding their operations.
Yet, social enterprise’s early-adopter status and general significance in the crowdfunding realm is understudied and undertheorized to date. This chapter offers information that aims to address in part that deficit in the literature by illuminating and commenting on the history, present experience, and future prospects of financing social enterprise through crowdfunding—especially securities crowdfunding. The chapter has a modest objective: to make salient observations about crowdfunding social enterprise initiatives the based on doctrine, policy, theory, and practice.
Specifically, to achieve this objective, the chapter begins by briefly tracing the populist-oriented foundations of the current manifestations of crowdfunding and social enterprise. Next, the chapter addresses the financing of social enterprise through crowdfunding, focusing on the relatively recent advent of securities crowdfunding (including specifically the May 2016 introduction of offerings under Regulation CF in the United States). The remainder of the chapter reflects on these foundational matters by contextualizing crowdfunded social enterprise as a part of the overall market for social enterprise finance and making related observations about litigation risk and possible impacts of securities crowdfunding on social enterprise (and vice versa).
Please let me know if you have thoughts on any of the matters I am covering in my chapter or resources to recommend in finishing writing the chapter that I may not have found. I seem to find new articles that touch on the subject of the chapter every week. I will have more to say on my chapter and the other chapters of the Handbook after the conference and as the book proceeds toward publication.
Sunday, September 4, 2016
Although I knew that Labor Day was a creation of the labor movement (about which I have mixed views), I had never looked up the history of the holiday in the United States. The Department of Labor, unsurprisingly, has a nifty, short webpage with some nice historical facts. Among them: the holiday has roots back into the 1880s and was originally a municipal creation, then became a state holiday in a number of states before Congress approved the holiday in 1894. The brief history on the webpage concludes with the following paragraph:
The vital force of labor added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and has brought us closer to the realization of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pay tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation's strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.
Labor and employment lawyers have focused commentary over the past week on legal matters relating to their spheres of influence in acknowledging Labor Day. Proskauer partner Mark Theodore posted a piece on a pair of recent NLRB decisions, and a union commentator, executive director of the Center for Union Facts, posted an advocacy piece promoting proposed federal legislation--the Employee Rights Act (which, according to the article, is "legislation which would protect employees from out-of-touch union bosses.").
All of this may be of interest to business lawyers. Or it may not. But tomorrow, I will honor the holiday by working--at least for part of the day. And that does seem, somehow, fitting . . . .
Wednesday, May 4, 2016
Last week, Hamdi Ulukaya, founder and CEO of Chobani, announced a 10% company stock grant to all company employees. Chobani joined the ranks of high profile stock grants including Whole Foods, Starbucks, Apple and Twitter. Stock grants, while more common in tech industries, are a part of hybrid corporate law-employment law conversation on shared ownership. Employee ownership in companies can occur in several different forms such as ERISA-governed benefit plans where the company stock issued or bought as a part of a retirement saving plan. Alternatively, a stock grant may be structured as a bonus plan, a standard compensation, or a vesting employee benefit eligible after threshold years and types of service. All of these plans fall under the rubric of shared ownership. In 2015, the National Center for Employee Benefits estimated that over 9000 companies participated in some form of shared ownership.
In a similar vein, actors in the hit (and record-breaking with 16 Tony Nominations) musical Hamilton have entered into a profit-sharing agreement with producers. The deal is different for these actors, but the sentiment is the same in sharing profits, aligning interests, and promoting employee loyalty.
Shared ownership plans, especially the ERISA-governed ones can have specific tax and financing benefits for companies. Creating a shared ownership plan, however is often focused on creating certain firm-specific benefits such as recruiting and retaining talent, and improving firm performance by aligning interests between employees and the company. The recruitment and retention aspect can be especially valuable to start-up firms that struggle to compete with mature firms on salary and reputation. Empirical studies have found improved workplace performance, on average, for firms with shared capitalism plans, with positive effects observed most strongly when combined with policies such as low supervision, decision-making participation, and competitive pay.
I note these stories with particular interest for several reasons. The first is that I am routinely embarrassed by how little play I give employees in my corporation class . I seem all too happy to ignore this very important piece of the corporate power puzzle, engine for the machine, etc., etc. Second, I have been looking at shared ownership in the context of a recent research project, so look for more on that topic in a separate post once the project progresses. Third, my sense is that social enterprise movement will bring with it greater demands for shared ownership as a means to address social factors such as retirement security, employee autonomy and wage inequality. Look for more of these stories in the headlines and an emphasis on it in scholarship.