U.S. Eighth Circuit - The FindLaw 8th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Political Discrimination, the IRS, and Hallmark's Trade Secrets

Politics. We can't seem to respect each other's differences when it comes to politics. Some of us are also having a hard time drawing a line between politics and religion. As these issues come up constantly in the news, two cases in the Eighth Circuit bring up these issues.

And in less divisive news, the Eighth Circuit recently upheld a trade dress verdict for Hallmark Cards. Should we send the company a congratulatory card?

Political Discrimination in Law School

Theresa Wagner is suing the University of Iowa's law school for political discrimination and violation of her equal protection rights, because she alleges that she was passed over for a legal writing teaching position because of her conservative political views. The case went to trial, and after two days, jurors said they could not reach a verdict, so the judge declared a mistrial.

Right after doing so, the judge called the jurors back to clarify whether they could reach a unanimous decision on an individual count. Because the jurors said they would have found for Wagner on the political discrimination count, the judge only declared a mistrial on the equal protection claim.

On appeal, the Eighth Circuit granted a new trial on both counts because "In this age of instant individualized electronic communication ... we think this bright line rule is more faithful to precedent and offers better guidance," reports The Des Moines Register.

Freedom From Religion Foundation & IRS Settlement

The Freedom From Religion Foundation sued IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman for violating the First Amendment's Establishment Clause "by failing to enforce the electioneering restrictions of section 501(c)(3) of the Tax Code against churches and religious organizations."

Because of Congress' ongoing scrutiny of the IRS's evaluations of non-profit entities, there was little a judge could do in the way of relief. As such, the parties came to a settlement agreement: "The IRS has now resolved the signature authority issue necessary to initiate church examinations. The IRS also has adopted procedures for reviewing, evaluating and determining whether to initiate church investigations."

FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor stated, "This is a victory, and we're pleased with this development in which the IRS has proved to our satisfaction that it now has in place a protocol to enforce its own anti-electioneering provisions."

Hallmark Trade Secrets

Hallmark sued a consulting firm that it hired to conduct consumer research about the greeting-cards market. That firm, Boston-based Monitor Co. Group LP, shared the results of its research with a private equity firm called Monitor Clippers Partners LLC (which was interested in buying one of Hallmark's competitors), despite signing a confidentiality agreement. Hallmark took both Monitor Co. Group and Monitor Clippers Partners to court for misappropriation of trade secrets.

Monitor Co. Group settled with Hallmark for $16.6 million, but trial went forward with Monitor Clippers Partners LLC. A verdict in Hallmark's favor was awarded in the amount of $31.3 million, and on appeal, the Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, reports the Kansas City Business Journal.

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