In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

February 2015 Archives

In-House Counsel: Is Transgender Discrimination on Your Radar?

In a two-part series in Inside Counsel, Jeff Beemer of Dickinson Wright PPLC talked about transgender discrimination as one of the an up-and-coming issues for the EEOC.

Indeed it is, and even though you might not think about it, transgender discrimination most likely falls into Title VII's prohibition on gender discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court has yet to say so, but the EEOC and two federal circuit courts agree that it does.

Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Abercrombie Hijab Case

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday in EEOC v. Abercrombie and Fitch Stores, the case about a Muslim teenager, Samantha Elauf, who interviewed for a job at an Abercrombie store while wearing a headscarf.

Abercrombie chose not to hire her explicitly because of the headscarf, assuming that she would need a religious accommodation, which it didn't want to grant, because Abercrombie's dress code policy prohibits head wear. The EEOC claimed that the employer discriminated based on its assumption that she would need an accommodation without ever asking Elauf.

While Walmart's in-house counsel may know all the rules regarding age and disability discrimination, some of Walmart's in-store employees clearly do not. The EEOC filed suit against Walmart on behalf of David Moorman, a former manager at a Walmart store in Keller, Texas, alleging age and disability discrimination in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Moorman claimed he was taunted and ridiculed by direct supervisors who called him "old man" and "old food guy." He was also allegedly denied reasonable accommodations for his diabetes (he requested a change in work duties) and was subsequently fired.

Walmart has agreed to settle the case, and to pay Moorman $150,000. Walmart also must train its employees on what conduct constitutes unlawful discrimination or harassment under the ADA and the ADEA.

GCs: 5 Reasons Why It's Time for a Vacation

Overworked as in-house counsel? Feel yourself burning out? Take a vacation! As you're no doubt already aware, even Americans who get paid vacation days still take the least amount of time off of any OECD members.

We're forfeiting $52 billion a year in paid time off, CNN reports. So we'd better use it, and this goes for you, too! The legal department will survive for a while without you, so here's why you should take that vacation:

Sexual Harassment Suit Exposes Silicon Valley's Seedy Underbelly

It's sort of an open secret in Silicon Valley that the tech industry is a man's world. Data bear this out: Only 11 percent of executive positions are filled by women, reports Business Insider, compared with 16 percent in the S&P 100.

It gets worse when it comes to tech-specific jobs, where over 80 percent of Google's international tech jobs are staffed by men (non-tech jobs, on the other hand, are staffed by 52 percent staffed by men). With this huge gender disparity comes allegations of sexual harassment, as one venture capital firm is finding out.

Apple Sued for Allegedly Poaching Workers for Top-Secret Car Project

With all the poaching Apple is accused of doing these days, you'd think it's on an African safari.

It seems like only last month (which it was) that Apple, along with three other Silicon Valley companies, settled a class action lawsuit brought by tech company employees who claimed companies colluded in anti-poaching agreements, which lowered their wages.

Now Apple's getting into trouble for allegedly poaching employees from a car battery manufacturer. These guys just can't win.

As Walmart Raises Its Minimum Wage, Some Legal Reminders for GCs

The hot business news today: Walmart is raising the pay rates for its lowest-paid workers, its full-time and part-time "associates." Hourly full-time workers will earn at least $10 an hour by February 1, 2016, while hourly-part-time workers will earn at least $9 an hour starting this April, Reuters reports.

It's great that Walmart recognizes the need to increase wages, but the average hourly wages for full-timers and part-timers is going up by only 15 and 52 cents an hour, respectively. What should GCs keep in mind about raising wages?

Lessons in Arbitration From the Lance Armstrong Ruling

Remember all that money Lance Armstrong won as a Tour de France champion? Yeah, he's losing it all. Of course you'll remember that he admitted all of his wins happened thanks to performance-enhancing drugs, resulting in his titles being stripped.

Earlier this week, Armstrong found himself on the short end of an order to pay $10 million to SCA Promotions, in a sharp reversal of an arbitration agreement that everyone thought was finalized 10 years ago.

You can reverse arbitration awards? Who knew!

5 Things GCs Have to Know (That Aren't the Law)

As more and more legal tasks move in-house, the legal department finds itself in the unenviable position of having to be master of several trades, many of which have little to do with the law.

I bet you thought when you signed up with the general counsel's office that you'd be filing lawsuits? Try again: GCs not only have to figure out new and innovative ways to put out fires, but the changing world of technology is putting some affirmative duties on them too.

Here are five subject areas that in-house lawyers are increasingly expected to know about:

The 'Left Shark' Cease-and-Desist Battle, Round 2

It's Round 2 as #LeftSharkGate continues unabated, and appears no signs of stopping.

As you may recall, Katy Perry's lawyers threatened to sue Fernando Sosa for creating figurines of the less-than-graceful "Left Shark" that danced along with Perry during the Super Bowl XLIX halftime show.

Sosa got himself a lawyer: Prof. Christopher Jon Sprigman of NYU School of Law, a specialist in IP. A few days later, Perry's lawyers responded, and they're having none of it.

IBM Sues Priceline, OpenTable, Kayak Over E-Commerce Patents

William Shatner will have to start negotiating some lower prices on lawyers. Inside Counsel reports that IBM has filed a lawsuit against Priceline, OpenTable, and Kayak for infringing on four of IBM's patents. (Priceline recently acquired both OpenTable and Kayak.)

Believe it nor not, two of the patents at issue go back to something completely unrelated: the pre-Internet online service Prodigy, which started in the late 80s and died quietly in 1999.

ACC's 2015 Survey of Chief Legal Officers: 5 Takeaways

The Association of Corporate Counsel has released its 2015 survey of Chief Legal Officers. ACC asked almost 9,500 CLOs or GCs a whole lot of questions, receiving responses from 1,289 of them in 46 countries, to determine what GCs are thinking about these days.

Among the things in-house lawyers seem to be most worried about: ethics, compliance, and data protection. Let's look at five highlights.

Katy Perry's Lawyers Send Cease-and-Desist Over 'Left Shark'

A scant few days after Katy Perry's performance at the Super Bowl halftime show, the Internet was awash with memes unrelated to Perry, "Deflategate," or even the poor planning that went into throwing the ball at the one-yard line instead of rushing it, leading to the New England Patriots' win.

Nope, all eyes were on that dancing "Left Shark."

During a performance of her song "California Gurls," Perry was flanked by two dancers in shark costumes. Except that the shark on the right seemed to know the dance moves and the one on the left didn't appear so confident. "Left Shark" spawned memes and merchandise ...

After Anthem Hack, What GCs Should Know About Encryption

Anthem Blue Cross, one of the nation's largest health insurance providers, revealed yesterday that its computers had been hacked, resulting in access to the records of millions of customers. This information included birthdays, Social Security numbers, addresses, and lots of other data that would be great if you wanted to steal someone's identity.

The Wall Street Journal reported that Anthem didn't encrypt the data that it kept in its own systems, which is really a rookie mistake. Sure, the law didn't require Anthem to encrypt the data, but that's no excuse. If your company is already encrypting data, good for you! You get a sticker. But if the company isn't, it's time to take a walk with the CTO and explain why you should.

Here are three things in-house lawyers should know about encryption:

OSHA Fines Ashley Furniture $1.7M for Workplace Safety Violations

Federal agencies keep on trucking with hefty fines for breaking laws: $70 million from Honda, $300 million to the EPA -- at this rate, we'll pay off the national debt. (Just kidding.)

Compared to all that, Ashley Furniture's penalty of $1.7 million seems like pocket change. The global furniture manufacturer, with headquarters in Arcadia, Wisconsin, ran afoul of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

How to Lose a $1.4 Billion Lawsuit: Fabricate Evidence

What's a good way to lose a $1.4 billion lawsuit? Well, there are lots of ways, but a great way is to fabricate evidence. That's what happened in a suit between Moncrief Oil International and Russian oil and gas giant Gazprom, causing Moncrief to drop its suit, according to Forbes.

Last week, Moncrief produced what it alleged was a 10-year-old slideshow -- with a slide from 2012. Unless Moncrief also specializes in time travel, something went horribly wrong.