Justia Corporate Compliance Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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Evans served as CEO and a director of Avande, a privately held Delaware corporation that provides medical claims management services to insurance companies and healthcare organizations. Following Evans’s termination, Avande performed an audit and discovered suspect transactions undertaken by Evans while he was serving as CEO. Avande filed suit, alleging breach of fiduciary duty based on alleged self-dealing transactions and improper expenditures and tortious interference, defamation, and conversion based on acts that Evans allegedly committed after his termination. Evans was found liable for about $65,000 in damages, plus interest. Evans demanded advancement for expenses incurred in connection with the action.The Delaware Chancery court entered judgment in favor of Avande. Avande established that there is no causal link between Evans’s status as a former officer of Avande and the tortious inference and defamation claims; those claims solely concerned Evans’s post-termination conduct. Avande demonstrated that Evans did not succeed but was found liable. View "Evans v. Avande, Inc." on Justia Law

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Indeck develops, owns, and operates conventional and alternative fuel power plants. DePodesta, Indeck's vice president of business development, had overall responsibility for Indeck’s electrical generation project development efforts. Dahlstrom was director of business development. DePodesta and Dahlstrom had signed confidentiality agreements.In 2010, Dahlstrom founded HEV, a consulting firm that develops electrical power generation projects. DePodesta later became a member of HEV. In 2013, DePodesta, Dahlstrom, and HEV formed an LLC to develop natural-gas-fired, simple cycle power plants in Texas. The two subsequently copied and removed from Indeck’s premises thousands of documents and files. DePodesta resigned from Indeck on November 1, 2013, and Dahlstrom on November 4. They did not tell anyone at Indeck that they intended to pursue an opportunity with a new LLC. In 2014, Indeck filed suit, alleging breach of the confidentiality agreements and fiduciary duties,” seeking injunctive relief and disgorgement.The Illinois Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. Indeck’s confidentiality agreement was unenforceable as overbroad and Indeck failed to prove it had sustained injury based on any breach. Any profits from breaches of fiduciary duty after the defendants were speculative; there was no identifiable fund traceable to those breaches, so a constructive trust was not available. However, defendants breached their fiduciary duties during their employment and were required to disgorge their salaries. Indeck failed to prove the injury necessary for its claim of usurpation of a corporate opportunity. View "Indeck Energy Services, Inc. v. DePodesta" on Justia Law

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Xanthopoulos, a Mercer consultant, detected securities fraud; his internal complaints failed. He went to the SEC website, and, in March 2014, Xanthopoulos submitted his first TCR Form. Unlike the Sarbanes-Oxley OSHA Form, which may be used to notify OSHA of a Sarbanes-Oxley complaint, the SEC’s TCR Form does not affirmatively indicate that submission of the form will initiate a formal lawsuit under the federal securities law. Xanthopoulos allegedly submitted seven TCR Forms through June 2018; in his 2018 submissions, he mentioned Mercer’s mistreatment of him as an employee, not just the securities fraud. Every TCR Form Xanthopoulos submitted specifically referenced a whistleblowing award.As Xanthopoulos predicted in those filings, Mercer fired him in October 2017. Xanthopoulos filed an OSHA administrative complaint in September 2018, alleging violations of Sarbanes-Oxley’s anti-retaliation provision, 18 U.S.C. 1514A. OSHA dismissed the complaint as untimely because Xanthopoulos filed 350 days after Mercer discharged him. He responded that “there was no[] 180-day-period[] in which [he] could have decided in clear conscience, that [he] had every information needed, to contact OSHA.” Xanthopoulos, then represented by counsel, argued that he filed his claim in the wrong forum, which tolled the statute of limitations: the TCR Forms constituted Sarbanes-Oxley claims mistakenly filed with the SEC. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal. The reports to the SEC did not toll the 180-day period for his Sarbanes-Oxley complaint. Xanthopoulos has not articulated a sufficient ground to equitably toll his untimely complaint. View "Xanthopoulos v. United States Department of Labor Administrative Review Board" on Justia Law

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Applecars is a member of a network of Wisconsin used-car dealerships. McCormick owned a majority share in each dealership. Each dealership received management services from Capital M, which McCormick also owned. Capital M tracked shared dealership inventory, held employee records, and issued identical employee handbooks for each dealership; Capital M’s operations manager hired and fired each dealership’s general manager. The employees of each dealership gathered as one for events several times per year. The dealerships advertised on a single website, which included some language suggesting a single entity and some indicators that each dealership is a separate entity. Each dealership properly maintained corporate formalities and records. Capital M billed each dealership separately. Each dealership had a distinct general manager, bank accounts, and financial reports. The dealerships separately filed and paid taxes, paid employees, and entered into contracts.Prince worked at Applecars for several months before he was fired. Prince claims his firing was retaliatory and sued Applecars and its affiliates for racial discrimination under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The court granted the defendants summary judgment, noting that Applecars had fewer than 15 employees and was not subject to Title VII. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. There is insufficient evidence to support Prince’s theory that the court should pierce the corporate veil of the network, aggregating the number of employees such that Title VII would apply. View "Prince v. Appleton Auto LLC" on Justia Law

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Jaludi began working for Citigroup in 1985 and rose steadily through the ranks. Jaludi was laid off and terminated in 2013 after reporting certain improprieties in Citigroup’s internal complaint monitoring system. Jaludi, believing Citigroup had fired him in retaliation for his reporting, sued under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1962 (RICO), and the Sarbanes–Oxley Act of 2002, 18 U.S.C. 1514A. Citigroup moved to compel arbitration, relying on two Employee Handbooks. The 2009 Employee Handbook, contained an arbitration agreement requiring arbitration of all claims arising out of employment—including Sarbanes–Oxley claims. In 2010, Congress passed the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which amended Sarbanes–Oxley to prohibit pre-dispute agreements to arbitrate whistleblower claims, 18 U.S.C. 1514A(e)). In 2011, Citigroup and Jaludi agreed to the 2011 Employee Handbook; the arbitration agreement appended to that Handbook excluded “disputes which by statute are not arbitrable” and deleted Sarbanes–Oxley from the list of arbitrable claims. Nonetheless, the district court held that arbitration was required for all of Jaludi’s claims. The Third Circuit reversed in part. Although Jaludi’s RICO claim falls within the scope of either Handbook’s arbitration provision, the operative 2011 arbitration agreement supersedes the 2009 arbitration agreement and prohibits the arbitration of Sarbanes–Oxley claims. View "Jaludi v. Citigroup" on Justia Law

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Bio-Rad and its CEO appealed a jury verdict in favor of the company's former general counsel finding that defendants violated the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX), the Dodd-Frank Act, and California public policy by terminating general counsel's employment in retaliation. General counsel produced an internal report that he believed Bio-Rad had engaged in serious and prolonged violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) in China.The Ninth Circuit vacated in part and held that the district court erred by instructing the jury that statutory provisions of the FCPA constitute rules or regulations of the SEC for purposes of whether general counsel engaged in protected activity under section 806 of the SOX. However, the panel rejected Bio-Rad's argument that no properly instructed jury could return a SOX verdict in favor of general counsel. The panel held that the district court's SOX instructional error was harmless and affirmed as to the California public policy claim. The panel remanded for further consideration. View "Wadler v. Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Eighth Circuit affirmed DNRB's conviction of a Class B misdemeanor for willfully violating two safety regulations and causing an employee's death. The court held that, because the employee was not connected to an anchorage point before he fell, there was sufficient evidence that DNRB violated 29 C.F.R. 1926.760(a)(l) and (b)(1); sufficient evidence supported the district court's finding of willful violation by the company; and the factual findings were sufficient to support a conclusion that DNRB's failure to comply with the safety standards caused the employee's death. The court rejected DNRB's challenges to other-acts evidence and FRE 404(b) evidence; the district court considered and applied the 18 U.S.C. 3553(a) factors before imposing a $500,000 fine; and the district court could impose the maximum fine allowed by law even though it recognized the likelihood DNRB, which had ceased operations, might not be able to pay. View "United States v. DNRB, Inc." on Justia Law

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Somers alleged that Digital terminated his employment after he reported suspected securities-law violations to senior management. Somers sued, alleging whistleblower retaliation under the Dodd-Frank Act. The Ninth Circuit affirmed denial of a motion to dismiss. The Supreme Court reversed. Dodd-Frank’s anti-retaliation provision does not extend to an individual, like Somers, who has not reported a violation to the Securities and Exchange Commission. While the Sarbanes-Oxley Act applies to all “employees” who report misconduct to the SEC, any other federal agency, Congress, or an internal supervisor. 18 U.S.C. 1514A(a)(1), Dodd-Frank defines a “whistleblower” as “any individual who provides . . . information relating to a violation of the securities laws to the Commission, in a manner established, by rule or regulation, by the Commission,” 15 U.S.C. 78u– 6(a)(6). A whistleblower is eligible for an award if original information provided to the SEC leads to a successful enforcement action; he is protected from retaliation for “making disclosures that are required or protected under” Sarbanes-Oxley or other specified laws. An individual who falls outside the protected category of “whistleblowers” is ineligible to seek redress under Dodd-Frank, regardless of the conduct in which that individual engages. The statute’s retaliation protections, like its financial rewards, are reserved for employees who have done what Dodd-Frank seeks to achieve by reporting unlawful activity to the SEC. View "Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers" on Justia Law

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Martensen was a supervisor in the Chicago Stock Exchange’s unit responsible for examining compliance with trading regulations. He was fired in 2016. He claimed his firing violated 15 U.S.C. 78u–6(h), a part of the Dodd-Frank Act that protects whistleblowers. Martensen’s complaint did not allege that he reported any unlawful activity to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of his suit. Only a person who has reported “a violation of the securities laws to the Commission” is covered by 78u–6(h). The judge was wrong to reject Martensen’s proposal to file an amended complaint alleging that he had reported fraud to the SEC, but remand would be pointless. The report was unrelated to his discharge. A report to the SEC does not prevent employers from responding adversely to later reports that do not concern fraud or any other violation of the securities laws and never reach the SEC. Martensen acknowledged that the Exchange did not retaliate against him for the act that made him a whistleblower and did not argue that an internal complaint, which resulted in his firing, was “required or protected” by any particular rule of the Chicago Stock Exchange. View "Martensen v. Chicago Stock Exchange, Inc." on Justia Law

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Verfuerth, the founder and former CEO of Orion, had disputes with Orion’s board of directors, involving outside counsel's billing practices, potential patent infringement, potential conflicts of interests involving a board member, violations of internal company policy, such as consumption of alcohol at an informal meeting, the board’s handling of a defamation suit by a former employee, and the fact that the chairman of Orion’s audit committee allowed his CPA license to expire. The board ignored his advice to disclose those matters to stockholders. Orion removed Verfuerth as CEO, citing high rates of management turnover. The board conditionally offered Verfuerth emeritus status. Verfeurth declined. The parties were unable to negotiate his severance package. The board fired him for cause, citing misappropriation of company funds in connection with his divorce, disparagement of the new CEO, and attempts to form a dissident shareholder group. Verfuerth filed suit, claiming that his complaints to the board were “whistleblowing” and that, by firing him, Orion violated the Sarbanes‐Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. 1514A(a), and the Dodd‐Frank Act, 15 U.S.C. 78u‐6.e. The Seventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment for Orion. An executive who advises board members to disclose a fact that the board already knows about has not “provide[d] information” about fraud.. Nothing in any federal statute prevents a company from firing its executives over differences of opinion. View "Verfuerth v. Orion Energy Systems, Inc." on Justia Law