Amazon claims it fired Chris Smalls, a management associate, in March for violating safety procedures by continuing to come to work after having been exposed to COVID-19, despite the fact that the company says it offered to pay him to stay home for 14 days after the exposure. Smalls, who is suing his former employer in the Eastern District of New York for discrimination and retaliation, tells a different story.

According to Smalls, Amazon failed to take several safety precautions related to the pandemic, including taking employees’ temperatures before allowing them on the premises; providing hand sanitizer or personal protective equipment, such as masks and gloves; enforcing social distancing; or making sure the facility was properly cleaned and sanitized between shifts.

In the complaint, Smalls said he felt a responsibility to bring his concerns to management. He alleges management did not care about the health or welfare of the employees working under him because they were largely Black, Latino, and/or immigrants whose recent entry into the country made them unlikely to speak up on their own behalf. When Smalls again met with Amazon management, this time with a group of workers that included white employees, he alleges management was significantly more receptive to their complaints. Continue reading ›

Everyone knows who Sherlock Holmes is. Even if you haven’t read one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short stories featuring the famous detective, you’ve no doubt seen, or at least heard of, one of the many adaptations of Holmes and his adventures into other works of fiction, from other books and short stories, to movies and TV shows. He is known as the cold, calculating detective who sees clues everywhere, but is either incapable of taking into consideration the feelings of the people around him, or just lacks the patience to do so.

That is the Sherlock Holmes of the public domain, but later stories written by Doyle show a softer side – someone who has become more considerate in general, and more respectful towards women in particular. That version of the detective is not yet in the public domain, which forms the basis of a copyright lawsuit against Netflix, Nancy Springer, and Random House, among others.

The copyright lawsuit focused on Enola Holmes, a series of young adult books written by Springer, published by Random House, and adapted into a film starring Millie Bobby Brown that was released on Netflix in 2020. Enola is Sherlock’s younger sister and proves equally capable of solving mysteries. Both the books and the film portray a Sherlock (played by Henry Cavill in the film) who starts out dismissive of his younger sister, but gradually grows warmer towards her as she grows on him, and it is those latter characteristics that prompted the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to file their copyright lawsuit. Continue reading ›

If you think you’d be better off leaving your job to start your own company that does the same thing as your employer, you’d better check the terms of your employment contract first. A swimming coach based in New Jersey, John Alaimo, worked for NYS Aquatics Inc. of Goshen, which has run the “New York Sharks” swim team since 2003. Although Alaimo renewed his contract with NYSA in the fall of 2019, less than a year later, in the summer of 2020, he started his own swimming company that likewise had a shark-themed name: Shark Swimming, LLC.

NYSA responded by suing Alaimo and two other swim coaches for breach of contract, citing both non-compete and non-solicitation clauses in their employment contracts.

A non-compete agreement states you cannot work for a competitor of your employer, usually within a certain geographic distance and a certain timeframe after your employment with them has ended. A non-solicitation agreement states you cannot solicit clients, vendors, or other employees of your employer to do business with your new employer. It’s also common to have a time limit on that requirement.

It’s unclear whether Alaimo’s non-compete and/or non-solicitation agreements were limited by time, but it doesn’t matter because Alaimo was still under contract with NYSA at the time that he founded his competing company. Continue reading ›

An Illinois Appellate Court breathed new life into a petition by Chicago Bears legend Richard Dent to learn the identities of the anonymous individuals who he claims published defamatory statements about him. According to Dent’s Illinois Supreme Court Rule 224 petition, these defamatory statements ultimately cost Dent and his business a marketing contract with the energy supplier Constellation NewEnergy.

Dent played as a defensive end in the NFL from 1983-1997, including 12 seasons with the Chicago Bears. He was the MVP in the Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl victory, and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Also named as a petitioner in the case was Dent’s company, RLD Resources, which Dent founded after his football career ended.

According to the petition, three unidentified people allegedly defamed Dent by accusing him of groping a woman and engaging in drunken behavior. These allegedly defamatory comments prompted an investigation by Constellation that ultimately caused the company to terminate its contractual arrangements with Dent.

The case dates back to September 2018 when two attorneys representing the energy supplier visited Dent’s office and told him that certain allegations had been made against him. Specifically, they allegedly told Dent, a female Constellation employee had accused Dent of making inappropriate sexual comments to her and groping her at two separate Constellation-sponsored events.

The attorneys also informed Dent that a man complained to Constellation that he had observed Dent at a hotel in Chicago collecting materials for a Constellation-sponsored event and that Dent was drunk and disorderly at that time. The attorneys refused to reveal the identities of these individuals but informed Dent that they would be reviewing the energy supplier’s contracts with Dent based on these allegations. In October 2018, Constellation sent Dent and his company a notice that it was terminating all contracts with them. Continue reading ›

When a class action settles, class members generally have three options: (1) remain a part of the class, (2) opt-out of the settlement, or (3) object to the settlement. Many courts have bemoaned a perceived rise in the abuse of the third option by class members using a technique commonly referred to as “objector blackmail.” Objector blackmail involves class members filing frivolous objections to a class settlement, appealing decisions approving the settlement over such objections, and then seeking to obtain a side payment from the defendant in exchange for dismissal of their appeals. A recent Seventh Circuit opinion may spell the beginning of the end of this practice.

The issue of objector blackmail was front and center in the case of Pearson v. Target Corp. The plaintiffs in Pearson filed a putative class action alleging that the retailer Target, among others, made false claims about dietary supplements they manufactured and distributed. In March of 2013, the parties reached a settlement and asked the district court to approve it. After the first settlement was thrown out on appeal, the parties then reached a second settlement. Following the district court’s preliminary approval of the second settlement, three class members objected to the settlement. The objections ran the gamut from the number of class counsel’s fees to the failure of the defendants to admit liability under a statute they had not been accused of violating in the case. Continue reading ›

After a non-profit discovered some alleged invoicing irregularities it sued its founders and former directors and the companies that submitted the allegedly fraudulent invoices. The trial court dismissed the complaint. An Illinois appellate court reversed the trial court’s dismissal with regard to several of the fraud claims but affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the remaining claims.

In 2002, Nancy Morgan and Donna Sardina formed and incorporated the National Alliance of Wound Care (NAWCO), a non-profit corporation that provides education and credentials for medical personnel in wound injuries. At its founding, Morgan and Sardina were NAWCO’s sole directors but were not on NAWCO’s board of directors as of 2016 or anytime thereafter.

Soon after incorporating NAWCO, Morgan and Sardina established for-profit corporations, Wound Care Education Institute, Inc. (WCEI) and Wild about Wounds (WOW). WCEI is in the business of providing training and education to medical professionals regarding skin, wound and ostomy care and management. WCEI provides courses to assist healthcare workers in preparing for the national certification exams developed by NAWCO. WOW provides a national conference and trade show for health care professionals in the wound care field.

In 2016, Morgan sent NAWCO an invoice totaling $243,500 on behalf of WCEI for meeting room rentals. In 2017, Morgan sent NAWCO a series of invoices totaling $654,000 on behalf of WCEI for various services. NAWCO paid each invoice upon receipt.

In November 2018, NAWCO filed suit against Morgan, Sardina, WCI and WOW alleging breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud, conversion, and conspiracy. In the complaint, NAWCO alleged that these invoices Morgan submitted on behalf of WCEI were fraudulent because they contained charges for work never performed by WCEI and/or work for which NAWCO had already paid WCEI. NAWCO also alleged that WOW submitted charges totaling $583,744.34 to NAWCO from 2006 to 2015, for expenses that were “not legitimate” because of “the utter lack of supporting documentation for these significant charges.” After various amendments and motions to dismiss, the court dismissed NAWCO’s claims for failure to state a claim.

On appeal the Court found that the complaint had stated a claim for fraud against the defendants and reversed the trial court’s dismissal of those claims. The court affirmed dismissal of the remaining claims. Continue reading ›

After discussions about going public, Promega Corp., a privately-held biotech company based in Wisconsin, decided instead to remain a privately held company back in 2014 and tried to buy back the stock owned by its minority shareholders and regain a controlling interest in the company. Those minority shareholders claimed the price at which Promega wanted to buy back their shares was deeply discounted, and when they tried to negotiate for a higher price point, Promega allegedly refused, which ultimately led to the massive lawsuit between the company and its minority shareholders that dragged on for about five years.

The team of attorneys arguing the case for the minority shareholders was headed by James Southwick and Alex Kaplan, two partners of the Susman Godfrey law firm in Houston, Texas. They recently announced that the lawsuit settled for $300 million, a victory to which they attribute their months of research and preparation leading up to the trial, as well as their decision to stick to one main allegation: shareholder oppression.

Other attorneys might have argued that the defendants had breached their fiduciary duty to their shareholders, or they would have alternated between making the case for shareholder oppression, arguing breach of fiduciary duty, and making the case for other allegations throughout the course of the trial. Instead, Southwick and Kaplan decided their best bet was to argue that Promega had tried to oppress its shareholders and to continue to make that case throughout the month-long bench trial. It was an unusual strategy, but one that ultimately paid off. Continue reading ›

Terminating an employee can be a difficult thing for an employer. It can become even more difficult if the former employee decides to sue her former employer. An Illinois appellate court recently addressed such a situation and ultimately found that the trial court had properly granted summary judgment in favor of the employer on the former employee’s claims of retaliatory discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The plaintiff, Rita DiPietro began working for GATX Corporation, a Chicago-based equipment finance company, in July 2016 as a customer service representative. During her employment, the plaintiff took sick leave occasionally to care for her mother. Her manager told her to record this time off in the company’s timekeeping program. The program only accepted time recorded in half-day increments. As a consequence, even when the plaintiff took leave of fewer than four hours, the timekeeping program would reflect that she had taken four hours of leave.

When the plaintiff discussed the issue of the timekeeping program overstating the amount of sick time she had used, her manager allegedly told her to continue using the system to track her leave time. The plaintiff later complained about the sick time issue to both her manager’s manager and someone in the human resources department. She allegedly asked that her manager not be informed about the complaints because her manager had warned her not to complain to human resources or her manager’s manager about the issue. Nonetheless, her manager was informed of the plaintiff’s complaints.

Upon learning that the plaintiff had gone over her head, the plaintiff’s manager allegedly began contacting the plaintiff’s coworkers to question them about the plaintiff, seeking negative information that could be used to justify terminating the plaintiff. Approximately six weeks after making her complaint to HR and her manager’s manager, the plaintiff was terminated.

When the plaintiff requested a copy of her personnel file from GATX, it allegedly contained handwritten notes from the plaintiff’s manager that falsely documented counseling sessions with the plaintiff and back-dated documents that purported to criticize the plaintiff. The plaintiff denied that her manager or anyone else told her that her performance was deficient, counseled her in any respect, or took away any of her responsibilities. Instead, she asserted that she frequently received praise from upper management and attached emails representing a portion of those accolades to her pleadings. She also pointed to the fact that she received a rating of “solid achievement” on her only performance review and was given an above-average performance bonus in response. Continue reading ›

Following a trial that spanned over 16 days, the UK’s High Court dismissed Johnny Depp’s libel claim against The Sun newspaper over an article that accused Depp of being a “wife beater.” The judge presiding over the trial, Justice Andrew Nichol, issued a 129-page, 585-paragraph opinion thoroughly detailing the allegedly defamatory statements and the trial. Justice Nicol ultimately held that Depp had proved the necessary elements for a libel action, but also found that The Sun had proven that the article in which the allegedly defamatory statements appeared was “substantially true.”

In April 2018, The Sun published an article originally titled “GONE POTTY: How can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting wife-beater Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film?” The article’s title was later changed to “GONE POTTY How Can JK Rowling be ‘genuinely happy’ casting Johnny Depp in the new Fantastic Beasts film after assault claim?” The article asserted among other things that Depp was violent towards his ex-wife Amber Heard throughout the course of their relationship. In response to the story, Depp filed a defamation lawsuit against The Sun’s publisher, News Group Newspapers Ltd., and executive editor, Dan Wootton. Continue reading ›

Copyright infringement lawsuits over tattoos have become increasingly popular since Mike Tyson’s tattoo artist famously sued Warner Brothers over its recreation of Tyson’s face tattoo on the face of actor Ed Helms in the Hangover II. The latest bout of suits involving copyrighted tattoos involves video game maker Take-Two Interactive Software.

Take-Two is responsible for a number of popular game franchises including Grand Theft Auto, NBA 2K, and WWE 2K. In addition to releasing some of the most popular video games titles of the year, Take-Two has found itself defending against two separate copyright infringement suits over the company’s use of tattoos in its NBA 2K and WWE 2K games.

A federal judge in New York earlier this year dismissed the lawsuit over Take-Two’s depiction of athletes’ tattoos in its NBA 2K video games. In dismissing the lawsuit, the judge found that Take-Two’s use of the tattoos did not infringe the plaintiff’s copyrights because Take-Two had an implied license to display the tattoos and also because Take-Two’s use constituted fair use and was de minimis in the context of the entire games.

The second lawsuit filed in an Illinois federal court concerned Take-Two’s depiction of tattoos in its WWE 2k games. After the case proceeded to discovery, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. The plaintiff’s motion sought partial summary judgment on the issue of actionable copying based on Take-Two’s admission “to copying Alexander’s tattoos in their entirety in order to depict Orton in WWE 2K as he appears in real life.” Take-Two’s motion asserted the same affirmative defenses of implied license, fair use, and de minimis copying. Despite the similarity of the cases and Take-Two’s defenses, the federal judge overseeing the Illinois case did not warm to Take-Two’s arguments. Continue reading ›

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