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Some companies will do anything to get their hands on valuable trade secrets from their competitors. According to Olaplex, a startup based in California, L’Oréal allegedly tried everything from poaching employees to allegedly offering to acquire the company in order to gain access to allegedly sensitive, privileged and secret information. What was at stake was a alleged secret formula designed to protect hair from damage during the dyeing process.

Starting around the middle of 2015, L’Oréal allegedly tried to hire Olaplex employees it thought were responsible for creating the revolutionary product. When that didn’t work, L’Oréal allegedly approached Olaplex about possibly acquiring the company.

As a direct result of talks between the two companies to negotiate the terms under which the French-based company might acquire the U.S.-based company, L’Oréal was allegedly given access to confidential and proprietary information that had not yet been made available to the public, including an unpublished application for a patent on a product designed to allow customers to dye their hair without causing damage. Continue reading

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In the age of electronic communication, a recent case in the eastern district of Wisconsin serves as a cautionary tale for employees who accept employment offers with a mouse click. They should be aware that they could be agreeing to noncompete covenants with that click.

In BMO Harris Bank NA v. Elizabeth Lailer and Robert W. Baird & Co. (2016 WL 6155997), BMO won a preliminary injunction against a former employee it claims was taking its clients and harming its reputation in violation of an electronic employment agreement.

Elizabeth L. worked in the Brookfield, Wisconsin, branch of BMO Bank, serving the bank’s high-net worth clientele.  In December 2015, she was offered a new position as “private wealth advisor” and vice president at the bank. She claimed she accepted the transfer without seeing or being made aware of an offer letter or any terms therein. However, BMO produced evidence that Elizabeth had received an emailed offer and had followed steps on the company’s online portal to accept the position. The offer letter, which contained nonsolicitation, confidentiality and trade secret provisions, appeared in the “attachments” portion of the acceptance portal. It also required her to return all company property upon termination, including client information. Continue reading

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Although allegations of rape are still too often ignored, there are laws and college procedures in place to protect students (both the alleged victim and the alleged rapist), even when colleges and universities fail to take action. Victims of sexual harassment and assault can file a complaint under Title IX, a federal law that forbids schools from giving preference to certain students over others based on gender.

According to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, Stanford University had more cases of sexual harassment and assault open for review than any other American University. And that was before Stanford made headlines when its student, Brock Turner, was convicted of sexual assault and given a sentence lenient enough to incite heated controversy.

Now the prestigious school is facing another lawsuit filed by Equal Rights Advocates, a California-based nonprofit, and two law firms filing on behalf of one of the alleged victims.

The lawsuit alleges the prestigious university repeatedly failed to properly respond to complaints brought by three different victims over a period of three years of an alleged sexual predator on campus. Continue reading

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Attorneys generally get a bad reputation from those who think they’re motivated too much by money and not enough by serving their clients, but according to a recent indictment against Paul Hansmeier and John Steele, these two attorneys were allegedly using the courts to extort money from their opponents, rather than their clients.

The two attorneys attended the University of Minnesota Law School together, and while Hansmeier still lives in Minnesota, Steele is licensed in Illinois. According to the indictment, the two attorneys allegedly created sham companies in 2010, which they used to acquire the rights to certain pornographic films, some of which they made themselves. Then Steele and Hansmeier allegedly uploaded their copyrighted porn to file-sharing websites, knowing people would download their porn. Steele and Hansmeier would then file a copyright lawsuit against the individual on behalf of their “clients” – which were, in fact, the companies they themselves owned.

Then Steele and Hansmeier would allegedly petition the courts to require internet service providers to provide the identities of the people who had downloaded the porn. Once they had acquired those identities, the attorneys allegedly offered to settle the lawsuit for about $4,000. The alternative was to face public exposure and fines that could potentially get as high as $150,000. Many of their victims were either too humiliated and/or financially incapable of dealing with the lawsuit, so they often accepted the settlement offer. Continue reading

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The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) is pretty clear on the definition of overtime and what employers are required to provide for their workers who spend more than eight hours a day or forty hours a week working. All hourly, nonexempt employees are entitled to one and one-half times their normal hourly rate for all overtime worked.

But according to a recent wage and hour class action lawsuit against Bed Bath & Beyond (BBB), the retail chain allegedly miscalculated the overtime wages earned by its managers and customer service representatives in several of its New Jersey locations. In doing so, BBB allegedly violated both the FLSA and New Jersey Wage and Hour Law.

The named plaintiffs were each paid an annual salary ranging from $63,000 to $70,000. Rather than figure an hourly rate based on their annual salary, BBB allegedly took its employee’s weekly base salary, divided it by the number of hours the employee worked that week, divided the solution in half, then multiplied that number by the number of hours the employee spent working after 40 that particular week. In addition to allegations that the formula violated the FLSA, the wage and hour complaint further alleges that it resulted in the class members receiving less than minimum wage for all the hours they spent working.

Certain employees can be held exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirement, but only if they are paid a salary of at least $23,600 and meet very specific conditions. These qualifications include providing administrative assistance directly to an executive, spending more than half their time at work managing other employees (including weighing in on the hiring and firing of employees), or exercising a particular set of skills or level of education in the course of performing their jobs. Any employee who does not meet all the necessary requirements for one of the categories of overtime exemption is entitled to the premium overtime compensation for all the time they spend working after eight hours a day or forty hours a week. Continue reading

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Selling franchise rights is tricky. On the one hand, it’s an opportunity for both parties to expand and grow their businesses in a mutually beneficial way. On the other hand, because they’re both operating under the same brand, they both bear some responsibility for the way the business under the franchise is run. This is why franchisors include training in their franchise agreements: to make sure the franchisee runs the business in ways that are consistent with the brand.

After a recent decision by a California federal judge, companies may want to include education on employment laws and regulations in the training they provide for their franchisees.

The lawsuit involved a class of employees who worked at five different McDonald’s locations in the San Francisco Bay Area. The plaintiffs allege they were denied the proper compensation when they worked overtime, the wages they did receive did not include all the hours they spent working, and they were not compensated for the time and money they spent on maintaining the uniforms they were required to wear to work. They also alleged they were denied meal and rest breaks, both of which are required by California labor law, but the judge dismissed those charges.

The McDonald’s locations in question were owned and operated by The Edward J. Smith and Valerie S. Smith Family Limited Partnership and that company settled with the class of plaintiffs for $700,000. Continue reading

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Companies will try anything to get the attention of their audience, and in today’s Digital Age, that can include, according to a recent defamation lawsuit’s allegations, utilizing various user names to post comments on their own blog posts.

The blog post involved in the current lawsuit was posted on Jezebel and pertained to another defamation lawsuit filed by Meanith Huon against Above the Law for how it reported his acquittal from accusations of sexual assault. The comments section of the Jezebel article included an allegation that, despite his acquittal, Huon was still a rapist and should be referred to as such.  Huon denies these allegations and contends they are defamatory.

Huon responded by filing a second defamation lawsuit, this time against Jezebel for the blog post, its headline, as well as some of the statements that were made in the post’s comments section which he claims are false.

Because bloggers only have limited control over the comments that get posted on their websites, and because the point of the comments is to promote free and open discussion, they are protected. The comments themselves are protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and the Communications Decency Act protects online publishers from allegations of defamation when it comes to comments posted on their site by third-party users. Continue reading

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The District of Columbia federal appeals court ruled that DirecTV Inc. committed an unfair labor practice when it had contractor technicians fired for complaining about a pay dispute with the company on a TV news program. (DirecTV Inc. v. Nat’l Labor Relations Board, No. 11-1273 (D.C. Cir. 2016)).

DirecTV contracts with MasTec to install satellite television receivers in customers’ homes. The MasTec employees, based in Orlando, Florida, claimed they were pressured to convince customers to connect satellite service through a phone line in order to track viewing habits and increase pay-per-view business. The workers claimed management told them to do “whatever it took” to get customers to agree, including lying and installing phone lines without their knowledge. In 2006, under financial pressure from DirecTV, MasTec began docking the pay of technicians who didn’t meet quotas for phone line hookups.

After technicians complained to management, MasTec and DirecTV refused to change their policies. When a protest outside MasTec also failed to settle the matter, a group of MasTec technicians contacted a local TV news station, which interviewed them wearing their DirecTV uniforms. The report addressed the technicians’ grievances concerning the pay policy and their belief that they were being told to lie to customers; it also suggested that these phone connections could cost consumers more money.

DirecTV told MasTec it did not want the technicians in the broadcast representing DirecTV in customers’ homes, and MasTec then fired nearly all the technicians who participated.

Under the National Labor Relations Board’s interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act, “Employee communications to third parties in an effort to obtain their support are protected where (i) the communication indicate[s] it is related to an ongoing dispute and (ii) it is not so disloyal, reckless or maliciously untrue as to lose the Act’s protection.” Continue reading

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When business deals go bad, the parties have the option of suing for breach of contract, depending on how much money was at stake and whether they can prove the other party failed to uphold their end of the bargain. But those who consider taking their grievances to court would be well advised to make sure they were the only injured party. Otherwise they could find themselves being forced to pay the people they’re trying to sue, which is exactly what happened to Play Beverages and CirTran after they filed a lawsuit against Playboy for an alleged breach of contract.

In fall of 2006, Playboy entered into a license agreement with Play Beverages that gave exclusive international distribution rights to the beverage company. The contract was for 20 years and included an option for the parties to renew the agreement ever five years.

Almost a year after this contract was signed, Play Beverages signed a contract with CirTran giving it limited rights to the manufacture and distribution of Playboy’s energy drink.

By the time they filed their lawsuit against Playboy, Play Beverages and CirTran allege they had successfully launched Playboy’s beverage in more than 30 countries and acquired distributors for an additional 80 countries. Despite these gains, the plaintiffs admitted they had not managed to meet the minimum sales target required by the license agreement. Continue reading

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In addition to individual keywords playing an important role in digital marketing, strings of keywords, or phrases, are also important. They help people narrow down their search by providing content that’s more specific to what they’re looking for.

But when people search multiple keywords, unless they put quotation marks around the phrase, online search engines will produce results that include those words in various combinations. This is why one company’s name or trademark does not need to look identical to another’s in order to cause confusion.

According to a recent trademark infringement lawsuit against Houston College of Law (formerly known as South Texas College of Law), the school’s new name and logo bore remarkable similarities to those of the University of Houston Law Center. The University of Houston published a statement pointing out these similarities and the problems they might cause, and when the college refused to do anything about it, the university sued to get the college to stop using the new name and logo. Continue reading