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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

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More than six years after the devastating Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a group of BP, P.L.C. shareholders are still trying to get their day in court.

In Whitley v. BP, PLC, No. 15-20282 (5th Cir. 2016), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals threw out an amended complaint brought by the shareholders based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer, 134 S. Ct. 2459 (2014).

The plaintiffs are investors in the BP Stock Fund, an employee stock ownership plan comprised of BP stock. The plan is governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, which imposes strict fiduciary duties on those who manage such plans. After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and subsequent decline in BP’s stock price, the investors filed suit alleging that the plan fiduciaries breached their duties of prudence and loyalty by allowing the plans to acquire and hold overvalued BP stock; their duty to provide adequate investment information to plan participants; and their duty to monitor those responsible for managing the fund.

The federal district court dismissed the claims under the “presumption of fiduciary prudence” standard of Moench v. Robertson, 62 F.3d 553 (3d Cir. 1995). While the shareholders’ appeal was pending, the Supreme Court issued Fifth Third, holding there was no such presumption of prudence under ERISA. Instead, the Court held that “…a plaintiff must plausibly allege an alternative action that the defendant could have taken that would have been consistent with the securities laws and that a prudent fiduciary in the same circumstances would not have viewed as more likely to harm the fund than to help it.”

The Fifth Circuit then remanded the case for reconsideration in light of Fifth Third. The shareholders filed an amended complaint alleging, under Fifth Third, that the fiduciaries possessed unfavorable inside information about BP and could have taken alternative actions including freezing, limiting, or restricting company stock purchases; and disclosing unfavorable information to the public. The district court granted their motion to amend. Continue reading

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The only “Blurred Line” Robin Thicke is dealing with right now is the one between paying homage to another artist’s creation and ripping it off.

The question of when, exactly, a certain piece of art goes from evoking another to infringing on the earlier piece’s copyright is a question that all artists have to deal with at some point in their careers and it’s never easy to answer.

Thicke’s hit single, “Blurred Lines,” which was released in 2013 and named Song of the Summer, has earned profits of more than $16 million for the singer/songwriter and his co-songwriter, Pharrell Williams.

But according to Marvin Gaye’s family, the hit song sounded too much like Gaye’s own hit, “Got to Give It Up,” to be anything other than outright plagiarism. Frankie and Nona Gaye, two of Marvin Gaye’s children, sued Thicke and Williams for copyright infringement in 2013 when “Blurred Lines” was still ranked Number 1. Continue reading

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Business relationships are often just as complicated as personal relationships, and the longer the relationship, the messier the breakup can be. In a perfect world, people would be able to accept that things change and allow both their loved ones and their coworkers to move on when the time comes. Unfortunately, the pain and sense of betrayal felt by those left behind often makes them do inadvisable things.

One person who allegedly couldn’t let it go was Garrett Patten, the owner of Patten Industries, a Caterpillar heavy equipment dealer located in DuPage County of Illinois. According to a recent defamation lawsuit filed against both Patten Industries and its owner, Garrett Patten allegedly retaliated by seeking to destroy a former employee’s reputation after he left the company to work for a competitor.

Michael Jaworski started working for Patten Industries in 2001 and worked his way up to sales manager. In 2013 he allegedly notified his superiors that he had received a job offer from a competitor, but had turned it down, even though he was not entirely happy working for Patten Industries. According to Jaworski’s lawsuit Garrett Patten allegedly threatened Jaworski, comparing it to an ugly divorce if Jaworski ever did quit. Continue reading

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Class action and collective action lawsuits are both important tools for plaintiffs with common complaints against the same defendant. Both types of lawsuits allow plaintiffs to do essentially the same thing in terms of the rights they can win for plaintiffs, but with one distinct difference.

In class actions, all the potential plaintiffs that can be identified are automatically included in the class unless they opt out. By contrast, collective actions require potential class members to submit a valid claim in order for them to be included in the lawsuit. Each type of lawsuit has its own procedural rules but, according to the Eleventh Circuit Court, the filing of one type of lawsuit does not invalidate a lawsuit of the other kind, even if both were filed by the same plaintiffs.

Four sheriff’s deputies in Lee County, Florida filed a collective action against their sheriff, Michael Scott, for allegedly requiring them to work overtime without properly compensating them for the extra hours they worked. The collective action alleges Scott violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) by refusing to pay the proper overtime compensation of one and one-half times their normal hourly rate when they worked more than 40 hours a week. Continue reading

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We live in a world in which everyone constantly feels like they don’t have enough time, which is why most of us hate to feel like anyone is wasting our time. That feeling only gets worse when we don’t have any control over it, such as when our employer keeps us waiting.

According to a recent wage and hour lawsuit filed against Labor Ready, a temp agency, the company allegedly kept its temporary workers waiting to receive assignments without paying them for the time they spent waiting. The company also allegedly refused to pay them for the time they spent traveling to their assignments and also allegedly charged them a fee to cash their paychecks.

Most workers don’t think of the time they spend traveling to and from work as time they should be paid for, but there are certain instances in which that time is compensable. For those who work at the same location every day and simply commute between home and work, no payment for that time is required. On the other hand, some workers who are required to travel between different work sites in the course of a day should be paid for the time they spend traveling between sites.

The same goes for those who need to check in at one location before traveling to another site to perform their actual tasks for the day. This can sometimes be the case for those working for temp agencies when they’re technically employed by the temp agency, but the work they’re actually doing is for the agency’s client, usually at a separate location. Continue reading

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The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) defines overtime as any time spent working after eight hours a day or forty hours a week. It also requires employers to pay their workers one and one-half times their normal hourly rate for all the overtime they spend working. Some employers maintain agreements with their workers in which, instead of additional wages, the workers are compensated in the form of extra paid time off, which is not always legal.

Most employers are required to compensate their workers for overtime by paying them the premium overtime rate, but there are exceptions to that rule. For example, government employees can legally receive overtime compensation in the form of one and one-half hours of paid time off for every hour of overtime they work. But there is a limit of a total of 480 overtime hours that are eligible for this method of compensation, and once that limit has been reached, the employees must be compensated in the form of additional wages.

According to an investigation conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Puerto Rico Police Department was using paid time off to compensate police officers for the overtime they worked, but the department did not pay overtime wages when officers worked more than 480 hours of overtime.

The DOL’s investigation further found the police department had not compensated former police officers for the compensatory time they had built up by the time their employment was terminated. They also did not pay canine officers for the time they spent taking care of dogs for the police department, and did not pay academy cadets the proper compensation for the overtime hours they worked performing activities that were required by the department. Continue reading

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Death is a part of life and that’s even more true in certain places of our communities, such as hospitals and nursing homes. It’s expected that most people will die there or shortly after their stay, but there are still plenty of deaths happening in these places that are preventable.

Liability insurance for the medical industry is much higher than other industries because they need to protect themselves from angry family members looking for someone to blame for their loss. Sometimes they’re just lashing out, but all too frequently, the families have a legitimate complaint and now many of them are claiming that nursing homes have been working to keep allegations against them out of the public eye.

Over the past decade or so, an increasing number of businesses, including nursing homes, have been including arbitration agreements in both their employment and service contracts. The result is that it has become nearly impossible for consumers to do anything without signing away their right to take the company to court in the event of a legal dispute.

Arbitration was created as a way for businesses to settle disputes between themselves without cluttering the courts with their lawsuits. It is a private process that is much less formal, and often less neutral, than our current legal system. For example, is common for negotiations to take place in the offices of an attorney representing one of the parties. Continue reading