The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
The Business Litigators
Patrick Austermuehle and Andrew Murphy were selected by Super Lawyers as Rising Stars
Published on:

A federal judge recently dismissed a consumer class action lawsuit that had been filed against McDonald’s in Chicago over the fast food franchise’s so-called “Extra Value Meal.”

Customers who want a variety of offerings from the McDonald’s menu have the option of either ordering them individually or ordering them together in a pre-packaged and pre-priced “Extra Value Meal.” The labeling of these combo meals implies that buying them together would provide a better value for the customer, but according to the recent class action lawsuit, that is a deceptive implication.

Kelly Killeen, the named plaintiff who filed the lawsuit, alleges she recently bought a sausage burrito breakfast Extra Value Meal at a McDonald’s location in Chicago for $5.08. The meal consisted of two sausage burritos, hash browns, and coffee, all of which Killeen alleges would have cost her $4.97 if she had ordered them individually, rather than as an “Extra Value Meal.”

Judge Elaine Bucklo dismissed the lawsuit, saying that because all the prices for each item, as well as each “value meal” were clearly labeled and available to the public, the fast-food chain could not be held liable if consumers did not take the time to compare prices themselves. Continue reading

Published on:

When a staffing company hires professional recruiters, they probably don’t anticipate that they’ll recruit the company’s own employees to a competing staffing company, but that’s allegedly what a former director for Randstad did.

Randstad, a leader in the world of industry staffing and recruiting, recently filed a lawsuit against four former employees who allegedly left their positions at Randstad, without notice, to allegedly set up a competing staffing company just down the street from Randstad. The lawsuit alleges that the former director took his entire team, including two executive recruiters and the company’s office administrator, with him to work at the new staffing company he had just set up.

According to the complaint, Randstad’s former director knew that the two executive recruiters he was taking with him had signed confidentiality and non-compete agreements that prevented them from working for a competing company in the same geographic area for at least one year after their employment with Randstad had been terminated. The agreements also allegedly prohibited them from taking either clients or employees away from Randstad.

The complaint does not yet allege that the former employees stole customers away from Randstad, but it alleges that the fact that they started another staffing firm not far from Randstad’s offices should be sufficient to prove they posed a risk to Randstad’s business. Continue reading

Published on:

While not all Catholic priests decide to take a vow of poverty when they’re ordained, a priest with a 10-acre estate in Williamston that includes six bedrooms, 12 bathrooms, 10 fireplaces, three barns, an indoor swimming pool, and stained-glass windows seems pretty suspicious. And that’s just one of his properties. The priest in question has been maintaining (although allegedly not paying taxes on or properly insuring) other properties for his personal use – all allegedly funded by money that was intended for his parish.

Reverend Jonathan Wehrle, who founded St. Martha Church in Okemos, Michigan, has recently been accused of embezzling more than $5 million from his church, and prosecutors are pointing to his vast estate as evidence of the theft. Wehrle allegedly spent $45,000 on an indoor swimming pool, $55,000 on stained-glass windows, and more than $134,000 on landscaping. According to a statement from the police, bills for the construction and landscaping did on the property match checks written from St. Martha.

Lawrence Nolan, the attorney representing Wehrle in the lawsuit, claimed the priest had an agreement with a bishop that allowed Wehrle to use parish money to fund his private residence. Unfortunately, that bishop is no longer living.

But Andrew Stevens, the assistant prosecutor for Princeton Excess and Surplus Lines Insurance Corporation, which insures the Catholic Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, tells a different story. According to Stevens, Wehrle had maintained almost complete control over the church and its funds since founding it in 1988. Continue reading

Published on:

President Barack Obama during his tenure had enacted protections by law to find that“sexual orientation is inherently a ‘sex-based consideration.’”  The current President Trump was determined to change that and the issue was brought up before the courts in a  landmark civil rights case which bars employers from discriminating against their workers based on sexual orientation.

President Trump had intervened in a discrimination lawsuit filed by a sky-diving instructor and argued that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not explicitly cover sexual-orientation discrimination in the workplace.  This is despite the separation of powers doctrine that is in place and was, therefore,  a stance that put it at odds with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected the notion that sexual-orientation discrimination was not covered in the Civil Rights Act.  It was determined that  “race, color, religion, sex or national origin,” should also be extended to include sexual orientation. An appellate court in Atlanta has ruled the opposite.

The issue is still largely a political one as the ruling could create a scenario in which the issue of gay rights at work will be decided by a Supreme Court.  The Supreme Court nomination choice of Justice is Neil M. Gorsuch and so has the weight and bearing of Trump attached.

For now, the private party that lost the case has not decided whether the Supreme Court will decide the case or not, in a review of the decision.  Continue reading

Published on:

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution grants all citizens the right to free and open speech. This is especially true of people in the media talking about public figures. The news couldn’t be the news (and it couldn’t be as effective as it is) without the ability to speak freely about public figures.

John Oliver, who isn’t even an American citizen, appeared to understand this fact better than Robert Murray, CEO of Murray Energy.

Last summer, Oliver made fun of Murray on a segment of his show, Last Week Tonight, in which Oliver, among other things, compared Murray to a villain in a series of comedy movies. Not only did the allusion depict Murray as evil, but the comparison to a character people laugh at implied that he is weak and ineffective. Oliver acknowledged on the show that Murray would probably try to sue them over the segment, but that he would not take back anything he had said.

Murray has, in fact, had a long history of filing allegedly frivolous lawsuits against people and companies that criticize him. Most of those lawsuits have been dismissed or settled outside of court, and while such intimidation tactics might work with some people, HBO (which made a point of saying it stood by Oliver and his show) is hardly a David to Murray’s Goliath. HBO is a successful company in its own right, and like any other media company, it is well aware of its own rights under the American Constitution. Continue reading

Published on:

It was only a matter of time that a backlash would occur against one of the largest social media networks.  This time, it was because of breach of trust issues.  It was the Presidential campaign of Donald Trump that saw the retention of private data of 50 million Facebook users, despite their attempts at claiming to have deleted it. The most recent case has been filed in Cook County, Illinois.  That claim included allegations similar to the other pending lawsuits against Facebook that will be tried in the federal court.  In the complaint, an argument is made that Facebook, Cambridge Analytica, and its corporate parent, SCL Group, violated users’ privacy when they violated Illinois laws against fraud.  In their response, Mark Zuckerburg and other Facebook executives called their actions a “breach of trust.”

The public at large was concerned about the mass data collection encouraged by Facebook, which assisted developers to build on the platform and provide greater insight into market manipulation and user behavior.  It was clearly written in the complaint that, “Facebook is not a social media company; it is the largest data-mining operation in existence.”  On top of that, Cook County is the second-largest county in the USA, behind Los Angeles County.  For that reason, from an international perspective, the case also has the ability to garner a high level of interest. It must be noted that this suit is not the first of technology-based lawsuits when it comes to privacy.

The fact of the matter is simply this: knowledge of your data can make millions, and this is exactly what Facebook did.  Users of Facebook feel violated enough to go ahead and file suit.  Members whose information was collected by Cambridge Analytica, the same firm that worked closely with the Trump campaign.  Facebook had known about the security breaches and did nothing to protect its users is what is alleged in the complaint.  Users also have a higher risk of identity theft as a result.  At the very least, Facebook acted negligently. Moreover, it is not just members of Facebook that are filing.  Investors have also come on board, in the making of “misleading statements” and they failed to disclose details about party access to data which is the reason why Facebook stocks have fallen. The officers of Facebook owed a fiduciary duty to investors to deal truthfully and honestly with them.   Because of the global reach, it is likely that more venues and jurisdictions will be involved.  Out of all, the most direct liability is against Cambridge Analytica.  They have violated city, state and Federal laws. The reputation of both companies is at stake as well. Continue reading

Published on:

Non-compete agreements generally exist to protect a company’s legitimate business interests in the event an employee decides to leave to work for a competitor, but what if the employee is laid off through no fault of their own? Should a non-compete agreement still keep them from obtaining employment if their former position no longer exists? This is the question Dr. Crocker asked after he was laid off from his position at Greater Colorado Anesthesia (GCA) as the result of a merger.

When Crocker got another job with a similar company in the same geographic area, GCA sued him for breach of contract. The company pointed to the non-compete clause in Crocker’s employment contract, but Crocker responded by suing his former employer, saying the non-compete agreement was overly burdensome by preventing him from obtaining valid employment as a doctor. Continue reading

Published on:

The world of intellectual property and protection of rights often requires complex filings with governmental offices and high costs are to be attached with the process.  The world of the internet has meant that a product launched, quickly catches on and can be easily copied and done at a fast rate.  Trade Secrets are offered great protection and do not have an expiration date. Trade secrets depend on whether reasonable measures have been made to keep the information a secret and if economic value is able to be derived.  It extends to include financial, business, scientific, technical, economic, or engineering information.  This can consist of patterns, plans, compilations, program devices, formulas, designs, prototypes, methods, techniques, processes, procedures, programs, or codes, whether tangible or intangible.

Normally you can look up a good recipe or ask a friend for some cooking tips.  However, not all recipes can be so easily shared.  Recipes used for cooking purposes can also be confidential information, in terms of a secret formula for people when it becomes a form of profit!  A recent case involved the production of jam and a recipe violation which came at a high price.  The case involved two different fig spreads where one company, Dalmatia, had a recipe protected by trade secrets.  It utilized another company, Foodmatch, for its distribution and manufacturing.  Unhappy with the quality of product that was being produced, they decided to engage in the services of someone else.  Shortly thereafter, Foodmatch came out with a fig spread of its own by the name of Divinia.  Of course, a court battle had to ensue.  The facts of the case highlight the issues involved with disclosing trade secrets to vendors or distributors. Dalmatia argued that these actions were in violation of the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016.  It was the seller of the leading fig jam in the USA, it had every desire to want to fight for their rights. In the first of its kind, and under the new law and before a jury, this case was going to test waters. Continue reading

Published on:

While most people may not consider the risks associated with someone slipping and falling on their floor, it’s a legitimate concern that property owners have to anticipate. While sometimes an accident is just an accident, other times it may be the result of negligence, in which case the property owner is responsible for all medical damages that resulted from the fall, as well as any psychological distress, mental suffering, and/or lost income.

Eugenie Bouchard is demanding the United States Tennis Association (U.S.T.A.) pay her all of the above as a result of a head injury she suffered after slipping and falling in the locker room at the United States Open in 2015. According to Bouchard, the accident was allegedly caused by a cleaning fluid that was applied to the floor of the locker room, which she claims was dimly lit.

Before the accident, Bouchard was a top-five tennis player who had reached the singles final at Wimbledon in 2014 and the semifinals at both the French Open and the Australian Open. Although she didn’t do as well in 2015, she did take home three victories from Flushing Meadows, with an additional two victories in doubles, but all that was before her 2015 fall.

After sustaining the alleged head injury, Bouchard only played one more tennis game in 2015 and she ended up having to withdraw before completing the second set due to dizziness. Continue reading

Published on:

Women and minorities have long struggled with the question of whether to speak out against discrimination and harassment or keep quiet in order to keep their jobs and their reputations. Although the #MeToo movement is doing much to encourage women to speak out about the inequalities they face, especially in the workplace, a movement doesn’t put food on the table or pay rent when someone loses their job as a result of having spoken up.

Wall Street has created an especially difficult environment for women. It remains a male-dominated industry with very few women rising to leadership positions. Women who do manage to climb the ranks consistently find that they need to be more qualified than men who achieve similar positions. After having worked so hard to get where they are, few women are willing to risk their positions by criticizing their employers or coworkers.

The result is that many women are still subjected to discrimination and sexual harassment in the workplace and the people who should be disciplining their tormentors are other men, who are all-too-often unwilling and unmotivated to deliver any kind of punishment.

On top of that, Wall Street is a small world. Anyone who gets a reputation for “stirring up trouble” will find it hard to get another job. In general, the industry prefers to handle allegations of misconduct quietly. Continue reading