A scandal at a university’s innocence project led to a defamation suit by one of the project’s former employees against a writer of a book and documentary filmmakers who accused the employee of engaging in criminal behavior in pursuit of a false murder confession. The employee’s defamation claims were initially found to be untimely by the trial court, but the Illinois appellate court reversed the decision. The Illinois Supreme Court took up the appeal of the filmmaker’s and affirmed the decision of the appellate court, finding that each new showing of the documentary film to a limited audience retriggered the statute of limitations, making the claims timely.

Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism (Innocence Project) sought to exonerate Anthony Porter for the 1982 murders of Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green. Those working at the project suspected that a different individual, Alstory Simon, had committed the murders. Paul Ciolino, a private investigator, worked at the Innocence Project. Ciolino obtained a videotaped confession from Simon after allegedly promising Simon that he would be represented by an attorney whom Ciolino knew.

Porter’s conviction was vacated and, after being pressured by his attorney, Simon pled guilty to the murders and was sentenced to 37 years in prison. Some people remained unconvinced that Simon had actually committed the murders. Simon unsuccessfully filed a pro se petition for postconviction relief. After obtaining representation, a second petition was filed on Simon’s behalf asserting actual innocence. That petition contained new evidence that two witnesses who had implicated Simon had recanted their statements. The witnesses stated that their earlier statements implicating Simon were induced by promises to them made by David Protess of the Innocence Project. Continue reading ›

As we have previously written about here, here, and here, the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) has generated some high profile litigation in recent years. The Illinois Supreme Court’s last opportunity to consider one of the country’s most protective laws concerning biometric data came in 2019 in its decision in Rosenbach v. Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, which we wrote about here. Recently, the Illinois Supreme Court has granted permission to appeal another potentially impactful decision interpreting BIPA.

BIPA was enacted in 2008 to help regulate the collection, use, safeguarding, handling, storage, retention, and destruction of biometric identifiers and information. The BIPA defines “biometric identifier” as “a retina or iris scan, fingerprint, voiceprint, or scan of hand or face geometry.” It defines “biometric information” as “any information, regardless of how it is captured, converted, stored, or shared, based on an individual’s biometric identifier used to identify an individual.” The BIPA provides for fines of $1,000 to $5,000 for each violation.

On January 27, 2021, the Illinois Supreme Court granted leave to appeal the Illinois Court of Appeals for the First District’s recent decision in McDonald v. Symphony Bronzeville Park LLC, 2020 IL App (1st) 192398. The McDonald case considered the very specific, yet important, issue of whether the exclusivity provisions of the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act preempted claims statutory damages under BIPA. In its decision, the First District ruled that the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Act, and specifically its exclusive remedy provisions do not bar claims for statutory damages under BIPA. Continue reading ›

Michael Papandrea, the owner of three restaurants in the Chicago suburbs, is being sued for allegedly sexually harassing and secretly recording at least eight female employees in his restaurants, although investigators think Papandrea’s misconduct extends far beyond the eight plaintiffs in the existing lawsuit.

Papandrea is the owner of Parmesans Wood Stone Pizza in Frankfort, Tinley Park, and Matteson, and according to the lawsuit, he regularly instructed his female employees to wear skirts and dresses to work, and routinely touched them, including rubbing and poking their backs, arms, and shoulders. His habit of touching them was allegedly an excuse to get close enough to them to film up their skirts using a camera he kept in the toe of his shoe and controlled with an app on his phone.

The employees (all of whom were teenagers at the time of the alleged misconduct), reported the harassment to their supervisor, but as the owner of the restaurants, Papandrea outranked her. The supervisor has also joined the sexual harassment lawsuit as a plaintiff, so the fact that she was also being harassed by Papandrea most likely contributed to her feeling she could do nothing to help her subordinates.

Of the eight named plaintiffs alleging sexual harassment, most of them were underage at the time – five of them were 16, one was only 14, and one was 18. Continue reading ›

Every show needs a hero and a villain, and when it comes to reality TV, producers can manipulate what gets shown and what doesn’t to make someone out to be a villain. According to a recent defamation lawsuit filed by Donovan Eckhardt, he is the alleged victim of the production company and TV network that aired “Windy City Rehab”, a reality TV show in which he and his partner, Alison Victoria Gramenos, bought run-down homes, fixed them up, and sold them at a profit to enchanted buyers.

The show started out well enough for Eckhardt, with the show portraying him and Victoria as best friends, but as the show continued to experience backlash from angry neighbors and disgruntled buyers, the relationship quickly soured.

According to the lawsuit, Big Table Media, the show’s production company, and HGTV scripted Eckhardt as untrustworthy and gave the impression that he stole money. The defamation lawsuit alleges the intention was to create a bad guy in order to boost ratings.

The defamation complaint is 23 pages long and involves Eckhardt going through each episode of the second season of the hit show and pointing out all the allegedly false scenes he claims were manufactured to make him look like a villain.

An example is one scene in which Victoria tries to figure out what Eckhardt could have done with construction funds for a project, but Eckhardt alleges nothing in that scene is true. Instead, he claims the show is far from reality, and is actually highly scripted and choreographed to create a story, even where he says there isn’t one.

According to the lawsuit, Eckhardt and Victoria spoke regularly about every aspect of each project and that, far from being left in the dark, Victoria was intimately involved when it came to creating every aspect of a budget for each project. Continue reading ›

By now, we’ve all gotten used to hearing stories of high-level executives of huge corporations getting fired for misconduct, and while some people might be glad to see some signs of accountability, it’s usually bittersweet when it gets announced that they received a severance package worth tens of millions of dollars. But now McDonald’s is suing their former CEO, Steve Easterbrook, to return the $37 million he was paid as part of his severance package, claiming his misconduct was more extensive than they realized at the time they negotiated his severance package.

Easterbrook was removed as CEO back in November of 2019 for having a personal relationship with a female colleague. The relationship was apparently consensual and consisted of nothing more than text messages and video calls, but it violated company policy, and as a result, Easterbrook was fired from his position as CEO without cause.

Only after Easterbrook had been fired, and had negotiated his severance package with the company, did the company receive information from an anonymous source claiming Easterbrook had had sexual relations with at least three other women at the company. In one instance, Easterbrook allegedly approved a discretionary stock grant worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to be granted to one of the women while they were involved. Continue reading ›

WeWork’s meteoric rise in popularity and its unceremonious descent back to earth have kept WeWork in the news over the past few years. WeWork’s decision to sue two of its largest shareholders last year seemed no less newsworthy. In a recent development in this ongoing litigation, a Delaware Court of Chancery decision granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss WeWork’s breach of fiduciary duty claims, finding the allegations insufficient to establish a controlling shareholder relationship and the claims to be duplicative of the breach of contract claim.

WeWork was founded in 2010 as a commercial real estate company offering co-working office space with modern designs and state-of-the-art technology. WeWork enjoyed an astronomical initial valuation and was well-funded by some of the biggest names in venture capital. In 2019, WeWork began filings for an IPO. However, after a barrage of negative press involving revelations of WeWork’s shaky financials and its CEO’s erratic behavior, WeWork’s value tanked and its IPO was ultimately scrapped.

Following WeWork’s failed IPO, WeWork’s board formed a two-person special committee which negotiated a rescue funding package with Softbank, one of WeWork’s biggest and most significant investors, and the Vision Fund, a $100 billion venture capital fund that Softbank runs. According to the Complaint, under its agreements with WeWork, Softbank agreed to buy up to $3 billion worth of shares in WeWork and offer billions more in lending, which would have provided needed capital to WeWork while giving Softbank majority control of the company.

After the outbreak of COVID-19 and the rise of work from home, Softbank allegedly rethought its decision to invest in a company whose product is office space. Upon learning that Softbank was considering backing out of its agreements, WeWork filed suit against Softbank accusing it of breaching those agreements as well as breaching its fiduciary duties to WeWork shareholders. In its Complaint, WeWork alleges that Softbank is the company’s controlling shareholder and as such owed certain fiduciary duties to WeWork’s other shareholders. Softbank allegedly breached these fiduciary duties, when it “repeatedly used its influence over the Company [WeWork] to limit the Company’s options and force it into favorable outcomes for SoftBank, to the detriment of the Company’s minority stockholders.” Continue reading ›

Until recently, falsely accusing someone of being gay was considered defamatory per se in New York. Recently however, a New York appellate court broke with decades of precedent in ruling that such a statement no longer constitutes defamation per se. In so ruling the court cited recent transformations in the law and cultural attitudes towards homosexuality as justification for changing the standard as it relates to accusations of being gay.

Defamatory statements fall into one of two distinct categories: defamation per se and defamation per quod. When a statement is considered to be defamatory per se, it is considered so obviously harmful to one’s reputation that proof of harm or actual damages are not required.

The plaintiff in the case was a former elder in a Seventh Day Adventist church in New York. According to the complaint, the plaintiff alleged that he was defamed by the pastor of the defendant church when the pastor told members of the congregation that the plaintiff was a homosexual who viewed gay pornography on the church’s computer. The complaint further alleged that the pastor made the statements to influence the church to vote to relieve the plaintiff of his responsibilities at the church and to terminate his membership. The former elder responded by suing the pastor and the church to recover damages for defamation per se. Continue reading ›

The longstanding one-year statute of limitations for defamation actions in Illinois could be on its way out. The Illinois Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on the question of whether the deadline for filing libel lawsuits needs to be revisited to account for the explosion of online content in the twenty-first century. Defamation and libel attorneys throughout Illinois will be eagerly following this case as it presents potentially the largest change to defamation law in recent memory.

On January 14, the Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments in a defamation case brought by Paul J. Ciolino, a private investigator at the center of the Alstory Simon story, one of Chicago’s most prominent alleged wrongful murder conviction cases. The case is just the most recent installment of a long-running saga that has gripped the attention of Chicagoans for decades. The First District Court of Appeals described the case as follows in its opinion:

This case stems from one of the most famous murder cases in the recent history of our state. The background of the case is gripping. It is no real surprise then that the events surrounding the case have spurred a movie, a book, and other media attention.

In 1982, Jerry Hillard and Marilyn Green were murdered in Washington Park in Chicago. Anthony Porter was convicted for the murders and sentenced to the death penalty. Members of Northwestern University’s Innocence Project took an interest in the case and began reviewing evidence gathered by Porter’s defense attorney during the case. They determined that another man, Simon, was in the area of the murders close to the time that they were committed. Believing that Simon committed the murders, they started collecting evidence in an attempt to build their case that Simon, not Porter, was the murder. Continue reading ›

There are countless stories of a rock band’s members fighting over music and money, but this time it’s the widow of a band’s recently deceased member who’s fighting with the remaining members of the band over the band’s value.

When the singer Chris Cornell died, his widow, Vicky Cornell, inherited his share of the interest in the band, Soundgarden. The other members have offered to buy Cornell’s share for $278,000, but she alleges that amount represents just a fraction of what her share in the band is worth.

Cornell is suing the remaining members of Soundgarden for allegedly devaluing her share in the band, and has asked a judge to decide on an appropriate buyout price based on the value of Soundgarden’s master recordings. Additionally, Cornell is also asking the court to factor in the potential for future sales, including merchandise, tours, and even new music that could be created with artificial intelligence using extant recordings of Chris Cornell’s vocals.

A representative for Soundgarden said the remaining members of the band have acted in good faith in trying to buy out Cornell’s share of interest in the band. The amount they offered was allegedly based on the value of the band as estimated by Gary Cohen, a valuation expert who they claim is highly regarded and respected in the music industry. In trying to settle their disputes with Cornell, the surviving members of the band have allegedly offered to pay Cohen’s estimated value several times over. They say it’s about their music and their legacy, not about the money. But Cornell tells a different story. Continue reading ›

A company that provided administrative and payroll services was acquired by a bank under a stock purchase agreement. The agreement provided for the escrow of $2 million dollars, that was to be released to the sellers after a period of time had passed after the sale. Several months after the sale, a former employee came forward to reveal potentially fraudulent practices on the part of the administrative company. After an investigation by an outside law firm, the bank demanded indemnification from the sellers, but the sellers refused. The bank then sued in an attempt to recover money it had paid out to settle claims with the company’s clients. The district court determined that the indemnification claim was made too long after the bank first learned about the potential issues, but the appellate court found that undisputed facts did not show this to be the case and determined that the district court erred in granting summary judgment.

The Damian Services Corporation provides various administrative and payroll services to independent temporary staffing companies. The baseline level of service that Damian provides is short-term payroll funding to pay the temp agencies’ employees. Damian also offers other services to clients who pay more. Although Damian contracted with its temp agency clients, it invoiced the end-user companies that hired the temporary workers. The end-user employers would then pay Damian, which would, in turn, send the payments to the temp agencies after taking its cut as a fee for its services.

Damian encouraged its client staffing agencies to obtain prompt payment by providing discounts or levying fees depending on how long it took for the end-user employers to pay. These discounts and fees were negotiated independently with each staffing firm. In 2009, Damian changed its invoicing practices in such a way that made it much more difficult for staffing firms to receive discounts for prompt payment and more likely to be levied with fines. Continue reading ›

Contact Information