Articles Posted in Featured Posts

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Years of highly contested, and well-publicized, litigation have made employers aware of the dangers of discriminating against workers based on gender, sexual orientation, race and religion. It’s not unusual for company executives to work with an employment attorney when they are developing or revamping their practices. Unfortunately, age discrimination tends to be overlooked.

Age-Discrimination-132214651-e1500063954245This oversight is coming to the forefront with litigation filed in the U.S. District Court in New Jersey. Plaintiffs allege that their former employer, AT&T, systematically shed older workers in an effort to gain a workforce that has more advanced technological skills. The complaint relies largely on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, a 1967 law that protects applicants and employees who are 40 or older. Essentially, the law makes it illegal for companies to make hiring, firing, promotion and compensation decisions based solely on age.

Plaintiffs argue that AT&T relied on age-based stereotypes to purge older workers. The process involved notifying the older workers that they had been placed on “surplus” status. They had a set amount of time within which they must be accepted into an alternative position within the company. However, the plaintiffs say that the selection process for those alternative positions was biased against the older employees who had been categorized as surplus. When they were unable to find another position, the workers were laid off.

Some of these employees say that they received a severance check, and that they were told by AT&T that they would be unable to sue the company under anti-discrimination laws if they took the money. Lawyers for the plaintiffs say that’s not necessarily the case, especially if the notice given to employees did not contain certain stipulated language.

The former employees cite a company blog post that described AT&T’s “Workplace 2020” program, which admitted that age-based stereotypes are being weighed in employment decisions. According to plaintiff descriptions of the blog post, older workers are the employees of yesterday while younger workers are considered more desirable.

This litigation serves as a timely reminder for all employers to be mindful of their employment practices with respect to older workers.

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The one-time owner of a successful car dealership group in California has been awarded more than $256 million by a jury. Mike Kahn, who ran the Superior Automotive Group with dealerships in LA and San Francisco, fought Nissan Motor Acceptance Corp. for eight years before achieving this judgment. NMAC is the financing arm of the Nissan company, and its representatives say that they plan to appeal this verdict.

1504001-Gavel-Money-2During the financial crash of 2008-2010, many new-car dealerships were struggling. Superior’s were among these, but this wasn’t always the case. Nissan had recognized Superior as one of the top three dealership groups in the world prior to 2008. The company had sold more than $1 billion of inventory in the period between 2001 and 2008. That all changed with the economic downturn. Suddenly, consumers weren’t buying cars.

Typically, car dealerships finance the purchase of new cars through an organization like NMAC. The loan on the car is frequently paid back when the car is sold to a consumer. However, with cars not moving, dealerships everywhere were defaulting on these loans. Mike Kahn’s dealerships were among these. He reached out to NMAC, asking for them to not default him on his outstanding loans. The company agreed, and then proceeded with a default anyway.

Kahn sold one of his dealerships to cover some of what he owed to NMAC, but it wasn’t enough. More than 800 employees were put out of work when all seven dealerships had to close, and NMAC sued Kahn for an additional $40 million while also seizing all of his personal and business assets. A relationship that once thrived was now deeply contentious.

Kahn countersued and eventually prevailed after nearly a decade of litigation. A jury awarded him compensatory and punitive damages in what appears to be an indictment of large corporations deliberately putting local companies on the chopping block. NMAC plans to appeal the decision, so this saga is not over yet. Nonetheless, this is an apt demonstration of how an excellent partnership can quickly go wrong, making the requirement for careful planning and good contracts a necessity.

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A screenwriter/producer is suing The Walt Disney Company over its award-winning animated film “Zootopia.” The writer claims that the entertainment giant stole his idea after he pitched it to studio executives in 2000 and 2009.

Copyright-Law-135827413-001Gary Goldman, whose many credits include writing the script for “Total Recall” and acting as an executive producer for “Minority Report,” filed the lawsuit in March 2017. Goldman asserts that he produced a treatment in 2000 that dealt with “an animated cartoon world that metaphorically explores life in America through … anthropomorphic animals.” His treatment included a human cartoonist who creates the world of the anthropomorphic animals, which would be called Zootopia. The title of the project was “Looney.”

Goldman says he pitched his idea to a Disney executive in 2000, but that the studio passed on the project. The subject came up again in 2009, this time with Goldman providing executives with a more developed treatment that included illustrations and descriptions of characters. Disney said the project would be considered, but Goldman alleges that they never contacted him. Shortly afterward, Disney appeared to be developing a Zootopia project of their own.

The plaintiff in this case appears to have done almost everything right. He registered the original treatment with the Writer’s Guild to protect ownership of the source material. However, current media reports do not disclose whether or not he took further steps to protect his rights, like asking Disney executives to sign a legally-binding agreement before showing them any intellectual property.

The question of whether Disney “stole” or was at least “inspired by” Goldman’s ideas remains unanswered at this time. Comparing the character illustrations commissioned by Goldman with the final look of the characters in the completed film does show some similarities. However, this is not necessarily enough to convince a judge that Disney borrowed someone else’s ideas. After all, anthropomorphic animals confronting human issues in a cartoon world is hardly a concept that hasn’t been explored in detail before Zootopia.

Companies and individuals that want to protect valuable intellectual property are encouraged to consult with legal counsel before sharing their ideas.

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It’s not unusual for litigation to require months or years before settlement. Even then, it does not necessarily follow that anyone will receive timely compensation. That is where companies like RD Legal Funding step in.

Funding-61101867-001RD Legal Funding is a New Jersey company that was founded by Roni Dersovitz. Their business involves advancing money to plaintiffs who are entitled to settlement money. RD Legal provides the plaintiff with money, which the plaintiff later pays back, with interest, when they receive their settlement. There is nothing inherently wrong with this business model. In fact, numerous companies provide similar services across the U.S.

However, a lawsuit has been filed against RD Legal by the New York Attorney General and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Among the allegations leveled in the complaint, RD Legal is accused of scamming 9/11 first responders and former NFL players who are suffering the after effects of multiple concussions. The CFPB and the Attorney General claim that the contracts given to clients of RD Legal were confusing and inaccurate. What’s more, many people who accepted the deals offered by the New Jersey company ended up paying interest in excess of 250 percent, which would be a clear violation of state usury laws.

The case of former NYPD Officer Elmer Santiago is one example. After serving as a 9/11 first responder, Santiago was declared disabled because of an associated respiratory illness. He was awarded a $3.9 million settlement in 2014 that was scheduled to be paid to him within 18 months. RD Legal offered to advance him $355,000 at 19 percent interest. However, when he received his settlement money, RD demanded payment in the amount of $860,000, which was apparently in excess of the contract terms.

Dozens of similar situations are detailed in the lawsuit. RD Legal Funding maintains that it has done nothing wrong while CFPB Director Richard Cordray alleges that the company is part of an “illegal scheme.”

This lawsuit is far from concluded, but it is a helpful reminder for companies to review their policies to ensure compliance with all state and federal laws.

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A December 2016 decision reached by an Administrative Law Judge in New Jersey may have implications for employers in other states where medical marijuana is legal. With the current trend toward legalization of marijuana, it’s only logical for entrepreneurs to consult with attorneys about how these laws might affect them.

Medical-Marijuana-79796786-001

The current case involved Andrew Watson, a lumber company employee who injured his hand on-the-job. Initially, Watson’s doctors prescribed Percocet to manage his chronic pain. His doctor then recommended that he try medical marijuana. Watson legally purchased medical marijuana, and submitted a claim to his employer’s worker’s compensation insurance. An ounce of medical marijuana costs an average of $489 in New Jersey, which is one of the most expensive prices in the U.S. The insurer refused compensation.

Nonetheless, Watson found that the marijuana helped manage his chronic pain effectively and with fewer side effects than the opiates. He took his case to court so that he could continue with the treatment and have the expenses reimbursed by his employer’s worker’s compensation coverage.

After considering the situation, Judge Ingrid French ruled that Watson’s use of medical marijuana is appropriate and that the insurer should pay for the associated expenses. She notes in her decision that “the effects of the marijuana … is not as debilitating as the effects of the Percocet.” Additionally, French found that Watson had “achieved a greater level of functionality,” because of the medical marijuana use and that “his approach to his pain management needs (is) cautious, mature …”

She went on to say that whether or not medicinal marijuana is used is a matter that should be reserved for doctors and patients in states where its use is legal. While some employers expressed concern over the outcome, others say that it likely will not affect them. That’s because the requirements for qualifying for medical marijuana are so stringent in New Jersey. This, coupled with the relatively limited chances of a worker also qualifying for a worker’s compensation claim, keeps them optimistic.

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Ownership of some of the most well-known Beatles songs has been on a tortuous path for decades. Sir Paul McCartney, a former Beatle and writer or co-writer of many of the group’s biggest hits, is taking legal action to reclaim the rights to his creations. It’s an ongoing odyssey with no end in sight.

Beatles-Imagine-2902823-001McCartney is the author of many famous Beatles songs. Sometimes collaborating with John Lennon, he wrote tunes like “Love Me Do” and “Yesterday.” However, the rights to those songs were often immediately signed away. Most of the rights were lost between 1962 and 1971. Various publishers snapped up the rights, but by the 1980s, publisher ATV owned most of them. When an Australian businessman who owned a controlling share in the songs put them up for sale in 1984, Michael Jackson notoriously outbid Paul McCartney to become the owner of the Beatles’ catalog.

In fact, Jackson and Sony formed Sony/ATV, with the Beatles’ works being among the company’s major assets. The Jackson family sold their share of the company to Sony after Michael Jackson’s 2009 death. Now that Sony/ATV can claim sole ownership, McCartney is suing them to regain ownership of his work.

The lawsuit, which was filed in New York, is based on a facet of the 1976 Copyright Act, which stipulates that any creative works made prior to 1978 be returned after 56 years to their originators. McCartney’s filing is timely considering that he and Lennon first began writing together in 1962, precisely 56 years before 2018. Accordingly, a court could decide that McCartney may reclaim the lucrative rights to his songs as early as next year.

McCartney has been trying to reclaim those rights for many years. Thus far, Sony/ATV is unwilling to accommodate his request. They cite a long-term relationship with McCartney, and express disappointment that the musician filed the lawsuit, which they call unnecessary and premature.

The battle over the rights to the Beatles’ catalog is likely to continue for many years, which only highlights the need for individuals and companies to protect their intellectual property rights.

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With the passage of Proposition 64 in November, California became one of a handful of states to legalize the use of recreational marijuana. Many residents are thrilled with the outcome, but the new law is leaving employers wondering what their rights are.

Marijuana-legalization-94540729-001The good news is that the authors of Proposition 64 foresaw that marijuana legalization might pose a problem to numerous industries. That’s why there is a provision in the law that explicitly maintains the employer’s right to prohibit the use and possession of marijuana, particularly on any work sites. Accordingly, any company is perfectly within its rights to keep their drug-free workplace policies on track, though it does make sense to ensure that everything is in order.

Now is the perfect time to meet with an employment attorney to make certain that an existing company drug policy is sufficiently broad. If a drug policy is not already in place, then it is definitely time to craft one, a project that takes time and considerable legal expertise. Under the new law, employers are still permitted to require pre-employment drug tests, and they maintain the right to not hire candidates who test positive for marijuana. Even if the drug was obtained and used legally, the employer does not have to accept such use among their prospective employees. However, it is critical that any pre-employment drug screenings are conducted fairly and impartially, without any discriminatory element.

Under California’s new law, employers are also permitted to conduct drug tests among existing employees. Once again, it is crucial that this be done in a non-discriminatory manner. Moreover, companies may want to review their written drug policies with all employees to make it clear that marijuana use is not appropriate or acceptable. Management may also need to sit down with human resources staff to ensure that they are ready to field questions from employees.

California’s revolutionary Proposition 64 may have made recreational marijuana use legal, but it still allows employers to make important safety decisions. If you have any questions about how California’s new recreational marijuana law will affect you and/or your employees, feel free to contact me, attorney Rich Oppenheim at 818-461-8500. You may also use the form on the right side of this page.

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A U.S. magistrate judge has made an important ruling that will allow plaintiff’s counsel to serve notice of a lawsuit on the defendant via Twitter. The ruling may help to set precedent in similar cases where a party in the U.S. wants to sue a foreign defendant.

Magnified illustration with the word Social Media on white background.

The case at hand was brought by St. Francis of Assisi. A non-profit that provides help to refugees, the organization wanted to sue the Kuwait Finance House, Kuveyt-Turk Participation Bank and an individual named Hajjaj al-Ajmi. Service on the first two defendants was relatively straightforward, but the plaintiff was having difficulty locating al-Ajmi.

St. Francis of Assisi was alleging that the three defendants had funded a Christian genocide in countries like Syria and Iraq. However, service of the complaint had to be completed before the case could proceed. Al-Ajmi had already been identified by the United Nations and the U.S. government as a financier of terror group ISIS. He is known to have organized numerous Twitter campaigns to raise funds for the organization under several different Twitter handles.

That’s why counsel for plaintiffs petitioned the judge for the opportunity to serve the complaint on al-Ajmi via Twitter. Traditional methods had already failed. Plus, because Kuwait is not a signor of the Hague Convention, it wasn’t possible for service to be completed through some sort of centralized or government authority.

Ultimately, U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler granted the plaintiff’s request to serve notice via Twitter. Writing that Twitter was “reasonably calculated to give notice” and that the effort “is not prohibited by international agreement,” Beeler opened the door not only for St. Francis of Assisi, but also for other plaintiffs who want to serve a lawsuit on a foreign national that seems to be able to avoid service by regular means.

The ability to serve a lawsuit via Twitter doesn’t guarantee that al-Ajmi will respond or that he will ever pay any money that the court may decide is owed to the plaintiffs. Nonetheless, the fact that such unconventional service is being allowed may prove to be beneficial for other plaintiffs in similar situations.

 

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The Consumer Product Safety Act, or CPSA, and legislation like it, makes it a crime to sell products that are the subject of a safety recall. Nonetheless, that is precisely what the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, or CPSC, says that retail giant Best Buy did between 2010 and 2015. The retailer recently agreed to pay a $3.8 million penalty to the CPSC for breaking the law.

Compliance and Violation words on green road or street signs to illustrate the important choice between following or ignoring vital legal rules, guidelines, laws and regulations

The CPSC accused Best Buy of continuing to sell 16 products even after those items had been recalled. Ranging from cameras and laptops to dishwashers and electric ranges, each product posed a safety hazard. A recalled dehumidifier sparked a fire after being sold by a Best Buy store years after it should have been quarantined from sale. Given the more stringent clauses of the CPSA, which was amended in 2008, it was only a matter of time before the CPSC took notice.

Best Buy stated that they had a recall system in place during the 2010 to 2015 period. However, the CPSC found that Best Buy’s system for finding and getting rid of recalled products was ineffective. Among the findings, the CPSC says that the Best Buy system failed to permanently block product codes for recalled items. Additionally, some of those product codes were reactivated or the system functions that should have prevented a sale were overridden.

In addition to paying the $3.8 million penalty, Best Buy must also set up a much more robust system for identifying recalled products and preventing them from being sold. This system will include an internal component of controls and procedures as well as an element that requires reporting information to the CPSC.

Best Buy’s experience serves as a cautionary tale for all retailers. The CPSC is growing increasingly vigilant about enforcing the CPSA, and that means that more companies are going to see large penalties being levied against them. It is more important than ever for retailers to understand the CPSA and to stay informed regarding current government and manufacturer recalls. Working with an experienced business attorney is one of the best ways to ensure compliance.

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Longtime educator Alan Cohen has sued his former employer after being fired. Cohen was employed for 13 months by Speyer Legacy School, which advertises itself as an institution for intellectually gifted children in grades kindergarten through eighth grade. The exclusive private school charges students approximately $40,000 per year to attend.

you are fired 2Cohen spent 20 years working for New York City’s Department of Education before becoming the head of the lower school at the prestigious Portledge School. He made the move to Speyer where he was named the Assistant Head of the school as well as the Head of the lower school. Things appeared to go well. Teachers, administrators, parents and students all took to Cohen. Then, the school’s newly appointed Head Dr. Barbara Tischler told Cohen about another faculty member who was asking questions about Cohen’s sexuality.

Cohen, who happens to be gay, quickly discovered that his sexual orientation was a hot topic of conversation among faculty, administrators and board members. One board member even tried to set up Cohen on a blind date with one of her male friends. Additionally, Dr. Tischler asked Cohen if he could give advice to another administrator at the school. The other administrator was a lesbian, and there was widespread feeling among members of the board that her masculine dress and appearance would render her unsuitable for the Dean of Admissions position.

Cohen brought his concerns over the focus on his sexual orientation to Tischler, but to no avail. In April 2016, Cohen was informed that his contract was not going to be renewed.

Cohen has gone on to find employment at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. A married, heterosexual woman now holds his old job at Speyer. Nonetheless, Cohen’s experiences at the exclusive school suggest an atmosphere of discrimination that violates both state and federal law. Situations like this remind employers how important it is to work with an employment law attorney to avoid  discriminatory actions.