Articles Tagged with California Business Litigation

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French cosmetics company L’Oreal is facing a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York. The complaint was filed as a class action that includes four consumers and others who feel that they have been cheated.

Class-Action-GavelAt issue is two of the company’s products. One is the makeup product Maybelline Super Stay Better Skin Skin Transforming Foundation. The other is the Age Perfect Eye Renewal Eye Cream. The average cost of both products across the country is $15. Yet, plaintiffs allege that they are only able to dispense between 43 and 81 percent of the volume of each product as it is disclosed on the label.

Plaintiffs argue that the reason they are unable to fully utilize the contents is that the bottles are defective. Typically, the products are dispensed by a pump, but the consumers involved in the lawsuit say that the pump cannot provide access to all of the contents. The plaintiffs further allege that the bottles are made of glass and sealed in such a way that consumers cannot access the contents in another manner. Accordingly, they say that anyone who attempts to use these products is losing approximately $7 based on their inability to use half the bottle’s contents.

Numbers concerning the faulty dispensation of products were determined through laboratory testing, and plaintiffs suggest that the results should be well known to L’Oreal. This is because consumer reviews posted on the L’Oreal website routinely include complaints about being unable to access much of the product that is packaged in bottles. The company’s response is a polite thank you and a note saying that the complaint will be passed on to management. Plaintiffs say that the packaging remains unchanged despite a relatively long history of such complaints.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argue that “there is no equitable justification for Defendant’s products to suffer from these defects,” pointing out that the company routinely uses other, more effective dispensers for various items. L’Oreal has yet to answer the complaint, but it seems clear that they may have a costly fight in terms of legal fees and bad press.

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Troubled fitness gadget manufacturer FitBit is facing new legal woes from a former competitor. Jawbone, which used to engage in fierce competition with the other company, is seeking legal satisfaction after alleging that several current and former FitBit employees stole their trade secrets. Additionally, a federal grand jury has criminally indicted those individuals.

Top-Secret-198073496-300x199FitBit’s main product is wearable activity trackers. The trackers record data about everything from steps taken to hours of sleep. Unfortunately for the company, they have been struggling in recent years. FitBit’s initial public offering on the stock market three years ago had its shares going for $32.50 apiece. Now, those stocks are worth just $7.42 each. Between 2016 and 2017, the company lost approximately $380 million. The number of devices sold tumbled precipitously as well.

No matter how badly off FitBit appears, it seems that Jawbone has it even worse. As of July 2017, they were officially out of business. However, former company executives still seem concerned with the activities of their erstwhile competitor, namely, the poaching of employees and the stealing of trade secrets.

Unfortunately for FitBit, the U.S. Attorney’s Office seems interested too. A federal indictment names six employees, only one of which apparently still works for FitBit, who are accused of stealing trade secrets from Jawbone, and taking those secrets to their new supervisors at FitBit. Each defendant was employed at Jawbone in the period between 2011 and 2015, and all were subject to a confidentiality agreement. The indictment says that FitBit actively recruited the employees of its competitors and then used trade secrets to improve its own technologies.

Acting U.S. Attorney Alex Tse says: “The theft of trade secrets violates federal law, stifles innovation, and injures the rightful owners of that intellectual property,” making it clear that his office plans to prosecute this case with vigor.

The defendants will soon appear in court, and civil litigation between Jawbone and FitBit is still pending. This situation illustrates how critical it is for companies to not only use carefully crafted confidentiality agreements with their employees but also to protect their intellectual property with vigilance.

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Electric car company Tesla has filed a lawsuit against a former employee over what it claims are stolen secrets. Martin Tripp is named as the defendant.

System-Failure-51347065-001Tripp began working for Tesla in October 2017. His job was at the organization’s Nevada battery factory. As a process technician, Tripp was required to sign a non-disclosure agreement like other employees. Supervisors at Tesla began noticing problems with Tripp’s employment after a few months. They allege that Tripp was combative with colleagues and caused disruptions. In May 2018, he was reassigned to another department. The company also claims that this prevented Tripp from getting a promotion that he felt he deserved.

In the complaint, Tesla alleges that Tripp’s reassignment and the denied promotion are what sparked the employee to retaliate. Tripp admitted to internal investigators at Tesla that he wrote a software program that was capable of transferring gigabytes of data to computers outside the company. The data included photographs and videos, and Tesla claims that all of the data was privileged. Tripp is alleged to have placed the hacking software on the computer systems of three other employees so that he could continue to receive data even after he left the company. Additionally, this measure would implicate the other employees in the data theft.

According to the complaint, Tripp then leaked some of the stolen data to the media, combining it with falsehoods such as a claim that punctured battery cells were used in Tesla’s Model 3 car. The company further alleges that Tripp falsified data regarding the amount and value of scrap metal that is generated in the organization’s production processes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk warned employees in an email about the hacking and the falsehoods that were leaked to the media. He noted that many other entities, like oil and gas companies, “want Tesla to die,” and that this is leading them to investigate whether or not Tripp acted alone.

It is not known if any criminal investigation has been launched, but this situation serves as a reminder of the importance of protecting intellectual property using all legal means available.

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Kohl’s Department Stores, Inc. is fighting lawsuits brought by disabled individuals. Initially, the individuals sought class action status against the Wisconsin-based stores, but a judge felt that separate actions would advance more efficiently through the courts. This has forced Kohl’s to defend itself on numerous fronts.

Disability-55444138-001The original lawsuit was brought by The Equal Rights Center (ERC), a non-profit civil rights activism organization out of Washington, D.C. In the complaint, Kohl’s is alleged to have operated in violation of Title III of the American’s with Disabilities Act (ADA). Specifically, the stores were accused of “denying shoppers with disabilities the ability to successfully navigate their stores … .” Upon being notified of problems in Kohl’s stores by various members, the ERC surveyed the stores, which they determined were in violation of the ADA.

The ERC sought class action status, but Kohl’s argued against it. A judge found in favor of Kohl’s in this matter, and allowed each discrimination case to proceed separately. Now, Kohl’s is seeking to have the claims of one plaintiff, Devora Fisher, dismissed. Fisher alleges that she made multiple complaints to store management about her inability to maneuver her wheelchair through the aisles. When the complaints were not addressed, Fisher went to the ERC.

Another plaintiff, Patricia Thomas, must use a walker or scooter because of her multiple sclerosis diagnosis. She similarly alleges that she was unable to navigate the Kohl’s stores in her hometown and that her complaints went unaddressed.

In the Fisher case, Kohl’s is arguing that the claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata which means that the second lawsuit cannot proceed if it is based on three claims that were satisfied in the first lawsuit. The judge has yet to rule on this matter.

In the Thomas case, the judge did not agree with Kohl’s motion for summary judgment. Instead, the court argued that the plaintiff “has set forth a plausible proposal for barrier removal … .”

Complaints about ADA compliance should never fall on deaf ears. Take these matters seriously from the beginning, and it may be possible to avoid costly and distracting litigation.

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A California law firm is being sued by three of its female associates. The plaintiffs, identified only as “Jane Does,” allege that Morrison & Foerster systematically discriminates against female employees, particularly those who are pregnant or have children.

Gender-Discrimination-105366239-001Representatives for the plaintiffs say they believe the case will become a class action lawsuit once other female associates at Morrison become aware of it. Plaintiffs are seeking approximately $100 million in damages, arguing that the firm pays them less and provides them with fewer promotions when compared with male peers.

The allegations came as a surprise to partners at Morrison & Foerster, a firm that provides several options for accommodating the needs of new parents. Some of these programs include flexible work options, reduced hours, parental transition time and 20 weeks of paid time off for primary caregivers.

However, the plaintiffs say that associates who take advantage of these programs are “set up to fail.” In January 2018, each learned that their peers who were in the same class year had been promoted ahead of them. Additionally, their salaries were no longer the same as their promoted peers. Their external billing rates had been raised, an error that management corrected when they were alerted to the issue.

One plaintiff described her performance review, which occurred during the same month. The plaintiff says that the partner conducting the review essentially informed her that she had not been promoted because she became a mother. She also revealed that her request for flexible scheduling, which would have allowed her to work full time with some of the hours being logged at home, was denied.

Another plaintiff was told that she was required to work more billable hours upon her return from maternity leave. However, when she requested additional work to meet this new standard, the partners were not forthcoming.

It’s unlikely that the management at Morrison intended to discriminate against any of their associates. However, sometimes even the appearance of gender and pregnancy bias is enough to cause legal problems. Working closely with an employment attorney is the best way to avoid these situations.

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The Walt Disney Company recently suffered a setback in a California federal court. Specifically, a judge has denied Disney’s request for a preliminary injunction against Redbox that would have forced the DVD-rental company to stop reselling the download codes for digital copies of the studio’s films.

redbox-1Redbox’s movie rental kiosks have become a familiar part of the landscape in recent years. Consumers stop by these kiosks for the latest releases. For the most part, Redbox has distribution deals with the major movie studios that allow them to profit by renting out the studios’ films. However, Redbox has no such agreement with Disney.

Accordingly, Redbox purchases Disney-distributed movies from retailers, then slips them into their kiosks for customer rental. Disney and other movie studios frequently put new films in combo packs that feature DVD and Blu-ray copies of the films along with a download code for getting a digital copy. In addition to renting DVDs and Blu-rays, Redbox has been selling the download codes on slips of paper that are obtainable at their kiosks.

When Disney found out about this practice, they immediately launched a lawsuit. Among the charges in the complaint were copyright infringement, false advertising, unfair competition, tortious interference with customer contracts and breach of contract. Redbox quickly countersued, arguing that the studio was trying to stifle possible competition for its soon-to-be launched digital streaming service.

Not only has a federal judge denied Disney’s request that Redbox be stopped from re-selling download codes, but also the judge says Disney is actually misusing copyright law. On each Disney movie combo pack, consumers will find language stating that the download code cannot be sold or transferred. The studio argued that this constitutes a legally binding contract, but the judge did not agree. In fact, the judge said that there is no law that prevents what Redbox did. After the “first sale,” which was the lawful purchase of the combo pack, the owner is then free to dispose of the copies as they wish.

Copyright law can be incredibly nuanced. Work with a skilled business attorney to protect your intellectual property rights.

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A jury verdict in Las Vegas highlights how crucial it is for homeowners associations to properly inspect and maintain common equipment. The HOA for the Lamplight Village at Centennial Springs now faces either finding a way to pay the $20 million decision or a lengthy and expensive appeal. Lawyers for the plaintiff argue that if the HOA had simply agreed to a $150 per month maintenance fee, the HOA would never have been in this situation.

DT-19867194-scale-001In 2013, Carl Thompson was playing basketball with some friends. He sat on a nearby swing set to send a text message. Unexpectedly, the metal crossbar at the top of the swing set broke and came crashing down on his head. Weighing in at 42 pounds, the cross bar effectively crushed the left side of the 15 year-old’s skull.

In the years since, Thompson has suffered from debilitating headaches. He has difficulty remember things and some of his physical movements are impaired. Doctors say that his chances of developing dementia have radically increased. As with many traumatic brain injuries, there is a likelihood that Thompson’s condition will further deteriorate. So far, he has been unable to finish high school, and his dreams of becoming a musician have fallen by the wayside.

Thomson sued the HOA. A jury recently decided the case in his favor with a $20 million verdict. The plaintiff’s attorneys say that the HOA ignored several warning signs that the swing set was failing. Inadequate repairs had been made in the past, and the HOA had refused to purchase a $150 per month maintenance plan from the swing set’s installer to cover routine upkeep and other repairs.

Thomson’s attorneys also say that the HOA took a chance by going to court with the case instead of accepting several settlement offers for far less money. Now, the lawyers believe that the HOA’s insurance company will be responsible for the damages.

Taking a case before a jury is always a risk. This is why experienced, knowledgeable legal counsel is indispensable to all litigation. With their assistance, it may be possible to avoid a trial.

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Employers don’t always have an easy time when it comes to accommodating the religious beliefs of workers. Understanding nuanced belief systems and balancing that with company objectives leads to legal friction. That’s the case in a lawsuit that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC, filed against Memorial Healthcare in Michigan.

Employment-Contract-44108074-001According to the complaint, medical transcriptionist Yvonne Bair received an offer of employment from Memorial Healthcare. The prospective employer informed Bair of its requirement that all employees receive the flu vaccination. Bair refused the vaccination on religious grounds, saying that her belief in Jesus Christ led her to reject injecting or ingesting any foreign substances. The hospital suggested that Bair could take the nasal spray flu vaccine, but Bair again refused.

Memorial then rescinded its employment offer, despite the fact that Bair told them that she would wear a mask. According to the employer’s policy, it’s acceptable for employees to wear a mask when they cannot get a vaccination.

Bair took her complaint to the EEOC, which filed a lawsuit on her behalf. The EEOC charges that Memorial violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act when it rescinded the employment offer. According to the act, employers cannot discriminate against employees based on religious beliefs. Instead, employers must strive to provide reasonable accommodations that allow workers to observe personal religious practices.

Why did Memorial rescind the offer of employment when they have a policy allowing unvaccinated employees to wear a mask as an alternative? Bair would eventually have become a work-from-home employee, so the chances of her transmitting the flu to co-workers or patients would likely have been minimal.

Perhaps Memorial had other reasons for deciding to go with another job candidate. However, unless they used proper documentation to support their decision, they may find themselves in a continuing legal battle.

It is vital for all employers to understand anti-discrimination employment laws. Additionally, it’s critical that employers proceed with extreme caution when it comes to hiring, firing and disciplinary decisions. Work with a qualified business attorney to make certain you stay on the right side of the law.

Feel free to contact attorney Rich Oppenheim by phone or message by using the “Contact” box in the right column of this blog.

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When a corporation hires a coach for an executive, that executive probably expects to hone skills that enable her to take on a more advanced role. However, that was not the experience had by Denise Stilwell, a former executive at Twentieth Century Fox.

Gender-Discrimination-105366239-001Stilwell began her employment with Fox in 1999. By 2013, she had been promoted to a vice president position in enterprise rights management. The position came with a four-year contract, which included a promise of promotion to a senior vice president position within the first two years.

Her immediate supervisor accepted a voluntary retirement package in 2016, which meant that she began reporting to Fox CFO Dean Hallett. Shortly after the change, Stilwell was summoned to Hallett’s office. She expected to be given a promotion. Instead, Hallett informed her that she “smiled too much,” and that an executive coach was going to begin working with her.

That coach was Jack Zwissig from Zwissig and Associates. Zwissig allegedly told Stilwell that her “smile is fake,” that she laughed too much and that people generally didn’t like her. Most troubling of all is Stilwell’s assertion that Zwissig told her that she should “lift her skirt.”

Stilwell reported Zwissig’s comments to Hallett, calling them sexist and improper. Almost immediately, she was reassigned to another executive vice president, Joanie Wallace, who refused to meet with her for months. Abruptly in January 2017, Stilwell was fired because her department wasn’t moving in the right direction.

Recently, Stilwell filed a lawsuit naming her former employer, Zwissig and Zwissig’s firm as defendants. The complaint levels charges of gender discrimination, retaliation and hostile work environment, among others. If she prevails, the plaintiff hopes to collect unspecified damages for loss of future earnings and benefits as well as emotional distress.

This situation acts as a vital reminder that all complaints regarding possible harassment and discrimination must be followed up on swiftly and thoroughly. Failing to do so often exacerbates the situation to a point that is difficult to control. Working closely with a qualified employment attorney is the best way to prevent these circumstances from occurring.

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A former employee of a Chicago-area Target store is suing the retail chain based on numerous claims. Perhaps most explosive among them is the accusation that Target systematically accuses Hispanic employees of using fake Social Security numbers.

Wrongful-TerminationEsmeralda Radek began working at Target in 2012. In 2014, the manager of the store where Radek worked received a letter that claimed that Radek was stealing from the store and selling the items on eBay. Moreover, the letter asserted that Radek had used a fake Social Security number during the hiring process.

Approximately one week after receiving the letter, human resources personnel at the store confronted Radek over the claim that she used a false Social Security number. Radek was requested to verify her Social Security information by providing the state in which the credential was issued. In response, Radek informed supervisors that she had been born in Texas, and that her mother had likely obtained the Social Security card for her.

Within a few days, Target terminated Radek’s employment on the grounds that she had used a fake Social Security number. However, Radek claims that she is not the only Hispanic employee at Target who has been accused of similar crimes. If these employees could later verify the authenticity of their credentials, they could be re-hired.

In April of 2014, Radek filed a complaint alleging that she had been fired based on her national origin. Additionally, the complaint alleged a negligence claim under Illinois state law, hostile work environment claims and asserted that Target had demonstrated a pattern of practice that discriminated against Hispanic employees.

Target filed a request to dismiss the case, and a U.S. District judge partially granted this request. Judge Lee dismissed the claims regarding the hostile work environment and pattern of practice, but said that Radek’s case regarding national origin discrimination may proceed.

When questions arise regarding an employee’s identification and other credentials, it is always advisable to proceed with caution. Consult with a qualified business and employment attorney before this type of situation arises so that your organization is prepared to respond in line with the law.