One of the prime reasons many companies require employees to arbitrate disputes is to ensure confidentiality. Indeed, absent an arbitration provision, an employee can file publicly available papers containing unfounded and scurrilous allegations that leave the employer with no recourse but to litigate or settle. Moreover, even if the employer eventually prevails, severe damage may be done by having its name dragged through the mud due to the publicity associated with the claims.

As the recent decision in Boursiquot v. United Healthcare Services of Delaware confirms, however, merely having a clause mandating that disputes be arbitrated is not be enough to ensure confidentiality. And there is no reason to leave this to chance.

In the Spring of 2016, Yvlande Boursiquot was a student beginning an unpaid internship with United Healthcare. As part of her onboarding with the company, Ms. Boursiquot was asked to sign an agreement entitled “Alternative Resolution for Conflicts Agreement,” and that Agreement included the following language:

Except as it otherwise provides, this Agreement is intended to apply to the resolution of disputes that otherwise would be resolved in a court of law or before a forum other than arbitration. This Agreement requires all such disputes to

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When Jeremy Hernandez, a California resident, went to work for Oxford Global Resources, a Massachusetts company, in 2013, he signed a non-competition agreement. In 2016, Hernandez resigned from Oxford and, apparently unbeknownst to Oxford, began working for one of its competitors. Several months later, Oxford received an anonymous tip that Hernandez had taken Oxford’s confidential, client information and was using it to solicit customers for his new employer. Shortly thereafter, Oxford sued Hernandez in the Superior Court in Massachusetts based on a forum selection clause stating:

All suits, proceedings and other actions relating to, arising out of or in connection with this Agreement will be submitted to the in personam jurisdiction of … the courts of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts …. Venue for all such suits, proceedings and other actions will be in Massachusetts. Employee hereby waives any claims against or objections to such in personam jurisdiction and venue. [Emphasis added]

Notwithstanding the foregoing language, Hernandez moved to dismiss Oxford’s complaint on the grounds of forum non conveniens and the Superior Court allowed that motion. Oxford appealed, and the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts took the case on its own initiative (by-passing the Appeals Court). Surprisingly, the SJC … Keep reading

While there are myriad issues facing employers as we all return to the workplace, here are some of the most frequently asked questions and answers:

What employers are most affected by these recommendations?

The CDC and OSHA guidelines are likely to have the greatest impact on workplaces with an open floor plan and other areas where workers are in close proximity to one another, and workplaces that allow more than one employee to use the same workspace, office equipment, table, desks and other equipment.

What liability does an employer face for COVID-19 in the workplace?

Workplace illnesses and injuries are typically addressed by a state’s workers’ compensation statutory framework, with some exceptions. Generally, for an illness to be compensable under that system, the employee must have contracted it in the course and scope of employment and it must be related to the work performed by that employee.

Because of the pandemic, and the spread of COVID-19, it remains to be seen whether COVID-19 will be considered a workplace illness in workplaces that are not on the front lines (health care, emergency response or other industries where contact with the virus is likely).

There have already been cases filed in … Keep reading

Dennis Burke is the well-known surgeon who blew the whistle on a surgical practice at the Massachusetts General Hospital known as “concurrent surgery” or “double booking.” After Dr. Burke publicized that practice, MGH engaged attorney Donald Stern to investigate the matter, which led to the Stern Report. MGH also terminated Dr. Burke, who then sued the hospital, claiming that he was fired in retaliation for publicizing its concurrent surgery practices. As part of his discovery in that case, Dr. Burke sought the contents of the Stern Report, and the hospital resisted, claiming, among other things, that the Stern Report was protected from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. The Superior Court ultimately disagreed, however, and, although the case settled while that decision was on appeal, the Superior Court’s analysis (available at 2019 WL 6197040) provides a variety of points that should be of interest to any in-house counsel who is concerned about keeping internal investigations (and other communications) confidential.

First, while MGH asserted that the Stern Report was privileged, the Court focused on two factors to repudiate that assertion: (i) the engagement letter with Attorney Stern did not indicate that any report authored by Attorney Stern would be imbued with … Keep reading

Last Thursday morning, the In-House Advisor convened a second video conference of General Counsel and Corporate Counsel to discuss how their businesses are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. As with the prior meeting, the in-house counsel present were from entities ranging from small, local companies, to large, multi-national enterprises. Here are some of the key takeaways from last week’s session:

Work from Home

  • Don’t assume that because people are working at home everyone is available all the time
    • People with small children have to take care of them; people with school-age children have to homeschool them.
    • People with roommates may not be able to talk/video conference all the time
  • Don’t assume that people who had been working at home part time can adapt any quicker and better than others. They were used to a different pace and working part time, so keep that in mind when you reach out to them.
  • Everyone agreed that you have to put up boundaries from work so that you don’t burn out, but no one had a great way to do this as a practical matter.
  • Video conferences are much more effective than telephone calls. People are more engaged and more get
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This morning, the In-House Advisor convened a video conference of 15 General Counsel and Corporate Counsel to discuss how their businesses are dealing with the COVID-19 crisis. The in-house counsel represented were from entities ranging from small, local companies, to large, multi-national enterprises. As a lead-in to the roundtable discussion, a brief presentation was given by two crises management experts, T.J. Winck and Dan Cence, of Solomon, McCown and Cence. Some of the key takeaways from the presentation and roundtable discussion were as follows:

Communications

  • One of the best ways to keep people in your organization calm is to repeatedly and consistently send out messages to everyone. You are better off saying too much than too little. Among other things, the in-house counsel attending said that their businesses are:
    • Sending out daily emails that goes out to everyone with an update.
    • Having “town hall” meetings with questions and answers once per week.
    • Maintaining an intranet page with updated Covid information.

Crisis Management

  • Be sure to have at least one member of your Crisis Management Team constantly monitoring the CDC and WHO, as new information is constantly coming out.
  • While everyone would like to think that the situation
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In another post, I discussed how an email can satisfy the signature requirements of the Statute of Frauds. Nevertheless, an email is not always sufficient. Indeed, as the plaintiff in Terry v. Vinfen recently learned, sometimes you just have to do things the old fashioned way, and send a letter.

In June of 2019, Richard Terry filed a lawsuit against Vinfen and one of its employees. Not long thereafter, the parties engaged in mediation, which resulted in a settlement. After verbally acknowledging that settlement on the record, a written settlement agreement was prepared and executed by all parties on October 10, 2019. In order to comply with the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, the settlement agreement specifically provided that Terry:

May revoke [the Settlement] Agreement within seven (7) days after he signs it, by delivering a letter in hand or first class mail (postage prepaid), to Jaclyn Kugell, Morgan, Brown & Joy, LLP, 200 State Street, Boston, MA 02109. This [agreement] shall be of no force and effect unless Mr. Terry … does not revoke this [agreement] within the seven (7) day period outlined [in the previous sentence].

On October 13, 2019, Terry emailed Attorney Kugell, stating: … Keep reading

While being a defendant in a lawsuit is no fun, being a defendant in a class action lawsuit is especially painful. If you are in-house counsel in a service business, you may be particularly vulnerable to such actions and, no doubt, want to do whatever you can to avoid them. One strategy that has been employed over the years to thwart class actions is to include an arbitration clause in service agreements. Sometimes, however, companies also want to reserve the right to unilaterally modify the terms of their agreements – and doing so can invalidate an arbitration clause. Nevertheless, a recent decision from the Federal District Court of Massachusetts in Wainblat v. Comcast shows how one company was able to thread this needle and achieve both objectives.

Robert Wainblat was a Comcast customer, and in 2017 he agreed to a Subscriber Agreement that required arbitration for:

[A]ny claim or controversy related to [Comcast] or our relationship, including but not limited to any and all: (1) claims for relief and theories of liability, whether based in contract, tort, fraud, negligence, statute, regulation, ordinance, or otherwise; (2) claims that arose before this or any prior Agreement; (3) claims that arise after

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When seeking to enforce a restrictive covenant, whether a noncompete or a nonsolicit, the standard play-book calls for an aggrieved party to file suit and seek a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to preclude the defendant from continuing to compete or solicit during the restrictive period. In order to obtain such relief, however, a plaintiff must show not only that it is likely to succeed on the merits, but also that (i) absent such relief it has a substantial risk of suffering irreparable harm, and (ii) the risk of such harm outweighs the risk of irreparable harm to the defendant if injunctive relief were to issue. Thus, it is possible that even if a plaintiff convinces the court that the defendant is violating a restrictive covenant, the court may not grant any injunctive relief. (One common scenario where this happens is when the defendant can show that enforcing the restrictive covenant, essentially, will prevent him/her from being able to be gainfully employed.)

Assuming your case is strong, even if no injunctive relief enters, you still may want to pursue a claim for damages against your former employee. While that is all well and good, proving damages for a … Keep reading

Considerations for October 1, 2019 Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave Tax

Beginning on October 1, most employers in Massachusetts will be required to withhold tax to fund Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave benefits. There is an exception to this requirement, however, for companies that receive a tax exemption from the state for a private plan providing the same or better benefits. Many employers have already chosen to apply for a tax exemption, after comparing the cost of the tax to the likely cost of implementing a private plan. Some companies are requesting exemptions from part or all of this tax because for them, it is cheaper to pay for the benefits directly or through short and long-term disability plans already in place. Others have chosen to obtain tax exemptions for 2019 and 2020 only, with the intention that they will join the state plan in 2021 and begin withholding taxes then. (Because benefits under the program are not payable until 2021, an employer with a two-year tax exemption reaps an immediate savings while shifting the risk of paying benefits to the state, beginning in 2021.) Still others want a tax exemption because their own program for paid leave is better than what the state generally offers, and they do … Keep reading