Imagine, an employee in your organization advises that they need to take leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act to recover from an upcoming surgical procedure. Your organization approves the leave and then you find out that while on leave and supposedly recovering from surgery, the employee goes on a family vacation to a far off beach resort. You are irate at what you perceive to be a blatant bait and switch and want to consider terminating the employee. Hopefully, you run all this by your General Counsel first because, depending on the circumstances, such termination could be deemed retaliatory and subject the company to a claim for substantial damages. Indeed, this is exactly what happened in DaPrato v. Massachusetts Water Resource Authority.

In that case, Richard A. DaPrato, who worked for the MWRA, was on FMLA leave recovering from foot surgery when he filed an application (signed by his surgeon) to extend his leave from March 20 to March 26. Shortly thereafter, DaPrato went on a family vacation to a Mexican beach resort. Approximately two weeks after returning from Mexico, the MWRA learned DaPrato had gone on vacation, reasoned that DaPrato had lied about his medical … Keep reading

In this installment of The In-House Advisor, we interview Paul Igoe, Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer at Excelitas Technologies Corp., a Waltham, MA-headquartered manufacturer of high-performance, market-driven photonic innovations designed to meet the lighting, optronic, detection and optical technology needs of customers worldwide. Excelitas has 20 facilities worldwide and approximately 7,000 employees.

Prior to joining Excelitas in August 2018, for five and one-half years, Mr. Igoe served as Senior Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of SS&C Technologies, Inc., a Windsor, Connecticut-headquartered provider of financial software and services. From 2009 to 2012, Mr. Igoe was Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of Lydall, Inc., a Manchester, Connecticut-based manufacturer of filtration media and thermal/acoustical products.  From 2001 to 2009, Mr. Igoe served as Associate General Counsel and Assistant Secretary to Teradyne, Inc., a manufacturer of automatic test equipment for the semi-conductor industry headquartered in North Reading, Massachusetts.  Previous to his employment at Teradyne, Mr. Igoe was a Junior Partner in the Boston office of Wilmer Hale.

The In-House Advisor: What do you see as the main focus of your role as in-house counsel, and how do you see that role evolving over the next few … Keep reading

Who wouldn’t want to be able to dictate the terms of a contract rather than having to negotiate them with someone whose interests are not completely aligned with your own? If you ever find yourself in such a position, however, keep in mind that if a contract is too one-sided, it can be ruled illusory and unenforceable. Indeed, that is exactly what happened to the defendant in McNamara v. S.I. Logistics, Inc. when it tried to enforce its contractual right to arbitration.

Green Smoke, Inc. (which later changed its name to S.I. Logistics) was in the business of selling e-cigarettes, and it used third-party “Affiliates” to market its products. Tim McNamara became a Green Smoke Affiliate in late 2009 or early 2010, and the following year the company implemented a new (and mandatory) Affiliate Agreement. Any Affiliate who refused to sign on to the 2011 Agreement became ineligible to receive Green Smoke commissions going forward.

In 2014, McNamara was terminated from Green Smoke’s Affiliate program, and he subsequently sued Green Smoke for breach of contract and a variety of other claims. Green Smoke responded by moving to dismiss the complaint and compel arbitration. In support of its position, Green … Keep reading

In some transactions, such as those involving the acquisition of a business, the deal may be documented through a primary contract and subsidiary agreements that are referenced in, or even attached as Exhibits to, the primary. While there is nothing inherently good or bad about papering a transaction this way, it is important to keep in mind that doing so may mean that the dispute resolution provisions of the primary contract do not apply if litigation arises and only involves a claimed breach of a subsidiary contract. Indeed, that is the hard lesson that was learned by the defendant in National Dentix, LLC v. Gold.

In 2000, National Dentix acquired Phillip Gold’s business, and the transaction was documented with three agreements: a Stock Purchase Agreement (“SPA”), an Employment Agreement (“EA”) and a Non-Compete Agreement (“NCA”). While executing the EA and NCA were conditions precedent to – and even were attached to – the SPA, the EA and NCA contained standard integration clauses, which essentially said that each contract set forth the entire understanding between the parties with respect to the subject matter thereof. Further, while the SPA contained an arbitration clause, and the EA and NCA did not, … Keep reading

It is not uncommon for parties entering into an agreement to transfer an asset to seek the input of an independent, third-party appraiser. Plainly, the parties to any such transaction desire an appraiser who will be unbiased and will not have any conflicts of interest. Further, one would assume that if such an appraiser’s company had a relationship with the opposing party, a court would step in to invalidate the appraisal. That assumption is not always correct, however­–especially if the appraisal agreement does not specify what will disqualify the appraiser. Indeed, a Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court judge recently confirmed this in Buffalo-Water 1, LLC v. Fidelity Real Estate Company, LLC.

In Buffalo-Water, an Appraisal Agreement only required the individual appraiser to disclose any prior appraisal services he rendered for either of the parties. The appraiser’s employer, Cushman & Wakefield, was not required to make any such disclosure, nor was it required to disclose conflicts of interest or relationships that could deem it to be biased. Further, and unbeknownst to Buffalo-Water, Cushman had previously been engaged by Fidelity to represent it in connection with a national contract.

Once Buffalo-Water became aware of the Fidelity-appraiser relationship, it filed suit, seeking … Keep reading

While the attorney-client privilege only protects confidential communications between an attorney and client that are for the purpose of giving or receiving legal advice, the work product doctrine, as codified in Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(3),  is much broader:

Ordinarily, a party may not discover documents and tangible things that are prepared in anticipation of litigation or for trial by or for another party or its representative (including the other party’s attorney, consultant, surety, indemnitor, insurer, or agent) ….

Further, given that the work product privilege is designed to protect an attorney’s mental impressions, federal common law has extended work product protections to verbal communications even if they are not memorialized in documents and/or in other tangible ways. Having said that, however, as the Northern District of California recently discussed in Schenwick v. Twitter, assuming that the work product privilege will protect your attorney’s communications with a non-party can be a risky proposition.

In Schenwick, the plaintiff’s representative interviewed several “confidential” witnesses prior to filing suit, and the defendants sought to discover what was said in those interviews. Defendants objected based on the work product privilege, and the Norther District of California made three underlying rulings … Keep reading

Companies often use written Employment Agreements to set out the duties/responsibilities of, and the compensation/benefits to, some or all of their employees. The most obvious reasons for doing so are to ensure clarity and limit the chance that either might misunderstand the other’s expectations. While using such documents is all well and good, what happens when an employee takes on responsibilities that go beyond the scope of what is covered by a written agreement? As one Massachusetts company recently learned, the answer to this question can be unpredictable and expensive.

In 1988, Ronald Nardone began working for LVI Services, and he eventually rose to become corporate vice-president of business development. At various times from 1997-2005 LVI was searching for investors, and Nardone became part of the “roadshow presentation” team that sought such investments. In that regard, LVI’s one-time President, Burton Fried, testified:

I asked [Nardone] if he wanted to appear and give the presentation on behalf of the business development aspect of the business and he said yes. … I didn’t require him, he just accepted the invitation.

After one of the roadshows in 2005, Nardone learned that a large investment was going to be made, and all of … Keep reading

Over the years, I have written a lot of blog posts on the attorney-client privilege, and they cover a wide variety of issues. One issue that comes up very frequently (whether in-house counsel realize it or not) is what happens when a communication with an attorney intertwines legal and business advice? As Marriott Vacations Worldwide found out last year, the answer is not always crystal clear and, more importantly, may create issues for in-house counsel and the client.

As part of Marriott’s discovery responses in RCHFU v. Marriott Vacations Worldwide, the company objected to producing a strategic plan memorandum to the Corporate Growth Committee (the “CGC”) based on the attorney-client privilege. The plaintiff challenged Marriott’s objection, which left Marriott with the burden of proving that the CGC memorandum was privileged. In analyzing the issue, the Court began by recounting a few overarching principles:

Business communications are not protected merely because they are directed to an attorney, and communications at meetings attended or directed by attorneys are not automatically privileged as a result of the attorney’s presence. The corporation must clearly demonstrate that the communication in question was made for the express purpose of securing legal not business

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As I discussed in a blog post several years ago, even an informal email can constitute acceptance of a contractual offer. Moreover, just a few months ago, Judge Timothy Hillman took this principle one step further by ruling, in Witt v. American Airlines, that an exchange of emails can form a binding settlement agreement, even if the parties have not agreed to all of the terms of that settlement.

In 2014, Diane Witt sued American Airlines for injuries she claimed to have sustained while on a flight. After litigating that case for more than three years, the parties finally engaged in serious settlement discussions. Ultimately, American Airlines’ counsel sent the following email to Witt’s counsel:

I have been informed $15,000 is firm (together with acceptable release) and that the settlement must happen promptly before more costs are incurred. This really needs to get done this week and certainly before any further hearing for the experts have to spend any more time preparing for deposition.

Witt’s counsel eventually responded: “Thanks for getting back to me. Ms. Witt accepts the settlement offer of $15,000. Please send the proposed release when you can.”

Less than one month later, however, Witt’s counsel … Keep reading

While employee reviews have obvious benefits from a Human Resources standpoint, implementing a policy that ensures employee reviews are well-crafted and accurate today, can go a long way toward insulating the company from potential liability tomorrow. Courts have consistently held that discharged or transferred employees can use performance reviews to show that they were treated differently based upon their membership in a protected class. In such “disparate treatment” cases, a performance review may establish or contradict that: 1) the employee was qualified for a position; and 2) someone outside of the protected class with similar qualifications was treated more favorably.

When deciding whether an employee was “similarly situated” to someone who may have been treated more favorably, a court will consider “whether a prudent person, looking objectively at the plaintiff and her comparator would think them roughly equivalent, and similarly qualified for the position.”

Employee reviews may be used as a tool to create evidence of work experience, or lack thereof. For example, if Employee A completed six significant projects in 2018, but Protected Employee B, who held a similar position, only completed three significant projects, employee reviews documenting the work experience of Employees A and B may be … Keep reading