While many attorneys aspire to be a General Counsel, the path to becoming a company’s chief legal officer can be even more convoluted than becoming a partner at a law firm. Recently, it was my pleasure to host an engaging panel discussion about what it takes to become a GC – and what it takes to stay there – amongst three outstanding general counsels: Jason Ellis of Staples, Thanda Fields Brassard of Fiduciary Trust of New England, and Levina Wong of Veson Nautical.

Discussion topics included:

  • The skills needed to be a General Counsel and how to get them
  • How the GC interacts and interrelates with the Board of Directors and C-Suite.
  • What you must do as General Counsel to understand the company’s business and stay in touch with the people who run it — from the CEO to the hourly employees.

Click here to watch the webinar.… Keep reading

Company leaders—whether the GC, chief executive, or some other officer in charge—often call their outside counsel when a formal claim is made against them, or a dispute appears headed toward formal litigation. What business leaders often don’t think to do is put their insurance carrier on notice as soon as a claim is made. As a recent District of Massachusetts decision related to the heavily publicized Harvard affirmative action lawsuit reinforces, failing to alert your insurance carrier of a claim can have severe consequences. 

For Harvard, these consequences materialized as a $15 million loss. 

In November 2014, Harvard was sued in connection with rejecting a group of anonymous Asian American students from admission to the university. Still, the school did not provide its insurance carrier, Zurich, a notice of the claim until May 23, 2017. Zurich then denied coverage, relying on its “claims-made” policy, which requires that any claims asserted in the policy period be reported to Zurich no later than 90 days after the expiration of the policy period, i.e., by January 30, 2016. Significantly, that coverage would have applied to the $15 million in legal fees Harvard incurred to defend the lawsuit. 

Incredulous by … Keep reading

The default clause of most leases provides that upon the tenant’s material default, the landlord has the right to retake possession, relet the premises at the tenant’s expense and accelerate the tenant’s rent payment obligation. In a recent decision issued by the Massachusetts Appeals Court, Cummings Properties, LLC v. Hines, the Court held that a liquidated damages provision that accelerates rent upon a tenant’s default of a lease is unenforceable unless it provides that the tenant will be credited for any rent collected from a new tenant during the balance of the lease term or discounts the stipulated damages to reflect the likelihood of reletting. 

In early 2016, Massachusetts Constables Office, Inc. (“MCO”) secured a contract with the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (“DOR”), leading Darryl Hines, the owner, sole officer and director of MCO, to seek out office space in Woburn, the town where he thought the majority of his work would occur.  On April 15, 2016, MCO entered into a five-year lease with Cummings, a major player in the Massachusetts commercial real estate market, with a base rent of $16,374 per year. The default provision of the lease provided that upon a default in the payment … Keep reading

As discussed in a blog post last year, Uber learned the hard way that with online agreements, it can take more than a simple provision stating “all disputes must be arbitrated” to ensure that your customers cannot sue you in a court of law. In a recent decision issued by the Massachusetts Superior Court (Good v. Uber Technologies, 2022 WL 10448746), Uber was foiled again – even though it had initiated what it must have thought were fool-proof protocols to prevent it from being hauled into court.

William Good had been an Uber user since August 13, 2013, and on April 25, 2021, he tried to order a ride but was blocked by a pop-up message stating: “We’ve updated our terms.” The pop-up message went on to say: “We encourage you to read our updated in Terms in full.” Among those terms was a provision stating that Uber’s customers were “required to resolve any claim against Uber … in arbitration.”

The pop-up screen also contained a blue, underlined hyperlink entitled “Terms of Use,” and at the bottom of the screen in bold font, it stated: “By checking the box, I have reviewed and agree to the … Keep reading

Many states are now enacting laws to further promote pay transparency, and if you have employees in those jurisdictions, you need to take note. Not surprisingly, California’s Pay Transparency Act is a leading example of this and has a number of important and new requirements.

First, California employers with 15 or more employees will be required to include pay scales in new job postings. This obligation extends to  employers engaging in a third party for recruiting (e.g., job posting boards). Employers, therefore, should ensure that contracts with third parties include this requirement and appropriate indemnification clauses.

Second, California now – like Massachusetts (see M.G.L. c. 149 § 105A(c)(2)) – prohibits employers from asking about an applicant’s salary history or using salary history as a factor in a hiring decision. However, if an applicant voluntarily discloses salary information, employers may consider that information in determining the salary for that applicant. Further, employers may ask about an applicant’s salary expectations – which is a great way to engage in a conversation that might yield information helpful to hiring without risking a statutory violation.

Third, California now requires employers to disclose a position’s pay scale to an applicant … Keep reading

While I can’t remember anything specific from my 1-L Contracts class, I’m sure that is where I first was exposed to the concept that an integration clause could prevent a party to a written contract from claiming that other terms had been agreed to orally but, for some reason, had not been memorialized in the document. As the First Circuit recently discussed in Guldseth v. Family Medicine Associates, LLC, however, integration clauses can come in different shapes and sizes. As an initial matter, there is the question of whether the clause results in the contract being fully integrated or only partially integrated:

By fully integrated, we mean a statement which the parties have adopted as a complete and exclusive expression of their agreement. Compare that to [a] partially integrated agreement, which means the agreement is intended as a final expression of one or more terms, but not as the complete and exclusive expression of all terms to which the parties agreed. The degree of integration in turn dictates the degree to which earlier agreements are discharged by the later-formed agreement [and] whether an agreement is fully integrated is … an issue of fact.”

Indeed, because the scope … Keep reading

Under the Massachusetts Wage Act, M.G.L. c. 149 § 150, a terminated employee is entitled to be paid all wages, including accrued vacation time, on the day of termination, and the failure to do so makes the employer liable for mandatory treble damages and attorneys’ fees. As the Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled in Reuter v. City of Methuen, while this rule may seem harsh and offers no “good faith exception,” that is what the legislature intended. Indeed, Reuter is a cautionary tale from which in-house counsel should take note.

After having worked for the City of Methuen for 25 years, Beth Reuter was convicted of larceny, prompting the City to terminate her employment. At the time of her termination, Reuter was owed $8,952.15 for accrued vacation time, which the City did not pay until three weeks later. Eventually, Reuter’s counsel noted that the City’s conduct violated the Wage Act and demanded triple the accrued vacation pay and attorneys’ fees (less the $8,952.15 already paid). Reuter filed suit, and the City took the position that because it paid the accrued vacation amount before any demand had been made and prior to the lawsuit being filed, the most for … Keep reading

Under the so-called “American Rule,” a party that prevails in litigation typically is not entitled to recover the costs, expenses and legal fees it has to expend to secure a judgment in its favor. As such, many business contracts include a “fee-shifting” provision, requiring a defendant to reimburse a prevailing plaintiff for the reasonable legal fees it incurs to obtain a judgment in its favor – and courts routinely enforce such provisions. Sometimes, a fee-shifting provision is part of a much broader indemnification agreement. While doing so is perfectly appropriate, care needs to be taken in expressing the fee-shifting obligation, or it may not be enforceable. Indeed, that is precisely the unfortunate position in which the plaintiff found itself in Harris v. Imaging Advantage, LLC.

Five years ago, the plaintiffs in Harris initiated their suit against Imaging Advantage in the Business Litigation Session of the Superior Court. In December of 2021, the plaintiffs were awarded summary judgment on two different contract claims, the first of which related to a License and Services Agreement. According to Section 15.1 of the LSA:

Each Party … agree[d] to defend, indemnify and hold harmless the other Party … from and against any

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Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 93A is one of the most potent weapons in any business litigator’s arsenal. That statute prohibits deceptive or unfair acts or practices in the course of trade or commerce, and it allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and even multiple damages (when the malevolent conduct is knowing or willful). While many cases have held that a mere breach of contract alone is not to invoke Chapter 93A liability, other cases have held that leveraging a business partner into a concession even if there is no breach of a contractual obligation is actionable under Chapter 93A.

In light of this, it should come as no surprise that for years transactional attorneys have been trying to insulate their clients from the reach of Chapter 93A by using limitation of liability clauses. Unfortunately, the law as to the enforceability of a limitation of liability clause in the Chapter 93A context has been murky. Essentially, precedent set by the Appeals Court held that such provisions could be enforced if the alleged deceptive or unfair conduct arose out of contractual conduct but could not be enforced where the conduct at issue was tort-based (as in the case … Keep reading

You Don’t Have To Rule Out Environmental, Social and Governance Investments in Your ERISA Portfolio, but Be Careful

ERISA generally requires retirement plan fiduciaries to invest prudently, diversify assets to minimize the risk of large losses, and act solely in the interest of plan participants. These duties have been interpreted as prioritizing the pecuniary interests of plan participants and their beneficiaries. Because investment returns are not to be sacrificed or greater risks assumed to promote collateral social policies, many plan fiduciaries have shied away from environmental, social and governance (ESG) investments.

However, such investments do not need to be avoided if the ERISA fiduciary gives appropriate consideration to the facts and circumstances relevant to a particular investment or course of action, including the role of the investment in the portfolio, and acts accordingly.

In fact, a recent proposal by the U.S. Department of Labor seeks to modify certain prior regulatory guidance that had chilled ESG investments. Appropriate considerations include the risk of loss, opportunity for gain or other return as compared to similar investment alternatives. Diversification, liquidity, projected return are all factors for considering investments in a retirement plan, but investment returns are not to be sacrificed or greater risks assumed to promote collateral social policies. Thus, ESG factors may serve as a “tie breaker” when considering … Keep reading