In this installment of The In-House Advisor, we interview Bill Gabovitch, General Counsel at Primark U.S. Corp. Primark is a fast-fashion retailer, based in Europe, with 350 stores in 10 countries. The company’s first U.S. store opened three years ago – in the former Filene’s space at Downtown Crossing, Boston – and it now operates nine stores in five Northeast states. Bill is a former associate general counsel at Staples, a former associate at two Boston law firms, and a graduate of Indiana University and the University of Pennsylvania School Of Law. He lives in Newton, MA, with his wife Lauren and their daughters Rebecca and Naomi.
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 years?
Bill Gabovitch: Overall, the value that an in-house counsel brings to the table is in how much he or she helps the business achieve its objectives with the lowest reasonable risk. Sometimes that involves helping on a transaction or a strategy, or choosing the right way to deliver the company’s products or services to the market, after properly assessing for … Keep reading
While most parties and their counsel are vigilant in keeping their communications confidential, so as to avoid any chance that the attorney-client privilege can be invaded, there are some situations in which a party makes a tactical decision to waive that privilege. When this happens, courts generally agree that such a waiver will extend to all communications on the same “subject matter” as the disclosed communications. Having said that, however, there do not appear to be any general guidelines or bright-line tests to determine what is meant by the subject matter of a communication. Rather, such analyses are done on a case-by-case basis.
While trying to determine what a court will define as the scope of the subject matter of a particular communication can be a bit like reading tea leaves, a related area that is even more fraught with peril is where a party decides to have counsel undertake an investigation and then publicizes some or all of a report generated from that investigation. Indeed, this is the exact, and unfortunate, position in which the Hamilton County (Tennessee) Board of Education found itself earlier this year.
In 2015, three members of a high school basketball team located in … Keep reading
Electronic agreements have become a staple of today’s e-commerce world, and such agreements generally are as enforceable as those written on parchment and signed with a quill pen. One notable exception, however, is where the proponent of such an agreement seeks to enforce an arbitration provision. In that case, more may be required than simply having a clause stating that all disputes must be resolved through arbitration at the AAA, JAMS, or some other organization. Indeed, that is the hard lesson the defendants in Cruz v. Jump City Everett LLC (34 Mass.L.Rep. 586) learned earlier this year.
In 2015, after visiting the defendants’ recreational trampoline facility with his two minor children, Elmer Cruz filed suit in Suffolk Superior Court, claiming that he suffered an injury at the establishment. The defendants moved to dismiss that claim, contending that Mr. Cruz had affixed his electronic signature to a “Participant Agreement” that included a clause requiring all disputes to be resolved via arbitration. Mr. Cruz countered by submitting an affidavit in which he asserted that (i) he does not speak English; (ii) his son, who does speak English, led Mr. Cruz to a computer screen, where the son entered various information and … Keep reading
In Part I of Key Changes to Massachusetts Noncompetes, I outlined some of the most significant new mandates that will apply to all noncompete agreements executed on or after October 1. In this post, I want to discuss some of the practical implications of the new law and how in-house counsel might address them.
- The new law does not apply to covenants not to solicit customers, clients, or vendors of the employer
While this may not sound like a significant exception, in many instances, it provides the ultimate loophole. For example, if your company uses noncompetes primarily or exclusively to prevent your sales force from competing against you, simply revising those agreements so that they are structured as nonsolicitation agreements may give you most, if not all, of the functional protections of a noncompete – but without having to worry about any of the requirements of the new law.
- Noncompete agreements entered at the outset of employment only are valid if they are provided to the employee by the earlier of a formal offer of employment or 10 business days prior to the commencement of employment
In light of this, it is critical that in-house counsel … Keep reading
Over the years, I have written blog posts related to a plethora of nuances concerning noncompetition agreements. While the signing into law last Friday of new legislation on noncompetes does not eviscerate them (despite advocacy on the part of some for such a result), there are a number of new mandates that significantly change the legal landscape – but only for noncompete agreements entered into on or after October 1, 2018. Here are what I believe to be the most significant changes to Massachusetts noncompete law:
I. The definition of noncompetes does NOT include, and the new law will NOT apply to:
- A. Covenants not to solicit or transact business with customers, clients, or vendors of the employer
- B. Noncompetes in the context of the sale of a business or substantial assets thereof, when the individual is a “significant” equity holder and will receive “significant” consideration for the transaction
- C. Noncompetes in connection with a separation agreement, if the employee is given seven days to rescind the agreement
- D. Covenants not to solicit or hire employees of the employer
II. To be valid, a noncompete MUST meet ALL of the following conditions:
- A. The noncompetition period may
… Keep reading
As I noted in a prior post, the differences between arbitration and litigation go well beyond the fact that arbitration generally is a quicker and less expensive process. As such, there are a host of reasons why a company may want certain disputes – including, but not limited to, those brought by its own employees – resolved through arbitration. Similarly, companies almost always want to avoid the risk of being sued in a class action. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court, in its consolidated decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis; Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris; and NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., ruled that class action waivers are enforceable.
As Justice Gorsuch noted at the outset, while the three consolidated cases had different facts, they each essentially revolved around the same related questions:
Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration? Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?
In the Ernst & Young case, Stephen Morris entered into an employment agreement with E&Y, stating that (i) all … Keep reading
We all learned pretty early on in law school that for a contract to be formed, there has to be an offer and acceptance. We also were taught that if, in responding to an offer, a party accepted some terms and proposed additional ones, that party was making a counter-offer, was deemed to have rejected the original offer, and no contract was formed. In the real world, it usually is clear whether an offer is being accepted or a counter-offer is being made. Nevertheless, and as the defendant in APB Realty, Inc. v. Georgia-Pacific LLC recently learned, a lack of precision in responding to an offer can lead to confusion as to whether or not a contract has been formed.
In APB Realty, Georgia-Pacific was offering 88 rails cares for sale, “where is, as is.” APB was interested in buying those rails cars, and it made the following offer to Georgia-Pacific’s broker:
Total for all 88 x Log Stake Railcars $1,636,000 (Including 16% Buyer’s Premium).
Shortly thereafter, the broker responded as follows:
Here are the two options that [Georgia-Pacific] has brought back for us to close the deal on.
Option 1, basically states that for $61K, you
… Keep reading
The Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits discrimination “on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, privileges, advantages, or accommodations of any place of public accommodation by any person who owns, leases (or leases to), or operates a place of public accommodation.” Over the past few years, innumerable lawsuits have been brought against universities, banks, and businesses, claiming that they have engaged in unlawful discrimination under the ADA because their websites (1) act as “places of public accommodation,” and (2) are not fully accessible to people with visual impairments. (Often, these lawsuits concern the fact that, although a visually impaired person can use a “screen-reader” to convert text on a website into audio, if there is no subtitle to a non-text picture or image, that user would have no way of knowing that a picture or image exists, let alone what it might be.)
While there have been cases holding that websites are not places of public accommodation, the trend seems to be otherwise. Some jurisdictions hold that a website may be a place of public accommodation if there is a connection between the site and a physical location. See, … Keep reading
As I discussed in a 2015 blog post, the language in a forum selection clause is critical if you want to ensure that potential litigation takes place on your “home court.” Indeed, as the defendants in Genis v. Campbell recently learned, having a less than all-encompassing and precise forum selection clause can lead to unintended results.
Alfred Genis is a Massachusetts resident and a diamond laboratory scientist. In 2013, Genis met Martin Campbell, who, along with his brother, David, owned Pure Crystal, a company involved in growing laboratory diamonds. In October of that year, the three individuals executed what would later be referred to as the “October 2013 Agreement.” That Agreement indicated that Genis would be granted 25% equity in Pure Crystal and also would receive equity in two new companies to be formed. In that same month, the Campbell brothers formed the first of those companies, Kimberlite Applied Science, LLC, and Genis executed an “Employment Agreement” and a “License Agreement” with Kimberlite.
By 2017, the relationship between Genis and the Campbells had broken down, and Genis filed suit in Massachusetts Superior Court, alleging that his intellectual property had been misappropriated and that he had not been granted … Keep reading
The Act to Establish Pay Equity, amending G.L. c.149, §105A (MA Pay Equity Law), goes into effect July 1, 2018. All employers, regardless of number of employees, whose employees perform all or the greater part of their work in Massachusetts, are required to comply with the MA Pay Equity Law.
One of the law’s notable aspects is that a potential employer cannot ask a job candidate what his/her prior salary history is. Many employers regularly ask job candidates what they make as a way of gauging whether they can meet the compensation expectations of a job candidate or, in some cases, trying to determine the least amount of pay to offer. In this day of networking, management-level employees may also receive job inquiries from potential candidates, and it is not uncommon for managers to ask, “How much are you making now?” as a threshold question, to determine whether the inquiry is worth passing on. Unfortunately, if such benign questions are asked, the candidate may bring a legal claim for violating the MA Pay Equity Law.
With such a low threshold to assert a legal claim, what should you do? First, make sure all employees know that, under no … Keep reading