Like many lawyers, I learned way back in law school that an “agreement to reach an agreement is a contradiction in terms and imposes no obligation on the parties thereto,”  (Rosenfield v. United States Trust Co. ). What I didn’t learn until many years later, however, was that although a Letter of Intent (LOI) expressly says that the parties’ rights and obligations are subject to the execution of a full-blown contract, that LOI can be binding – even if the contemplated full-blown contract never is executed. 

I learned this through my representation of Robert and Juliann DiMinico in the case of McCarthy v. Tobin.  In that case, Ann Tobin and John McCarthy executed a one-page “Offer to Purchase Real Estate” in connection with Tobin’s condominium at Burrough’s Wharf.  The Offer to Purchase expressly made the parties’ rights and obligations “Subject to a Purchase and Sale Agreement satisfactory to Buyer and Seller,” which was required to be executed by August 16, 1995, and time was of the essence.  After McCarthy failed to return a signed Purchase and Sale Agreement by the August 16 deadline, Tobin sold her property to the DiMinicos.

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In a prior post, we had reminded you that certain changes to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) regulations would become effective on April 30. 

However, as of Friday, April 13, in a case brought by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the U.S. District Court of South Carolina decided to strike down the requirement to post notices informing employees of their rights to unionize under the NLRA.  The South Carolina federal court decided that the posting requirements exceeded the authority of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), the entity charged with enforcing the NLRA.  The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals promptly followed, issuing an injunction putting the notice posting requirement on hold, pending the resolution of whether or not the NLRB had the authority to issue the notice posting requirement. 

As a result, yesterday afternoon, the NLRB announced that its regional offices would not implement the rule requiring posting of notices of NLRA rights while the appeal of the D.C. Circuit’s decision is pending. … Keep reading

As summer internship season approaches, employers should carefully institute internship programs which comply with the requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

The Test.

In the case of “for-profit” companies, unpaid internships must meet the strict criteria of the FLSA.  Specifically, as stated in U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) FLSA Fact Sheet #71 unpaid interns must:

  1. Receive training similar to that provided in an educational environment
  2. Be for the benefit of the intern, and not the employer
  3. Not displace regular paid employees
  4. Be closely supervised by existing staff
  5. Not be used for the immediate advantage of the employer (and in some cases, may impede the employer’s operations)
  6. Not necessarily be entitled to a job after the end of the internship
  7. Understand that the intern is not entitled to wages for time spent in the internship

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The Basics of Liquidated Damages Provisions

A liquidated damages provision fixes the amount of money one party will pay to the other if a breach occurs.  Because the law of contracts is designed to be compensatory, however, a payment-for-breach-clause that is penal will not be enforceable (Some reasons for this are discussed in “Why Not Enforce ‘Penalty’ Liquidated Damages Clauses?”).  Accordingly, even if a contract conspicuously says: “If the purchaser is one second late to the closing, it shall pay the seller $10,000,000,” that clause very likely will be deemed to be an unenforceable penalty.

So what makes for a valid liquidated damages provision?  There are two essential conditions:

  1. At the time the contract was executed, it must have been the case that it would have been difficult to determine the damages caused by a breach.
  2. At the time the contract was executed, the amount of the monetary payment designated must have appeared to have been a reasonable estimate of the expected damages for the contemplated breach. 
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Even the most sophisticated employer in the most intellectually demanding industry may misclassify its workers as “exempt” when they are, in fact “non-exempt.”  The increasing number of misclassification litigation is a sure sign that no one is completely immune from inadvertently misclassifying workers. 

What exactly are the workers “exempt” from anyway?  The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires that workers be paid a minimum wage for every hour they work and an overtime premium for any hours in excess of 40 hours worked in a week, but it permits employers from excluding certain types of employees from each of these requirements; hence, they are “exempt” employees.  The most common areas of exemption are known as the “white collar” exemptions.  These exempt employees are:

Of course, these “white collar” classifications may appear straightforward, but like the roads in the Tuscan hillside, they can become quite foggy and have twists and turns from time to time.  Don’t fall for the typical myths about exempt classifications.

Myth No. 1:  If the employee is paid a “salary” rather than “hourly,” the employee must be “exempt.”

Although any employee who is paid on an “hourly” basis … Keep reading

As many in-house counsel are painfully aware, litigating a dispute in court is generally time-consuming and expensive.  Further, given a losing party’s right to appeal an adverse verdict, and with all due respect to Yogi Berra, litigation ain’t even over when it’s over.  As a result, some companies choose to include arbitration clauses in their agreements, believing that this will greatly reduce the amount of time and expense their company will have to incur if a significant dispute arises that cannot be resolved.

While it usually is quicker and less expensive to arbitrate a dispute rather than to litigate in court, that is not always the case.  For example, while it only would cost $375 to file a $5 million claim for breach of contract in the Federal District Court, the fees for commencing commercial arbitration before the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) are $14,600 – even if the case is extremely simple. (Fees under the AAA Commercial Rules are tied exclusively to the amount of damages being claimed.)… Keep reading

NOTE:  Some changes have occurred since this entry was originally posted.  Please see new post from April 18, 2012 for an update.

On April 30, 2012, a number of major changes to the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) regulations will take effect and businesses, especially those that are not unionized, should take heed.  While many employers view the NLRA as a “traditional” labor law that is  not applicable to private, non-union entities,  almost all employers engaged in interstate commerce are subject to the NLRA. 

Two of these changes (effective April 30) are of particular note:

  1. Posting of Notices:  As of April 30, 2012, all employers must post the Notice of Employee Rights under the National Labor Relations Act (English).  For now, failure to comply with the posting requirement does not automatically result in an unfair labor practice, as the regulation was originally drafted, but it is likely that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)will draw an adverse inference from an employer’s failure to post.  The posters must be 11 x 17 inches in size and posted in English and any other language which at least 20% of the workforce speaks, if they are not proficient in
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Because the role of most in-house counsel goes well beyond that of providing legal advice, whether communications with in-house counsel are privileged is a much more nuanced issue than it is with respect to communications with outside counsel.

General Principles Applicable to all Claims of the Privilege

1.  Not all communications with attorneys are privileged; only communications for the purpose of obtaining legal advice are privileged.  Thus, even conversations between a CEO and his or her General Counsel about the most sensitive and confidential aspects of their business are subject to disclosure unless they are for the purpose of obtaining legal advice.… Keep reading

With the new year, Massachusetts employers must add “gender identity” to the list of classes entitled to protection from employment discrimination and retaliation.   What was touted as the “transgender rights” law in Massachusetts is, in fact, a “gender identity” law. 

The Massachusetts transgender rights law defines “gender identity” as:

[A] person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth.

This law allows employees to establish a workplace gender identity by providing their employer with evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity, or “any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, as part of a person’s core identity.”

Notwithstanding this new law, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination has already found that transgender employees are protected under the Commonwealth’s existing sex and disability discrimination laws.  Thus, we have long counseled Massachusetts employers to treat transgendered employees as a protected class, and we do not anticipate that this legislation will change that fundamental advice. … Keep reading