How many times over the years have you seen a clause in a contract stating that it only can be modified by a written instrument signed by the parties? Depending upon how long you have been practicing, the answer may well be hundreds, if not thousands. The problem with such a clause, however, is that it may not be as binding as it appears. Indeed, in a recent decision by Judge Saris in the Federal District Court, she ruled that a series of contracts prohibiting oral modifications or modification by conduct were, in fact, modified by words and acts.
In May of 2019, Sasha Hoffman began working for Thras.io Inc. pursuant to a written “Consulting Agreement” covering the period May 1 through July 31, and the parties subsequently entered into three additional Consulting Agreements that extended the term of her work through October. Each Consulting Agreement contained the following clause:
No provision of this Consulting Agreement may be modified, amended, waived or terminated except by a prior instrument in writing signed by the parties to this Consulting Agreement. No course of dealing between the parties will modify, amend, waive or terminate any provision of this Consulting Agreement
… Keep reading
Over the years, I have written a number of blog posts dealing with forum selection clauses, often in disputes where a party who wanted to enforce those provisions was not able to do so. While in-house counsel may view a forum selection clause as a boilerplate provision (and that is not necessarily inappropriate), it is critical that such a boilerplate provision be drafted properly. As the First Circuit’s recent decision in Bautista Cayman Asset Co. v. Fountainebleu Plaza, 2021 WL 2154778, confirms, failing to do so can lead to a forum selection clause being of little or no value.
In March of 2017, Bautista Cayman Asset Company brought a collection action against Fountainebleu Plaza, S.E. and others in the Federal District Court for the District of Puerto Rico. While Bautista eventually was awarded summary judgment on its claim, the defendants appealed, arguing that the Federal District Court had no subject matter jurisdiction, because the parties’ contract had a forum selection clause stating:
In the event of any litigation that arises in connection with this contract, with the Loan, or with the other documents connected hereto, the parties submit to the jurisdiction of the General Court of Justice
… Keep reading
As part of your company’s onboarding process, all employees sign an agreement making it crystal clear that if there ever is any dispute between them and the company, that dispute must be decided by an arbitrator in arbitration and not by a judge or jury in a court of law. Your agreement then adds a belt to those suspenders by itemizing a wide variety of specific claims that would be covered by the agreement and, thereby, subject to arbitration. Your agreement even specifically includes a statement to the effect that employees have a right to consult with an attorney of their own choice before signing the document. Surely, then, when an employee brings a suit in a court of law, you will be able to dismiss the claim and compel arbitration, right? Well, as GrubHub learned earlier this year, that may not be the case.
From September of 2016 through July of 2019, Veronica Archer worked for GrubHub as a driver delivering food and other products to consumers. At or about the time her employment with GrubHub began, Ms. Archer electronically signed an agreement that included provisions akin to those described above. In October of 2019, Ms. Archer joined … Keep reading
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 roundtable discussion about what it takes to become a GC – and what takes to stay there.Three outstanding general counsel participated: Deanna Sheridan, of Spartan Race, Inc., Melanie Goins, of Care.com, and Ben Kaplan, of Velcro.
Discussion topics included:
- How the role of the GC as a legal counselor and business advisor differs from that of outside counsel or an Associate General Counsel.
- The mentoring and skill development essential to becoming an institution’s Chief Legal Officer.
- What you must do as General Counsel to understand the company’s business and have the business people understand you.
A link to the webinar can be found here.… Keep reading
Way back in May of 2018, I published a blog post concerning the burgeoning issue of whether consumer-facing websites must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and what that means.
This issue has not gone away, and last month I participated in a webinar entitled Why CEOs Should Care If Their Website is ADA Compliant, discussing ADA website compliance in more detail and providing practical advice about how to protect your company from lawsuits and mitigate the costs if you are sued.
Lawsuits in this area continue to be filed at a very high volume, and in-house counsel of businesses that have consumer-facing websites (among others) must stay up to speed on the relevant law and the actions they can take to protect their companies.… Keep reading
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
… Keep reading
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
… Keep reading