The United States Supreme Court has granted consolidated review of three cases to determine whether arbitration agreements that waive employees’ rights to participate in a class action lawsuit against their employer are unlawful. The Court’s decision to address the uncertainty surrounding class action waivers of employment claims follows a circuit split last year in which the Fifth and Eighth circuits upheld such waivers and the Seventh and Ninth circuits found that such waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act. Given the increasingly widespread use of class action waivers by employers to stem costly class and collective actions, the high court’s ruling is likely to have a significant nationwide impact.

Continue Reading Supreme Court Will Rule On Legality of Class Action Waivers in Employer Arbitration Agreements

Government agencies like the SEC are challenging what have long been standard provisions in separation agreements. Hunton & Williams LLP partners Kevin White and Emily Burkhardt Vicente discuss those challenges and provide tips for companies on revising their standard agreements to mitigate against them. View the 5-minute video here

Government agencies like the SEC are challenging what have long been standard provisions in separation agreements. Hunton & Williams LLP partners Kevin White and Emily Burkhardt Vicente discuss those challenges and provide tips for companies on revising their standard agreements to mitigate against them. View the 5-minute video here

Employers should be aware of a recent ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit that overly broad confidentiality and nondisparagement policies violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  The case, Quicken Loans v. NLRB, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 13778 (D.C. Cir.), involved an employment policy which prohibited employees from using or disclosing a broad range of personnel information without Quicken’s prior written consent or to criticize publicly the company and its management. The National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) determined that those rules ran afoul of Section 7 of the NLRA because they “unreasonably burden the employees’ ability to discuss legitimate employment matters, to protest employer practices, and to organize.” Quicken then appealed the NLRB’s decision to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Continue Reading D.C. Circuit Affirms Board Ruling On Overbroad Confidentiality Policy

In a decision that could trigger similar action in multiple states, the Fifth Circuit recently decided that an employee could bring a wrongful-termination claim in Mississippi after being terminated for having a gun in his truck, which was parked on company property.   Following the Mississippi Supreme Court’s decision on referral, the Fifth Circuit held that a Mississippi statute—which prohibits employers from establishing, maintaining, or enforcing policies that prohibit an employees from storing a firearm in a vehicle on company property and from taking action against an employee who violates that policy—creates an exception to the state’s employment-at-will doctrine.

Continue Reading Employer Prohibited from Terminating Employee for Storing Gun in Truck in Mississippi – Multiple States Potentially Impacted

In Bodine v. Cook’s Pest Control Inc., No. 15-13233, 2016 WL 4056031 (11th Cir. July 29, 2016), the Eleventh Circuit held that a forced-arbitration agreement in an employment contract is enforceable, despite the fact that certain provisions of the arbitration agreement violated the Uniform Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (“USERRA”).

Rodney Bodine, a member of the U.S. Army Reserve, was part of the sales force at Cook’s Pest Control, Inc. (“Cook’s”) in Alabama. His employment contract with Cook’s contained an arbitration clause, which included provisions that 1) permitted the arbitrator to re-apportion costs and attorneys’ fees, and 2) set the statute of limitations for filing a claim under the agreement at six months. After being terminated, Mr. Bodine brought suit against Cook’s under the USERRA, 38 U.S.C. § 4301, and state law, alleging, inter alia, discrimination based on military service.

USERRA provides statutory protection to members of the military against discrimination by employers because of their military service. 38 U.S.C. § 4301(a)(3). It also contains a non-waiver provision, which provides that the chapter “supersedes any” contractual agreements that “reduces, limits, or eliminates in any manner any right of benefit provided by t[he] chapter.” § 4302(b). USERRA also states that there is no statute of limitations for bringing a claim under the Act, § 4327(b), and that no court costs or fees may be charged to a USERRA plaintiff, § 4323(h)(1). Mr. Bodine alleged that, because the statute of limitations and fee provision of the arbitration agreement conflicted with USERRA, the entire arbitration provision was void under USERRA’s non-waiver provision.

Cook’s moved to compel arbitration. Although it conceded that the two provisions Mr. Bodine complained about did indeed violated USERRA, Cook’s argued that the court could use the employment contract’s severability clause to excise the two invalid provisions while retaining and enforcing the remainder of the arbitration agreement, pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act’s (“FAA”) “liberal policy favoring arbitration agreements.” The district court agreed and, under Alabama’s severability law, it struck the statute of limitations and fee provisions from the arbitration agreement. The court dismissed the suit without prejudice and ordered Mr. Bodine to submit his claims to arbitration.

Over a dissent by Judge Martin, a panel of the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s order and concluded that “USERRA’s non-waiver provision should not be read to automatically invalidate an entire agreement with USERRA-offending terms. Instead, the plain language of [USERRA] contemplates modification of an agreement by replacing USERRA-offending terms with those set forth by USERRA.” (Emphasis added.) The Court held that the “USERRA’s non-waiver provision does not conflict with the FAA: both statutes provide a mechanism for striking from an arbitration agreement a term in conflict with USERRA.”

Despite the Court’s holding, employers are wise to consider USERRA’s provisions when drafting employment contracts and arbitration agreements. In addition to the statute of limitations and fee provisions at issue in Bodine, USERRA contains provisions pertaining to jurisdiction, § 4323(b), and venue, § 4323(c). The Act also requires employers to “provide to persons entitled to rights and benefits under this chapter a notice of the rights, benefits, and obligations of such persons and such employers under this chapter.” § 4334(a).

The newly-enacted Defend Trade Secrets Act (DTSA) represents a significant new weapon for companies to prosecute trade secret violations. Among other features, the DTSA creates a federal cause of action for theft of trade secrets and a provision for judicial ex parte seizure of stolen property, double damages, and attorneys’ fees. Please join Hunton & Williams LLP for a complimentary webinar on August 3, 2016, 1:00 p.m. – 2:00 p.m. (EDT) that will cover the important aspects of the law, including the language that needs to be inserted into employment and confidentiality/non-disclosure agreements to ensure your company can take full advantage of the law.

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Businesses need to have written protocols in place to deal with bankruptcy filings by their employees and independent contractors, or they risk serious sanctions and, potentially, punitive damages for violations of the bankruptcy laws. Consider two examples.

Continue Reading Employee Pay and the Bankruptcy Stay – Potential Pitfalls for Employers

Yesterday, John Smith, the president of ABC Bank, announced to the board of directors that he intended to resign to go work for XYZ Bank, a local competitor. Smith also intends to take some of the bank’s most important customers, and several top officers with him to XYZ Bank. Upset and panicked, the chair of the board contacted the bank’s employment attorney to determine what could be done to stop the president from leaving and taking customers and employees with him. “Send me a copy of John’s employment agreement,” the lawyer said. “Employment agreement? The board did not think John needed one. We never imagined he would quit.”

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With its May 26 Lewis v. Epic-Systems Corp. decision, the Seventh Circuit became the first circuit to back the reasoning in D.R. Horton, Inc., 357 NLRB No. 184 (2012), and held that a mandatory arbitration agreement prohibiting employees from bringing class or collective actions against their employer violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). This decision creates a circuit split regarding the enforceability of arbitration agreements with class action waivers in the employment context, and the issue is now ripe for potential Supreme Court review.

Continue Reading Seventh Circuit Bucks the Trend and Creates a Circuit Split Regarding Enforceability of Employment Class Action Waivers