Category: Business Law


PA Supreme Court Upholds Non-Economic Damages for Whistleblowers

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Recently, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that wrongfully terminated whistleblowers can recover non-economic damages. Bailets v. Pa. Tpk. Comm’n., 2018 Pa. LEXIS 1498 (2018). Bailets centered around a whistleblower claim made by a manager of the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) alleging that they fired him in retaliation for reporting wrongdoings and waste to his supervisors. The lower court found in Plaintiff’s favor and awarded economic and noneconomic damages totaling over $3 million. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision and award of economic and non-economic damages.

This issue centered on whether the term “actual damages” in Section 125 of the Whistleblower Law should be narrowly or broadly interpreted to include non-economic damages. PTC argued that actual damages refer solely to economic damages because allowance of non-economic damages would be analogous to punitive damages. PTC also argued that exceptions to the Commonwealth’s immunity should be narrowly interpreted and thus non-economic damages should not be read into “actual damages.” The employee argued that actual damages include non-economic damages because the law’s purpose is remedial and serves to compel government compliance to the law. In addition, the employee argued that there is a long precedent in Pennsylvania that actual damages are equivalent to economic and non-economic damages. Furthermore, the employee argues that not awarding non-economic damages “would undermine the very purpose of the law to protect and encourage employee reporters of waste and wrongdoing.”

The Court approached this as an issue of statutory interpretation and held that the law must be liberally construed to allow non-economic damages, thus fulfilling the remedial purpose of the Whistleblower Law. Furthermore, the Court found that reading “actual damages” as solely economic damages would be superfluous considering the statute’s inclusion of different types of economic damages under the allowed types of recovery. The Court agreed with the employee that Pennsylvania’s precedence historically supports the finding that actual damages includes non-economic damages. The Court stressed that the state must allow recovery for non-economic harms such as humiliation, embarrassment, and mental anguish in order to make Plaintiff whole. Going forward, Bailets is significant in that it will open the door for more claims under the Whistleblower Law and allow for a greater recovery for successful claimants.

For more information, please call our Philadelphia whistleblower lawyers at Sidkoff Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

Third Circuit Upholds FLSA Standards 

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In a recent case before the Third Circuit, the Court upheld the willfulness standard necessary to extend the limitations period for FLSA claims while allowing a good faith standard for awarding liquidated damages. Souryavong v. Lackawanna Cty., 872 F.3d 122 (3d Cir. 2017). Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant, Lackawanna County, for failing to pay overtime wages in violation of the FLSA. The employee Plaintiffs each worked two part time jobs for Defendant, who tracked the hours worked for each Plaintiffs’ jobs individually but neglected to aggregate the hours between the jobs resulting in a failure to pay overtime wages. Plaintiffs appealed from a lower court decision finding that Defendant did not willfully violate the FLSA but still awarded liquidated damages due to Defendant’s lack of good faith attempts of compliance to the FLSA.

The Court upheld the lower court’s decision that Defendant did not willfully violate the FLSA. Finding a willful violation is important for an FLSA claim because it extends the limitations period from two years to three years thereby enabling the plaintiff to recover an additional year of lost pay. To show willfulness, plaintiff cannot just show that defendant had a general awareness of the FLSA, but plaintiff must show actual awareness of the specific FLSA violation. Here, the Court upheld the lower court’s finding that Defendant did not meet the willfulness standard, and thus Plaintiffs were not eligible for an extension of the FLSA limitations period.

While the Court found that Defendant did not willfully violate the FLSA, they upheld that Defendant was liable for liquidated damages under a good faith standard. In the lower court, Plaintiffs argued that Defendant was liable for liquidated damages because they willfully violated the FLSA. To the contrary, Defendant argued that they were not liable for liquidated damages because they acted in good faith and the FLSA violations were unintentional. The lower court found that Plaintiffs were entitled to liquidated damages; however, their ruling was based on Defendant’s failure to prove good faith rather than Plaintiff’s willfulness argument. In this case, Plaintiffs argued that the lower court’s finding in favor of liquidated damages reaffirmed their assertion that Defendant was willful and thereby entitled them to the extended limitations period in addition to liquidated damages. However, the Third Circuit held that the lower court’s ruling had no bearing on the extension of the limitations period because it was based merely on Defendant’s lack of evidence of good faith attempts at FLSA compliance and not on their willfulness.

Overall, the Third Circuit reaffirmed the need to show willfulness to extend the limitations period for overtime violations claims under the FLSA. However, if an employer cannot provide sufficient evidence of good faith attempts at FLSA compliance, then employees are entitled to liquidated damages.

For more information, call our Philadelphia employment lawyers for Fair Labor Standards Act in Philadelphia and South Jersey at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.

 

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US Supreme Court Enforces Individual Arbitration Agreements

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In May 2018, the Supreme Court in Epic System Corp. v. Lewis ruled in favor of employers in a matter involving the enforcement of individualized arbitration agreements. 2018 WL 2292444. In this case, the plaintiffs were all workers who had signed arbitration agreements which required them to pursue their grievances through individualized arbitration. Plaintiffs instead attempted to sue under two central claims. First, the plaintiffs insisted that the arbitration agreements should not be enforced because of  the “saving clause” of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) which allows courts to refuse to enforce arbitration agreements “upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract” in combination with the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) which governs workers’ rights to “bargain collectively . . . and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining.” Secondly, the plaintiffs argue that even if the “saving clause” of the FAA does not protect their claim, Congress intended for the NLRA and not the FAA to be the controlling regulation.

When faced with determining the merits of the plaintiffs’ first argument, the Court relied primarily on the text of the regulation to determine the meaning and implications of the “saving clause.” When analyzing the clause, the Court focused on the inclusion of the term “any contract.” Id. at 6. The Court believed that this language instructs the courts to treat all contracts, including arbitration agreements, equally. The reason the interpretation of an equal treatment requirement is significant is that under general contract law, the court may only choose to invalidate a contract under the general defenses of fraud, duress, or unconscionability. Id. at 6. The majority held that the illegality claim was not a claim of unconscionability, but instead narrowly interpreted the argument to be no more than stating a contract should not be enforced “because it requires bilateral arbitration.” Therefore, the majority denied plaintiffs’ first claim because they found that the defense was not founded in the traditional defense to contracts, and thus not covered under the “saving clause” of the FAA.

Similar to its denial of the first argument, the majority focused primarily on the text of the NLRA in determining Congress intention regarding NLRA. Plaintiffs’ argument rests on the language in §7 of the NLRA which guarantees workers the right “to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining.” Plaintiffs’ claim that the language of this act prevents the enforcement of agreements which inhibit the workers right to engage in class action suits. The Court in this matter did not find that the language provided in §7 provided a clear congressional command to displace the Arbitration Act. In making its decision the majority focused on the direct language of the act and refused to read into the meaning of “concerted action for the purpose of collective bargaining.” The Court held that not only did this language fail to amount to a clear congressional command to overrule the FAA, but it also failed to establish any relation to class action lawsuits. The Court found that since Congress is well aware of how to explicitly state that one act is overruling another and chose not to do so in the NLRA, Congress did not intend for this act to override the FAA. Since the language was placed along with actions involving the forming and joining of labor organizations and collective bargaining, it was intended to mean concerted action in furtherance of those actions, not workers’ involvement in class action suits.

For more information, call our business lawyers in Philadelphia at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.

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PA Superior Court Strikes Down Non-Hire Clause

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In the recent case of Pittsburgh Logistics Systems, Inc. v. BeeMac Trucking, LLC, No. 134 WDA 2017 (Pa. Super. Ct. 2018), the Pennsylvania Superior Court voided a non-hire clause contracted between two companies. The non-hire clause stated that the contracting companies could not hire each other’s employees. The non-hire clause put the burden of employment on the employers as opposed to a traditional non-competition agreement, which is a contract between an employer and its employee.

In this case, Pittsburgh Logistics Systems contracted with BeeMac, a competitor, an agreement with the following language:

“CARRIER agrees that, during the term of this Contract and for a period of two years after the termination of this Contract, neither CARRIER nor any of its employees, agents, independent contractors or other persons performing services for or on behalf of CARRIER in connection with CARRIER’s obligations under this Contract will, directly or indirectly, hire, solicit for employment, induce or attempt to induce any employees of PLS or any of its Affiliates to leave their employment with PLS or Affiliate for any reason.”

The Court gave several reasons why the non-hire clause was unenforceable, including: (1) the companies’ employees are put under hiring restrictions they never agreed to, (2) the employees received no consideration for being part of such a non-hire clause, which is usually required by a non-compete, and (3) the scope of the non-hire clause was not reasonable and necessary to protect the legitimate business interests of the company.

For more information, call Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. Our Philadelphia employment lawyers represent clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

PA Superior Court Requires High Burden of Proof When Challenging Nursing Home Arbitration Agreement Provisions

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A recent Pennsylvania Superior Court ruling found that nursing home patients who challenge the validity of arbitration agreements due to mental incapacity have a high burden to prove their case. In Cardinal v. Kindred Health Care, No. 1547 MDA 2014 (Pa Super. 2017), the plaintiff, Bret Cardinal (“Cardinal”) brought suit on behalf of the estate of the decedent Carmen Cardinal against the defendant, Kindred Nursing Centers (“Kindred”). The decedent was admitted as a patient to a Kindred facility on June 21, 2012.They then signed a contract the next day agreeing that any disputes related to their admission at the facility would be resolved through arbitration. The plaintiff brought suit alleging claims of negligence, custodial neglect and wrongful death of the decedent, and challenged the arbitration agreement due to the decedent’s lack of mental capacity to enter into the agreement at the time of signing it. The plaintiff alleged that on the day of the decedent’s admission to the Kindred facility, medical records indicate the decedent was lethargic and disoriented. Furthermore, the following day when the agreement was signed, records also show that the decedent had trouble signing the agreement. The plaintiff argued that the facts taken collectively make it clear the decedent was not of sound mental capacity to comprehend the agreement and thus wasn’t able to enter into the agreement knowingly and voluntarily.

The court disagreed; it ruled that Pennsylvania law requires the patient challenging the agreement to prove by “clear, precise and convincing” evidence the patient’s mental incapacity, and “mere weakness of intellect resulting from sickness is not legally sufficient grounds to set aside an executed contract if sufficient intelligence remains to comprehend the nature and character of the transaction.”

For more information, call our business lawyers in Philadelphia at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. The legal team at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green represents clients in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

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Supreme Court to Rule on Legality of “Fair-Share Fees”

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On February 26th, the Supreme Court heard arguments in Janus v. American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, Council 31, 851 F.3d 746 (7th Cir. 2017). Although the Court will not circulate a decision until summer of 2018, commentators are speculating that Janus will succeed in overturning the precedent set in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S. 209 (1977).

In Abood, the Supreme Court allowed a public employer to require its non-union member employees to pay a fee because they benefitted from the unions collective bargaining agreement with the employer. The fees were not permitted to cover any political funding whatsoever, only the proportionate costs incurred during contracting.

In this case, Mark Janus, a public employee, is challenging an Illinois state law that requires non-union members to pay a “fair share” fee to the union that negotiated on the non-members’ behalf. The “fair share” fee was enacted to cover a proportionate share of the costs the union accrued in negotiating the contract. The fee combats against “free-riding”, whereby a non-union member enjoys the benefits of the contractual work performed by a union without having to pay a fee for those benefits. Janus contends that the fee violates his First Amendment rights because the fees are a form of compelled speech and association which should be reviewed under heightened scrutiny.

The Supreme Court’s ruling could prove costly for unions in America. Invalidating the “fair share” fee could drastically reduce union funding and membership.

For more information, call our Philadelphia business lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

Philadelphia Court Refuses to Enforce Arbitration Provision

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On April 3, 2017, the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas refused to uphold an arbitration provision in a Responsible Person Agreement (“RPA”) signed by a nursing home resident’s daughter, but not signed by the resident herself. Clementson v. Evangelical Manor, Civil Action No. 160601775 (C.P. Philadelphia 2017). On September 17, 2014, Plaintiff, Elsie Clementson, was a resident of Defendant Evangelical Manor’s nursing home when she suffered a serious fall, resulting in a tibia fracture. When Plaintiff was admitted to the nursing home in 2012, Plaintiff’s daughter signed an RPA, which stated that the person signing the agreement may be “the Guardian, the Agent under a Power of Attorney, or any person authorized by the Resident to serve as Resident’s Responsible Person.” The RPA also contained a mandatory arbitration provision. At the time the RPA was signed, Plaintiff’s daughter did not have power of attorney over her mother, nor was she authorized by her mother to serve as her mother’s “Responsible Person.”

Plaintiff filed her Complaint on June 17, 2016. On November 3, 2016, Defendant filed a Petition to Compel Arbitration. On December 19, 2016, the Court denied Defendant’s Petition, which it timely appealed. On appeal, the Court upheld the decision to deny Defendant’s Petition, as Pennsylvania law does not allow an agent, by his own words, to invest himself with apparent authority, as such authority has to derive from the action of the principal, not the agent. The Court ruled that Defendant failed to provide any evidence that Plaintiff was present at the time that her daughter signed the RPA, or that her daughter could sign for her. Defendant also failed to offer any evidence of actions taken by Plaintiff that would create an agency relationship.

For more information, call our business lawyers in Philadelphia at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green at 215-574-0600 or submit an online inquiry.

Court Dismisses False Claims Against CVS

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The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed the decision to dismiss a whistleblower action against CVS Caremark. The Court found that the evidence was insufficient to prove that CVS knew Medicare Part D sponsors were intentionally submitting false information about costs to Medicare and Medicaid.

Anthony R. Spay is a former pharmacist who co-founded a company that audits pharmacies. In the whistleblower action, Spay alleged that Medicare Part D sponsors intentionally submitted false information about costs to the government during the reconciliation process. Specifically, Spay says these sponsors populated prescriber ID records with falsified IDs, which they claimed were used to replace ID data that was entered in error.  According to Spay, as a result of these falsified submissions, the government paid these sponsors more than they were entitled to.

A panel of three appellate judges ruled that the government was aware of the industry practice of using falsified IDs, yet paid the claims and never sought repayment from CVS Caremark. According to Third Circuit Judge Theodore McKee’s opinion, CVS could not be held liable for making false claims because Medicare and Medicaid were aware of the practice. Medicare Part D sponsors are companies that sell prescription plans and enter into subcontracts with pharmacies like CVS.

The Court’s decision was expressly informed by the government knowledge inference doctrine. Pursuant to this doctrine, if the government knows about the alleged misconduct, then it is already aware of the false claims and does not need assistance from private whistleblowers to identify them.  Although the Court affirmed the dismissal of the case, it disagreed with the trial court on its interpretation of that doctrine as applied to the facts at bar. The Third Circuit itself discussed the issue in depth in 1999, stating in Cantekin v. University of Pittsburgh that if the government was aware of the alleged false claims yet took no action, then any private suit was likely motivated by the sizable damages award promised to whistleblowers under the law.

However, the Third Circuit found that the doctrine was inapplicable here because CVS was unaware that the government knew about the false claims. The Court found that there was no evidence of tacit approval from the government to CVS Caremark of the stopgap industry practice.

Philadelphia Whistleblower Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Provide Confidential Consultations to Whistleblowers

If you have knowledge of false claims being submitted to the government, schedule a consultation with the Philadelphia whistleblower lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. today. Our legal team represents clients in qui tam actions and whistleblower claims under the False Claims Act in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation.

Hearst Corporation in Unpaid Intern Lawsuit

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Approximately five years after interns filed a lawsuit against Hearst Corporation, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the company did not systematically exploit interns by having them perform entry-level work without pay. The interns claimed that Hearst Corp. violated federal and state law when it declined to pay thousands of interns.

Internship vs Entry-Level

The lead plaintiff, Xuedan Wang, alleged that 3,000 interns at Hearst’s numerous publications, including Elle, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan, and Seventeen magazines, were exploited in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York state laws. The FLSA and state laws set forth specific requirements for internships, which distinguish them from entry-level jobs. To be exempt from the minimum wage requirements, employers must ensure that internships benefit the interns, among other things.

According to Second Circuit Judge Dennis Jacobs, the question before the Court was whether Hearst Corp. offers bona fide for-credit internships, or whether it relied on student labor to avoid compensating entry-level employees. The key case that speaks to the legal standard is Glatt v. Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. In this case, the Court considered whether the intern or their employer was the primary beneficiary of the relationship. If the employer is the primary beneficiary, it cannot be deemed an internship, and is subject to the minimum wage requirements set forth under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

In the Hearst Corp. case, Judge Jacobs found that Hearst made it clear to the interns that they would not be paid, and that the internships provided training similar to those provided in an educational environment. The students were also told that the internships were tied to a formal education program.

Distinguishing the Difference

The plaintiffs argued that internships should not include menial and repetitive tasks, with little supervision or guidance.  These, according to the plaintiffs, were tasks more likened to employment than an educational internship. However, the Judge found that many useful internships are designed to correct the impression that work is just as rewarding and fulfilling as school. Repeating administrative and organizational tasks, she ruled, can provide useful skills such as how to be more organized and focused in a professional setting. Plaintiffs can still appeal this ongoing ruling to the United States Supreme Court.

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Victims of FLSA Violations

Philadelphia Employment Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C., we handle all types of employment litigation, including claims that an employer has violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, or local laws, by failing to pay overtime, meet minimum wage requirements, and more. To learn more about how we can help you and to schedule a confidential consultation, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online. We represent clients in employment litigation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

FINRA v. Morgan Stanley

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The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) is a non-profit organization that Congress has tasked with ensuring the securities industry operates in accord with government regulations. FINRA operates to ensure that investors receive basic protections. Recently, FINRA ordered the Wall Street investment bank and securities brokerage firm, Morgan Stanley, to pay $13 million in fines and restitution to clients of the bank for failing to properly supervise short-term trades. The regulatory body fined Morgan Stanley $3.25 million, and the remaining nearly $10 million was to be paid back to investors.

According to FINRA, between January 2012 and June 2015, brokers had given thousands of clients poor advice regarding unit investment trusts, or UITs. A unit investment trust pays investors a return based on how the investment performs, not unlike mutual and closed-end funds. They are designed to be held only for a certain period. They are designed to provide capital appreciation and in some cases, dividend income.

Morgan Stanley brokers advised clients to sell unit investment trusts before the products had matured. The brokers then instructed them to roll the trusts over into a new trust, resulting in higher sales charges over time.  After interviewing more than 65 Morgan Stanley employees, FINRA found that the practice was highly questionable. The agency was concerned that the practice was not in the best interests of Morgan Stanley investors.

In addition to finding that individual Morgan Stanley brokers made questionable decisions relating to unit investment trusts, FINRA also held supervisors accountable. Supervisors were not adequately trained to recognize unsuitable short-term rollovers. It also found that Morgan Stanley did not have a proper system in place to detect and stop the negligent transactions before they were carried out. Although Morgan Stanley consented to the agency’s findings, the company had refused to admit or deny the charges and the matter was resolved without admission of guilt on the bank’s behalf.

Philadelphia FINRA Lawyers at Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C. Represent Clients in FINRA and Securities Actions

Securities and investment management is complicated business. At Sidkoff, Pincus & Green P.C., we help our business clients resolve the most complex and daunting FINRA actions. We also represent investors in all types of securities fraud and misrepresentation actions. To schedule a consultation with a Philadelphia FINRA lawyer, call us today at 215-574-0600 or contact us online.