CLOSE X
RSS Feed LinkedIn Instagram Twitter Facebook
Search:
FMG Law Blog Line

Archive for June, 2019

Discrimination Without A Difference: Supreme Court To Decide Whether Section 1981 Requires “But For” Causation Or Whether Same-Decision Defense Applies

Posted on: June 24th, 2019

By: Michael Hill

The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to answer the question of where to draw the line when a decision is motivated in part by race discrimination. Must the plaintiff show the decision would not have been made but for his or her race, or is it sufficient to show that race was one factor behind the decision, even if the same decision would have been made for other, race-neutral reasons?

The case at issue, Comcast Corp. v. National Assoc. of African American-Owned Media, is not actually an employment discrimination case, but the Supreme Court’s decision will impact the realm of employment law because of the statute at issue, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 (“Section 1981”), prohibits race discrimination in making and enforcing contracts (which includes employment contracts).

The issue is whether Section 1981 requires “but for” causation, or whether a “mixed motive” analysis can be used. In Comcast, an African American-owned television network operator sued the cable company, alleging Comcast’s refusal to contract with the networks was racially motivated. The federal district court in California dismissed the case three times at the pleading stage, holding the complaints failed to allege facts to show Comcast had no legitimate business reasons for its decision not to contract with the networks. On appeal, a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously reversed, holding a Section 1981 claim can proceed as long as race is alleged to have been one factor in the contract decision, even if there were other, race-neutral factors that would have led to the same decision.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Comcast will have a significant impact on the amount of damages available in cases alleges race discrimination in employment. Race discrimination claims under Section 1981 frequently are pled in tandem with Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Title VII was amended in 1991 expressly to allow for “mixed motive” claims, but the only forms of relief available under a Title VII “mixed motive” claim are declaratory relief and attorney’s fees – no damages, back pay, or right to reinstatement. The language of Section 1981, however, contains no such limitation. Also, unlike Title VII, damages under Section 1981 are not capped; the statute of limitations is longer; and there is no requirement to submit the claim to the EEOC before suing in court. Thus, if the Supreme Court rules that Section 1981 covers “mixed motive” claims (and not just claims of “but for” discrimination), then claims alleging “mixed motive” race discrimination could become more valuable (and thus more costly to defend).

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Michael Hill at [email protected].

Hooray! My Employee’s H-1B Visa Was Finally Approved! Now Why Am I Getting This Revocation Notice?

Posted on: June 19th, 2019

By: Ken Levine

For the past two years, USCIS has ramped up revocations of approved H-1B petitions. While there are no reliable government statistics, word of mouth in the immigration legal field, as well as increased federal litigation concerning H-1B revocations, clearly underscores the existence of this trend.

Under 8 C.F.R. 214.2(h)(11) USCIS must satisfy at least one of the below criteria in order to initiate H-1B revocation proceedings:

(1) The beneficiary is no longer employed by the petitioner in the capacity specified in the petition, or if the beneficiary is no longer receiving training as specified in the petition; or (2) The statement of facts contained in the petition was not true and correct; or (3) The petitioner violated terms and conditions of the approved petition; or (4) The petitioner violated requirements of section 101(a)(15)(H) of the Act or paragraph (h) of this section; or (5) The approval of the petition violated paragraph (h) of this section or involved gross error.

In particular, USCIS has taken to stretching the bounds of “gross error” criteria to justify revocation of petitions for occupations that USCIS now believes do not merit recognition as a specialty occupation. An example of this approach can be found in the Service’s increased attempts to revoke approved H-1B petitions for Systems Analyst or Market Research Analyst positions.

As well, USCIS has substantially increased scrutiny on H-1B workers in the information technology field. Employers in the IT field must be especially diligent in filing amendments when there are changes to the terms of the position or location of employment. Even minor position changes that come to light through a USCIS audit can easily trigger an H-1B revocation notice.

DOES AN EMPLOYER HAVE ANY DEFENSES TO AN H-1B REVOCATION?

The regulations allow for an employer one opportunity to rebut the basis of a USCIS revocation. USCIS must send a summary outlining the specific reasons why revocation has been initiated.  Employers are then given 30 days to file a response. If the response is deemed persuasive then USCIS will uphold the validity of the approval.  Otherwise, USCIS will formally revoke the petition.

However, just because a petition has been revoked does not mean the matter must end there. Employers who believe that the Service’s decision to revoke their H-1B petition was unwarranted should strongly consider challenging the revocation in Federal Court. Federal Judges are reluctant to afford deference to USCIS decisions if those decisions are not logical, rational or well founded.

For additional information related to this topic and for advice regarding how to navigate U.S. immigration laws you may contact Kenneth S. Levine of the law firm of Freeman, Mathis & Gary, LLP at (770-551-2700) or [email protected].

Fourth Circuit Affirms $61 Million TCPA Judgment

Posted on: June 18th, 2019

By: Matt Foree

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a judgment based on a jury verdict of over $61 million for illegal telemarketing calls made under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”). As a matter of background, plaintiff Thomas Krakauer brought the TCPA lawsuit against Dish Network, L.L.C. (“Dish”) after he received telemarketing calls from Dish’s third-party contractor, Satellite Systems Network (“SSN”), which made calls on its behalf, despite the fact that Krakauer had listed his telephone number on the national Do Not Call registry. The TCPA provides for a private right of action to those who have received more than one telephone solicitation within any 12-month period to a number listed on the Do Not Call registry without consent or an established business relationship. The TCPA provides for statutory damages of $500 per violation, which can be trebled to $1500 per violation for willful or knowing violations.

In 2015, Krakauer filed a class action lawsuit in the District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina. The District Court certified the class and the case went to a jury trial. The jury awarded $400 per call as damages and found that the calls were willful, thereby trebling the damages, which resulted in an over $61 million jury verdict.

Dish appealed the judgment on several bases. When it challenged the standing of some of the class members, the Fourth Circuit made quick work of that argument, relying on the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins decision to find that standing existed. In so holding, the court underscored the legal traditions recognizing intrusions upon personal privacy. Dish also challenged class certification. Noting that Dish’s core argument seemed to be that the class included a large number of uninjured persons, the Fourth Circuit upheld class certification, finding that the class certified by the District Court easily met the demands of Rule 23.

Finally, Dish argued that it was not liable for SSN’s conduct and that the violations were not knowing or willful to permit treble damages. The court found that considerable evidence supported an agency relationship between Dish and SSN. Among other things, the court referred to the provisions of the parties’ contract giving Dish broad authority over SSN’s business and the fact that Dish authorized SSN to use its name and logo during its operations. Finally, the court found that the willful or knowing standard was met, thereby upholding the judgment.

Throughout the Fourth Circuit’s opinion, the court made several charitable statements about the TCPA, suggesting that the statute is straightforward and easy to apply. It also described the appropriateness of TCPA claims for class certification. In sum, this case provides a case study of many of the landmines confronted by TCPA defendants, including potentially devastating statutory damages, class certification, and vicarious liability issues. This case is just the latest reminder that those operating in this space would do well to ensure strict compliance with the TCPA to avoid a similar fate.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Matt Foree at [email protected].

The SEC Seeks to Enhance the Quality and Transparency of Investors’ Relationships; Approves the Regulation Best Interest Rule

Posted on: June 17th, 2019

By: Joseph Suarez

On June 5, 2019, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) approved its Best Interest Rule (the “Rule”) package requiring broker-dealers, and investment advisors, to act in their retail clients’ “best interests.” The SEC states the Rule, “will impose a materially heightened standard of conduct for broker-dealers when serving retail clients.” Broker-dealers must begin complying with the new rule, and broker-dealers and investment advisers must prepare, deliver to retail investors, and file a “relationship summary” by June 30, 2020.

The Rule is designed to enhance investor protections while preserving retail investor access and choice in: (1) the type of professional with whom they work, (2) the services they receive, and (3) how they pay for these services. In order to satisfy the new best interest standard of care, a broker-dealer who makes recommendations to a retail customer must fulfill four obligations: 1) a “disclosure obligation”; 2) a “duty of care” obligation; 3) a “conflicts of interest” obligation; and, 4) a “compliance obligation.” The duty of care obligation requires a broker-dealer to exercise reasonable “diligence, care and skill” when making investment recommendations. This obligation is similar to FINRA’s suitability rules. In order to satisfy the best interest obligation, a broker-dealer must understand and communicate the “risk, rewards and costs of any recommendation;” have a reasonable basis to believe that the recommendation is in the best interest of the customer; and refrain from making “excessive” recommendations, given the customer’s investment profile.

Regardless of whether a retail investor chooses a broker-dealer or an investment adviser, the retail investor will be entitled to a recommendation (if (s)he chooses a broker-dealer) or advice (if (s)he uses an investment adviser) that is in the retail investor’s best interest and that does not place the interests of the firm or the financial professional ahead of the retail investor’s interests. Nonetheless, the Rule’s perceived uncertainty is cause for division. The SEC claims the Rule is designed to enhance the quality and transparency of retail investors’ relationships with broker-dealers and advisors. Proponents say the Rule will elevate the standard for what is considered an investor’s best interest, specifically, that broker-dealers will need to make substantial changes to enhance investor protection. Opponents argue the Rule is too vague and retains a muddled standard that will not change any practices in the brokerage industry.

Given the current uncertainty, the question becomes: will the Rule cause more litigation? Given the near immediate scrutiny, the answer may be in the affirmative. The Plaintiff’s Bar will likely argue that the Rule now provides customers with a higher standard of care than the suitability standard in furtherance of asserting claims against broker-dealers. In any event, the Rule’s lack of clarity will surely stir debate over the next year before its implementation.

For more information, please contact Joseph Suarez at [email protected].

Avoiding Legal Malpractice Tip: Don’t Sue Your Client For Fees

Posted on: June 17th, 2019

By: Greg Fayard

Sometimes clients don’t pay their attorneys’ fees. Should the unpaid lawyer sue his or her client for owed legal fees? While the lawyer certainly has the right to file suit, a lawsuit against a client can trigger a cross-claim for legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty. If you don’t want a lawsuit with your client, it is better to not file a lawsuit against your client. If, however, you have no choice (e.g., the amount is significant and the client is ignoring your collection efforts), make sure you file it after the statute of limitations has run on a legal malpractice claim. In California, wait more than one-year after you ended your representation or performed any legal work for the now delinquent former client. Better yet, before you decide to bring a claim for fees, conduct an analysis of any tolling provisions in the legal malpractice statute, such as when the delinquent client knew or should have known of any facts that could support a malpractice claim, or when the delinquent client suffered an “actual injury.”

Some lawyers prefer the slightly less formal process of resolving fee disputes through fee arbitration available through county bar associations, or the State Bar.

Regardless of the forum, before bringing a claim for fees, whether in fee arbitration or in court, double check your insurance policy to verify that a cross-claim for legal malpractice is a covered claim. Lastly, ask yourself, is paying your deductible and possible higher insurance premiums in future years worth filing a fee claim? More often than not, the answer is “no.”

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Greg Fayard at [email protected], or any other member of our Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Group, a list of which can be found at www.fmglaw.com.