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Posts Tagged ‘class action’

Collect Now, Pay Later: PA Federal Court Ruling Imposes Duty On Retailers Upon Collecting Payment Data

Posted on: January 27th, 2021

By: Justin Boron and Courtney Mazzio

The eye that retail businesses must thread to avoid data breach class actions just got a little narrower in Pennsylvania.

In a decision issued this month in In re Rutter’s Data Sec. Breach Litig., No. 1:20-cv-382 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 5, 2021), a Pennsylvania federal court judge denied a motion to dismiss and held—for the first time under Pennsylvania law—that retailers and other businesses who collect credit and debit card information owe a duty of care to protect their customers’ information from unauthorized access by hackers.

The district court’s decision expanded on the duty to protect employee privacy data that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recognized in the employment context in Dittman v. UPMC, 196 A.3d 1036, 1038 (Pa. 2018).  Like in Dittman, the district court drew on traditional tort principles and reasoned that the retailer owed a duty because it took the affirmative step toward protecting consumer data—much like a rescuer has a duty of care by taking affirmative steps toward rescuing someone.

The decision also exemplifies the way in which courts have become more comfortable with the burgeoning area of law involving technology, electronically stored personal data, and the unique, and ever-expanding, threats from hackers.  In the recent past, courts struggled to fit data breaches into a cognizable claim, primarily because they involved some unknown, third party actor and lacked the clear physical or monetary injuries that exist in other legal contexts.

As a result, defense litigators could rely on a steady stream of decisions to cut off data breach class actions at the outset—well before the case reached costly discovery and class certification phases.  But the Rutter’s opinion sends the message that courts are tackling a difficult subject matter area by analogizing to traditional tort and contract principles and shaping the legal doctrines around the unique technology context.

How the duty will take shape—and what specific protective measures will be required to fulfill it—is not clear from the decision and will likely evolve as cases arise.  That puts businesses at a disadvantage because—absent legislative intervention—there is no clear standard for what a retailer can do to avoid liability as a result of third-party data breaches.

One silver lining to the Rutter’s decision, however, is that it re-affirmed Third Circuit precedent holding that the risk of future harm from a data breach is insufficient to make out Article III standing.  This requirement will continue to screen out many potential plaintiffs who have not suffered any injury or damages as a result of having their personal identifying information, protected health information, or account information compromised.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Justin Boron at [email protected] and Courtney Mazzio at [email protected].

An Arbitration Clause May Present A Defense To A Data Breach Class Action – But At What Cost?

Posted on: June 10th, 2020

By: Bill Cheney

A common defense strategy in response to data privacy and security class actions is to file a motion to compel arbitration.  The arbitration forum has a number of advantages, including efficiency, speed, lower costs, expertise, and confidentiality, which makes it an attractive alternative to class litigation.  The confidentiality that can be offered by arbitration is particularly attractive in data breach class actions, as the public nature of litigation and the often media attention given to same can interfere with a company’s efforts to repair its reputation and good will.  Moreover, with the Supreme Court’s decision in Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 203 L.Ed.2d 636 (2019), which held that a parties’ agreement to class arbitration must be explicit and may not be inferred, there is more certainty that the arbitration will be on an individual basis and allow the parties to truly realize these benefits. 

Now, however, there is a new consequence to consider before filing a motion to compel arbitration in response to a data breach class action – mass arbitration.  On April 27, 2020, United States District Judge Richard D. Bennett dismissed a class action lawsuit filed in the District of Maryland against Chegg, Inc.  The lawsuit stemmed from a 2018 data breach experienced by Chegg, Inc. Chegg, Inc. subsequently filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration and Dismiss.  Judge Bennett found that there was “no triable issue” as to whether the arbitration provision in Chegg, Inc.’s Terms of Use, requiring individual arbitration, was agreed to, and dismissed all claims and ordered the parties to proceed to arbitration.

The result appeared to be a win for Chegg, Inc.  However, in less than a month, over 15,000 demands for arbitration were filed with the American Arbitration Association on behalf of those allegedly affected by the data breach.  In filing fees alone – the American Arbitration Association requires businesses to pay a nonrefundable fee of $300 once the consumer claimant meets the filing requirements – Chegg, Inc. will now have to incur over $4,500,000. 

Mass arbitration, like this, has been on the rise in the employment context, being instituted against employers such as Uber, Chipotle and DoorDash.  Moreover, several companies specialize in locating consumers and coordinating mass arbitration claim filings.  It is now a very real potential repercussion that must be accounted for in evaluating whether to proceed with a motion to compel arbitration in response to data privacy and security class actions. Otherwise, a perceived effective defense strategy may have dire consequences and put the plaintiffs in the driver’s seat.  

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

Massachusetts Joins Jurisdictions Prohibiting Class-Wide Arbitration of Wage Claims Absent Agreement Expressly Permitting Class Actions

Posted on: May 18th, 2020

By: Kevin Kenneally, Janet Barringer and William Gildea

In a further blow to class action claimants and lawyers, a Massachusetts Superior Court Judge recently ruled a car salesman could not arbitrate Wage Act claims on behalf of coworkers absent an express provision in the employment agreement permitting such a class action.   In Grieco Enterprises, Inc. v. McNamara, the employer sought a declaratory judgment ruling that an employee could not arbitrate wage claims on behalf of a putative class of employees even if his employment contract was silent on the issue and did not expressly prohibit or allow for such a class action. This favorable outcome for employers and insurers follows a similar 2019 ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States holding an ambiguous employment agreement cannot be the basis to compel class-wide arbitration.

In the Massachusetts state court arbitration matter, the employee claimed his employer failed to pay him—and others—required overtime and Sunday-hours premium in violation of state wage laws.  He demanded arbitration on behalf of himself and other similarly-situated commission-only salespeople.  In response, the employer filed the declaratory judgment action in Massachusetts state court seeking determination whether a class action in this instance is permissible.  The Massachusetts Superior Court held class action arbitration is not permissible because the parties’ employment agreement did not expressly permit employees to arbitrate class actions.  The Court held the employee may proceed to arbitration solely on an individual basis. 

The decision in McNamara is garnering attention due to the state’s decision last year concerning commission-based salespeople, Sullivan v. Sleepy’s LLC.  In Sleepy’s, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held commission-paid retail salespeople are entitled to “time-and-a-half” overtime compensation based on the statutory minimum wage — even when their commissions always met or exceeded the state minimum.  Sleepy’s specifically held the overtime and Sunday premium wage statutes applied to commission-paid sales staff.  The McNamara claimant sought to apply this ruling to an entire class of workers rather than having each worker bring an individual claim.  The employment agreement at issue contained a general statement in the agreement it was “in conformity with” Massachusetts Rules of Civil Procedure—which claimant contended includes procedural rules for class actions, thus tacitly subjecting the employer to class arbitration.  The Superior Court rejected the argument and held the parties to the contract did not expressly agree to engage in class action arbitration.  The judge in McNamara held that if she were to permit the application of an unclear provision to authorize class actions, “unrepresented employees could be bound by an arbitration that he or she did not individually consent to participate in.  Such a result is contrary to the legal underpinnings for arbitration, specifically that it is a consensual contractual matter.”

In 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, 139 S. Ct. 1407, 587 US __, 203 L. Ed. 2d 636  (2019), which was seen as a setback to workers’ ability to join or aggregate the individual claims of other workers who had agreed in their employment contracts to an arbitration forum.  Lamps Plus held in claims subject to the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) an ambiguous agreement cannot be the necessary contractually-agreed basis to force an employer to submit to class-wide arbitration.  The high court agreed with the employer there simply was no foundational agreement to arbitrate the class action and the lower court acted contrary to the primary purpose of the FAA.  Lamps Plus held a lower court may not compel arbitration on a class-wide basis when an agreement is “silent” on the availability of such arbitration and “that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”  

Employers who incorporate arbitration provisions in their employment agreements for individual basis only will benefit by the uniform application of law in both state and federal courts.  Employers in Massachusetts have certainty absent a specific provision – or even in the face of a vague arbitration provision – class-wide arbitration will not be available to employees whether the claims are based on federal or state law.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Kevin Kenneally at [email protected], Janet Barringer at [email protected] or William Gildea at [email protected].

Federal Securities Laws: Has the 9th Circuit Gone Rogue Again?

Posted on: February 4th, 2019

By: John Goselin

On January 4, 2019, the United States Supreme Court decided to hear an appeal from the Ninth Circuit’s April 20, 2018 decision in Varjabedian v. Emulex Corporation, 888 F.3d 399 (9th Cir. 2018). The Supreme Court is hearing this case to resolve a circuit split regarding whether a claim under Section 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 requires the plaintiff to plead a strong inference that the defendants acted with scienter (i.e. intent to defraud) or whether Section 14(e) merely requires an allegation that the defendants were negligent. Section 14(e) is a provision of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 that prohibits a company involved in a tender offer from making a material misstatement or omit to state any material fact necessary in order to make the statements made, in the light of the circumstances under which they are made, not misleading or to engage in any fraudulent, deceptive or manipulative acts or practices in connection with a tender offer.

Prior to the 9th Circuit’s April 20, 2018 opinion, no Circuit split had existed. Over the course of the forty-five preceding years, the Second, Third, Fifth, Sixth and Eleventh Circuits had uniformly held that Section 14(e) required a plaintiff to plead scienter when stating a claim pursuant to Section 14(e). Despite four and half decades of consensus, the 9th Circuit concluded that every Circuit Court to address this particular issue previously had simply gotten it wrong and that if the Supreme Court considered the issue, the Supreme Court would conclude that Section 14(e) only required the plaintiff to plead negligence.

Until recently, plaintiffs had historically chosen to challenge tender offers in state court, most often Delaware state court, pursuant to state law disclosure obligations. Challenging tender offers is big business as almost every tender offer conducted results in multiple state court class action lawsuits seeking injunctions to halt the tender offers until so-called disclosure deficiencies are rectified. The cases are high profile, high risk and involve significant legal defense costs that D&O carriers often end up paying pursuant to the provisions of D&O insurance policies.  The plaintiff’s lawyers have historically been successful in playing the role of the troll under the bridge collecting hefty tolls (a.k.a legal fees) for “improving” disclosures in tender offers as the tender offer participants seek to avoid the risk of a potential injunction that could halt the tender offer.

Recently, however, the Delaware state courts where the majority of these cases have been pursued have been clamping down on these “disclosure claims” making the state court forum less lucrative for the plaintiff’s bar. Hence, the plaintiff’s bar has been turning increasingly to Section 14(e) of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 as an alternative cause of action in a federal forum in an effort to continue collecting their attorney fee tolls. The problem, however, is that if Section 14(e) requires the plaintiff to plead “scienter” and the plaintiff wants to bring a class action to put maximum pressure on the company, the plaintiff would have to comply with the heightened pleading requirements of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 and plead facts, not conclusory statements, sufficient to support a “strong inference” of scienter. The plaintiff’s bar would very much like to avoid this particular pleading, and burden of proof, hurdle.

So, the 9th Circuit’s decision adopting a mere negligence standard is a very big deal creating a window through which the plaintiff’s bar hopes to continue their troll under the bridge strategy at least out West and provides the plaintiff’s bar a new opportunity to challenge the prior holdings in the other Circuit Courts. The Supreme Court, however, has taken the opportunity to decide the issue and will either shut this particular door quickly or swing it wide open by deciding the issue of negligence or scienter for Section 14(e) claims.  Every securities lawyer in America will be watching closely.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact John Goselin at [email protected].

80/20 Hindsight: The DOL Issues Opinion Letter That Concludes The 80/20 Side Work Rule For Tipped Employees No Longer Applies

Posted on: November 15th, 2018

By: Michael Hill

Navigating the laws for paying tipped employees just got a little easier. In a new opinion letter, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) effectively nullified the “80/20 Rule,” which divided courts throughout the country and became the anchor point for several collective and class actions against employers of tipped employees.

While the federal minimum wage is $7.25/hour, employers of tipped employees, such as waiters, bartenders, and bellhops, are permitted to pay such employees $2.13/hour and take a “tip credit” for the difference between this wage and the federal minimum wage (provided the employees receive notice and the tip credit does not exceed what they actually earn in tips).

The DOL’s 80/20 Rule acknowledged the fact that tipped employees may spend some time performing tasks that do not generate tips. Servers in a restaurant, for example, generally spend time performing “side work” that is incidental but related to serving customers, such as rolling silverware, making coffee, cleaning tables, or sweeping the dining room floor, in addition to waiting tables. Under the 80/20 Rule, an employer still could claim a tip credit for all of such an employee’s time, as long as the employee did not spend more than 20% of his or her time performing “general preparation work or maintenance.”

Strict application of the 80/20 Rule essentially meant employers of tipped employees were expected to monitor each and every task their employees performed and to maintain meticulous time logs accounting for each individual task. Some courts recognized this was infeasible, while others held this to be what the law required. The tide of litigation rolled in, with predictable swearing contests over whether servers and bartenders spent more than 20% of their time performing non-tip-generating tasks.

The DOL now, however, has recognized the confusion its 80/20 Rule generated and clarified that employers may take the tip credit for all of their tipped employees time, no matter how much time is spent on related “side work” tasks, so long as these side tasks are performed contemporaneously with the employees’ customer-service duties or within a reasonable time immediately beforehand or afterwards and the tasks are listed for that job position in the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

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