U.S.-Cuba Relations

President Trump Shifts the U.S. Policy Towards Cuba

As we have previously reported on the growing fear that the Trump Administration would roll back President Barack Obama’s plan to normalize relations with Cuba. Then-candidate Donald Trump was calling President Obama’s deals with Cuba “one-sided” and beneficial “only [to] the Castro regime.” Last week Friday, at an event at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami, President Trump officially announced his Administration’s new public policy towards Cuba and fulfilled a campaign promise.

Cuban FlagPresident Trump’s speech culminated in the issuance of a National Security Presidential Memorandum and an accompanying White House Fact Sheet on the U.S. Policy toward Cuba.  In sum, President Trump’s directive:

(a)  Ends economic practices that “benefit the Cuban government” by prohibiting most economic activities with the Cuban military conglomerate, Grupo de Administración Empresarial (“GAESA”). This change is most likely to affect the hotel and tourism industry sectors, since these are the industries said to be largely controlled by GAESA. A list of companies that will be on the “blacklist” will be issued by the State Department at a later date.

(b)   Adheres “to the statutory ban on tourism to Cuba,” by amending regulations related to educational travel (i.e., by ending individual people-to-people travel) and enforcing the strict record keeping requirements related to travel to Cuba.

(c)   Opposes any efforts in the United Nations or other international forums to lift the embargo on Cuba.

(d)   Supports the expansion of internet services and free press in Cuba by convening a task force that will work with non-governmental organizations and private sector entities to examine the challenges and opportunities in those areas.

(e)  Keeps in place the Obama Administration’s elimination of the “Wet Foot, Dry Foot” policy.

(f)  Ensures that engagement with Cuba in general is advancing the interests of the United States.

As explained in the new FAQs issued by the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the policy changes will not go into effect until the Treasury Department and the U.S. Department of Commerce have finalized their new regulations. Importantly, the new Cuba policy changes will not have retro-active effect. Those travel arrangements and commercial engagements that were in place prior to the issuance of the upcoming regulations will not be affected.

Al Cardenas, who heads the Latin America practice group at Squire Patton Boggs and previously served as the former Chairman of American Conservative Union and former Chairman of the Florida GOP, explains:  “Despite the emotional setting and rightful remembrance of the struggles of the Cuban people found in President Trump’s speech, which was focused on a Cuban exile audience, President Trump’s executive action preserves many of the changes made during President Obama’s Administration (some of which were outlined in President Obama’s 2014 Speech). For example, the respective embassies in Washington and Havana will remain open, the U.S. licenses issued to airlines and cruise line companies have been kept, efforts to expand direct telecommunications and internet access will continue, and the additional categories for travel to Cuba for the most part remain in place. While one-step back is the prohibition on U.S. travelers from staying at government-owed facilities, this should be a boon to the family-owned B&B’s and other rentals on the island. It remains to be seen whether there will be a significant drop off in tourist travel to the island.”

Viewed as a whole, President Trump is tightening some areas where improved economic relations with the United States could have benefitted some auspices of the Cuban Government.

This post was written by Beatriz E. Jaramillo and  Stacy A. Swanson of Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP.
President Trump Executive Order Environmental Regulation

EPA Releases Final Test Guideline for Performance Against Bed Bugs

On June 14, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a Federal Register notice announcing the availability of a final test guideline, Laboratory Product Performance Testing Methods for Bed Bug Pesticide Products; OCSPP Test Guideline 810.3900, part of a series of test guidelines established by the EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention (OCSPP) for use in testing pesticides and chemical substances.  82 Fed. Reg. 27254.  EPA states that this test guideline provides “guidance for conducting a study to determine pesticide product performance against bed bugs, and is used by EPA, the public, and companies that submit data to EPA,” and “recommendations for the design and execution of laboratory studies to evaluate the performance of pesticide products intended to repel, attract, and/or kill the  common bed bug (Cimex lectularius) in connection with registration of pesticide products under the [Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA)].”  EPA states that this guidance applies to products “in any formulation such as a liquid, aerosol, fog, or impregnated fabric, if intended to be applied to have a pesticidal purpose such as to attract, repel, or kill bed bugs.”  This guideline provides appropriate laboratory study designs and methods for evaluating the product performance of pesticides against bed bugs and includes statistical analysis and reporting.

EPA issued the draft guideline on February 14, 2012.  This original document was the subject of FIFRA Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) review conducted on March 6-7, 2012.  EPA indicates that the final version of the guideline reflects revisions to the original draft based on comments from the SAP and the public.  EPA states that the revisions include the following:

  • Decreasing the number of individuals and replicates tested;

  • Rescinding the recommendation to test each field strain for its resistance ratio; and including a resistance management statement;

  • Clarifying the agency’s Good Laboratory Practices (GLP) requirements;

  • Reducing the recommended length of time individuals are exposed to insecticides;

  • Recommending individuals to be observed up to 96 hours after treatment; and

  • Revising the statistical analyses recommendations.

EPA has also placed two other relevant documents in the docket:

This post was written by Lisa M. Campbell and Margaret R. Graham of Bergeson & Campbell, P.C..

Long-Term Effects of Nonfatal Drowning Cannot Be Accurately Predicted

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), from 2005-2014, an average of 3,536 fatal unintentional drownings occurred per year in the United States. Approximately one in five people who die from drowning are children 14 years old or younger; children one to four years old have the highest drowning rates.

For every death caused by drowning, five children receive emergency room care for nonfatal drowning injuries. Nonfatal drowning can cause hypoxic-ischemic brain injury that may result in long-term disabilities ranging from memory problems and learning disabilities to total loss of basic functioning (persistent vegetative state).

A recent review study found that neurocognitive outcome of children after drowning incidents cannot be accurately predicted from early examinations and treatment. In the study, researchers sought to:  a) report the main factors related to the outcome of drowned children, and b) present existing evidence of long-term neurologic outcome. While some injuries caused by near drownings become evident shortly after the incident, the evidence showed that the initial neurological examination may not reveal all of the long-term effects related to hypoxic brain injury in young children. Skills such as divided attention and executive functions may be negatively affected after a brain injury caused by a nonfatal drowning. Long-term follow-up of drowned resuscitated children should be undertaken.

The review study showed that the long-term outcome of survived drowning victims depends mainly on the severity of the initial ischemic brain insult, the effectiveness of immediate resuscitation with transfer to the ER, and on the post-resuscitation management in the hospital. The study noted that the most susceptible areas to ischemic injury are vascular end zones, hippocampus, insular cortex, and basal ganglia. With greater severity of hypoxic-ischemia, more extensive and global neocortical injury will occur.

Electroencephalograms (EEG) provide useful information to differentiate between patients with good and poor neurological outcome. However, the accuracy in predicting long-term neurological outcome is lacking. The increased use of neuroimaging techniques such as MRIs can add valuable information. The ability to see the degree of edema and brain swelling is better with an MRI than with a CT scan. But the fact remains that data on long-term follow-up and outcome are scarce.

This post was written by Bruce H. Stern of  Stark & Stark.
encrypted messaging

CFPB Proposes Additional Changes to the Prepaid Rule

On June 15, 2017, the CFPB announced that it is proposing for public comment certain modifications to its prepaid rule. The rule, which was issued in final form in October 2016, limits consumers’ losses for lost and stolen prepaid cards, requires financial institutions to investigate errors, and includes enhanced disclosure provisions.

The final rule unexpectedly granted Regulation E error resolution rights to consumers holding unregistered prepaid accounts, a provision that was not part of the CFPB’s original proposal. Financial institutions criticized this aspect of the final rule, arguing that providing error resolution rights to holders of unregistered accounts would invite and open new avenues for fraud. Financial institutions also argued that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to investigate alleged errors if they have little to no information about the purchasing customer. As a result, financial institutions have claimed that, if the CFPB retains error resolution rights for unregistered prepaid accounts, they would no longer provide immediate access to funds on such accounts.

To address these concerns, the current proposal would require consumers to register their prepaid accounts to qualify for Regulation E error resolution rights, including the right to recoup funds for lost or stolen cards. Under the CFPB’s proposal, however, Regulation E error resolution rights would apply to registered accounts even if the card was lost or stolen before the consumer completed the registration process.

The proposal also requests comment on provisions that would create an exception for certain digital wallets. Under the proposed exception, customers using digital wallets linked to a traditional credit card product would continue to receive Regulation Z’s open-end credit protections and would not receive the protections of the credit-related provisions of the prepaid rule.

As discussed in a prior post, in April 2017, the CFPB extended the compliance date for the prepaid rule from October 1, 2017, to April 1, 2018. In the latest proposal, the CFPB requests comment on whether it should extend the compliance date even further.

The proposal also includes other adjustments and clarifications regarding the definition of a prepaid account, pre-acquisition disclosure requirements, submission of prepaid account agreements to the CFPB, and unsolicited issuance of access devices. Along with its proposal, the CFPB has released an updated version if its Prepaid Rule Small Entity Compliance Guide.

Comments on the CFPB’s proposal are due 45 days after publication in the Federal Register.

This post was written by Lucille C. Bartholomew of Covington & Burling LLP.

Farm, Green, Feild

NAFTA Renegotiation Would Intend to Benefit Farmers, Ranchers

In recent weeks, the Trump administration took the first step toward renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Robert Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative (USTR), sent a letter to Congress placing Congress on official notice of the Administration’s intention to renegotiate the Agreement with an eye toward advancing the interests of U.S. farmers, ranchers, workers, and businesses. The USTR’s notice to Congress created a ninety-day window before formal negotiations could begin. According to Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Associate National Legislative Counsel, John Kran, “This is the opportunity for the country to react to the President’s notice, and for feedback from voters and members of Congress to get surfaced and shared with the Administration before the formal negotiation process can begin.” The Administration hopes to renegotiate a new NAFTA within the next six months.

In a formal statement, Zippy Duvall, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President, said the American Farm Bureau will work with the Administration, Congress, other agricultural groups as well as with officials in Canada and Mexico to rectify issues with NAFTA which have limited the trade potential of U.S. farmers, ranchers, workers and businesses. Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, issued the following statement: “While NAFTA has been an overall positive for American agriculture, any trade deal can always be improved. As President Trump moves forward with renegotiating with Canada and Mexico, I am confident this will result in a better deal for our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and producers.” Sonny Perdue acknowledged that while NAFTA has been good for farmers, the same cannot be said for other U.S. industries, such as manufacturing.

To stay informed on the progress of NAFTA modernization, visit the Michigan Farm Bureau’s new Trade page.

Thist post was written by Aaron M. Phelps of Varnum LLP.

The Best Housewarming Gift for the Unmarried Couple: An Estate Plan

“Thinking too long about doing something is often the reason it never gets done.” 
–Everyday Life Lessons

In recent years, a growing number of Americans are deciding to cohabitate instead of getting married or remarried. Often, individuals of all ages, state they do not need an estate plan, either because they are not married or because they do not have children. These are not reasons to avoid preparing your estate plan and, in fact, are often more reason to ensure your estate is in order. Although this article will not discuss everything that unmarried cohabitating couples should have in place, it is a decent starting point for a conversation with your partner and, eventually, an estate planning attorney.

Estate plans are important for a devoted unmarried couple, because without an estate plan, you have no input into major healthcare and financial decisions for your partner.

Medical Decisions

You have been together for years or even decades, but if you are hospitalized, can your partner speak on your behalf and make decisions for your care and well-being? Sadly, no. Failure to have a valid Health Care Power of Attorney in place may result in a courtroom battle between your partner and family. A Health Care Power of Attorney is a document whereby you name an Agent to act on your behalf if you are unable to make reasonably informed medical decisions for yourself. Undertake an honest discussion with your partner concerning your wishes. Topics to discuss include organ transplant during life, removal of life sustaining treatment, burial arrangements, organ donation and religious limitations. Your wishes will be explicitly stated within the Health Care Power of Attorney, which your named Agent must follow to the best of their abilities.

Real Property and Holding Title

Throughout your relationship, you may have purchased a home (or several homes, depending on your lifestyle). Consider this scenario: you both paid half of the down payment for the home, and you each pay half of the monthly mortgage payments, but because your partner had a better credit score, the home is only titled in his or her name. If your partner dies without a Last Will and Testament that leaves the property to you, that property is not yours, and unless you purchase it for fair market value, you will have to vacate the home. If your partner did have a valid Last Will and Testament, it could provide that the home be distributed directly to you. Other options include your partner recording a Beneficiary Deed, which states that when he or she dies, the property passes to you by operation of law; another option is that your partner could deed the property to be held in both your names, as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Be aware that such a transfer may have gift tax implications and may affect your mortgage. Discuss these matters with your attorney before proceeding.

Distribution of Your Assets

By living together, you have likely acquired mutual possessions and one of you may have supported the other for a period of time, e.g. during graduate school, through loss of employment or through a disability. Because of this, there may be assets that you both believe are shared, even if they are in the sole name of one partner.

estate tax planning non us citizensIf you do not have a valid Last Will and Testament, your estate is considered intestate. An estate that passes through intestate succession means your assets will be distributed according to Arizona law. In this scenario, the following persons will receive your assets: first your legal spouse, then your children, siblings, parents, grandparents and finally, if none of the foregoing are then living, to issue of your grandparents. If you want to leave anything to your partner, you must execute a Will that provides for the distribution of your estate to him or her. There are also other options you can discuss with your attorney, such as beneficiary designations and language that provides for transfer on death of the assets.

You may also want to consider leaving your partner as your beneficiary on a life insurance policy or on any retirement accounts. At the very least, be aware of who is named as your beneficiary on your policies and accounts and be sure those are your wishes.

Although seeking the advice of an attorney is important, start the conversation at home, informally.

How to Start

Have a casual conversation with your partner to discuss the basics.  These topics will likely require multiple conversations.  If you are not sure how to start, go straight to the source.  Many attorneys charge a one-time flat fee for an initial consultation. You will want to find an attorney with whom you are both comfortable and, preferably, that you will use in the preparation of your documents. When you are satisfied with your decisions, engage the attorney and get drafts started.  Review the drafts with your attorney in his or her office and then take the drafts home to read and digest alone. Take your time. Be sure to ask any questions and voice any concerns; this is why you are paying the attorney. Throughout the process, it is important to remember that most estate planning documents can be revised if your circumstances or living arrangements change.

If it is important to you, discuss your plan with your family so they do not feel left out of important decisions.

Acceptance by Family and Friends

There is a chance some of your family or friends may not agree with your lifestyle or the decision to live together. Attempt to inform your friends and family that your desire is for your partner to be the lead in making decisions on your behalf, and that the two of you have discussed it and made each other aware of your personal wishes. Doing so may also avoid potentially costly and time-consuming legal battles should you become incapacitated or die.

Take the first step and work your way through it. Although it may seem overwhelming initially, the process should only take a couple of months. Once finished, you will both be able to sigh with relief knowing these issues have been resolved.

This post was written by Amber Hughes Curto and Amy K. Povinelli  of Ryley Carlock & Applewhite, A Professional Corporation.

The Zoning and Land Use Handbook

The ABA presents The Zoning and Land Use Handbook by Ronald Cope.

zoning land useZoning law has a major impact on the development of our cities and villages, and where we live and work; it also plays a major role in numerous business and real estate transactions. The Zoning and Land Use Handbook is a reference guide for zoning and related land use issues.

This book will help the busy general practitioner answer the most frequently asked questions and provide guidance on basic zoning procedures, property rights, and the nature of zoning litigation. In addition, this handbook provides an introduction to zoning law for land use practitioners, and will be helpful to laypersons and professionals not familiar with land use or zoning law.

Click here to purchase the book.

About the author:

“Ron Cope is the most authoritative and impressive source of knowledge about the legal aspects of land use, urban planning, and zoning. During my 45 years of planning practice, he has remained my go-to expert for every complex issue I have had regarding land use, planning, and zoning law. The Zoning and Land Use Handbook is a must-have resource that condenses Ron’s practical knowledge into a comprehensive guide.”
Allen L. Kracower, Chairman, Allen L. Kracower & Associates, Inc.

“Ron Cope is the dean of Illinois zoning lawyers. He is legally erudite and knowledgeable in all areas of real estate law and combines those with practical common sense.”
— J. Samuel Tenenbaum, Director, Investor Protection Center, Bluhm Legal Clinic, Northwestern University School of Law

Comey’s Testimony Underscores Need for Strong Whistleblower Protections

For me, the most telling moment of former FBI Director Jim Comey’s June 8th testimony occurred early in the hearing, when Mr. Comey choked up as he recalled the White House’s publicly stating that the President had fired him because the “FBI was in disarray.”

This emotional display seemed out of character for Mr. Comey. While U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, he successfully prosecuted organized crime. As Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush Administration, Mr. Comey refused to sign an extension of the warrantless domestic spying program and defied the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff. Mr. Comey can fairly be described as a “tough guy.” So how did he go from leading the most powerful law-enforcement agency worldwide to being labeled a “leaking liar”?

To an experienced whistleblower advocate, Mr. Comey’s predicament is not surprising. Mr. Comey’s experience, unfortunately, is like those of many whistleblowers I have represented over more than a decade. President Trump promised to bring a business approach to government—and his retaliation against Mr. Comey is straight out of the corporate defense playbook. Corporations typically take the following steps of escalating retaliation to silence whistleblowers:

Intimidate and Silence the Whistleblower

In his June 8th testimony, Mr. Comey described in detail how the President had asked him to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn and had conditioned Mr. Comey’s job on “loyalty” to him. Senator Rubio expressed skepticism about Mr. Comey’s feeling intimidated by the President and blamed Mr. Comey for not pushing back. But that type of Monday-morning quarterbacking ignored the power dynamics of the conversation. Mr. Comey wanted to keep his job and was understandably reluctant to accuse the President of obstructing an investigation.

Whistleblowers often confront this intimidation tactic in the workplace. A supervisor or senior company official tells the whistleblower to “let it go,” “mind your own business,” or learn to be a “team player.” And in some cases, the whistleblower is told to shut up if he or she wants to remain employed. Threats of retaliation, whether express or implicit, are powerful tools to silence a whistleblower. When a company officer or senior manager orders a subordinate to do something unlawful or to cover up unlawful conduct, holding firm to one’s ethical values is not an easy avenue to follow. As Mr. Comey learned, refusing to carry out an unlawful order may be career suicide, at least in the short term.

Retaliate Swiftly and Severely Against the Whistleblower

Initially, the bizarre method of firing Mr. Comey seemed surprising for a President who perfected the art of firing on his reality show, The Apprentice. Mr. Comey was not given an opportunity to resign; he was not even notified that he had been fired. But now that we know about the President’s real motive for firing Mr. Comey, it’s clear that his tack was deliberate.

Mr. Comey learned of his firing while addressing FBI agents at a Los Angeles field office when the announcement flashed across a television screen. The White House had announced Mr. Comey’s firing without notifying Mr. Comey himself. President Trump sent a loud and clear message to Mr. Comey and to every senior government official about the consequence of disloyalty.

In the corporate workplace, whistleblower-employees are similarly humiliated as a warning to their colleagues. A whistleblower may be escorted out of the office with security guards while other employees are present, pulled out of a meeting and fired on the spot in front of colleagues, or simply fired via text message. When a corporation fires a whistleblower in this humiliating fashion, it ensures that all other employees know the consequence of whistleblowing.

Badmouth the Whistleblower and Their Work History

Firing Mr. Comey in a humiliating and offensive manner served only as phase one. President Trump then defamed Mr. Comey and asserted that he fired him because of chaos within the FBI, as well as the alleged loss of confidence in Mr. Comey among FBI agents.

These statements stand in stark contrast to the President’s repeated, public praise of Mr. Comey before Mr. Comey refused to comply with the President’s “hope” that Mr. Comey drop the investigation of Flynn. Indeed, if President Trump believed that Mr. Comey’s leadership caused chaos within the FBI, then why did the President invite Mr. Comey to continue to serve as FBI Director?

This patent distortion of Mr. Comey’s performance record is an all-too-common experience of whistleblowers. Prior to blowing the whistle, they receive strong performance evaluations and bonuses; they are valued members of the team. But once they blow the whistle and refuse to drop their concerns, they are suddenly deemed incompetent and unqualified for their position. And when a company realizes that it lacks any existing basis to fire the whistleblower, it creates one by subjecting the whistleblower to heightened scrutiny and setting the whistleblower up to fail. For example, a company might place the whistleblower on a performance-improvement plan that contains impossible objectives, and then fire the whistleblower for not meeting those unattainable goals.

This tactic may backfire and enable a whistleblower to ultimately prevail at trial, but the damage to the whistleblower’s reputation is permanent. Prospective employers are reluctant to hire someone who previously fired for poor performance and are especially reluctant to hire a whistleblower. Many whistleblowers never find comparable employment and must accept lower-level positions, earning a fraction of what they did before their wrongful termination.

Attack the Whistleblower’s Credibility

Apparently, President Trump has no evidence to rebut Mr. Comey’s vivid account of the President’s alleged attempts to obstruct justice. So President Trump called him a “liar.”

Desperate to defend themselves at all costs, corporations frequently employ this tactic—labeling the whistleblower a disgruntled former employee who will say anything to win his or her case. So far, this is not working well for President Trump, whose accusation merely serves to shine a spotlight on his own questionable credibility.

Attacking a whistleblower’s credibility is an effective and pernicious tactic in many whistleblower cases. Once expelled from a company, a whistleblower is marginalized and alienated from former coworkers. The key witnesses continue to work at the company and, fearing retaliation, are reluctant to corroborate the whistleblower’s testimony. Though whistleblowers may still prevail (for example, by using documentary evidence), the attack on a whistleblower’s credibility is odious because the company fired the whistleblower precisely for having integrity.

Create a Post-Hoc Justification for Firing the Whistleblower

Prior to firing Mr. Comey, President Trump papered the file with a post-hoc justification for the firing. After the President decided to fire Mr. Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was tasked with drafting a memorandum to the Attorney General outlining concerns about Mr. Comey’s performance. Most of those concerns focus on Mr. Comey’s statements about the investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server. Surely President Trump knew of those public statements when he repeatedly asked Mr. Comey to remain as FBI Director (as long as he could pledge “loyalty” and drop the Flynn investigation).

In this case, the White House’s initial reliance on the Rosenstein memo as the basis for the decision to fire Mr. Comey backfired because President Trump told NBC anchor Lester Holt that he had decided to fire Mr. Comey regardless of the memo. In many whistleblower-retaliation cases, however, these types of pretextual memos may be persuasive. Some judges even rely on such memos, which mask the real reason for a firing or other adverse action, to grant the company summary judgment and deny the whistleblower a jury trial.

On the other hand, creating a post-hoc justification for a retaliatory adverse action sometimes misfires by providing strong evidence of pretext and spurring a jury to award punitive damages. For instance, a former in-house counsel at Bio-Rad Laboratories recently secured more than $11 million in damages at trial in a Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower-retaliation case. The jury awarded $5 million in punitive damages because Bio-Rad had backdated a negative performance evaluation of the whistleblower that the company drafted after it fired him.

Focus on the Whistleblower’s Alleged Misconduct

To distract attention from what may be obstruction of justice, President Trump and his attorney have focused on Mr. Comey’s leak to the press and have alleged that the leak was unlawful. This accusation seems frivolous because Mr. Comey did not leak classified information, grand jury material, or other sensitive information. Instead, he revealed that President Trump had conditioned his continued service as FBI Director on his agreeing to drop the investigation of Flynn. As a private citizen, Mr. Comey has a constitutional right to blow the whistle to the media about this matter of public concern. Mr. Comey did not reveal to the media information from FBI investigative files or classified information. Yet President Trump and his allies compare Mr. Comey to leakers who illegally disclosed classified information. This is an appalling accusation against the former head of a law-enforcement agency.

But this is another standard corporate defense tactic in whistleblower cases. To divert attention from the wrongdoing that the whistleblower exposed, the company uses its substantial resources to dig up dirt on the whistleblower. The company or its outside counsel examines the whistleblower’s timesheets and expense reports with a fine-tooth comb to find any discrepancy, reviews every email to find some inappropriate communication, and places all of the whistleblower’s work under a microscope to find any shortcoming.

Sue the Whistleblower and Initiate a Retaliatory Investigation

Firing Comey, concocting a pretextual basis for the firing, and branding him a leaking liar apparently was not sufficient retaliation.  So shortly after his testimony, President Trump’s personal attorney announced his intention to sue Mr. Comey and/or file a complaint with the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General (OIG).  I am skeptical that a civil action against Mr. Comey or an OIG complaint poses any real legal threat to Mr. Comey.  To the contrary, such a complaint would likely pose a greater risk for President Trump, including potential counterclaims and the risk of being deposed or questioned under oath by the OIG.

The misuse of legal process against corporate whistleblowers, however, is an especially powerful form of retaliation in that it can dissuade a whistleblower from pursuing their claims.  When I defend against this form of abuse of process, I am always struck at the seemingly endless resources that the company will spend to prosecute claims lacking any merit or value.  Fortunately, these claims can go awry by spawning additional retaliation claims under the whistleblower protection laws.  And a jury can punish the employer for subjecting the whistleblower to abuse of process.

Why Whistleblowers Deserve Strong Legal Protection

In light of Mr. Comey’s distinguished record, he will likely bounce back and rebuild his career. But most corporate whistleblowers never fully recover. Too often they find their careers and reputations destroyed. Even when whistleblowers obtain monetary relief at trial, they are usually blacklisted from comparable positions, especially if they work in a small industry.

Mr. Comey’s experience as a whistleblower is a stark reminder of what can happen to any employee who is pressured by a powerful superior to engage in unlawful conduct or to cover up wrongdoing. When intimidation tactics succeed, the public suffers. The company could be covering up threats to public health or safety, environmental contamination, financial fraud, defective products, or any other conceivable harmful wrongdoing.

Courageous whistleblowers who put their jobs on the line deserve strong protection. As Congress embarks on a mission to gut “job killing” agencies, let us hope it will spare the very limited resources that are spent enforcing whistleblower-protection laws. Without such a large backlog of whistleblower cases, OSHA could have, for example, addressed the complaints of Wells Fargo whistleblowers years ago, potentially curbing or halting the bank’s defrauding of its customers. And Congress should consider filling the gaps in existing whistleblower laws. If Mr. Comey “lacked the presence of mind” to explicitly reject the President’s improper demand for him to drop the Flynn investigation, then surely most employees would also be reluctant to refuse an order to commit an unethical or unlawful act.

After Mr. Comey’s testimony, Speaker Ryan pointed out that “[t]he President’s new at this. He’s new to government.” Mr. Comey’s testimony should be a lesson for the President about how to treat whistleblowers. To make America great again, the President should abandon the Rambo litigation tactics that apparently served him well in New York real-estate disputes, and instead view whistleblowers as allies, not as enemies. As Tom Devine of the Government Accountability Project and I argue in an article in the Emory Corporate Governance and Accountability ReviewDraining the Swamp Requires Robust Whistleblower Protections and Incentives.

This post was written by Jason Zuckerman of Zuckerman Law.

Department of Labor Signals Move to Limit Definition of “Employment”

On June 7, 2017, U.S. Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta announced the immediate withdrawal of the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) 2015 and 2016 Administrative Interpretations regarding joint employment and independent contractors. While this withdrawal signals the current administration’s attempt to limit the expansive definition of “employment,” the DOL made clear that it does not relieve companies of their legal obligations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and the Migrant and Seasonal Agricultural Worker Protection Act.

Many businesses had argued these obligations were unduly burdensome on employers. For the past several years, the Wage and Hour Division (WHD) has worked with the IRS and numerous states to combat employee misclassification and to ensure that workers receive all the wages, benefits and protections to which they are entitled. In Fiscal Year 2015, for example, WHD investigations resulted in some $74 million in back wages for more than 102,000 workers, many of which were concentrated in traditionally low-wage industries such as janitorial, temporary help, food service, day care and hospitality. Withdrawal of the Administrative Interpretations may be the first step to rein in these enforcement efforts.

Specifically, the DOL has withdrawn guidance regarding:

  • The Presumption That Most Workers Are Employees: The withdrawn guidance on independent contractors stated that “most workers are employees” under the FLSA. United States Supreme Court precedent makes clear that there is no single rule or test for determining whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor for purposes of the FLSA. Thus, even now, the inquiry into independent contractor status remains complex and fact-intensive.

  • The Expansion of the “Joint Employer” Definition: The withdrawn guidance on joint employment distinguished between “horizontal” joint employment and “vertical” joint employment scenarios. Under this guidance, the joint employment inquiry focused on the “economic realities” of the relationship between the employee and the potential joint employer. Its withdrawal signals a shift back to applying joint employer status only when a business has direct control over another business’s workplace.

More is expected from the Trump Administration and the courts on the ever-changing law surrounding independent contractors and joint employment.

This post was written by Angela M. Duerden and Elisabeth (Lisa) Shu of Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker LLP.

Defendants’ Timing Defense to DTSA Claims Faces Mixed Results

With the law’s first anniversary in the rear view mirror, defendants have established a viable defense to claims arising under the Defend Trade Secrets Act (“DTSA”) – a plaintiff may be precluded from bringing a claim under DTSA if it only alleges facts that show acts of misappropriation occurring prior to May 11, 2016 (the date of DTSA’s enactment).   In the last few months, four different courts have tackled this “timing defense,” and defendants raising it in motions to dismiss DTSA claims have encountered mixed results.

In Brand Energy & Infrastructure Servs. v. Irex Contr. Grp., No. 16-cv-2499, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43497 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 23, 2017), a Pennsylvania federal court rejected the defendants’ attempt to invoke the timing defense because the plaintiff’s amended complaint alleged various times after the enactment of the DTSA that the defendants “used” the plaintiff’s alleged trade secrets.  The court also noted the plaintiff’s inclusion of allegations in the amended complaint showing that “to this day, the defendants continue to ‘obtain access to [its] confidential and proprietary business information ….”  Based on this pleading, the court held that the plaintiff could pursue its DTSA claim.  Similarly, in AllCells, LLC v. Zhai, Case No. 16-cv-07323, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44808 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 27, 2017), a California federal court denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss a DTSA claim because “even if [defendants] copied and thus acquired the alleged trade secrets before May 11, 2016, [the plaintiff] has sufficiently alleged that there was at least use of the trade secrets after that date.  Hence, the Act applies.”

In Molon Motor & Coil Corp. v. Nidec Motor Corp., No. 16-cv-03545, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 71700 (N.D. Ill. May 11, 2017), a plaintiff’s DTSA claim survived dismissal, overcoming the defendant’s argument that “no acts occurred after the effective date of the Act.”  The court held that the plaintiff’s allegations regarding the inevitable post-enactment disclosure of its trade secrets to the defendant by its former employee were sufficient to state a plausible DTSA claim:  “[i]f it is plausible that some of the alleged trade secrets maintain their value today, then it is also plausible that [defendant] would be continuing to use them.”  The court noted, however, that further discovery would be needed to determine whether post-enactment disclosure of the trade secrets was in fact inevitable.

By contrast, a California federal court granted a defendant’s motion to dismiss where a complaint lacked sufficient allegations regarding the timing of the alleged appropriation in Cave Consulting Grp., Inc. v. Truven Health Analytics Inc., No. 15-cv-02177, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 62109 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 24, 2017).  In Cave, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant acquired trade secrets and used them in a 2014 client meeting, but that conduct predated the enactment of the DTSA.  The court held that plaintiff had failed to make any “specific allegations that defendant used the alleged trade secrets after the DTSA’s May 11, 2016 enactment.”  Because the plaintiff failed to allege that any “postenactment use occurred,” the plaintiff had not stated a plausible DTSA claim.

These decisions illustrate that the likelihood of success of the timing defense largely is a matter of drafting, and provide an important takeaway for both sides of a trade secrets dispute. A plaintiff should be mindful in drafting its pleading to include factual allegations showing that the defendant’s misappropriation occurred (or inevitably will occur) after DTSA’s enactment.  The defendant, on the other hand, should carefully scrutinize the complaint to determine whether a timing defense applies.

This post was written by Jonathan L. Shapiro by Epstein Becker & Green, P.C..