Author: Richard S. Zackin

Supreme Court Limits Scope Of The Computer Fraud And Abuse Act

The Consumer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. §1030 (CFAA) is a federal statute that imposes criminal penalties and provides for a civil cause of action against individuals who obtain information from a computer by intentionally accessing the computer without authorization or by exceeding authorized access. The statute has been used to criminally prosecute and bring civil actions for damages and losses against employees who have misappropriated their employers’ trade secrets or other confidential information. Those damages and losses may include attorneys’ fees expended by the employer to investigate violations of the statute. In its recent opinion in Van Buren v. United States, the United States Supreme Court resolved a disagreement among the lower federal courts over the scope of the CFAA’s “exceeds authorized access” clause. Does an employee with authorized access to his employer’s computers “exceed authorized access” only when accessing specific computer files the employee has not been authorized to access, or does the employee also “exceed authorized access” when accessing files for which the employee has authorization, but uses the information for an unauthorized purpose? In Van Buren, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the more limited scope of the “exceeds authorized access” clause. Background When employed as a police officer in Georgia, Nathan Van Buren was the target of an...

The New Jersey WARN Act and the Coronavirus Epidemic – Update II

On January 21, 2020, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed into law major amendments to the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act, more commonly referred to as the New Jersey WARN Act (“the Act”). These amendments require employers with 100 or more employees to give 90-days’ advance notice to the affected employees of any reduction in force involving at least 50 employees. Employees not given the required notice may bring a civil action for damages. Even when the employer complies with the Act’s notice requirements, the amendments require the employer to pay the affected employee severance in an amount equal to one week of pay for each year of service. Failure to comply with the notice requirements will entitle each affected employee to an additional four weeks of severance pay. A fuller discussion of the amendments can be found here. The amendments were to take effect on July 19, 2020, but, because of subsequent actions by the legislature in response to the coronavirus pandemic (see here), the effective date was changed to the 90th day after the termination of Governor Murphy’s Executive Order 103, issued on March 9, 2020, which declared a Public Health Emergency and State of Emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. Until recently, Executive Order 103 remained in place without...

Employers and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA)

The recently enacted American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) is an economic stimulus bill that will inject $1.9 trillion into the American economy to accelerate the recovery from the economic downturn and health emergency caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Of special interest to employers, the ARPA in a number of respects expands legislation enacted in 2020 to address the COVID-19 crisis, such as the CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA). Perhaps the most publicized aspect of the ARPA is the direct $1,400 stimulus checks to individuals. However, other aspects of the ARPA are more directly of interest to employers. Non-Mandated Extension of FFCRA-Related Tax Credits Employers are not required to, but may voluntarily provide to employees Emergency Paid Sick Leave and Emergency Family and Medical Leave that previously had been mandated under the FFCRA. This program will terminate on September 30, 2021. This means employers may grant leave under the FFCRA to employees with eligible leave remaining and continue to receive the corresponding tax credits for those leave payments until that date. Otherwise, this program would have expired on March 31, 2021. While the emergency leave extensions under the ARPA are voluntary, employers should also consider any state or local leave requirements. Under the new legislation: Employers who provide up to...

Third Circuit Clarifies Requirements for “Regarded As” ADA Claims

In Eshleman v. Patrick Industries, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a significant decision concerning claims brought under the American With Disabilities Act (ADA) by employees alleging their employers perceived them to be disabled. The decision clarifies the pleading requirements in such cases and explains the ADA provision that exempts employers from liability for disabilities that are “transitory and minor.” Notably, the Court did not provide a specific definition of a “minor” disability, leaving that determination for the lower courts on a case-by-case basis. Background William Eshleman took leave from his job as a truck driver for Patrick Industries to have a module removed from his lungs. Six weeks after he returned to work he suffered a severe respiratory infection and was out of work for four days. Patrick Industries terminated his employment after his second shift back to work. At various times, the employer gave Eshleman different reasons for his termination. Eshleman brought suit alleging the shifting reasons for his termination were pretextual and the true reason was that his employer regarded him as disabled in violation of the ADA. The perceived disability was alleged to be that he “suffered from [a] long-term or chronic medical condition which would affect his attendance in the future, like it had in...

Supreme Court Asked to Decide Prior Salary/Equal Pay Act Issue

The Fresno County Office of Education has requested the Supreme Court to hear an appeal from an en banc decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals holding that the Equal Pay Act (“the EPA”) prohibits an employer when setting the compensation of a female employee from considering her compensation at her prior job. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the County’s appeal, it will be the second time the case will come before the Supreme Court. Previously, the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit’s decision because one of the appellate court judges who considered Fresno County’s appeal passed away, and was not replaced before the Ninth Circuit issued its opinion. Given that there is now a properly issued Ninth Circuit opinion, and given a split among the Courts of Appeals over whether and under what circumstances the EPA permits a new employer’s consideration of a woman’s prior salary when setting compensation, it seems likely that the Supreme Court will take up the case. Background After teaching middle school for a number of years, Aileen Rizo was hired by Fresno County as a math consultant. The county employed a twelve-level job classification system and each level was comprised of a ten-step salary schedule. In accordance with its standard operating procedures, the County determined Rizo’s...

The New Jersey WARN Act and the Coronavirus Epidemic—An Update

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy has signed into law new amendments to the Millville Dallas Airmotive Plant Job Loss Notification Act, more commonly referred to as the New Jersey WARN Act. The new amendments apply to the current statute and to prior amendments enacted on January 21 of this year that were to take effect on July 19, 2020. A full discussion of the January 21 amendments can be found here. Once the January 21 amendments go into effect, the Act will require employers with 100 or more employees to give advance notice to the affected employees of any reduction in force involving at least 50 employees. Employees not given the required notice currently may bring a civil action for damages; when the January 21 amendments take effect, even when an employer complies with the Act’s notice requirements, each affected employee will be entitled to severance pay in an amount equal to one week of pay for each year of service. The new amendments to the Act have important implications for the Act’s notice and severance provisions. On March 13, 2020, President Trump utilized the National Emergency Act to declare a national emergency due to the coronavirus outbreak. Under the current WARN Act and the January 21 amendments, an...

The WARN Act and the Coronavirus Epidemic

As the coronavirus epidemic continues to impact the economy, employers are faced with the prospect of shutting down their operations or continuing operations with a significantly reduced workforce for an indeterminate period of time. Employers anticipating the need for significant workforce reductions should be mindful of whether these reductions will implicate the federal WARN Act, and companies with employees in New Jersey and/or New York must also pay attention to the WARN Acts in effect in those states. This article will first briefly outline the requirements of the federal, New Jersey, and New York WARN statutes and will then discuss those requirements in the context of workforce reductions necessitated by the current crisis. The WARN Statutes The WARN statutes are extremely complicated, but, as a rule of thumb, whenever a New Jersey employer is contemplating terminating at least 50 employees, the employer should seek advice from counsel familiar with the federal and New Jersey WARN statutes. Should either of those statutes apply, the affected employees must be given at least 60 days’ notice of their terminations unless a statutory exception permits a lesser period of notice. As a rule of thumb, employers in New York should seek advice from counsel when contemplating terminating at least 25 employees. Should the New York WARN statute apply, the...

New Jersey Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement that Fails to Designate an Arbitration Forum

The New Jersey courts have consistently held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement is not present where the agreement does not sufficiently put the parties on notice that, by agreeing to arbitrate, they are giving up the right to have their dispute resolved in a judicial forum and are waiving whatever rights they might have to a jury trial. In Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division has now held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement will also be found lacking when the agreement does not designate the forum in which the arbitration will take place and otherwise fails to define the arbitration process. Background The plaintiff, Marilyn Flanzman, after being terminated from her position as a weight loss counselor for the defendant, a weight loss and nutrition company, brought suit in Superior Court, Law Division under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, alleging age discrimination and harassment. The defendant moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement into which the parties had entered during the plaintiff’s employment, which, in relevant part, stated: Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s] employment, the termination thereof, or otherwise arising between [plaintiff] and [defendant] shall, in lieu of...

Federal Courts Uphold Arbitration Agreements Via Email

Recently, federal district courts in New York and New Jersey turned aside employee attacks on arbitration agreements challenged on the grounds that the employer’s communication of its arbitration policy via email was inadequate. The courts in both Lockette v. Morgan Stanley and Schmell v. Morgan Stanley held that the employees’ assertions that they never saw the email forwarding the terms of the arbitration agreement were insufficient to overcome the employer’s evidence that the email had been delivered to the employees’ email inboxes. Lockette John Lockette sued Morgan Stanley in federal court in New York after Morgan Stanley terminated his employment in 2016. Lockette alleged he had been the victim of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal law. The company moved to compel arbitration. Prior to 2015, the company had in place an internal dispute resolution program entitled “CARE” (Convenient Access to Resolutions for Employees) for employees registered with FINRA, who could select, but were not required to select, arbitration as a means of resolving statutory discrimination claims. In 2015, however, the company expanded the CARE program to cover all employees and to require the arbitration of employment claims, including discrimination claims, among others. Under the terms of the expanded program, an employee’s continued employment would be considered his or her acceptance to be covered by...

Third Circuit Overturns Summary Judgment Based on the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Employers who are sued for sexual harassment committed by a supervisor may be able to avoid liability, even if harassment had, in fact, occurred, by asserting the so-called Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense, named after the two United States Supreme Court cases that first recognized the defense. An employer may assert the Faragher-Ellerth defense to supervisor harassment when no tangible employment action has been taken against the harassed employee and the employer is able to demonstrate (a) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior and (b) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, addressed the requirements of the Faragher-Ellerth defense in the context of the assertion of a female employee that she acted reasonably in not taking advantage of the procedures made available by her employer to prevent or correct the harassment against her by her supervisor. In so doing, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the employer based on the Faragher-Ellerth defense and held on the facts of the case a jury should decide the whether the defense applied. Background Sherri Minarsky worked as a part-time secretary at...