Tagged: Contracts

The Federal Speak Out Act and Implications for Employers

In December 2022, President Biden signed into law the Speak Out Act (the “Act”), which has become effective. As discussed below, the Act prohibits pre-dispute nondisclosure and nondisparagement agreements relating to sexual assault and sexual harassment disputes. In connection with the new law, Congress presented, inter alia, the following findings: Sexual harassment and assault continue to be pervasive in the workplace. 81 percent of women and 43 percent of men experience some type of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. One in three women has encountered sexual harassment in the workplace, yet an estimated 87 to 94 percent of those who have experienced harassment never file any type of formal complaint. Many women leave their job or industry or pass up advancement opportunities as a result of sexual harassment. To combat sexual harassment and assault, victims must be able to report and publicly disclose such issues. Nondisclosure and nondisparagement provisions in agreements between employers and employees can allow harassment and assault to continue by silencing victims and those with knowledge of the conduct, while protecting those engaging in such conduct, thus allowing it to continue. Prohibiting nondisclosure and nondisparagement clauses will provide transparency around unlawful conduct, allow victims to come forward, hold perpetuators accountable, and make workplaces safer. Explanation of the Act The Act...

Proposed Nationwide FTC Ban on Non-Compete Clauses

On January 5, 2023, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a proposed rule (“Rule”) that would effectively impose a nationwide ban on all existing and future non-compete clauses between workers and employers. By way of background, a non-compete clause is a type of restrictive covenant that prevents a worker from working for a competitor or starting a competing business, generally within a certain geographical area and time frame after the worker’s employment ends. The FTC’s position, as stated in the Rule’s overview, is that non-compete clauses prevent workers from leaving jobs, lower competition for workers, and reduce wages. According to the FTC, non-compete clauses also stop new businesses from forming, stifle entrepreneurship, and prevent novel innovation that would take place if workers were able to freely share ideas. On the other hand, proponents of non-compete clauses have historically argued, among other things, that they are necessary to protect an employer’s confidential information, trade secrets, and intellectual property and its often considerable investment in the training and development of  its employees. Non-compete agreements are currently subject to state law. Key components of the proposed Rule include: Providing that it is an “unfair method of competition” for an employer to enter into a non-compete clause with a worker, attempt to do so, or inform a worker they...

Colorado Is the Latest State to Enact a Data Privacy Law: Here’s What You Need to Know

Colorado has become the third state to enact a comprehensive data privacy statute imposing compliance obligations on legal entities that collect or process the personal data of its residents. The Colorado Privacy Act (CPA) is based on and enforces many of the same key concepts as do other data privacy statutes and regulations. As such, companies that are implementing or updating compliance programs for the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), California Privacy Rights Act (CPRA), and Virginia Consumer Data Protection Act (CDPA) will be familiar with the main provisions of the CPA and likely will have an easier time achieving compliance. There are, however, some important distinctions that companies must consider as part of any ongoing compliance efforts in anticipation of the CPA’s effective date of July 1, 2023. As a threshold matter, the CPA applies to legal entities that (i) conduct business in Colorado or produce or deliver commercial products or services that are “intentionally targeted to residents of Colorado,” and (ii) either (a) control or process personal data of more than 100,000 consumers per year or (b) earn revenue (or receive a discount on goods or services) from the sale of personal data and control or process personal data of more than 25,000 consumers. Notably, the CPA...

Beyond Force Majeure: Government Quarantine Orders May Themselves Excuse Contract Non-Performance

The coronavirus pandemic is reverberating throughout commercial sectors, and countless contract obligations are going unperformed—shipments are not being made or accepted, payments are being missed, and contract milestone dates are lapsing every week that the pandemic and business shutdown continues. Those typically rare force majeure provisions are now being scrutinized. (For more on those topics, see previous entries in our COVID-19 “The Coronavirus Pandemic and Your Business: How We Can Help” client alert series, including “Litigation Issues That May Arise.”) And, in New Jersey, the precise language of such a clause is key, as courts in this state have held that they should be “narrowly interpreted as contemplating only events or things of the same general nature or class as those specifically enumerated.” Seitz v. Mark-O-Lite Sign Contractors, Inc., 210 N.J. Super. 646 (N.J. Sup. Ct. Law Div. 1986). With only some force majeure clauses including explicit references to pandemics, or broadly-worded “catch-alls,” the success of a force majeure defense is not necessarily certain. But before (or in addition to) attempting to invoke that force majeure provision, consider whether a court would ultimately determine that contractual non-performance is due to an “Act of God” or rather is being caused by the governmental orders quarantining segments of the population and/or shutting down whole swaths of the...

Force Majeure Provisions in Contracts

No one is able to predict how the coronavirus situation will play out or precisely how each of us might be impacted or for how long. It is possible your ability to perform various contractual obligations will be delayed. Many contracts protect parties against an inability to perform due to uncontrollable circumstances, at least in some situations, by inclusion of a so-called force majeure provision. This provision excuses certain behavior in certain situations determined to be beyond the control of the party failing to perform. Obviously, the text of the particular provision is critical to understanding what it says. We are writing to alert you that many force majeure provisions include a mandatory notice provision. If you don’t provide the required notice, you are estopped from raising force majeure as a defense against a claim arising out of your failure to perform. So if the coronavirus pandemic is interfering with your ability to perform contractual obligations, we urge you to review your contracts and deliver any required notices so as to protect yourself to the extent possible, and if your contract mandates that any other steps be taken to preserve the defense, take those steps as well. Gibbons stands ready to assist with these concerns. If you have any questions regarding force majeure provisions in...

Governor Murphy Signs Bill Making Nondisclosure Provisions Unenforceable and Against Public Policy

On Monday, March 18, 2019, Governor Phil Murphy signed Senate Bill No. 121, which makes nondisclosure provisions in employment contracts or settlement agreements that are intended to conceal the details of claims of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment unenforceable and against public policy in New Jersey. Section 1 of the new law warns that a “provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment” is against public policy and unenforceable.” The law does not define “employment contract” and leaves open to interpretation whether it applies to all agreements between employer and employee, whether an employment agreement, a separation agreement, or a settlement agreement. The prohibition on waiving any procedural right would make arbitration agreements, which by their nature waive the right to a jury trial, also invalid and unenforceable in contravention of the Federal Arbitration Act and recent United States Supreme Court precedent. An immediate challenge to this aspect of the law is likely since it casts doubt on all arbitration agreements between an employer and employee that seek to include claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation. Section 1 also prohibits a prospective waiver of any right or remedy under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) or any other statute or...

New Jersey Supreme Court Expands Reach of the Consumer Fraud Act to Include Customized Merchandise

Relying on the remedial purpose of the Consumer Fraud Act (CFA), the New Jersey Supreme Court recently held that customized merchandise falls within the reach of the CFA. In All the Way Towing, LLC v. Bucks County International, Inc., plaintiffs, an individual and his limited liability towing company, entered into a contract with defendants for the purchase of a medium-duty 4×4 truck to be customized with an autoloader tow unit to meet plaintiffs’ particular needs. After the manufacturer attempted delivery on four occasions of a tow truck with significant problems, plaintiffs believed the situation to be “hopeless,” rejected delivery and demanded return of a $10,000.00 deposit. The manufacturer refused return of the deposit. Plaintiffs then brought suit for, among other things, violation of the CFA. The trial court granted summary judgment to the manufacturer on all claims, holding in pertinent part that a customized “tow truck was not something available ‘to the public for sale’” under the CFA. The Appellate Division reversed, holding that the line of cases that excluded “complex” goods or services from CFA claims was not applicable here because there was no showing that the tow truck at issue was any more “complex” than any other tow truck. Defendants then appealed, arguing that the CFA does not apply to transactions concerning custom-made...

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

In Roman v. Bergen Logistics, LLC, the Appellate Division recently held that a plaintiff was required to arbitrate her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation with her former employer. The court also held, however, that the arbitration agreement’s contractual provision that barred the employee’s access to punitive damages was unenforceable. Background Plaintiff Milagros Roman was hired by the defendant, Bergen Logistics, as a human resources generalist. She signed an arbitration agreement at the outset of her employment. In addition to requiring Roman to arbitrate any and all claims related to her employment, the arbitration agreement compelled her to waive any claim for punitive damages. After her termination, Roman filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that her former supervisor sexually harassed her, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The defendants moved to dismiss Roman’s complaint and compel her to arbitrate her claims. The Law Division found that Roman knowingly signed the arbitration agreement and that the agreement contained an unambiguous waiver of claims for punitive damages. Accordingly, that court held that Roman was required to submit her claims to arbitration and could not seek punitive damages. Roman timely appealed. The Appellate Division’s Decision The Appellate Division held that the arbitration...

Third Circuit Holds Anti-Assignment Clauses in ERISA Plans Are Enforceable

The Third Circuit, in a decision that may limit the remedies available to medical providers in the event of non-payment, recently clarified that “anti-assignment clauses in ERISA-governed health insurance plans as a general matter are enforceable.” In so holding, the Third Circuit joins all other circuit courts that have addressed the issue. On the basis of that clause, the Court held that the plaintiff out-of-network health care provider seeking reimbursement for a participant’s medical claims lacked standing to pursue the claim against the insurers on the participant’s behalf. In October 2015, the plaintiff provider performed shoulder surgery on a patient who was covered by an ERISA-governed health-insurance plan. In billing the individual for the procedure, the provider – because it was not part of the plan’s provider network – charged amounts that far exceeded the plan’s reimbursement limits for the surgery. The plan’s insurers applied its out-of-network limit in processing the claim and reimbursed only a fraction of the total amount charged. The provider appealed the claim on the patient’s behalf. At the same time, the provider had the patient sign an assignment-of-benefits form which assigned to the provider the patient’s right to pursue claims under his health-insurance plan for the surgery. The insurers denied the appeal, and the provider sued alleging ERISA violations. The insurers...

New Jersey Senate Labor Committee Amends Bill Prohibiting Use of Nondisclosure Provisions in Employment and Settlement Agreements

In response to the recent spotlight on sexual abuse and harassment claims in the workplace and the #MeToo movement, the federal government and numerous states, including New Jersey, have focused attention on the use of nondisclosure provisions in settlement agreements involving claims of sexual harassment and assault. As we previously reported, the Tax Cuts and Job Bills Act was passed in December 2017 and includes a provision that bars any settlement or payment related to claims of sexual harassment or sexual abuse from being deducted as a business expense if the payments are subject to a nondisclosure agreement. While the federal tax bill aims to discourage the use of nondisclosure agreements, the proposed New Jersey legislation initially provided an outright ban on such agreements. At the time of its first introduction during the prior legislative session in December 2017, Senator Loretta Weinberg’s proposed bill prohibited New Jersey employers from including “a provision in any employment contract or agreement which has the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.” The bill is unique because it is not limited to sexual harassment or abuse claims, but rather would apply to any type of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment claim under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination. Senator Weinberg’s bill was reintroduced...