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Archive for the ‘Business’ Category

Partner, Eric LeBlanc, quoted in Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly Article Regarding an Employee’s Successful Post-Termination Claim of Workplace Retaliation

Posted on: January 11th, 2018 by admin

wwa_eric-117x150Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly sought commentary from Bennett & Belfort partner, Eric LeBlanc, in its article on a recent U.S. Bankruptcy Court decision concerning a contract worker’s claim against her former employer’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy estate for severance pay.  (“At-will worker can seek severance against bankruptcy estate: Company’s failure to offer benefits deemed retaliatory,” Mass. Lawyers Weekly, December 21, 2017.)  Dr. Christine Briggs, while an at-will employee of Genesys Research Institute, Inc., was one of a number of workers who filed whistleblower complaints against the company for alleged misuse of restricted funds.  Although an employer is not required to offer severance pay when laying off an at-will employee, Dr. Briggs discovered that when Genesys terminated at-will employees in a series of layoffs prior to filing for bankruptcy, it had systematically offered severance to those who had not lodged whistleblower complaints but failed to offer severance to those who had made complaints.  In the case, In Re: Genesys Research Institute, Inc., Justice Joan Feeney concluded that the employer’s conduct was retaliatory, and thus Dr. Briggs, although an at-will employee, was entitled to claim severance pay.

Attorney LeBlanc remarked that the Judge’s decision is significant because the court sustained a claim concerning an employer’s retaliatory conduct that occurred after the employee’s termination.  “There are mitigating factors in this case because it was a bankruptcy decision with a different burden-shifting, and the trustee made limited attempts to refute the claim,” Attorney LeBlanc told Lawyers Weekly. “But it could still be applicable in assisting plaintiffs in getting over an initial hurdle regarding a potential retaliatory action that occurs post-termination… Put more simply, you can use post-termination employer behavior to potentially prove either discrimination or retaliatory animus.”

From a common-sense, layperson’s perspective, it goes without saying that retaliation and discrimination by any person or entity against another can post-date the technical termination of the relationship between perpetrator and victim.  The case law in this regard is, however, a work in progress.

BENNETT AND BELFORT, P.C. PARTNER, TODD BENNETT, QUOTED IN THE BOSTON BUSINESS JOURNAL

Posted on: December 8th, 2017 by admin


tb-124x150Bennett and Belfort, P.C. partner, Todd Bennett, was quoted in the November 29, 2017 Boston Business Journal article entitled, “Biotech’s #MeToo Moment.” https://www.bizjournals.com/boston/news/2017/11/29/biotech-s-metoo-moment-lawyers-say-bias-harassment.html.  The article is about the recent uptick in claims of sexual harassment and gender discrimination being brought by female employees in the biotech industry.  Attorney Bennett stated that in his experience, there remains an “inaccurate stereotype among leadership, which is predominantly male, that women lack the scientific acumen to either perform the necessary functions of their jobs or to be promoted to a leadership role,” which is oftentimes used as a “pretext for the failure to promote or hire.”

In light of the current publicity concerning widespread sexual harassment by prominent and powerful figures in the entertainment and media industries, we believe that more and more women are realizing not only that it is permissible and personally empowering to  speak out when subjected to sexual harassment and discrimination at their jobs, but that these complaints may very well give others the courage to come forward and may prevent future employees from suffering the severe emotional distress caused by such unacceptable and unlawful behavior.

The Defend Trade Secrets Act Creates New Employer Disclosure Requirements and Whistleblower Rights

Posted on: June 29th, 2016 by admin

Photo_vaultUnder the Defend Trade Secrets Act of 2016 (“DTSA”),  trade secret misappropriation is now an issue of federal law.  This federal statute takes a field which was once nearly the exclusive domain of state law and adds a number of significant new rights for entrepreneurs seeking to preserve the secrets of their success – and for whistleblowing employees who report trade secret theft to the government.

DTSA Prohibitions And New Remedies.  The DTSA broadly prohibits the misappropriation of trade secrets – a term which includes sensitive financial, business, scientific or technical information.  The owner of the information must take reasonable steps to keep it secret and its secrecy must provide independent economic value to the owner.  State laws are not preempted by the DTSA, so the particular nuances of Massachusetts law regulating trade secrets Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 93, § 42 and Mass. Gen. Laws Ann. ch. 93A, §§ 1 to 11 still apply.  The DTSA creates an additional federal cause of action which may be in filed in federal court.  Not only does the DTSA allow the victim of trade secret misappropriation recovery of double damages and attorney fees, but in some exigent circumstances the law provides for a procedure to secure court ordered seizure of trade secret data in order to avert irreparable harm and preserve a matter for judicial review.

Employer’s Notice Requirement Under The DTSA.  The DTSA requires employers give employees, independent contractors and consultants notice of their qualified right to disclose trade secrets when done as a whistleblower reporting other violations of law.  Employers are obligated to give such notice “in any contract or agreement with an employee that governs the use of a trade secret or other confidential information,” – an obligation which likely calls for updates to employment contracts, confidentiality agreements, and many employment policy handbooks.  Failure to make this disclosure bars an employer from collecting exemplary damages or attorney’s fees under the DTSA from an employee who steals trade secrets – and may in itself be the basis for a violation of the DTSA.

Whistleblower Rights Under the DTSA.  The DTSA protects whistleblowers who confidentially disclose trade secrets to a federal, state or local government official where such disclosure is solely for the purpose of reporting or investigating a suspected violation of law.  Under the DTSA, qualifying whistleblowers are immune from civil or criminal liability under both federal and state trade secret law.  Furthermore, an employer may not retaliate against an individual for reporting suspected violations of the DTSA.  If an employer retaliates against an employee who is a legitimate DTSA whistleblower, it faces civil liability to the employee for its unlawful employment actions.

The attorneys at Bennett & Belfort, P.C. are pleased to advise you relative to the implementation of the new trade secret rules which protect businesses and whistleblowers.  Should you have any questions on this or any other trade secret legislation, please feel free to contact Bennett & Belfort P.C.

BENNETT & BELFORT WELCOMES ATTORNEY CRAIG LEVEY TO FIRM

Posted on: June 13th, 2016 by admin

 

 

Levey Craig (2)

Bennett & Belfort, P.C. is pleased to announce that Attorney Craig Levey has joined the firm.  Mr. Levey focuses his practice on employment and business matters, representing both individuals and companies.  He litigates claims of discrimination, sexual harassment, retaliation, and wage & hour disputes, as well as partnership and fiduciary duty issues.  Mr. Levey also drafts, reviews, and negotiates non-competition, non-solicitation, and severance agreements, and routinely counsels companies on all facets of the employer-employee relationship, including the drafting and implementation of company policies, procedures, and employee handbooks.

Mr. Levey has experience in a wide variety of cases in Federal, Superior, and District courts, and before administrative tribunals, including the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, Department of Unemployment Assistance, and the Division of Administrative Law Appeals.

Commenting on the move, Mr. Levey said, “Bennett & Belfort offers a creative and collaborative environment to work, which is the perfect platform for me to grow my practice.  I am excited to join such a strong and determined team of attorneys, and I look forward to continuing the firm’s tradition of delivering top-notch service to its clients.”

Mr. Levey is a former associate attorney at Looney & Grossman, LLP and Davis, Malm & D’Agostine, P.C. in Boston.

Attorneys Belfort and Amundson Present at Hobart and William Smith Colleges Networking Event

Posted on: June 26th, 2015 by admin

HWS Dave & SarahOn June 17, 2015, Bennett & Belfort partner, David E. Belfort and associate, Sarah E. Amundson, co-lectured a presentation entitled “Employment Law:  Primer and Pitfalls” for their alma mater Hobart and William Smith Colleges‘ Professional Networking Group. The discussion constituted a broad introduction to Massachusetts employment law and covered topics such as at-will employment, employee privacy, and the Wage Act.  The event was held at the offices of Moors & Cabot at 200 Devonshire Street, Boston. 

HWS

Belfort Speaks on Employment Issues at Seminar for Attorneys Starting Law Firms

Posted on: June 3rd, 2015 by admin

MBA

Bennett & Belfort, P.C. partner David E. Belfort served as invited faculty for the May 29, 2015 Massachusetts Bar Association legal education conference How to Start and Run a Successful Solo or Small Firm Practice.  Mr. Belfort focused his presentation on practical employment law tips for those forming new law firms.  He discussed employment law basics in the context of Massachusetts law governing personnel management, employment policies (including sexual harassment and privacy), hiring, firing and traps for the unwary.

TODD BENNETT CO-PRESENTS AT MASSACHUSETTS BAR ASSOCIATION LEGAL LUNCH SERIES ON TAKING AND DEFENDING DEPOSITIONS

Posted on: February 2nd, 2015 by admin

Deposition Up CloseOn Wednesday, January 21, 2015,  Partner, Todd J. Bennett, joined colleague Scott Heidorn of Bergstresser & Pollock P.C., to speak about taking and defending depositions for the Massachusetts Bar Association’s “Feed Your Mind: Legal Lunch Series.”  The monthly lunch series, hosted by the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Civil Litigation Section and Young Lawyers Division, provides civil litigators of all experience levels with an opportunity to discuss selected areas of law and exchange ideas in a collegial setting.  Attorney Bennett and Attorney Heidorn co-led a lively, informative conversation on such topics as the rules on taking and defending depositions; how to prepare deposition questions;  the proper ways to put forth objections and respond to improper objections from opposing counsel; and the merits of different styles of questioning.

 

Bennett & Belfort, P.C. Attorneys Secure Verdict of Nearly $500,000 in Superior Court Business Litigation dispute.

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by admin

Attorneys Eric LeBlanc and Todd Bennett recently secured a verdict of nearly $500,000 in a business litigation dispute involving shareholders of a closely held corporation. The Bennett & Belfort, P.C. trial team represented Peter Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. As outlined in an 18 page written opinion, the Hon. Justice Cornetta rendered a verdict in favor of both Mr. Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. on all counts.

This complex business litigation matter involved claims of breach of fiduciary duty and a shareholder derivative action. In addition to their success on all affirmative counts, the court issued judgment for Mr. Trowt and Beverly Storage & Trailer Leasing, Inc. on all counterclaims and third party claims brought against them by shareholder, Richard Silva. Trowt v. Silva, et al. (Lawyers Weekly No. 12-119-14) (18 pages) (Cornetta, J.) (Essex Superior Court) (Civil Action No. 2011-01279) (Oct. 31, 2014). 

Attorneys LeBlanc and Bennett successfully prosecuted individual claims on behalf of Mr. Trowt against Mr. Silva, for breach of fiduciary duty through the introduction of evidence of self-dealing, diversion of corporate opportunity and personal use of corporate resources by Mr. Silva. Bennett and Belfort, P.C. also prevailed on behalf of the shareholder derivative action on behalf of the corporate entity, Beverly Storage& Trailer Leasing, Inc. The Court not only found that Mr. Silva flagrantly violated his fiduciary duties to Mr. Trowt, but also that Mr. Silva improperly siphoned money out of Beverly Storage& Trailer Leasing, Inc., depriving the corporation of capital without a legitimate business purpose.

You can read more about the case in the latest edition of Lawyer’s Weekly.

COURT FINDS THAT AN ELECTRONICALLY SIGNED AGREEMENT PERFECTS A MECHANIC’S LIEN

Posted on: August 29th, 2014 by admin

ABC In a case that modernizes the Massachusetts mechanics’ lien statute, M.G.L. c. 254 et seq., Bennett & Belfort Attorney Eric LeBlanc successfully argued that electronic signatures satisfy the mechanics’ lien statute’s “written contract” requirement.  In the recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision Clean Properties, Inc. v. Riselli, the Middlesex Superior Court decided that “[n]othing in the mechanics’ lien statute requires a physical signature…on a piece of paper rather than an acceptance of written contract terms by an electronic signature that is conveyed by email.” (C.A. No. 2014-04742) (Salinger, J.)

In Clean Properties, it is alleged that Defendant, Carol Riselli, was provided with a written proposed contract by Clean Properties, Inc., an environmental services company, to perform environmental cleanup work on an emergency basis at Riselli’s property.  Riselli apparently responded via email, stating that she agreed to the terms of the contract.  After Clean Properties performed substantial work on the property, it is claimed Riselli failed to make a single payment.  Clean Properties placed a mechanics’ lien on Riselli’s property, and initiated litigation to recover payment for its services.  Riselli attempted to dissolve the mechanics’ lien, claiming that because there was no signed, written agreement, the “written contract” requirement of the mechanics’ lien statute was not satisfied. The Court disagreed.

Defendant unsuccessfully argued that “no written contract was ever formed because neither party affixed a handwritten signature to a paper form of the contract.”  However, the Court appears to have been persuaded by the plain meaning of the Massachusetts Uniform Electronic Transactions Act (“MUETA”), M.G.L. 110G et seq., which provides that an electronic record or acceptance by email results in a binding contract, and satisfies the statutory requirements of a “written contract.”   The MUETA defines an electronic record as, “a record created, generated, sent, communicated, received or stored by electronic means,” and does not require a physical signature for it to be enforced.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth W. Salinger agreed and found on these facts that the email Riselli sent to Clean Properties, Inc., which contained her name in the signature block, and expressed her assent to be bound by the deal, formed a binding electronic record under the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act.

The Clean Properties, Inc. v. Riselli decision is further evidence that the law is evolving to meet the pervasive use of new technology in business and society at large.  In light of today’s wide use of electronic communications, this precedent adds clarity that both businesses and individuals can rely upon.  The decision underscores that even in our rapidly evolving world of tweets, face book and electronic mail, the old adage coined by William Penn still holds true: “Rarely promise, but, if lawful, constantly perform.”

Company That Fails to Safeguard Information Cannot Hold Contractor Liable for Stealing It

Posted on: February 14th, 2014 by admin

15286003-confidential-stampA recent Massachusetts Superior Court decision underscores the importance of being proactive when it comes to protecting trade secrets.  The Plaintiff, C.R.T.R., Inc., filed suit for misappropriation of trade secrets against an independent contractor who took customer lists, accounting records, and other sensitive information with him when his contract ended.  However, the Court granted judgment in favor of the Defendant and dismissed the case.

Although customer lists and financial data are typically considered confidential, Massachusetts Courts will not find a defendant liable for misappropriation unless the plaintiff can show it took sufficient measures to protect the information.  In this case (C.R.T.R., Inc. v. Lao), the Court held that the Plaintiff did not do enough to safeguard its information.  The company did not require the contractor to sign a confidentiality agreement; it had no policies concerning trade secrets or confidential information; and the customer lists were freely available through its computer system.  In addition, some of the company’s customers were publicly identified on its website.

The moral of the story, is that a business cannot hold someone liable for stealing their confidential information if the business did not treat the information like it was confidential before it was stolen or otherwise misappropriated.  There are a variety of methods for safeguarding trade secrets and other confidential information, depending upon the nature of the business and specific information to be protected.  In light of the legal framework, it is prudent to take a proactive approach to shielding sensitive information.