IBM Sued for Age Discrimination After Thousands of Older Workers Laid Off

IBM sign

Image by Patrick

USA Today reports that a class-action lawsuit was filed Monday against IBM on behalf of three former employees alleging age discrimination.

Reporter Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy explains: “The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs are among thousands of IBM employees to be laid off recently as the result of a shift in IBM’s focus to recruit millennials ‘in order to make the face of IBM younger, while at the same time pushing out older employees.'”

“IBM has discriminated, and continues to discriminate, against its older workers, both by laying them off disproportionately to younger workers and by not hiring them for open positions,” the lawsuit alleges.

The three name plaintiffs are 55, 59 and 67, and have worked for IBM for periods ranging from 15 to 34 years.

Read the USA Today article.



West Mermis Co-Founders Earn National Recognition

Lawrence J. West and Joshua W. Mermis, co-founders of the Houston-based litigation boutique West Mermis PLLC, have both been named to the 2019 listing of The Best Lawyers in America as well as the 2018 listing of Super Lawyers by Thomson Reuters.

West and Mermis have been recognized for two consecutive years by Best Lawyers for their work in construction litigation.

In addition to this year’s Super Lawyers recognition, West has been named to the Texas Super Lawyers list each year since 2014.

Mermis was first recognized in 2017, after earning appearances on the companion Texas Rising Stars list from 2010-2011 and again from 2014-2016.

Read about the awards.



‘Outrageously Excessive’ Requests for Attorney Fees Can Be Altogether Denied, 3rd Circuit Says

Money - cash

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A federal appeals court has upheld a federal judge’s decision to deny as “grossly excessive” a request for more than $900,000 in attorney fees based on a $100,000 punitive award, reports the ABA Journal.

The Philadelphia-based 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, found that, when a request under a fee-shifting statute is “outrageously excessive,” a judge may deny the award altogether if the statute gives the judge discretion in awarding fees.

Journal reporter Debra Cassens Weiss explains:

Lawyers seeking the fees had admittedly tasked one lawyer with recreating time records that included vague descriptions and excessive hours, the appeals court said. Sixty-four hours were billed for “transcripts/clips” and 562 hours were billed to prepare for a week-long trial. There were only five witnesses for both sides.

Read the ABA Journal article.



State Supreme Courts Increasingly Face Partisan Impeachment Threats

Courthouse - bankAttacks on judicial independence are becoming more frequent and more partisan, according to a Governing report.

Reporter Alan Greenblatt explains, that “while ‘threats of this nature have been going on for years,’ says William Raftery of the National Center for State Courts, articles of impeachment are now being filed more often and for more reasons. Over the past decade or so, judges have become targets of criticism not only from politicians but cable talk-show hosts. In the past, grounds for impeachment have typically been treason, high crimes or malfeasance. That’s changing. These days, lawmakers’ partisan disapproval of rulings appears to be a strong motivator for ousting judges.”

Read the Governing report.




SEC Says Biotech Billionaire CEO Took Part in Pump-and-Dump Schemes

Economy - stock exchangeA biotechnology billionaire faces charges from the Securities and Exchange Commission of being part of pump-and-dump schemes that netted $27 million and left retail investors holding the bag, reports MedCity News.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court in New York, the SEC alleged OPKO Health chairman and CEO Phillip Frost took part in three pump-and-dump schemes between 2013 and 2018.

Reporter Alaric Dearment explains that the complaint alleges that Frost was involved in schemes to promote the stock of some companies on the crowd-sourced investment content site Seeking Alpha, on which articles would appear promoting their shares and touting Frost’s involvement in the companies. After the stock prices were pumped up, the defendants would sell it off, the SEC alleges.

Read the MedCity article.




MGM to Shooting Survivors: $500 Donation to Charity If They Waive Notice of Suit

The Associated Press is reporting that MGM Resorts International drew criticism Tuesday for saying hundreds of survivors of the Las Vegas mass shooting, who are being sued by the casino operator, could opt to have the money that will be used to serve them a lawsuit instead donated to a charity.

The company, which sued more than 1,900 victims of the Oct. 1 mass shooting, has been working to notify them as it faces a standard 90-day deadline, explains AP reporter Regina Garcia Cano.

Attorney Robert Eglet, part of a group representing most of the victims, said the company is just trying to “spin” its attempt to save money on serving legal notices, Cano writes.

Read the AP article.



Brett Kavanaugh’s Expert Evasions, Learned From Past Masters

Judge Brett Kavanaugh

In the midst of the discord surrounding his confirmation hearings, Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh was a placid presence. Even as he deflected most questions about legal issues, he was quick to say he was alert to the real-world consequences of his rulings, reports The New York Times.

“He gave the same answers countless times, explaining, for instance, that Roe v. Wade had in 1973 established a constitutional right to abortion and that the Supreme Court had repeatedly reaffirmed it, notably in 1992,” writes Adam Liptak. “But he would not say whether he was prepared to overrule it.”

“The Democrats made a fairly strong case that Judge Kavanaugh is very partisan and loyal to the president,” said Paul M. Collins Jr., a political scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. “The nominee’s refusal to criticize the president in his attacks against the judicial branch didn’t help his case.”

Read the NY Times article.



Roy Moore Sues Sacha Baron Cohen for $95M Over ‘Who Is America?’ Appearance

Sacha Baron Cohen is being sued for defamation by Roy Moore over his appearance on the actor’s controversial Showtime series — and the embattled former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice is seeking $95 million in damages, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

“Cohen, as the character Erran Morad, interviewed the judge and demonstrated a fictional device meant to detect pedophiles — a reference to Moore’s alleged sexual misconduct with an underage girl that surface during his failed campaign for Alabama’s U.S. Senate seat,” writes reporter Ashley Cullins.

Moore’s complaint claims he was deceived and was defamed by “the false and fraudulent routine.”

Read The Hollywood Reporter article.



Litigator Marlén Cortez Morris Joins Barnes & Thornburg in Chicago

Barnes & Thornburg has added Marlén Cortez Morris as a partner in the Litigation Department. Cortez Morris, who was previously at Cheng Cohen LLC, is the ninth partner to join the firm’s Chicago office in 2018.

The firm said Cortez Morris represents and advises clients on franchise, labor and employment, and commercial litigation matters in courts and alternative dispute resolution venues, and before government agencies across the country. She litigates complex matters from inception through appeal. Her deep litigation experience includes the enforcement of contract and intellectual property rights, as well as the defense of claims for breach of contract, business torts, violations of franchise registration and relationship laws, state consumer protection violations, and vicarious and joint employment liability.

On the labor and employment side, she defends franchisors and employers against wage and hour class and collective actions and claims for wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment, and retaliation arising under federal, state and local laws. In addition, she has enforced non-competes, litigated unemployment compensation benefits claims up to appeal, and represented management in traditional labor disputes. Cortez Morris also works with complex compliance strategies and best practices for litigation prevention.

“Marlén is a great addition to our team,” said William McErlean, chair of Barnes & Thornburg’s Litigation Department. “From successfully representing franchisors in litigation, arbitration, and regulatory matters to advising franchisors on unique employment issues in that industry, Marlén’s diverse experience will be invaluable to clients who become embroiled in these complex issues.”

Cortez Morris is a member of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Franchising and Section of Labor and Employment Law, the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, the Hispanic National Bar Association, and the International Franchise Association (IFA). She serves on the IFA’s Diversity Institute Board, frequently speaks and writes on employment and franchise law topics, and is an editor of the ABA’s Franchise Law Journal.

Mark Rust, managing partner of Barnes & Thornburg’s Chicago office, added: “The genuine care that Marlén exhibits toward her clients and the sterling reputation she has earned in the local legal community make her a terrific addition to our growing office. We’re thrilled to have her on board.”

Cortez Morris earned her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Illinois College of Law, where she was an associate editor of the University of Illinois Law Review and received the Rickert Award for Excellence in Advocacy, and her B.S., with honors, magna cum laude, from the University of Tampa.



State Farm Ducks Racketeering Trial With $250 Million Accord

State Farm agreed to pay $250 million on the brink of a trial to customers who claimed the company tried to rig the Illinois justice system to wipe out a $1 billion jury verdict from 19 years ago, Bloomberg reports.

“The customers were seeking as much as $8.5 billion in damages in a civil racketeering trial that was set to start Tuesday in federal court in East St. Louis, Illinois. A judge granted preliminary approval to the accord and set a final fairness hearing for December,” according to the report.

Policyholders had accused the company of leading an effort to recruit a judge friendly to its cause for the Illinois Supreme Court, secretly funding Judge Lloyd Karmeier’s 2004 election campaign by funneling money through advocacy groups that didn’t disclose donors. Under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, any damages would have been tripled.

Read the Bloomberg article.



Warren Burns Appointed Interim Lead Counsel in Online Price-Fixing Class Action

A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas has appointed Warren Burns of Dallas-based Burns Charest LLP as sole interim lead class counsel in a nationwide antitrust class action. The litigation alleges a conspiracy by online retailers, including Houston-based Zaapaaz, to fix prices for customized silicone wristbands and lanyards.

In 2017 the defendants in the class action pleaded guilty to a range of federal charges of price-fixing in violation of Section 1 of The Sherman Act.

In appointing Burns as sole interim lead counsel, the court explained:

This appointment is warranted for several reasons. First, at oral argument, Mr. Burns was the only counsel who offered the Court substantive, detailed explanations on how he structures and runs his large case litigation teams.

Of particular note were Mr. Burns’ explanations of his and his firms’ billing practices in prior class action litigation, and his representations that he will use those practices, such as not permitting billing for file and correspondence review, and other mechanisms to ensure efficient prosecution of this case.

Second, the balance of the Rule 23(g) factors support appointment of Mr. Burns and Burns Charest as sole interim lead counsel. Burns Charest has made extensive efforts in these matters to date, Mr. Burns and his firm have significant experience in antirust class actions, and he and his firm have knowledge of the applicable law.

The court concluded that “Burns Charest is uniquely positioned to prosecute this case in the most cost effective and efficient manner possible.”

The case is Kjessler v. Zaappaaz, Inc. et al., Case No. 4:17-cv-3064 (S.D. Tex).



NBC News Faces New Accusations Its GC Threatened Reporter Over Weinstein Reporting

Harvey Weinstein

Image by David Shankbone

NBC News’ handling of allegations of sexual harassment against powerful men is once again under scrutiny over its alleged failing to follow through on a credible probe of accusations levied against Harvey Weinstein, according to Variety.

The magazine’s latest article on the controversy also refers to a Daily Beast report alleging that NBC News general counsel Susan Weiner made multiple phone calls to the reporter, Ronan Farrow, threatening to smear him if he continued his reporting on Weinstein.

“This is a ridiculous claim by all measures. Susan is a person of tremendous integrity, is respected by all her peers and would never, ever threaten someone,” said an NBC News spokesperson.

Much of the criticism comes from  Rich McHugh,  the NBC News former supervising producer of investigative reporting.

Read the Variety article.





Senate Confirms Trump ‘Not Qualified’ Nominee and Obama Pick

The Senate reached a deal Tuesday to swiftly confirm seven federal district court judges, helping President Donald Trump put an enduring stamp on the U.S. judiciary, reports Bloomberg.

One of the Trump nominees, Charles Barnes Goodwin in the Western District of Oklahoma, had been rated “not qualified” by the American Bar Association. Goodwin’s “work habits, including his frequent absence from the courthouse until mid-afternoon,” raised doubts among a majority of the members of the ABA Standing Committee on the Federal Judiciary.

Susan Paradise Baxter, whom President Barack Obama also nominated but who was stalled by the Republican-controlled Senate, was confirmed to the Western District of Pennsylvania.

The Senate is scheduled to vote on a second failed Obama nominee to the same court, Marilyn Jean Horan, along with seven other district court nominees, “at a time to be determined next week.”

Read the Bloomberg article.




Former Barnes & Noble CEO Sues Over His Firing

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Demos Parneros, former CEO of Barnes & Noble, is suing the bookseller in federal court over his firing last month.

CNN reports that Parneros says in the complaint that Barnes & Noble fired him without cause and “irrevocably damaged” his reputation.

Julia Horowitz writes that the suit alleges breach of contract and defamation and asks for severance, lost wages and other damages. The lawsuit says he was not paid severance due under his contract and was removed from the board immediately, after serving as chief executive since April 2017.

Parneros also complained that a Barnes & Noble press releaseon his termination included language that it “knew full well was false but would be read as reporting that Parneros had engaged in serious sexual misconduct.”

Read the CNN article.




6th Circuit Tosses Contempt Order for Lawyer Arrested For Missing Court; ‘Embattled’ Judge Presided

The ABA Journal reports that a Cleveland lawyer who was arrested and held in contempt after missing a show-cause hearing will get a new chance to make his case before a different federal judge.

U.S. District Judge John Adams of Akron had ordered the arrest of Brent English after the lawyer didn’t appear for an Oct. 29, 2015, hearing to show cause why he shouldn’t be held in contempt for missing a prior court date on Oct. 21. Federal marshals delivered English to Adams’ courtroom and the judge held a hearing. Adams found English in contempt and fined him $500, writes Debra Cassens Weiss.

The appeals court said in its Aug. 23 decision that Adams had used the wrong standard to judge what amounted to a criminal contempt case against English.

Read the ABA Journal article.



‘Evasive Discovery Tactics’ Cost Lead Plaintiff Against Sanofi

Bloomberg Law reports that a plaintiff in a bellwether products liability case involving the chemotherapy drug Taxotere was sanctioned for withholding information about her medical history.

Plaintiffs in the case claim Sanofi-Aventis U.S. LLC failed to warn patients that Taxotere could cause permanent hair loss.

Reporter Michael Greene explains: “Dr. Kelly Gahan, a bellwether plaintiff in the multidistrict litigation, used evasive discovery tactics to avoid revealing information about medical treatment she had received, Judge Jane Triche Milazzo, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, said.”

Gahan did not reveal all the physicians who provided treatments to her over an eight-year period and whether she used any over the-the-counter medications. Now she must pay Sanofi expenses and attorneys’ fees incurred in obtaining the records.

Read the Bloomberg Law article.



7th Circuit Tosses $3M Verdict in Suit Blaming Antidepressant Labeling for Biglaw Partner’s Suicide

The ABA Journal reports that a federal appeals court has overturned a $3 million award to the widow of a Reed Smith partner who blamed antidepressant labeling for her husband’s suicide.

“The Chicago-based 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday against the widow, Wendy Dolin, in an appeal by GlaxoSmithKline, the maker of the antidepressant Paxil. Dolin’s husband, Reed Smith partner Stewart Dolin, was taking paroxetine, a generic version of Paxil, when he committed suicide in 2010,” writes reporter Debra Cassens Weiss.

Dolin’s widow had maintained the drug labels should have warned of an increased suicide risk, but the court found that the wording on the drug labels was mandated by the Food and Drug Administration, and Dolin’s labeling claim under Illinois law was pre-empted by federal law.

GSK countered that Stewart Dolin committed suicide because of job concerns. He had been a partner at Sachnoff & Weaver before it was acquired by Reed Smith in 2007. He was named chair of Reed Smith’s corporate and securities group, before becoming co-chair along with another lawyer in 2010, the ABA Journal reports.

Read the ABA Journal article.



Judge Slashes Attorneys’ Fees in Anthem Data Breach Settlement

A federal judge slashed attorneys’ fees in a $115 million data breach case settlement between Anthem Inc. and its customers, according to Bloomberg Law.

“The Aug. 16 ruling by Judge Lucy Koh of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California closes the long-running lawsuit against Anthem. The case stemmed from a 2015 breach that exposed Social Security numbers, birth dates, and health-care data of 78.8 million customers,” explains reporter Daniel R. Stoller.

The judge ruled that attorneys for the class action plaintiffs are entitled to $31 million in fees, $2 million in expenses, and $132,000 for other operation costs. Class attorneys had requested $37.95 million in fees, or roughly one-third of the total settlement fund, which Koh approved Aug. 15.

Read the Bloomberg Law article.



Jury Awards Family $242 Million After Finding Toyota Liable for Children’s Injuries in Crash

A Dallas County jury awarded more than $242 million to a family after finding that manufacturer defects in their Lexus ES 300 caused their children to suffer serious and permanent injuries during a rear-end collision in 2016, reports The Dallas Morning News.

The jury found that the front seats of Benjamin and Kristi Reavis’ 2002 Lexus ES 300 were, as the plaintiffs argued, “unreasonably dangerous.” And the company didn’t warn the family about that danger, which amounted to gross negligence, jurors agreed. Their verdict included more than $143.6 million in punitive damages.

The family’s legal team presented evidence they said showed engineering, design and structural issues with the front seat backs of the vehicle, according to reporter Marc Ramirez.

“This is a danger that Toyota has known about,” attorney Frank Branson said in a press release, representing the family. “This company has had plenty of time to design around these safety shortcomings.”

Read the Dallas News article.



Lawyer’s Alleged Misconduct Gets Her Jury Verdict Tossed as Sanction

Bloomberg Law reports that a federal appeals court has ruled that a district court had the right to toss a jury verdict as a sanction because of the severity of a lawyer’s “continuous, contumacious” conduct.

The trial court had set aside a plaintiff’s verdict in an excessive-force claim against a Chicago police officer by entering judgment for defendants based on misconduct by plaintiff’s lawyer, Dana L. Kurtz.

The trial judge outlined the misconduct that led to the sanction, including the eliciting of barred testimony, witness misconduct and lack of preparation, lack of candor, and destruction of evidence.

Read the Bloomberg Law article.