As I have previously noted (most recently here), something of an anti-ESG backlash has started to take shape, at least in certain quarters. Legislatures in several states have passed legislation prohibiting state pension funds from investing in ESG- focused investments or prohibiting the state from doing business with companies that boycott certain industries. The backlash has also taken the form of litigation, as, for example, with respect to the lawsuit recently filed against Starbucks board pertaining to the company’s diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative (DEI).

As Alison Frankel discusses in an October 26, 2022 post on her On the Case blog (here), and in the latest manifestation of this kind of anti-ESG litigation, a nonprofit group has filed an action against the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer based on the company’s sponsorship of a foundation offering fellowships aimed at Black, Latino, Native American and other minority candidates. This latest lawsuit is yet another indication that the companies that get caught up in ESG litigation may the companies taking ESG initiatives, perhaps more so that ESG laggards.
Continue Reading Suits Targeting Firms Seeking to Boost Minorities Highlight ESG Risks

In prior posts on this site (for example here), I have expressed my concern that the current hot topic of ESG has a fundamental underlying flaw in that the term lacks definition and that this lack of precision has led to a great deal of sloppy thinking. A recent post on the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance provides a good examination of these ESG-related concerns. In an October 14, 2022 post (here), Douglas Chia of Soundboard Governance LLC, shows, using cybersecurity as an example, that one of the “biggest flaws” of ESG is “the subjective open-endedness of what counts as E, S, or G.”
Continue Reading ESG’s “Biggest Risk”?

In my recently published survey of the top topics in the world of directors’ and officers’ liability and insurance, and in connection with my discussion of ESG issues, I briefly mentioned the lawsuit that was filed last week against directors and officers of Starbucks in connection with the company’s “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion” (DEI) policies. Because there are a number of notable aspects of this lawsuit, it is worth taking a closer look at the suit. As discussed below, the lawsuit represents yet another instance of anti-ESG backlash and illustrates how companies taking the initiative on ESG issues could incur scrutiny and litigation risk. A copy of the recent complaint can be found here and a copy of the plaintiff’s August 31, 2022 press release can be found here.
Continue Reading Starbucks Execs Hit With Suit Alleging the Company’s DEI Policies Violate Civil Rights Laws

In a recent post, I noted that while companies may face investor and regulator pressure to address ESG-related issues, ESG-related actions can also entail operational and financial risks — and litigation risks, as well. In the latest example of a company whose ESG-motivated actions went awry, leading to securities litigation, Wells Fargo has been sued in a securities class action lawsuit after media reports that its efforts to diversify its work force led to fake job interviews, allegedly contrary to the company’s disclosures concerning its diversity efforts. A copy of the June 28, 2022 complaint against Wells Fargo can be found here.
Continue Reading Another Example of ESG-Related Actions Leading to a Securities Lawsuit

As readers of this blog know, the various board diversity lawsuits that the plaintiffs’ lawyers filed in late 2020 and early 2021 have uniformly fared poorly in the courts. In the latest dismissal motion ruling in one of these suits, the court in the board diversity suit filed against the directors of Cisco Systems has granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, albeit without prejudice. The court’s ruling in the Cisco Systems board diversity suit is noteworthy because the court addressed the merits of the plaintiff’s Section 14(a) claims. A copy of the court’s March 1, 2022 dismissal order can be found here.
Continue Reading Board Diversity Suit Against Cisco Systems’ Directors Dismissed