In a shareholder claim against the former global head of HR at McDonald’s, the Delaware Chancery Court has held that liability for breach of the duty of oversight, which Delaware courts had previously extended only to corporate directors, can also extend to corporate officers, as well. In addition, in a separate part of the opinion that may not gain as much attention as the duty of oversight ruling, the same court also held that a breach of fiduciary duty claim can be alleged against an officer based on sexual harassment allegations. The court’s January 25, 2023 opinion in this case, a copy of which can be found here, is likely to be the subject of scrutiny, commentary, and controversy.
Over the last several years and In the wake of the #MeToo movement, plaintiff shareholders have filed D&O claims against many companies, as well as against the companies’ executives, involving underlying allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment. The highest profile of these cases to be filed within the last year was the securities class action lawsuit filed against Activision Blizzard and several of its officers based on allegations that the company knew about and failed to disclose governmental investigations of employees’ sexual harassment allegations. In a recent order, the court overseeing the securities suit granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss the complaint, holding that the plaintiffs had failed to sufficiently allege both falsity and scienter. The dismissal was granted without prejudice. The court’s ruling illustrates the difficulty plaintiffs sometimes face in trying to bootstrap underlying sexual misconduct allegations into D&O claims. The Court’s April 18, 2022 order in the case can be found here.
Continue Reading Court Dismisses Activision Blizzard Sexual Harassment-Related Securities Suit
Over the last few years, I have posted numerous items citing examples were sexual misconduct allegations or a hostile workplace environment have led to D&O claims. Many of these kinds of suits followed in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The fact that these kinds of allegations can lead to D&O claims is well understood in the D&O insurance industry. However, I know from recent conversations that some in the industry believe that the risk of these kinds of D&O claims has diminished as the #MeToo movement has evolved. However, recent events at the gaming company Activision Blizzard shows that unfortunately the kinds of underlying allegations that have led to claims are not a thing of the past; as discussed below, Activision Blizzard has now been hit with a securities suit based on underlying sexual misconduct and discrimination allegations.
Continue Reading Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Allegations Lead to Securities Suit
In a derivative lawsuit settlement with one of the highest nominal dollar values ever – and in what is one of the largest #MeToo-related D&O lawsuit settlement ever – Google parent Alphabet has agreed to establish a $310 million diversity, equity, and inclusion fund as part of the settlement of the consolidated derivative litigation relating to the company’s alleged mishandling of sexual harassment allegations against senior executives and the company’s alleged overall culture of sexual discrimination and harassment. The company also agreed to adopt extensive reforms to its employment policies and to implement a number of governance reform measures as part of the settlement. The settlement is subject to court approval.
Continue Reading Alphabet Establishes $310 Million Fund in Google Sexual Misconduct Lawsuit Settlement
In yet another significant #MeToo-related development, the parties to the Signet Jewelers securities class action lawsuit have agreed to settle the case for $240 million. There are a number of interesting features to the settlement, as discussed below; among other things, over $200 million of the settlement amount is to be funded by insurance. The settlement is subject to court approval. The plaintiff’s March 26, 2020 letter to the court regarding the settlement can be found here. The parties’ stipulation of settlement can be found here.
Continue Reading Signet Jewelers Settles #MeToo-Related Securities Suit for $240 Million
Among the numerous companies hit with #MeToo-related management liability lawsuits in the late 2017 to early 2019 time frame was the national pizza restaurant company Papa John’s International Inc. The plaintiffs in the securities class action lawsuit alleged that company founder and former CEO John Schnatter and other executives sexually harassed company employees and cultivated a hostile workplace culture while the company misleadingly touted the Company’s culture and failed to divulge the true conditions to investors. The defendants’ moved to dismiss. In a March 16, 2020 order, Southern District of New York Judge Kimba Wood granted motion to dismiss, with leave to amend. Judge Wood’s order can be found here.
Continue Reading Papa John’s #MeToo-Related Securities Suit Dismissed, For Now
The number of workplace discrimination and harassment charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) during Fiscal Year 2019 (which ended September 30, 2019) declined to the lowest level since at least FY 1997 (the earliest year reported on the agency’s website), according the EEOC’s recent statistical release. The number of charges overall had also declined in the 2018 fiscal year, but in 2018, the number of sexual harassment charges had increased, apparently in response to the #MeToo movement. However, in FY 2019, the number of sexual harassment charges also decreased as part of the overall decrease in the number of charges, suggesting that the impact of the #MeToo movement diminished during the most recent fiscal year. The agency’s January 24, 2020 press release about the charge statistics can be found here. The agency’s enforcement and litigation statistics can be found here.
Continue Reading EEOC Charges Filed in FY 2019 Declined to Lowest Level in Years
The number of workplace discrimination charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission during Fiscal Year 2018 (which ended September 30, 2018) declined to the lowest level since FY 2006, according the EEOC’s recent statistical release. But while the number of charges overall are down, the number of sexual harassment charges increased, as did the number of sexual harassment lawsuits the agency filed. The increase in sexual harassment actions seems to suggest a greater awareness of these issues in the wake of the #MeToo movement. The EEOC’s enforcement and litigation statistics can be found here. The EEOC’s April 10, 2019 press release about the 2018 FY statistics can be found here.
Continue Reading EEOC Charges Overall Down, But Sexual Harassment Charges Increased
In the now more than a year since the #MeToo phenomenon first arose, there have been a number of D&O lawsuits filed against companies and their boards in which the plaintiffs allege that company officials either allowed the alleged sexual misconduct to take place or turned a blind eye. In the latest D&O lawsuits to follow in the wake of allegations of sexual misconduct, two Alphabet shareholders have filed separate derivative lawsuits in California state court against the company’s board based on underlying allegations of alleged sexual misconduct at the company’s Google unit.
Continue Reading Alphabet Board Hit With Derivative Suits Over Alleged Sexual Misconduct at Google
As I have noted in prior posts, one of the noteworthy aspects of the whole #MeToo movement has been that the accountability efforts have included not only claims against the wrongdoers themselves, but also against the wrongdoers’ companies and company executives for enabling the misconduct or turning a blind eye. In the latest of these kinds of sexual misconduct-related lawsuit, a CBS shareholder has filed a securities class action lawsuit against CBS Corporation based on revelations that the company’s CEO, Leslie Moonves, allegedly engaged in sexual harassment at the company. The lawsuit underscores the fact that revelations of sexual misconduct represent an emerging area of corporate liability.
Continue Reading Investor Files Sexual Misconduct-Related Securities Suit Against CBS