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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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In the latest example of a D&O lawsuit arising in the wake of allegations against a corporate executive of sexual misconduct, a shareholder has filed a securities class action lawsuit against National Beverage Corp. and certain of its executives following news reports that the company’s Chairman and CEO allegedly had inappropriately touched company pilots while traveling on the Chairman’s business jet.  (National Beverage manufactures the ubiquitous LaCroix brand mineral water, with which the author of this blog has absolutely no connection.) The complaint, a copy of which can be found here, also contains separate allegations relating to allegedly misleading financial disclosures. This new lawsuit, like the prior D&O lawsuits filed following revelations of sexual misconduct allegations, underscores the fact as corporate executives are called out for alleged misbehavior, the accountability process may extend not only the alleged wrongdoers themselves, but may also extend to their company and other executives.  
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In a May 16, 2018 press release (here), Michigan State University announced that its board of trustees has approved a settlement in which the university agreed to pay MSU doctor Larry Nassar’s sexual assault victims a total of $500 million. There are a number of noteworthy features to this settlement agreement, beyond just its sheer size. Among other things, the school does not yet know for sure how it is going to fund the settlement.
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The fallout from the current wave of revelations sexual misconduct involving media figures, politicians, and corporate executives has included, among other things, a rash of D&O claims – including, for example, claims against the boards of 21st Century Fox and Wynn Resorts. An interesting recent scholarly paper takes a detailed look at D&O claims arising out of allegations of sexual misconduct, examines the potential bases of liability, and considers the relative social utility of this kind of litigation, as well as the practical implications for corporate boards and their organizations. The March 22, 2018 paper by Daniel Hemel and Dorothy Lund of the University of Chicago Law School and entitled “Sexual Harassment and Corporate Law” can be found here. The authors summarize their paper in an April 9, 2018 post on the CLS Blue Sky Law Blog (here).
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