In recent months, sexual harassment allegations against well-known figures across a growing number of industries have become a common feature in news headlines. In the wake of these allegations, many companies have concluded that their current policies and procedures related to sexual harassment and discrimination are inadequate. Against the backdrop of this rapidly evolving landscape,
In recent years, shareholder plaintiffs have brought a series of claims before the Delaware Court of Chancery alleging that directors of Delaware companies have abused their discretion in granting themselves excessive equity compensation for their board service. These cases raised the threshold question of whether the plaintiffs’ challenges should be reviewed under the “entire fairness” standard, which requires the company to bear the burden of proving that the director awards were fair, or the more deferential “business judgment” standard, which grants considerable discretion to directors’ decisions, often resulting in dismissal of claims that fail to plead particularized facts indicating fiduciary lapses by the directors.
Continue Reading New Year’s Resolutions For Director Compensation From Investors Bancorp
On November 1 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) released guidance (Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14I (“SLB 14I”)) clarifying the scope and application of the ordinary business and economic relevance grounds for excluding a shareholder proposal under Rule 14a-8 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended (the “Exchange Act”) from a company’s proxy statement. On November 20, Apple Inc. became the first corporation to attempt to use this guidance in a request for no-action relief from the staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance (the “Staff”), in response to governance activist Jing Zhou’s proposal that Apple create a board committee focused on human rights (the “Proposal”). On December 21, 2017, the Staff responded, denying Apple’s request to exclude the Proposal from its proxy materials.
Continue Reading Apple’s Unsuccessful Test of the SEC’s Recent Guidance on Shareholder Proposals
On September 21, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) issued helpful guidance to assist companies in complying with the CEO/median employee pay ratio disclosure requirement (the “Rule”) under Section 953(b) of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act and Item 402(u) of Regulation S-K. The guidance also addresses the issue of SEC…
Questions for Boards and Management
On April 10, 2017 Wells Fargo released the independent directors’ report on sales practices at its community bank. While the report covers familiar elements of the widely-publicized accounts-creation problems at the bank, it also takes an inside look at the organization to determine what caused the problems in the first place and what allowed them to persist for years before last fall’s regulatory enforcement actions. The report cites the following as principal causes:
Continue Reading With the Benefit of Hindsight: The Wells Fargo Sales Practices Investigation Report
Earlier this month, following three hours of deliberation, a California federal jury found that Bio-Rad Laboratories, Inc. had violated the federal whistleblower provisions by unlawfully firing Sanford Wadler, its former general counsel, and awarded Wadler nearly $11 million in damages. Wadler had sued his former company under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, the Dodd-Frank Act and California state law, asserting that he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for investigating and reporting to senior management potential violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (“FCPA”) in China. The pre-trial proceedings and three-week trial involved several whistleblower-friendly rulings that promise to generate additional litigation. Those legal determinations, as well as the jury’s prompt finding of liability and imposition of a substantial award in the face of an aggressive corporate defense, bring to the forefront significant issues relevant to public companies, directors and other corporate stakeholders – not the least of which is the precedent of a general counsel in the role of whistleblower.
Continue Reading Jury Awards Ousted General Counsel Nearly $11 Million in Whistleblower Retaliation Action – Key Takeaways
President Trump has repeatedly used his Twitter account to single out companies for criticism of their business practices, raising the question for a broad range of public companies of how to prepare for and potentially respond to such criticism. Of course, rhetorical attempts by politicians to influence the conduct of private enterprise – commonly referred…
Cleary Gottlieb and PwC’s Governance Insights Center have teamed up to create the Executive Compensation Series, which looks at the factors motivating boards to increasingly engage with shareholders about executive compensation. The first edition of the series is now available and discusses issues such as the impact of Dodd-Frank on executive compensation, elements of effective CD&A design and the influence of proxy advisors on compensation.
Continue Reading Boards, Shareholders and Executive Pay
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation’s (the “PBGC”) widely reported recent settlement agreement with The Renco Group, Inc. (“Renco”) illustrates the risks inherent in pursuing certain transactions where underfunded pensions are present. Among the highlighted risks is the potential for the joint and several liability provisions of federal pension law to enable the PBGC to reach for assets unrelated to a pension plan sponsor’s business, including personal assets of controlling persons, to satisfy underfunded pension claims.
Based on published reports, the Renco settlement, after a trial but before a decision was handed down by the Federal court in New York, is unusual in three respects. First, the PBGC returned the plans at issue to Renco – that is, “restored” the plans – rather than negotiating for Renco or an affiliate to make payments to improve the plans’ funded status. Second, the situation involves a rare instance in which the PBGC has pursued a litigation on the basis of a claim under Section 4069 of ERISA, the anti-evasion section of the pension termination provisions of ERISA. Third, the PBGC used the controlled group joint and several liability provisions of ERISA to assert claims against entities that are not involved in the steel business but that are controlled by Renco and its controlling shareholder Ira Rennert. While the PBGC has on many occasions used the controlled group liability provisions of ERISA to reach controlled group affiliates that are in separate lines of business from the plan sponsor, the facts in Renco are reminiscent of the PBGC’s lengthy fight with Carl Icahn beginning in the early 1990’s over responsibility for TWA’s underfunded pension obligations.
Continue Reading PBGC-Renco Settlement Highlights Risk and Reach of ERISA’s Pension Underfunding Joint and Several Liability Provisions
The Delaware Court of Chancery’s recently published opinion in Amalgamated Bank v. Yahoo!, Inc. (the “Opinion”) provides a reminder for directors about the importance of process in satisfying fiduciary duties when evaluating and approving executive compensation packages. In the Opinion, which deals with Amalgamated’s demand under Section 220 of the Delaware General Corporation Law to inspect certain books and records of Yahoo! in connection with the hiring and firing of its Chief Operating Officer, Vice Chancellor Laster discusses practices that should be routine in a board’s review of executive compensation proposals and highlights procedural pitfalls that have been noted in numerous Delaware law decisions dating back at least to the series of cases involving compensation practices at Disney beginning more than a decade ago.
Continue Reading Delaware Court of Chancery Offers Practical Lessons for Compensation Committees