Executive Compensation

On November 22, 2019, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held in Sun Capital Partners III, LP, et al. v. New England Teamsters & Trucking Industry Pension Fund, that two private equity funds, Sun Capital Partners III, LP and Sun Capital Partners IV, LP were not liable for approximately $4.5 million in multiemployer pension

A week after Glass Lewis issued its 2020 proxy voting guidelines,[1] Institutional Shareholder Services (ISS) released its final updates to its 2020 proxy voting policies.  The updated policies will be applied to shareholder meetings beginning on February 1, 2020, and the changes to U.S. polices are summarized below.
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Glass Lewis recently released its 2020 proxy voting guidelines and shareholder initiatives.[1]  The following is a summary of Glass Lewis’ proposed changes and updates for 2020.  Most significantly, the updated guidelines reflect a response to the Securities and Exchange Commission’s recent announcement that it may decline to take a view or may respond orally to no-action requests for shareholder proposals under Rule 14a-8 of the Exchange Act.[2]  Starting in 2020, Glass Lewis generally will recommend a vote against members of a company’s governance committee if a company omits a shareholder proposal from its proxy statement without evidence of receiving no-action relief from the SEC, as described in more detail below.
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Vice Chancellor Slights, of the Delaware Court of Chancery, included a slightly self-effacing, and only slightly humorous, note in his recent opinion in a fiduciary claim against the directors of Tesla, Inc., to the effect that the defendants have reason to believe that they drew the wrong judge in the case.  The case relates to the 2018 incentive compensation award to Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, that caps out at about $55 billion (that “b” is not a typo).  The footnote concerns, in part, Vice Chancellor Slights’ determination, in a separate recent claim alleging fiduciary breaches by the Tesla board, that members of Tesla’s board were not independent.[1]
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On January 1, 2019, the German Act on the Strengthening of Company Pensions (Betriebsrentenstärkungsgesetz) leading to an amendment of the German Company Pensions Act (Betriebsrentengesetz), including its provisions regarding deferred compensation (Entgeltumwandlung), entered fully into force.

Deferred Compensation

Under the German Company Pensions Act, each employee is generally entitled to request from the employer that a certain part of the employee’s gross salary (up to an amount equal to 4% of the social security contribution ceiling (Beitragsbemessungsgrenze), i.e., currently EUR 3,216 per year) is used as deferred compensation for company pension purposes.  According to the newly implemented changes, employers are now obliged to provide their employees with an employer-paid top-up to the employees’ contributions to the deferred compensation. 
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In late March 2019, the Hertz Corporation and Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. (collectively, “Hertz”), filed two complaints (the “Damages Proceedings”) against its former CEO, CFO, General Counsel and a group president seeking recovery of $70 million in incentive payments and $200 million in consequential damages resulting from Hertz’s 2015 decision to restate its financial statements and an ensuing SEC settlement against Hertz and federal class action lawsuit (which was dismissed).  At the same time, the defendants in those actions each filed separate complaints (which have been consolidated in the Delaware Chancery Court) demanding advancement of their legal fees in the Damages Proceedings (the “Advancement Proceedings”).  The litigation between Hertz and its former executives raises novel questions about whether executives have a legally cognizable duty to set the right “tone at the top” and the consequences if they fail to do so.  The litigation also raises important and interesting questions regarding clawbacks and indemnification.[1]    
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In the wake of the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposed clawback rules under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Protection and Consumer Reform Act of 2010, many US public companies began implementing clawback policies.[1]  Although the proposal was originally issued in 2015 and the SEC has yet to adopt final clawback rules, instances of alleged executive misconduct in recent years has begun leading to claims under the clawback policies.  Increased scrutiny from legislators, institutional investors, shareholders and the general public has put significant pressure on boards of directors and compensation committees to exercise their rights to claw back compensation in the event of a corporate scandal.[2]

This post discusses two recent developments related to the exercise of compensation clawbacks.  The first confirms that boards should have broad discretion in deciding when to exercise a clawback, and the second discusses important indemnification and advancement issues that can arise in connection with a claim for the enforcement of a clawback policy.
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On January 1, 2019, the “Act on Further Development of Part-Time Employment Law” (Gesetz zur Weiterentwicklung des Teilzeitrechts) entered into force in Germany.

The new legislation implements considerable changes to the German Part-Time and Fixed-Term Employment Act (Teilzeit- und Befristungsgesetz ) and introduces (i) an entitlement to work part-time on a temporary basis, coupled with (ii) an entitlement to return to full-time employment (so-called “Bridge Part-Time Work” (Brückenteilzeit)).
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The overarching goal of incentive compensation plan design is, of course, to incentivize management to focus on value creation for shareholders.  Recent developments concerning corporate “sustainability” suggest that compensation committees of public company boards of directors, as well as human resources executives, should consider the use of metrics developed to measure sustainability in incentive compensation plans.  By way of illustration, Chevron Corporation’s latest climate report, released last week, notes that it plans to set greenhouse gas emissions targets and said the goal would be added to the scorecard that determines incentive pay for executives and approximately 45,000 employees.
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The market reaction to reports of harassment and misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement has led to a re-evaluation of the materiality of these complaints from a due diligence perspective, both in the context of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and securities offerings. Companies and lawyers therefore need to re-examine the due diligence process,