January 2009

For more years than I can remember we’ve been warning clients that an employee handbook can create unintended legal obligations.  A case decided by the Supreme Judicial Court late last year (December 2008), serves as a reminder of this hazard. The court found that a sick day policy contained in a handbook bound the Mass Turnpike Authority to pay certain benefits.

The case attempts to leave the issue of whether a handbook creates a binding obligation open to a case-by-case analysis (especially when it comes to promises of employment to at-will employees, where it seems less likely that a handbook can get employers in trouble), but the fact remains that this is an area fraught with risk. Who even wants to go through the hassle and expense of defending one of these cases, when they are so easy to avoid? Placing a prominent “disclaimer” at the front of the book will do the job:

“This handbook is is presented as a matter of information only and its contents should not be interpreted as a contract or other form of obligation between the firm and any of its employees”

Rarely does the law make avoiding a legal headache so simple.… Read the full article

[Update, November 7, 2011]: Almost 3 years later, and still no law.

Here is the full text of a bill filed last week that would make noncompete agreements unenforceable in Massachusetts, at least as to employees (as contrasted with noncompete covenants entered into in connection with the sale of a business, the other major category of noncompete covenants):

AN ACT TO PROHIBIT RESTRICTIVE EMPLOYMENT COVENANTS Section 1. Section 19 of Chapter 149 of the General Laws of Massachusetts is hereby amended by inserting at the end the following new paragraphs:

Any written or oral contract or agreement arising out of an employment relationship that prohibits, impairs, restrains, restricts, or places any condition on, a person’s ability to seek, engage in or accept any type of employment or independent contractor work, for any period of time after an employment relationship has ended, shall be void and unenforceable with respect to that restriction.

Read the full article

When I discussed the copyright case Gatehouse Media v. The New York Times over the weekend I hadn’t reviewed the court docket, and hadn’t been aware that Judge William Young had pulled the trick that he is famous for (at least locally): when a party requests a preliminary injunction, he responds by ordering an expedited trial. And I do mean expedited.

The case was filed on December 22, 2008.

Docket entry 13, issued the same day, states in relevant part (cleaned up a bit for readability):

Electronic Clerk’s Notes for proceedings held before Judge William G. Young: Motion Hearing held on 12/22/2008 re MOTION for Preliminary Injunction and MOTION for Temporary Restraining Order filed by Gatehouse Media Massachusetts, Inc.

The Court rules denying Motion for TRO; because the matter will be collapsed with a trial on the merits. The Court is reserving ruling on Motion for Preliminary Injunction; ( Jury Trial set for THE RUNNING TRIAL LIST AS OF 1/5/2009 09:00 AM before Judge William G.

Read the full article

Famous Trials

by Lee Gesmer on January 5, 2009

Famous Trials

Trials.

We love them, we hate them. If you’re a client, you really hate them.  Or at least you should.

There are moments of high drama, but the vast majority of trials are as boring as watching grass grow. Even trials that attract the prurient interests of the public (think OJ or Spector), that force the world to watch with morbid fascination, are, for the most part, boring.  Why do you think that Court TV shows only the “highlights”?

Nevertheless, if you take an important trial and boil it down to its essence – take out all the tedium, the voir dire, the endless sidebars and evidentiary disputes, the scientific/technical testimony that is often incomprehensible, the marginal witnesses that everyone in the courtroom dozes through — and leave just the heart of the the case, what remains can be fascinating.

Law Professor Douglas Linder has done just that at his site, Famous Trials.… Read the full article