North America

Rumor and Drama at Retailer Creates Jury Question

In January, a New York federal district court denied a retailer’s bid to dismiss a former regional manager’s lawsuit alleging that workplace rumors spread by three female co-workers that she showed her breasts to the company’s CEO by wearing a revealing blouse without a bra and that her subsequent termination shortly after she complained about the gossip constituted hostile work environment sex discrimination and retaliatory discharge. Baez v. Anne Fontaine USA, Inc., No. 14-cv-56621 (KBF), 2017 U.S. LEXIS 1630 (S.D.N.Y. Jan . 5, 2017).

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D.C. Court of Appeals Highlights Importance of Offers of Proof in NLRB Representation Hearings Under Expedited Election Rules

A recent decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in connection with an employer’s challenge to a National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” of “Board”) representation election in which the Board certified a “wall to wall” bargaining unit provided clear evidence of just how critical it is for employers to make detailed “offers of proof” concerning issues the Board will not allow them to litigate under the amended election rules which took effect in April 2015.

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New York: Tax Court clarifies test of intent for purposes of establishing domicile

New York’s Division of Tax Appeals recently issued an opinion that clarified its test of intent with regard to a purported new domicile. Generally speaking, the test is “whether the place of habitation is the permanent home of a person, with the range of sentiment, feeling and permanent association with it.” The court noted that under the usual analysis, it acknowledges a taxpayer’s declarations, but these are less persuasive than actions demonstrating the taxpayer’s “general habit of life.” Applying that here, the court concluded that the taxpayer, Gregory Blatt, had proved, by clear and convincing evidence, that he intended to, and did, change his domicile from New York City to Dallas, thus justifying a cancellation of the deficiency of $430,065.00, plus interest and penalties.
This case turned on whether the court agreed with Blatt that for the tax years 2009 and 2010, he had changed his domicile from New York to Texas, which rendered his presentation of the facts especially important. Indeed, in the New York Division of Tax Appeals, which some consider to be the most aggressive for these kinds of audits, Bloomberg declared that “it was the compelling story that carried the day.”
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Ohio: State Supreme Court allows non-resident’s tax credit of nearly $200,000

In the case Giddens v. Testa, the Ohio Supreme Court reversed a Board of Tax Appeals (Board) decision that disallowed a non-resident tax credit related to a distribution from a corporation that did some of its business in Ohio, for the tax year 2008. The tax commissioner’s theory was that the distribution constituted business income, and was therefore apportionable in part to Ohio, based on the proportion of the corporation’s business in that state. The Board affirmed the assessment, the taxpayers appealed, and the high court reversed the Board, concluding that the taxpayers properly treated the income at issue as nonbusiness income allocable solely to their state of domicile, Missouri.

BACKGROUND

The Court provided the following facts as background. The plaintiffs/appellants, Ernest and Louann Giddens, lived in Missouri, but paid Ohio income tax by virtue of their ownership of shares in a corporation that does business in Ohio. For the tax year at issue, 2008, that company was an S corporation. The S corporation, Redneck, Inc. is a wholesale supplier of equipment for trailer parks, including running gear, axles, springs, hitches, and jacks, had just two shareholders, the Giddens.
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Alabama: Expired Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program could be renewed

In 2013, the Alabama legislature signed HB 140 into law, designed to provide tax help for owners who rehabilitate residential or commercial properties. The program, known as the Alabama Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit Program (Program), offered a tax credit of up to 25 percent for the substantial rehabilitation of a historic residential or commercial property. The Alabama Historical Commission notes that between 2013 and 2015, $20 million in tax credits were available, for a total of $60 million. Commercial projects could receive the credit for up to $5 million in qualified expenses, and private residential properties up to $50,000.
The Program expired in May 2016, but at least one lawmaker is eager to bring it back, according to the Alabama NewsCenter. When the legislature convened on February 7, 2017, and State Sen. Jabo Waggoner revealed that he plans to introduce a similar measure to encourage the rehabilitation of abandoned buildings.
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NAD Action Requiring the Kardashians and Fit Tea to Disclose Their Connections in Social Media Posts

As part of its ongoing monitoring program, the National Advertising Division (NAD) reviewed endorsements by Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner (the Kardashians) that failed to disclose that they were paid to endorse a dietary supplement known as “Fit Tea” in their social media posts. In response to the NAD’s action, Fit Tea revised its social media posts to disclose Fit Tea’s material connections with its celebrity endorsers.

Background
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Endorsement and Testimonial Guides (FTC Endorsement Guides) require clear disclosure of any material connections between an advertiser and its influencers and other endorsers, including when their endorsements are posted on social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram. The FTC contends that, in the absence of such disclosure, consumers might believe that an endorsement on social media is a spontaneous recommendation of a product made without any compensation rather than a paid endorsement.

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Labor Department Backs Away From Permitting Unions At OSHA Safety Inspections

As we reported last week, the U.S. District Court refused to dismiss a challenge to OSHA’s controversial 2013 Fairfax Memorandum, which allowed for the participation of union representatives in OSHA safety inspections at workplaces where the union did not represent the workers. We asked at the time whether the Trump Administration would continue to defend that change in policy. This week, we saw the first concrete evidence suggesting that OSHA is at least reconsidering and may at a minimum drop its defense of the practice.

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Court Refuses To Dismiss Challenge To OSHA Practice Allowing Unions To Accompany OSHA Workplace Investigations

A United States District Court in Texas has refused to dismiss a law suit challenging OSHA’s practice of allowing union representatives and organizers to serve as “employee representatives” in inspections of non-union worksites. If the Court ultimately sustains the plaintiff’s claims, unions will lose another often valuable organizing tool that has provided them with visibility and access to employees in connection with organizing campaigns.

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Ecuadorean Villagers Continue Legal Battle Against Chevron

Yaiguaje v. Chevron Corporation 2017 ONSC 135 (CanLII)

The saga continues.  This case returned to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for consideration after a hearing at the Supreme Court of Canada.  Forty-seven individual plaintiffs in this action, representing approximately 30,000 indigenous Ecuadorian villagers, are suing Chevron and Chevron Canada to attempt to enforce a  US$9.5 billion judgment.  The enforcement proceedings first came before the Ontario Court where a motions judge – Justice D.M. Brown (now on the Ontario Court of Appeal) – held that the Ontario Court had jurisdiction to recognize and enforce the Ecuadorian judgment but on his own motion stayed the proceedings.  The Ontario Court of Appeal over-ruled Justice Brown’s imposition of a discretionary stay but upheld his decision on the jurisdictional issue.  The Supreme Court of Canada upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal. 

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Employers: How to Handle F17, Mass Strikes, and Political Activity in the Workplace

Our colleagues Jeremy M. Brown, Steven M. Swirsky and Laura C. Monaco, at Epstein Becker Green, have a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the retail industry: “F17 and the General Strike Movement – Best Practices for Addressing Political Activity in the Workplace.”

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