As reported in The Nickel Report, our Trends and Developments in Energy and Environmental Law blog, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) continues to make California’s hazardous waste management program more onerous and complex than the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which could raise concerns for some retailers. Public comment on DTSC’s proposed revisions remains open through November 6, 2017.
On September 21, 2017, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the staff of the SEC’s Division of Corporation Finance issued interpretive guidance to assist public companies with complying with the “pay ratio” rule and to address compliance concerns with respect to the rule’s flexible framework. According to the SEC press release, “[the] guidance on pay ratio . . . encourages companies to use the flexibility incorporated in our prior rulemaking to reduce costs of compliance.” The new guidance provides some accommodations that publicly-traded retailers may find useful for the purpose of calculating and reporting the ratio.
Read our full client alert here.
Last month, the solar eclipse captivated the United States and many consumers flocked to purchase solar eclipse glasses to safely observe the astronomical phenomenon. We discussed how NASA issued a safety alert advising consumers on the proper eye protection they should seek. Now, some consumers have filed a class action lawsuit against a major online retailer for allegedly selling “unfit, extremely dangerous, and/or defective” solar eclipse glasses. As a result, the consumers allege “varying degrees of eye injury ranging from temporary discomfort to permanent blindness.”
Leveraged loans may have a role in recent retail bankruptcies. Leveraged loan volume is nearing pre-recession highs and is on track to surpass 2007 levels, concerning many regulators and investors. Leveraged loans are typically offered to companies that already have large amounts of debt, and therefore, leveraged loans carry higher interest rates due to an increased risk of borrower default. Companies often use leveraged loans to finance mergers, refinance debt, or for general company purposes. Private equity firms also utilize leveraged loans in order to fund takeovers of companies, including struggling retailers. Loans issued to fund leveraged buyouts from private equity firms rose 74 percent in 2017 and totaled 88.5 billion dollars. Additionally, nearly a third of loans to companies backed by private equity firms are leveraged six times or more. Continue Reading
This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.
App Operator Im-Pacted by FTC Settlement
The Federal Trade Commission has reached a $948,788 settlement with app developer Pact, Inc. over claims that it engaged in unfair and deceptive business practices. Pact users enter into “pacts” to exercise and/or eat better. The app charges between $5 and $50 per missed activity for users who fail to meet their weekly goals. Users who meet their weekly goals were supposed to be rewarded with a share of the money collected from those who did not.
The FTC alleged that Pact charged “tens of thousands” of consumers even if they met their goals or cancelled their participation in the service. Customers had a difficult time getting refunds or even determining how to cancel. The FTC’s complaint alleged violations of the FTC Act and the Restore Online Shoppers’ Confidence Act.
Under the terms of the settlement, Pact must disclose its billing practices, and is prohibited from misrepresenting its billing practices or engaging in unfair billing practices. A judgement of $1.5 million will be partially suspended upon Pact’s payment of $948,788. Continue Reading
On September 8, 2017, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and the New York City Pension Funds announced the second phase of their Boardroom Accountability Project, which will focus on board diversity and composition. Stringer sent a letter to the nominating and governance committee chairs of 151 portfolio companies held by the New York City Pension Funds, requesting board engagement regarding the director refreshment process and disclosure of a director qualification matrix that identifies directors’ relevant skills and experience and their gender and race/ethnicity. The list of companies included several major retailers and consisted of companies that have adopted proxy access in response to shareholder proposals from the NYC Pension Funds and those where the NYC Pension Funds’ proxy access proposals received majority support in 2017. Continue Reading
Hurricanes Harvey and Irma have devastated portions of Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. For retail insureds in particular, the losses due to property damage and business interruption will be staggering. In an article published September 12, 2017, in South Florida’s Daily Business Review, Hunton insurance lawyers Walter Andrews and Andrea DeField explain why it is critical that policyholders act fast to maximize insurance recovery for their hurricane-related losses. They also provide a checklist to guide policyholders through the claim process and to ensure maximum recovery for any property damage and business interruption losses. As Andrews and DeField explain, business interruption and related coverage endorsements may cover loss resulting from an inability to open for business; reduction in business income when the business remains open but cannot operate at full capacity; loss resulting from civil authority orders barring access to an insured business; and loss resulting from service and utility outages effecting business interruptions—an important coverage in light of Florida’s ongoing power outages.
Earlier this month, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) dropped its defense of an Obama-era regulation that sought to increase the salary level for overtime-exempt employees from $23,660 per year to $47,476 per year. That regulation had been set to take effect in November 2016, but a last-minute preliminary injunction issued by a federal district court in Texas stayed the implementation of the regulation.
In the preliminary injunction ruling, the district court ruled that the new $47,476 salary threshold exceeded the scope of the DOL’s authority because such a high salary level had the effect of making an employee’s salary – and not their primary duty – the determinative factor in the exemption inquiry. Importantly, the district court’s preliminary injunction ruling went well beyond the appropriateness of the particular salary level at issue in the new regulation and instead expressed the broader view that the DOL lacked the authority to impose any salary level requirement (regardless of the level of salary chosen) because the relevant provision of the FLSA focused on an employee’s duties, not their salary. Continue Reading
As consumers celebrated lower avocado prices at Whole Foods during the last week in August, views were mixed regarding the FTC’s decision not to challenge the Amazon/Whole Foods merger.
On August 23, 2017, the FTC’s Bureau of Competition issued a short statement that read, in its entirety: “The FTC conducted an investigation of this proposed acquisition to determine whether it substantially lessened competition under Section 7 of the Clayton Act, or constituted an unfair method of competition under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Based on our investigation we have decided not to pursue this matter further. Of course, the FTC always has the ability to investigate anticompetitive conduct should such action be warranted.”
On September 7, 2017, the FTC announced its first-ever case against social media influencers. In its complaint, the FTC alleged that two widely followed gamers, Trevor “TmarTn” Martin and Thomas “Syndicate” Cassell, posted messages endorsing online gaming service CSGO Lotto without disclosing that the two jointly owned the company. In addition to deceptively endorsing the service, the two are alleged to have paid thousands of influencers to promote CSGO Lotto in social media without requiring those influencers to disclose the payments, which ranged between $2,500 and $55,000. The consent agreement requires Cassell and Martin to clearly and conspicuously disclose material connections between any endorser and promoted products and services. Continue Reading