This past week, several consumer actions made headlines that affect the retail industry.

“Black Truffle Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil” Case Dismissed Against Trader Joe’s

On August 30, 2018, the Southern District of New York dismissed class action claims for consumers who purchased Trader Joe’s “Black Truffle Flavored Extra Virgin Olive Oil.” The complaint alleged that the product label contained the words “black truffle” in large black letters, with the words “flavored” and “extra virgin olive oil” in smaller cursive letters underneath. However, DNA testing revealed that the oil did not contain actual truffle, but rather 2,4-dithiapentane, a petroleum-based synthetic injection that imitates the taste and smell of truffles. Continue Reading Consumer Protection in Retail: Weekly Roundup

Hurricane Florence will affect the U.S. east coast later this week with significant damage to property and resulting business disruption. Businesses far removed from the impact zone will also be affected as manufacturing, retail, travel, and supply chains, among other industries, are disrupted by the physical damage. For those in the impact zone, knowing the fundamentals about your property insurance is critical. For those in remote locations, now is a good time to refresh as well, since post-storm disruptions and losses require prompt notice to insurers and fast action to help mitigate any resulting loss. A failure on either front could jeopardize coverage. Continue Reading Hurricane Preparedness: Is Your Insurance Program Ready for the Storm?

Just weeks after a federal judge called the science behind the alleged carcinogenicity of glyphosate “shaky,” a California state court jury hammered Monsanto with a $289 million verdict, blaming a former groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma on his exposure to the Roundup® chemical. The August 10, 2018, verdict in Johnson v. Monsanto Co., No. CGC16550128 (California Superior Court, County of San Francisco)—which included $250 million in punitive damages—was just the first in the nearly 8,000 Roundup-related cases currently pending against Monsanto, many of which are consolidated in multidistrict litigation in California federal court. The intense publicity surrounding the verdict has left retailers whose products contain ingredients that might have been treated with glyphosate wondering whether their products may be targeted next.

Read our full alert.

On August 29, 2018, despite industry criticism, the California state legislature passed AB 2998 (the “Bill”), which will require that levels of chemical flame retardants in covered products be below 1,000 parts per million. The Bill, which the governor is expected to sign into law, states that starting January 1, 2020, distributing children’s products, mattresses and upholstered furniture containing most chemical flame retardants will be illegal in the state of California. Samples of covered products sold to consumers will be provided to California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control for testing, and if a product is found to be noncompliant, a fine may be assessed against the manufacturer, distributor and/or retailer.  Continue Reading California Bans Use of Most Chemical Flame Retardants in Children’s Products and Furniture as the CPSC Prepares to Take Action on the Flammability of Upholstered Furniture

This month marks the 10th anniversary of the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (“CPSIA”), which was signed into law on August 14, 2008. CPSIA was a bipartisan response to unsettling events in the world of consumer products that occurred in 2007. During that landmark year, reports emerged about lead contamination in a wide range of consumer products—including children’s toys—that forced the CPSC into the national spotlight and facilitated over 400 recalls. The CPSIA aimed to significantly enhance the CPSC’s regulatory and enforcement power by doubling its budget, increasing its staff levels, prohibiting the sale of recalled products and increasing its civil penalties. For example, before CPSIA, the CPSC could impose civil penalties in the amount of $8,000 per violation, with a maximum of $1.825 million. But in 2008, CPSIA increased significantly the amount of civil penalties to $100,000 per violation, with a maximum of $15 million, adjusted for inflation. Continue Reading Recall Roundup: August

The Federal Trade Commission announced the opening dates of its Hearings on Competition and Consumer Protection in the 21st Century, a series of public hearings that discuss whether broad-based changes in the economy, evolving business practices, new technologies or international developments might require adjustments to competition and consumer protection law, enforcement priorities and policy. The FTC and Georgetown University Law Center will co-sponsor two full-day sessions of hearings on September 13 and 14, 2018, to be held at the Georgetown University Law Center facility.

Panelists at the hearings will consider, among other topics, the regulation of consumer data and whether the U.S. economy has become more concentrated and less competitive. The FTC invites public comment on any of the issues.

More information is available on the FTC’s website.

A recent Supreme Court ruling regarding sales taxes and new tariffs on Chinese imports instituted by the Trump administration will impact many retailers, which could in turn have an effect on M&A activity in the retail industry. Continue Reading SCOTUS Tax Ruling and New Tariffs Could Affect Retail M&A Activity

As reported on the Hunton Employment & Labor Perspectives blog, the ongoing opioid epidemic is causing employers to consider the best ways to ensure a safe workplace, but companies should be careful when addressing employees’ prescription drug use. Recent court filings and settlements by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) illustrate the potential pitfalls employers face when attempting to implement a drug-free workplace. Continue Reading Employers’ Prescription Drug Use Policies Coming Under Scrutiny

The increase in the use of noncompetition agreements in industries such as retail and food service has caught the eye of several state legislatures, and they are beginning to take measures to curb the trend.

A Massachusetts law recently signed will limit employers’ ability to restrict hourly workers from engaging in competitive work after the end of their employment. The bill, signed by the governor on August 10, 2018, and effective October 1, 2018, prohibits employers from enforcing employment noncompetition agreements against employees who are classified as nonexempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act. In effect, the law will eliminate an employer’s ability to limit where hourly retail employees can work after the end of their employment, even if they want to go to work for a direct competitor. Continue Reading Trend Setter? Massachusetts Bans Noncompetes for Nonexempt Workers

Consumer lawsuits under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”) have surged following a 2015 declaratory order from the Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”), which included an expansive interpretation from the FCC of what constitutes an “automatic telephone dialing system” (“ATDS”). The D.C. Circuit’s much-awaited decision in ACA International v. Federal Communications Commission, 885 F.3d 687 (D.C. Cir. 2018) earlier this year set aside much of the FCC’s prior interpretation of what qualifies as an ATDS. ACA International was widely seen as a win for businesses and advertisers, but the decision has done little thus far to stem the tide of TCPA lawsuits, especially as the scope of the decision continues to play out. Continue Reading Businesses Yet to See Major Relief from TCPA Lawsuits Following ACA International Decision