The Inbox – This One’s for the Birds

| Zuckerman Spaeder Team

Craig Watts, a chicken farmer from North Carolina, recently brought a whistleblower complaint against Perdue, claiming that the poultry seller retaliated against him for bringing certain animal welfare claims to light.  Mr. Watts owns the farm on which the chickens are raised, but, according to the Government Accountability Project, the terms and conditions of the farm operations are strictly governed by the poultry giant. The Food Integrity Campaign (a program operated by the Government Accountability Project) filed the action on behalf of Mr. Watts, defending his right to speak out about the conditions on the farm, which Watts claims run far “afowl” of Perdue’s marketing claims of “cage-free” and “humanely-raised” chickens. After publicizing the conditions on his farm, Watts was placed on a performance improvement plan and is routinely subjected to surprise audits of his farm.

A former executive at L.A.’s Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising is seeing red over the school’s termination of her employment, which allegedly came after she demanded more diverse branding in the school’s publications. Tamar Rosenthal filed a civil rights complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that the school, seemingly interested only in shades of white, opposed her attempts to showcase student diversity on the website and explicitly advised her not to showcase gay, black or non-white students in any school publications.  According to My News LA, the complaint further alleged that Ms. Rosenthal’s supervisors created an “ultra-conservative, anti-Arab and anti-Muslim political atmosphere in the school’s front office.”

We have been following Ellen Pao’s suit against Kleiner Perkins, the Silicon Valley venture capital firm, with great interest. Last week, we discussed the allegations of gender discrimination and at least one, undisputed fact that she will rely on – her brief relationship with junior partner Ajit Nazre – to advance her argument. As noted, the relationship cannot solely prove her claims, but it, along with circumstantial evidence, can paint a colorful picture of the environment in which Ms. Pao worked and was eventually terminated. The first witness in the trial wasn’t Ms. Pao, but one of her former colleagues, whose testimony  further implicated Mr. Nazre in the firm’s alleged scheme to deny advancement opportunities to women. According to Law 360, Trae Vassalo, currently an independent investor at Kleiner Perkins, testified that Mr. Nazre made unwelcome sexual advances toward her on more than one occasion.  When she declined his advances, she testified that she was treated differently during meetings, and was asked to take notes rather than participate in discussions. When she reported the behavior to partner Ray Lane, she testified that the claim was not pursued and that he jokingly told her, “You should be flattered.” 

Apple, Inc. and some of its technology contemporaries have been publicly taken to task over anti-poaching schemes, and ultimately held accountable for their hindrance of worker mobility and associated salary suppression in California. Now, Apple is facing allegations of poaching five employees from battery maker A123, all of whom had non-disclosure agreements in place. According to PC Mag, the battery maker is claiming that Apple’s “raid” of its employees will have a severe economic impact on the company, and that the employees have stolen trade secrets with the intent to convert the information to their (and presumably Apple’s) own use. Since Apple finds itself on both sides of the poaching debate, one might wonder if the ultimate question is, To poach or not to poach? Do the legal woes justify the cost of acquiring top talent?

Information provided on InsightZS should not be considered legal advice and expressed views are those of the authors alone. Readers should seek specific legal guidance before acting in any particular circumstance.

As the regulatory and business environments in which our clients operate grow increasingly complex, we identify and offer perspectives on significant legal developments affecting businesses, organizations, and individuals. Each post aims to address timely issues and trends by evaluating impactful decisions, sharing observations of key enforcement changes, or distilling best practices drawn from experience. InsightZS also features personal interest pieces about the impact of our legal work in our communities and about associate life at Zuckerman Spaeder.

Information provided on InsightZS should not be considered legal advice and expressed views are those of the authors alone. Readers should seek specific legal guidance before acting in any particular circumstance.