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Houston Business & Commercial Law Blog

Excessive information sharing can put employers at risk

Employers in Texas should pay close attention to recent developments regarding employee communication with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, or EEOC. Employees have a right under federal law to communicate freely with the EEOC about allegations of discrimination or violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. How an employer responds to such a complaint can have a major impact on the ensuing impact of the filing, and employers can take action to protect themselves from being at risk of further charges.

In one case, an in-house attorney issued a letter to approximately 150 employees about an ongoing EEOC lawsuit that alleged violations of the ADA. In the letter to employees, sent to alert staff that they may be questioned about the issues involved in the case, the lawyer provided extensive information about the situation. The letter included the name of the complaining employee, their specific allegations, the disability they have and the specific accommodations that they claimed were denied to them.

Superstar Enrique Iglesias sues former label in contract dispute

Many Texans regularly deal with problems created by the failure to follow through on contracts and agreements. However, these issues aren't limited to just entrepreneurs and small businesses; even major celebrities can deal with serious concerns caused by disputes over the implementation of contracts. For example, the Latin pop star Enrique Iglesias is suing Universal Music over streaming royalties in a lawsuit filed in January 2018.

Iglesias claims that he has received only a small percentage of his 50 percent royalty rate for streaming plays. The musician alleges that a breach of contract by the music distributor has deprived him of millions of dollars, and he is seeking enforcement of the stated royalty rate as well as compensation for royalties he did not receive. Iglesias' lawyer said that the business partnership between the musician and the label has achieved exceptional financial and musical success over the years as reflected in album popularity as well as billions of streams of his songs.

Twitter faces lawsuit related to trademark, breach of contract

Some Twitter users in Texas might be interested to learn that the company is involved in a lawsuit with another company called TWiT, which stands for This Week in Tech. Evan Williams, one of Twitter's co-founders, had allegedly acknowledged to Leo Laporte at TWiT that the trademarks were similar and that there had already been some confusion. However, he had assured Laporte that they intended to remain a microblogging service and not move into the area of audio and video claimed by TWiT. TWiT says they reached a satisfactory agreement based on the fact that their distribution platforms were very different.

In 2009, Williams allegedly repeated this reassurance after Laporte expressed more concern about the company expanding into audio and video. However, in 2017, Twitter announced that it would start to include original video content. Two months after that announcement, attorneys for TWiT asked Twitter to stop its trademark expansion.

Texas company loses appeal in wrongful termination case

A Texas-based company has lost an appeal involving an arbitration award. The man who received the award sold his business to the other company and was then subsequently terminated. An appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling in the case although the man was denied a motion for filed sanctions. The transaction between the two businesses involved two contracts, an interest purchase agreement and an employment agreement.

The arbitrator in the original wrongful termination case determined that the man who sold his business was terminated without just cause. While it was decided that he deserved compensation, an amount wasn't set. The arbitrator also found that a non-compete clause in the purchase agreement would remain effective for its full five-year term.

CRE investment mistakes

Texas investors who are interested in investing in the commercial real estate market should understand how difficult it can be. Regardless of what type of investment property they focus on, there are certain mistakes that they should make sure to avoid.

Making purchasing decisions without having all of the pertinent information at their disposal can result in costly missteps. Making informed decisions requires the careful consideration of the investment potential of a property, rental rates, expected grow and replacement costs. Significant thought also needs to be given to existing and future competition. Valuable assistance may be obtained from professional market managers who have the experience, intuition and market know-how to sift through properties and locate ideal investments.

Mel Gibson's contract issues involving a film's distribution

Contract disputes sometimes become contentious, even to the point where multiple lawsuits are involved. This is the situation with a movie involving Mel Gibson. The actor-director and his producing partner are being sued by the movie's distributor. The move comes in response to a lawsuit Gibson filed against the company alleging that the distributor failed to honor a co-production deal.

The contract issues started with Gibson accusing the distribution company of not providing enough funds in the budget to shoot what Gibson claims was a critical scene for the movie. He also claims the distributor's unauthorized cut of the film infringes on the movie's screenplay copyright, which the director claims he has the rights to.

Game developer sued for breach of contract

Gaming enthusiasts in Texas might be interested in learning about a lawsuit CryEngine developer, Crytek GmbH ("Crytek"), filed against Cloud Imperium Games Corporation and Roberts Space Industries Corporation (collectively, "CIG"). CIG entered into a licensing agreement with Crytek to use its CryEngine platform for a new game called "Star Citizen," but later switched to a different engine.

Crytek alleges CIG breached the parties' agreement by, among other things, using CryEngine to market, develop, and incentivize funding for more than one game, and failing to prominently display Crytek's trademark and copyright notices in the game and related marketing materials.

New tax law could boost commercial real estate owners

Texas commercial real estate owners may get a boost from the passage of the tax bill. Under it, people who own real estate that is held in pass-through companies stand to enjoy significant reductions in their tax liability.

According to the Wall Street Journal, people who earn less than $157,100 per year and who own pass-through companies with real estate holdings will receive a 20 percent deduction on the amount of income that is taxable. Those who make less than $315,000 and who are joint filers will also receive a 20 percent deduction

Caution is needed when terminating certain employees

Most employers realize that an employee cannot be terminated or penalized for making a Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) request. Making a leave request does not prohibit termination if the reasons are independent and unrelated to the FMLA. Employers in Texas should pay attention to a recent Missouri federal court case that illustrates how appearances can lead to actionable lawsuits.

The lawsuit describes how an employee was given a favorable annual review by his supervisor. The employee then announced he was seeking leave under FMLA. As the employee had outstanding complaints from customers, the supervisor looked into the work records of the employee and found them to be inconsistent. The employee was then terminated for filing false records.

Blackberry and Nokia settle legal matter

In the past, Texas residents may have been divided over whether Nokia or BlackBerry made the best phones. While that battle is largely over, the two companies have still been engaged in legal battles. However, on Dec. 1, BlackBerry agreed to pay Nokia $137 million in accordance with a ruling from the International Court of Arbitration. This doesn't mean that BlackBerry has stepped back from its assertion that Nokia has infringed on its intellectual property rights.

In February 2017, BlackBerry claimed that Nokia infringed on 11 different patents that the company owns. The intellectual property is considered valuable to BlackBerry because its business model is changing to licensing from actually making phones or other electronics. BlackBerry's CEO has said that it wants to focus more on security and software, and that this may be harder to do without respect for its patents.

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