No Fooling! On April 1, Almost All Employers are Subject to New Employment Regulations in California

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Effective April 1, 2016, new regulations of the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing (DFEH) impose stringent new anti-discrimination and anti-harassment requirements on almost all employers having any employees in California.  Unlike in the past, the new amendments to regulations under California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) apply to any employer having five or more “employees,” any of whom are located in California.  The word “employees” is important, because the new FEHA regulations count toward the minimum of five “employees” unpaid interns, volunteers and persons out on leave from active employment.  Further, it appears that this new FEHA regulation is intended to apply even to employers with headquarters outside of California if any of their employees are located in California.

The FEHA regulatory amendments require all affected employers to have written policies prohibiting workplace discrimination and harassment.  The policies must apply to prohibit discrimination and harassment by co-workers, who are made individually liable for their own violations, and by third parties such as vendors in the workplace.  The regulations demand that the written policy list all currently-protected categories protected under FEHA:  Race, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, physical disability, mental disability, medical condition, genetic information, marital status, sex, gender, gender identity, gender expression, age, sexual orientation, and military or veteran status.  Prohibited “sex discrimination” includes discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and related medical conditions.  Interestingly, the regulations also prohibit discrimination against employment applicants holding a special California driver’s license issued to persons without proof of legal presence in the United States.  It is not yet clear how this will work in conjunction with the employer’s existing Federal obligation to confirm eligibility for employment.

The employer’s written policy must specify a confidential complaint process that satisfies a number of criteria.  Workplace retaliation for making good faith complaints of perceived discrimination or harassment is prohibited.  The written policy must be publicized to all employees, with tracking of its receipt by employees.  If 10% of the employer’s work force speaks a language other than English, the written policy must be translated to that language.

Further, the new regulations attempt to resolve a number of uncertainties about who is protected, specifying that both males and females are protected from gender discrimination, and requiring that transgender persons be treated and provided facilities consistent with their gender identity.  There are many other changes, such as a new entitlement to four months for pregnancy leave that is not required to be taken continuously.  If an employer has more than 50 employees, there are additional requirements, such as periodic sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors.

Employers operating in California are well advised to review their policies and practices, and to consult with qualified counsel regarding changes that may be required.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys help clients remain compliant with laws, regulations and case developments affecting employers in California.

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California Pavilion Exhibitors Achieve Goals at Cosmoprof Bologna

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Positive Global Sales

Cosmoprof Bologna came to a successful close on March 21.  The overall show statistics are not available yet, but participants in the California Pavilion experienced brisk business.  The California Pavilion this year expanded to two islands with 18 exhibitors, and booths were often crowded with interested buyers.  The CK&E lounge at the center of the California Pavilion buzzed with deal negotiations, and CK&E attorneys Mark Kremer and Eric Engel were glad to be able to lend their assistance to help participants expand their global reach.

Mark Kremer and Eric Engel at Cosmoprof Bologna 2016

Mark Kremer and Eric Engel at the CK&E Lounge in the California Pavilion

Organizer Cesar Arellanes of California Trade Alliance commented that California Pavilion participants reported meeting or exceeding their goals for the show, expanding and strengthening their international business.

CK&E attorneys advise clients to prepare for major trade shows, particularly foreign shows, by verifying that they have taken all appropriate steps to protect their trademarks, trade dress and other valuable intellectual property, before problems arise.  To help one well-prepared client, Mark Kremer successfully initiated an immediate takedown of counterfeit products being sold in another hall.  CK&E attorneys attend major beauty industry trade shows to help protect clients’ brands, to keep current on trends, and to assist clients with the full range of legal skills needed to grow their businesses internationally.

David Lester at Cosmoprof Bologna 2016

COOLA at California Pavilion

 

 

 

 

CK&E Lounge at the center of California Pavilion

CK&E Lounge at the center of California Pavilion

 

 

 

Daily Concepts and Afterspa in California Pavilion at Cosmoprof Bologna 2016

Daily Concepts and Afterspa in California Pavilion

 

 

 

 

Infinite Aloe booth at California Pavilion

Infinite Aloe at California Pavilion

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California Pavilion at Cosmoprof Bologna Opens

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Bologna FiereThe huge convention center in Italy known as Bologna Fiere sprang to life today with the opening of Cosmoprof Bologna, featuring the California Pavilion organized by California Trade Alliance.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel sent attorneys Mark Kremer and Eric Engel to help clients and other beauty industry participants groCK&E Lounge at California Pavilionw their businesses by expanding internationally.  Once again this year, CK&E is proud to sponsor the Exhibitor Lounge in the California Pavilion, which enables participants to work, meet and discuss international business deals.

Thirty-five California Pavilion participants began the event with a dinner to share ideas and stories.  The group was glad to be able to use the occasion to celebrate the special birthday of Emilio Smeke, of Daily Concepts and AfterSpa.  The California Pavilion has the unique position of being the only State Pavilion in the Hall of Country Pavilions, with a choice position adjacent to the USA Pavilion.  The prominence of the California Pavilion is a fitting tribute to the strength and growth potential of the California cosmetics business and the leadership of Cesar Arellanes and Jake Rubenstein of California Trade Alliance.California at Hall of National Pavilions in Cosmoprof Bologna 2016

Emilio Smeke Celebrates Birthday at Cosmoprof Bologna 2016Mark Kremer at California Pavilion Dinner

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Hot Yoga and Cold Law: Employment Retaliation Claims Can Arise Anywhere

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Most people would agree that working in a government office that supervises lawyers is quite different than working in a 104 degree “hot yoga” studio. But recent matters involving these two very different work environments show that employment retaliation claims can be asserted against any employer – whether you’re a yoga master or the master of all lawyers in California.

The California State Bar has the staid mission of regulating the admission of attorneys and investigating assertions of attorney misconduct. Yet in November 2015, the State Bar found itself charged with wrongful employment retaliation after it fired one of its top managers, John Noonen. Noonen asserted that the termination was retaliatory because, just a few weeks earlier, he submitted a 40-page internal complaint against the State Bar’s top attorney for allegedly failing to properly investigate complaints against the president of the State Bar. The State Bar has denied Noonen’s retaliation allegations and has said that Noonen’s position was eliminated as part of a cost-saving effort.

Less than two months later, the same types of claims led to a sizeable jury verdict against a completely different business run by famed yoga guru Bikram Choudhury. Choudhury made his fortune teaching yoga instructors his techniques and allowing graduates to operate yoga studios that feature a specific yoga sequence performed in a 104-degree room. In January 2016, a Los Angeles jury found that Choudhury sexually harassed his former legal advisor and wrongfully fired her for investigating others’ claims of sexual discrimination and assault against him. Choudhury asserted he had good cause to fire his legal advisor because she was not licensed to practice law in California. The jury first ordered Choudhury and his yoga business to pay $924,000 in compensatory damages, and the next day the jury upped the ante with a further award of $6.4 million in punitive damages.

In each of these recent cases, employees alleged that their bosses improperly “retaliated” against them for investigating workplace misconduct. Most employers and employees know that laws exist to protect employees from wrongful discrimination and harassment. The same laws also provide that employers cannot punish or “retaliate” against employees for making complaints about other potentially wrongful employment conduct, such as discrimination or harassment, or for participating in workplace investigations about such potential wrongful employment conduct.

“Retaliation” is prohibited by the same federal laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on race, color, sex, religion, national origin, age, disability and gender. “Retaliation” can take many forms, including termination, demotion, suspension or other employment discipline against the employee for engaging in protected activity, such as reporting perceived employer discrimination or other misconduct. Owing to its broad scope, retaliation is a claim commonly raised by disgruntled or terminated employees. In fact, according to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”), retaliation is the most common basis of discrimination claims in EEOC cases.

These cases illustrate some of the many circumstances in which employment issues can lead to litigation against a wide variety of employers. Conkle, Kremer & Engel regularly advises employer and individuals on workplace issues and the ramifications of retaliation and harassment claims so that all involved can take steps to resolve conflicts in a meaningful, efficient way. When circumstances do not do not allow a non-litigated solution, CK&E attorneys litigate and arbitrate employment disputes including retaliation claims, whether the claims are asserted individually or as a class action.

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Labels Matter: Consumer Class Actions are Available for Organic Labeling Violations

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The California Supreme Court has affirmed that “labels matter” to both buyers and sellers of consumer products. “They serve as markers for a host of tangible and intangible qualities consumers may come to associate with a particular source or method of production.” California protects consumers from mislabeling through a number of laws, including possible class action lawsuits under the Consumers Legal Remedies Act (Civil Code §§ 1750 et seq.), unfair competition laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17200 et seq.) and false advertising laws (Bus. & Prof. Code §§ 17500 et seq.)

Aside from California’s general false labeling laws, there are specific laws and regulations regarding organic product labeling. The California Organic Products Act (COPA), generally requires that multi-ingredient cosmetics labeled or sold as organic contain at least 70% organically produced ingredients. But COPA is designed to work in concert with Federal regulations that direct baseline standards for production, labeling and sale of organic products. The California Supreme Court recently addressed whether the Federal regulations of organic products in some manner preempt or supersede California’s consumer protection laws, so that only the very limited Federal remedies can be pursued when there are alleged violations of organic labeling laws.

In Quesada v. Herb Thyme Farms, Inc., the California Supreme Court determined that California’s general laws prohibiting labeling misrepresentation do not conflict with the Federal laws concerning organic production, labeling and sale, but rather complement those Federal laws by allowing additional remedies to be pursued when those laws are broken by fraudulent organic product labeling. The Supreme Court observed that “permitting state consumer fraud actions would advance, not impair” the goals of providing “a level playing field” to manufacturers of organic products and “enhance consumer confidence in meaningful labels and reduce the distribution network’s reluctance to carry organic products.” From this perspective, where products are fraudulently mislabeled as organic, “the prosecution of such fraud, whether by public prosecutors where resources and state laws permit, or through civil suits by individuals or groups of consumers, can only serve to deter mislabeling and enhance consumer confidence.”

The result for manufacturers, distributors and resellers is that organic product labeling can create concerns at multiple levels, including federal and state regulatory liability, and class actions under strong state consumer protection laws. All those involved in the chain of manufacturing and distribution of products labeled as organic should consult with experienced counsel to protect themselves from potential adverse outcomes that can come from several directions. Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys are well versed in helping their clients proactively avoid and resolve such problems.

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Conkle Firm Article Explains Special Protections for Sales Representatives

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The Conkle firm published an article in the June 30, 2015 edition of the Electronics Representatives Association Southern California’s member newsletter to explain to ERASoCal members the special protections that California law provides for independent wholesale sales representatives.  Among other points, the article describes the requirements for a signed written contract, the types of information that manufacturers and distributors are required to provide to their independent sales reps, and the potential for treble damages (three times the actual damages) plus attorney’s fees for violations.

The article was written by Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney Eric S. Engel and CK&E’s summer law clerk Ryan Fisher, a student at University of California, Irvine Law School.  CK&E is proud to be a member of ERASoCal, which is a trade association of independent manufacturers sales representative firms in Southern California’s vibrant electronics industry.  Eric has significant experience in sales commission claims, and he was lead trial counsel in the case that resulted in the first published decision in California applying the special protections of Civil Code Section 1738.10 et seq., including treble damages and attorney fees for unpaid sales commissions: Reilly v Inquest Court of Appeal Decision, Case No. G046291 (July 31, 2013)

 

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Prove It! Conkle Firm Attorney Publishes National Article

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Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorney Eric S. Engel has extensive experience in matters affecting manufacturers, distributors and sales representatives.  From drafting and negotiating contracts between principals and agents to litigating disputes over such matters as commissions and trade secrets, Eric brings deep knowledge of the dynamics of the independent commissioned sales relationships to the benefit of clients across a wide range of industries.  Among his achievements is leading the trial team to a jury trial verdict and judgment of $6.2 million in treble damages against a manufacturer who cheated a commissioned sales representative.  The judgment was fully upheld on appeal in the precedent-setting decision of Reilly v. Inquest Technology, Inc., 218 Cal. App. 4th 536 (2013).

Eric has been recognized as a “Rep Savvy Attorney” by the Manufacturers & Agents National Association (MANA).  Rep Savvy Attorneys are acknowledged for their acumen in handling disputes involving principals and agents concerning independent commissioned sales relationships.  In that role, Eric is pleased to offer his legal insight through legal articles published in MANA’s monthly magazine, Agency Sales, which receives national distribution.  Most recently, Eric wrote an article on preserving evidence to support your claims and defenses when a dispute arises:  Prove It!  Why Reps and Principals Need to Keep the Evidence, Agency Sales Magazine, May 2015

The Prove It! article focuses on the need to document the significant events that arise in parties’ commercial relationships, starting with a signed written contract that correctly states the terms of the parties’ agreement in a straightforward manner.  Then, events during performance, such as exceptions to the contractual terms and issues in obtaining performance by the other party, should be documented in plain and clear English by email or even by good old letters or faxes.  Documents that were created during the relationship should be carefully saved – a document that once existed but cannot be located can be as bad or worse than a document that never existed in the first place, as it raises the potential for spoliation of evidence penalties that can be very serious.  The Prove It! article is written for agents and principals, but the information contained in the article can be applied to almost any commercial situation.

CK&E attorneys are well versed in commercial disputes of all types and are ready to help you document your position and maintain good records of what you documented, so that you can position yourself as strongly as possible if a dispute arises.

 

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Last Call for 2013 CARB Survey Submissions; Deadline for 2014 Survey Coming Soon

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The limited reprieve granted to small businesses for complying with the 2013 Consumer and Commercial Products Survey is coming to an end: Small businesses – defined as companies with 25 or fewer employees – must report 2013 sales and formulation data to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) by no later than July 1, 2015.

For other businesses, the deadline to report 2013 data has passed. Unless they have been granted an extension from CARB, formulators were required to comply by April 1, 2015 and all other businesses, by March 1, 2015.

The 2013 Consumer and Commercial Products Survey is part of a comprehensive three-year data collection effort by CARB, which is authorized by law to collect data about chemically formulated products. The Survey collects formulation data and sales information for chemically formulated consumer and commercial products sold or supplied for use in California during the 2013 calendar year. Compliance with the Survey is mandatory.

The Survey is remarkable in its breadth, targeting virtually all consumer and commercial products. The Survey requires that each “responsible party” listed on the label of a consumer or commercial product that was sold or supplied for use in California during the calendar year, and falls into a category listed on that year’s Survey Category List, is required to report detailed product ingredient information, as well as annual sales on a per-product basis, to CARB through the online Consumer Products Reporting Tool.

The general categories of consumer products that are subject to reporting in 2013 are personal care products, adhesives, sealants and related products, household and institutional products, pesticide products, solvent and thinning-related products, vehicle and marine vessel aftermarket products, and aerosol coating products.

In addition, updated data for the 2014 and 2015 calendar years must also be reported to CARB. Businesses who are required to report should plan for timely compliance with the 2014 Survey, which opens on July 1, 2015. The deadline for reporting 2014 Survey data – including 2014 sales – is November 1, 2015. In addition, CARB expects to begin collecting 2015 data on July 1, 2016 with all 2015 data due by November 1, 2016.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel provides expert guidance to clients as they navigate compliance with California’s complex and ever-changing regulatory requirements, including the Consumer and Commercial Products Survey.

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California ARB Announces Extensions to Respond to 2013 Survey

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On February 19, 2015, California Air Resources Board extended the response time to the 2013 Consumer and Commercial Products Survey (2013 Survey).  But be careful – there are different extensions for different groups, and if businesses do not fall into the “Formulators” or “Small Business” groups, then they can only receive an extension if they apply by submitting the required email request by February 27, 2015.

Additional Extension Requests

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) recognized the substantial resources required to complete the 2013 Consumer and Commercial Products Survey (2013 Survey). In some cases, ARB announced, companies may need extra time to complete reporting of 2013 data beyond the 90 statutorily required days and the additional 90-days ARB staff already issued due to the 2013 Survey scope. Below is a summary of the additional extension request process announced by ARB.

1.   Formulators: All formulators will receive a 30-day extension to submit formulation data to ARB. The due date for formulators is extended to April 1, 2015.  Formulators automatically receive the extension and do not need to send an email to request one.

2.   Small Businesses: Responsible parties who are also a small business have an additional extension until July 1, 2015 for reporting 2013 data. For purposes of the 2013 Survey, a small business is defined as a company or entity with 25 or less full-time, part-time and contract employees combined. The 25 employee count must also include seasonal workers. For example, a salon with their own product line of hair care products with a 12 part-time employees would quality for this extension. Small businesses automatically receive the extension and do not need to send an email to request one.

3.   Responsible Parties (other than those who qualify as “Small Businesses”): Responsible party requests will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and must request an extension by email no later than February 27, 2015.  To request an extension from the original survey due date of March 2, 2015, responsible parties must email [email protected] by February 27, 2015 to make a request, and the email must have the following title: “2013 Survey Additional Extension Request – Company Name (add your company name here)”.   In order to receive an extension, responsible parties will need to provide the following information:

a) When did you learn about the 2013 Survey?

b) When did you start working on the 2013 Survey?

c) When did you finish your data collection effort for the 2013 Survey?

d) Approximately how many products will you report? labels?

e) How far along are you in entering data into the Consumer Products Reporting Tool (CPRT)?

f) How much time are you requesting to complete the 2013 Survey?

ARB staff will notify each company the results of their request via email.

ARB also reminded survey participants to submit complete data reports, as partial data sets will not be accepted.

Conkle, Kremer & Engel attorneys keep abreast of the latest developments in California regulatory laws to guide the firm’s clients through the shifting labyrinth that they must navigate.

 

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Beware of Scam Trademark Solicitations

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Trademark applicants and registrants take notice:  There are increasing numbers of domestic and international outfits that issue trademark compliance and renewal notices that look like legitimate invoices or governmental requests.  In actuality, these notices are sent by private individuals or entities trying to make a quick buck.  Some of these notices are solicitations from companies offering to file renewals with the United States Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO) for an exorbitant fee.  Using deceptively official-sounding names such as “United States Trademark Registration Office”, “Trademark and Patent Office” and “Patent & Trademark Agency”, these companies charge excessive fees for routine or unnecessary services or worse, take your money and disappear.  Others, such as IP Data in the Czech Republic, seek to charge a “filing fee” of over $2,400 to publish your trademark in their own private Internet database – an expensive exercise that is not an application for trademark registration and confers no trademark rights.

This problem has become so widespread and severe that the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) published a list of known international trademark registration scams.   The USPTO keeps a similar scammer database, identifying the following organizations that sent non-USPTO solicitations, prompting consumer complaints to the USPTO:

  • TM-DB Register of Protected Trademarks
  • Trademark and Patent Office
  • Trademark Compliance Center (See an example of a scam solicitation sent by TCC)
  • Trademark Registration and Monitoring Office
  • United States Trademark Registration Office
  • Patent & Trademark Agency
  • United States Trademark Maintenance Service
  • U.S. Trademark Compliance Service
  • WDTP
  • WIPT
  • TM Collection
  • TM Edition
  • Patent Trademark Register
  • Register of International Patents and Trademarks
  • Trademark Renewal Service
  • Trademark Safeguard – Trademark Monitoring Service
  • Intellectual Property Agency Ltd.
  • IOPR – Intellectual Property Register
  • GBO, Inc.
  • Intellectual Property Services USA Incorporated
  • USTM Information Services
  • Brand Registration Office

In October 2014, a New York firm successfully won a lawsuit against “Patent & Trademark Agency LLC” for unfair competition and deceptive marketing practices, putting the company out of business.  A Final Consent Judgment was entered against Patent & Trademark Agency LLC, by which it agreed to permanently discontinue marketing and selling trademark registration or renewal services in the United States.

If you receive any unexpected email or correspondence regarding a trademark registration, you should immediately contact the USPTO or your counsel to verify the veracity of the sender and the correspondence.  Conkle, Kremer & Engel assists individuals and companies in all aspects of intellectual property protection, including the filing and maintenance of trademark registrations – and we know how to discriminate legitimate vendors from scammers.

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