Archives for April 24, 2020

New California Law Requires At Least One Woman on Boards of Publicly-Traded Companies

California passed a pioneering law mandating that each publicly held company headquartered in the state have at least one female on its board of directors (Senate Bill No. 826; Corporations Code §301.3). The purpose of the law is to address the lack of representation of women on boards of directors, as at the time it was signed, one-fourth of California’s public companies had no female directors. San Diego was the worst county in the state for board diversity – 44 percent of companies headquartered in San Diego had no women on their boards – the highest percentage of any county in the state, according to a 2018 report by USD Business Professor, Annalisa Barrett.

The law applies to both domestic corporations (those incorporated within California) and foreign corporations (incorporated in Delaware, or any state or country other than California) with principal executive offices in California. The law states that by the end of 2021, a corporation with four or fewer directors must have a minimum of one female director; a corporation with five directors must have a minimum of two female directors; and a corporation with six or more directors must have a minimum of three female directors.

The state may also fine companies not in compliance – $100,000 for their first violation and $300,000 for any subsequent violation, with each seat that is not filled counting as its own violation.

According to a report released by KMPG at the end of February 2020, 96 percent of California’s companies have complied with the new law – only 4 percent still had all-male boards by the year-end deadline, down from 29 percent when the law took effect.

Senate President Pro Tempore, Toni Atkins, a co-author of the bill, has said the results are validating, and that having more women in the boardroom makes sense, both for profitability and equality. California is setting a precedent for the entire country to follow, and indeed, other states are following suit, with similar measures being introduced in Washington state, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Illinois. Investment bank Goldman Sachs has said it won’t take a company through an IPO unless it has at least one female board member.

A challenge to the constitutionality of the law was just dismissed this week by a California federal judge. A shareholder of OSI Systems, Inc. sued the Secretary of State, claiming that the law violated the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. Judge Mendez in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California dismissed his case, holding the plaintiff had no standing because the statute applies only to corporations, and he is a shareholder, “a distinction with a difference.” See Meland v. Padilla, 2:19-cv-02288 (E.D. CA, April 20, 2020).

At least a dozen other countries have addressed the issue of lack of gender diversity on corporate boards by mandating that 30-40 percent of board seats be held by women directors. Germany requires that 30 percent of public company board seats be held by women. In 2003, Norway was the first country to mandate 40 percent of board seats be held by women. Similar mandates have been legislated by France, Spain, Iceland, and the Netherlands.

If you have questions about complying with this new law or believe you need to take legal action to assert your rights, contact Haeggquist & Eck, LLP online or call (619) 342-8000 and ask how you can arrange a complimentary consultation with one of our attorneys.

Do I Have To Work If I Have An Underlying Medical Condition During COVID-19?

Based on currently available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who have serious underlying medical conditions might be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. These conditions include chronic lung disease, moderate to severe asthma, serious heart conditions, immunocompromised conditions (e.g., cancer, smoking, bone marrow or organ transplants, HIV or AIDS, use of immune weakening medications, or other immune deficiencies), severe obesity, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and/or liver disease.

What if you’re an essential worker and have to continue working despite stay-at-home orders and your underlying medical condition?

The CDC has advised that those at higher risk need to take extra precautions, including by staying home. The CDC has also recommended high risk individuals check with local public health officials. The San Diego Health Officer has advised that a “strong recommendation is made” that all person who have “a chronic underlying condition, or have a compromised immune system self-quarantine themselves at home or other suitable location.” The Orange County Health Officer’s order is in accord. Employers are expected to follow guidance from the CDC, as well as State and local government guidelines, regulations, and orders, to maintain a safe workplace.

Thus, if you have a serious health condition and your employer is nevertheless making you work during COVID-19, you may have the right to a reasonable accommodation, e.g., teleworking. If that is not an option, then you may be entitled to a temporary leave of absence. If your employer refuses to offer you such an accommodation which results in the termination of your employment, you may have a wrongful termination claim against your employer.

More specifically, despite the societal and practical needs for essential workers to report to work to ensure continuity of operations of essential functions (e.g., food, healthcare, etc.), if the workplace is objectively unsafe or unhealthy, and your employer is nevertheless forcing you to report to work, it could be in violation of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (“OSHA”) and California’s labor laws, such as Labor Code §§6400, 6402 (“No employer shall require, or permit any employee to go or be in any employment or place of employment which is not safe and healthful.”). Your employer could also be in violation of California’s anti-discrimination laws which require employers to accommodate employees with disabilities and/or medical conditions. These laws apply even if you work for an essential business. Based on the objective evidence offered by the CDC and local public health officials, it is not safe for most individuals with serious medical conditions to report to most workplaces. As such, if you have a serious medical condition and your employer is refusing to allow you to work from home and/or to take a temporary leave of absence, you may have a legal claim.

If you feel your employer is forcing you to work in an unsafe or unhealthy workplace, contact the attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP or by calling (619) 342-8000 to learn more about your rights.

Californians Can Fight Back Against Unsolicited Commercial Emails

Dreaded spam emails are saturating our inboxes. Unfortunately, there is not an easy way to stop or get rid of the flood of unsolicited commercial emails. Despite Bill Gates famously saying in 2004 that “two years from now, spam will be solved,” 16 years later technology has failed to stop the influx of unsolicited commercial emails.

Fortunately, California has created a way for consumers to fight back with its “Anti-Spam” law (California Business & Professions Code §§17529.2, et seq.). California has made it unlawful for any person or entity to send “unsolicited commercial e-mail” advertisements from California and/or to a California email address. It is similarly unlawful for any person or entity to collect email addresses posted on the internet for purposes of unsolicited commercial email advertisements.

If you are a recipient of an unsolicited commercial email in California, you are entitled to seek $1,000 for each unsolicited commercial email advertisement.

If you are a recipient of an unsolicited commercial email in California, and you would like to know more information about your rights, contact the attorneys at Haeggquist & Eck, LLP. The attorneys offer free case evaluations and if they take your case, they will represent you on a contingency fee basis. That means you don’t pay them anything unless they win.

To schedule your free initial consultation, contact us online or call (619) 342-8000 today!

More Time For Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Assault To Sue

California has passed a new law extending the statute of limitations for cases of alleged childhood sexual abuse. This is incredibly important both for survivors of child sexual assault and for the protection of California’s children. Authored by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez of San Diego and signed by Governor Gavin Newsom, as of Jan. 1, 2020, adults have until at least their 40th birthday to file claims against people and institutions they seek to hold responsible for sexual molestation or sexual assault they experienced as children. See Code of Civil Procedure §340.1. Before this new law, survivors had until their 26th birthday to file suit.

The law also opens up a three-year window for the revival of any claims that would have been barred by the statute of limitations. In addition, the law provides for added penalties (treble damages) against employers or organizations that covered up childhood sexual abuse. As has been well documented with the Catholic Church and Boy Scouts of America, institutions have been criticized for moving predators around from one place to another to avoid accountability.

Data suggests that survivors of childhood sexual abuse often do not tell anyone about the abuse until they are well into their adulthood. Survivors can help protect today’s children by ensuring that what happened to them doesn’t happen to another child.

If the sexual assault happened after the victim’s 18th birthday, the time to file a lawsuit for sexual assault was extended last year to up to ten years after the assault or three years after the injury was discovered, whichever is later. See Code of Civil Procedure §340.16.

Haeggquist & Eck, LLP represents brave survivors of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Contact us online or call us at (619) 342-8000 to speak with one of our attorneys.

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