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Morgan Lewis, Outten & Golden, Cooley: Business of Law

Aug. 28 (Bloomberg) -- JPMorgan Chase & Co. violated the National Labor Relations Act by requiring five former employees to use binding arbitration after they joined a class-action suit involving overtime pay, an administrative law judge of the National Labor Relations Board said.

In an Aug. 21 ruling, Steven Fish, the administrative law judge, relied on a 2012 labor board decision that says requiring an employee to relinquish his or her right to sue is counter to the NLRA.

“By maintaining a binding arbitration agreement that waives the right to maintain class or collective actions in all forums, whether arbitral or judicial,” the bank engaged in unfair labor practices, Fish wrote.

Fish said that while some courts have questioned the rationale of the 2012 ruling, he was bound by it unless it’s overturned by the courts.

JPMorgan can file objections to the ruling with the full labor board. If the board upholds the ruling, the bank can appeal in federal court.

Morgan Lewis & Bockius LLP represented JPMorgan. Jonathan Fritts, a partner at Morgan Lewis, declined to comment on the ruling. Trish Wexler, a spokeswoman for JPMorgan, declined to comment.

The plaintiffs were represented by Outten & Golden LLP, a firm specializing in employment law.

“The arbitration agreements frustrated the right to engage in concerted activity, which includes bringing a lawsuit over how you’re paid,” said Michael Scimone, a lawyer with Outten.

The case is JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Chase Investment Services Corp. 02-CA-098118. The federal court case is Lloyd v JPMorgan Chase, 1:11-cv-09305, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Manhattan).

Courts

BofA’s Merrill Reaches $160 Million Deal in Black Advisers’ Suit

Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch unit agreed to pay $160 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit filed by black financial advisers, a lawyer for the plaintiffs said.

The case, filed in 2005, was brought on behalf of one employee and grew to as many as 1,200 class representatives who “persevered through some long odds in this case,” said Suzanne Bish, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

The agreement is scheduled to be considered by a federal judge in Chicago on Sept. 3, Bish said yesterday in a phone interview.

“We are working toward a very positive resolution of a lawsuit filed in 2005 and enhancing opportunities for African-American financial advisers,” Bill Halldin, a Bank of America spokesman, said in an e-mail.

Bank of America, the second-biggest U.S. lender by assets, acquired Merrill for $33 billion in 2009. The Charlotte, North Carolina-based bank plans to dissolve the unit as early as the fourth quarter while keeping the Merrill Lynch brand for its retail brokerage and investment bank, according to an Aug. 2 filing.

Merrill Lynch had about 14,000 financial advisers as of June 30, excluding those working at bank branches. Bank of America’s entire staff was 257,158.

The lead plaintiff, George McReynolds of Nashville, Tennessee, still works for Merrill Lynch, Bish said. McReynolds and the firm maintained a professional attitude throughout the litigation based on a common “passion for their clients,” she said.

The central claim was that blacks weren’t given the same business opportunities as whites in participating on investment teams and in account distribution, Bish said.

The New York Times first reported the settlement.

The cases are McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch, 11-01957, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit (Chicago), and McReynolds v. Merrill Lynch Pierce Fenner & Smith Inc., 05-cv-06583, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois (Chicago).

Facebook’s Settlement Over ‘Sponsored Stories’ Approved

A federal judge on Aug. 26 approved a $20 million settlement of a lawsuit against Facebook Inc. which claimed the social networking site used subscribers’ names without their permission to advertise products in its “Sponsored Stories.”

Under the settlement users can claim a $15 payment, and funds left over will go to advocacy groups. While the deal initially approved by the judge in December included a $10 per claimant settlement, U.S. District Judge Richard Seeborg wrote in the order that “so few persons have filed claims that the parties” increased the amount.

Seeborg held that “the court is satisfied that the revisions to the terms of the settlement are sufficient to warrant preliminary approval under the applicable standards.”

Cooley LLP represented Facebook in the litigation.

The case is Fraley v. Facebook Inc., 11-cv-01726, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California (San Jose).

Law Firm News

Squire Sanders Adds Health-Care Partner in Cincinnati Office

Adam Colvin joined Squire Sanders LLP as a partner in the health-care practice group in Cincinnati.

Colvin focuses his practice on regulatory and transactional matters, including fraud and abuse issues, joint ventures, purchase and sale of physician practices, employment and recruitment agreements and the establishment of ambulatory surgery centers.

“We are very excited for Adam to join our health-care practice group,” David Grauer, head of the practice group, said in a statement. “His talent and extensive health-care experience will create new opportunities and will add to the level of service we can provide our clients.”

Holland & Knight Opens Office in Mexico City

Holland & Knight LLP is opening a new office in Mexico City after previously operating in Mexico through a joint venture established in 1998.

The office, which continues the firm’s expansion in Latin America, will be led by Boris Otto, the former managing partner of the Mexico City office of Chadbourne & Parke LLP. Alejandro Landa Thierry and José Antonio Prado, formerly with Chadbourne & Parke, will join Holland & Knight. Two counsel, Miriam Grunstein and Leslie Palma, and five associates expand the firm’s Latin American practices.

The Mexico City office will focus on corporate finance, energy, project finance, capital markets, mergers and acquisitions, securitizations and private equity.

“We see enormous potential in Mexico for the firm and its clients,” Steven Sonberg, the managing partner of Holland & Knight, said in a statement. “Mexico is a dynamic market and many of our clients have operations or interests there.”

Ballard Spahr Expands Its New York Office

Justin Angelo joined the consumer financial services group of Ballard Spahr LLP in New York.

Angelo, who joins the firm from the Fort Lauderdale office of Greenberg Traurig LLP, has experience defending banks and non-banks against claims under various residential mortgage and other consumer laws, including the Truth in Lending Act, Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, Fair Credit Reporting Act and Equal Credit Opportunity Act.

The firm opened its New York office on July 1 when it joined with Stillman & Friedman, a boutique litigation firm.

To contact the reporter on this story: Ellen Rosen in New York at erosen14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net.

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