A nearly 10-year-old Illinois privacy law that has sparked class action lawsuits against familiar tech companies such as Google, Facebook and Shutterfly has moved into the franchise industry.
Following in the footsteps of claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, class action lawyers are now filing lawsuits under Illinois’ Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA) alleging that companies are unlawfully collecting biometric information from customers and employees through devices such as fingerprint scanners. Plaintiffs are suing both franchisors and franchisees. Franchisors are being sued for collecting the information themselves for their own employees and also for the actions of their franchisees on theories of joint and several liability, vicarious liability, agency and alter ego. A recently filed case alleges that a franchisor mandates and controls virtually every aspect of its franchise locations, including the use of certain equipment that collects biometric information to track employees’ time and attendance and to monitor cash register systems for fraud. Other cases allege that franchisors and franchisees are using it to track health and fitness information and authenticate customers’ transactions.
Fourth Circuit serves franchisors a double helping of arbitration and litigation
Many franchisors spend considerable time and resources analyzing whether to include a mandatory arbitration provision in their franchise agreements in hopes of warding off franchisees’ class action lawsuits and avoiding costly and drawn-out litigation. Such efforts are now even more complicated, at least in the Fourth Circuit.
Today the Office of the General Counsel of the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB”) took its next step in the investigation of labor practices within the McDonald’s franchise system and issued consolidated complaints against McDonald’s franchisees and the franchisor – McDonald’s USA, LLC on the theory that the franchisor is a joint employer with its franchisees. Consistent with General Counsel’s amicus brief in the Browning-Ferris matter that was filed this summer, the focus of the complaints appear to be on the use of technology and tools that allows franchisors insight and potential control over franchisee operations.
On Monday, May 5, 2014, Doug Neville will be presenting, “The Affordable Care Act and Immigration: What Every Franchise Lawyer Needs to Know,” at the 47th Annual IFA Legal Symposium in Chicago, Illinois. Doug and his co-presenters will discuss what affect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will have on franchisors and franchisees, best practices franchisors and franchisees should follow to comply with, and to reduce liability under the ACA, and how franchisors can help franchisees achieve their immigration objectives.
Also during the IFA Legal Symposium, on Tuesday, May 6, 2014, Beata Krakus will be facilitating a roundtable addressing social media policies in franchising. During the roundtable session entitled, “Social Media Policies in Franchising: Structuring, Protecting the Brands and Enforcing Long Term,” attendees will have the chance to share challenges, questions and solutions surrounding the topic.
Emmanuel Joseph was a franchised gasoline retailer for Chicago-area fuel distributor Sasafrasnet, LLC, who operated a BP-branded gasoline station in Chicago. In November 2010, Sasafrasnet notified Mr. Joseph that it was going to terminate his franchise under the Petroleum Marketing Practices Act (“PMPA”) because, on three separate occasions, it had been unable to electronically debit Mr. Joseph’s account to pay for fuel deliveries because his bank account did not have sufficient funds. Mr. Joseph filed suit and sought a preliminary injunction under the PMPA to enjoin Sasafrasnet from terminating him, but the district court denied the motion.
Recently, the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana denied franchisor Steak n Shake’s motions to compel the non-binding arbitration of three consolidated lawsuits filed by three franchisees. The decision highlights the importance of a franchisor carefully monitoring and updating its dispute resolution policies in the context of the legal risks facing its system.
Franchisors often include a “no reliance” clause in their franchise agreements, in which the franchisees acknowledge that they have not relied on any information or representation not expressly stated within the franchise agreement itself. The intent of such clauses is to help protect against a claim based on alleged oral or written representations made outside of the franchise agreement. Although several federal courts have found that such “no reliance” clauses preclude franchisees from proving fraudulent misrepresentation cases, many state courts have been hesitant to bar fraud claims based on such clauses.