After repeated delays, the compliance deadline for the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) new federal menu labeling rules — requiring disclosure of nutrition information for standard menu items — is set for May 7, 2018. After repeatedly being postponed, the FDA announced that the rules will not be postponed any longer and will be enforced as of that date.
A Georgia federal court recently found that a person who did not sign a franchise agreement was nevertheless bound by it. That was good news for a franchisor caught between two parties who claimed no responsibility for violating the franchise agreement by opening a competing business in the same franchise location.
Most franchisors will be happy to hear that the NLRB on Dec. 14 nixed the Browning-Ferris expansion of the joint employer doctrine, which has been of concern to the franchise industry for several years. The new case is Hy-Brand Industrial Contractors, Ltd. and Brandt Construction Co, 361 NLRB No. 156 (Dec. 14, 2017). Even though the board held that Hy-Brand and Brandt are collectively joint employers for purposes of the National Labor Relations Act, the joint employer standard applied is a significant departure from the Browning-Ferris standard.
Unlike some states’ franchise laws, the Missouri Franchise Act gives limited protection to franchisees. However, it does provide that if a franchisor fails to give 90 days’ notice of cancellation or termination, the franchisee may be awarded “damages sustained, to include loss of goodwill, costs of suit, and any equitable relief that the court deems proper.” A recent case provided much-needed clarification on how damages are measured if a franchisor fails to give a proper notice of termination.
SBA-backed loans have long been an important source of funding for many franchisees, but in the past several years, the system has been in flux. Changes will again be implemented on Jan. 1, 2018, and franchisors should ensure they are ready.
The enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration provisions has been debated for years in courts across the country, including in several cases before the United States Supreme Court. This week, Congress weighed in on the ongoing debate.
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.
While state and national efforts are underway to clarify the issue of joint employment, plaintiffs continue to allege the theory against franchisors in hopes of getting past a motion to dismiss. The lesson in one such recent case was that franchisors that give product discounts to their franchisees’ employees may find their generosity backfires if they are sued for being a joint employer in certain states. A federal district court in Michigan recently found that food service managers working at Marriott franchises had alleged enough facts to survive a motion to dismiss a lawsuit claiming that the franchisor, Marriott International, Inc., exercises control over them and is their joint employer. Among the allegations that the court cited in denying Marriott’s motion to dismiss was that Marriott treated plaintiffs like Marriott employees by giving them discount room rates at Marriott hotels worldwide, which the court said could be viewed as the ability to affect compensation and benefits similar to an employment relationship.
A recent federal appeals court decision overturning a $6.5 million jury verdict for a franchisee on a state franchise law discrimination claim demonstrates once again the difficulty that franchisees face in such challenges, even when the court finds that the franchisor treated some franchisees differently than others in some instances and could not explain why.
Despite arguably conflicting terms in a franchise agreement, a franchisor could enforce a non-compete provision whenever the agreement ended, whether by termination or expiration. An arbitrator reached that conclusion by harmonizing two provisions in the franchise agreement that referenced a non-compete obligation — one that referenced termination and one that referenced both termination and expiration. This was a reasonable interpretation of the contract, according to the Maryland federal district court that found no basis to upset the arbitration award.