🗞️ Musk v. SEC, Apple v. Unions, & A Menthol Ban
This Week: Elon Musk loses a court battle, Apple’s union woes, and the racial history of menthol cigarettes. Plus, is work spying on you? NYU Law’s new dean, and the cost of tuition.
The deal isn't officially closed yet and Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter is already bringing the world's richest man legal troubles. Last week, a judge ruled that Musk's takeover of the social media company does not get him out of the settlement deal he reached with the SEC back in 2018. Musk claimed publicly in April that the consent decree he agreed to with the SEC has “launched endless, boundless investigation” by the regulatory body.
The settlement with the SEC was a result of an investigation following Musk's infamous tweet about potentially taking Tesla private — a comment which the SEC said was a lie and manipulated stock prices.
In last week's case, US District Judge Lewis Liman ruled that the SEC is entitled to investigate Musk, reports The Verge, and that “he cannot now complain that this provision violates his First Amendment rights.”
Taking It To The Supreme Court
While Musk has publicly justified his bid for Twitter as a defense of freedom of speech, it appears he has also joined an effort by other super-wealthy businessmen to rein in the SEC's power to use gag orders. As the New York Times notes, the SEC has enforced gag orders on settlements since 1972 under the rationale that “if every defendant opted out of a trial but then later reframed the charges to the public, it would undermine the validity of resolutions and the legitimacy of Wall Street’s chief regulators.” In a petition filed by Barry Romeril, the claim is that this gag order rule is a First Amendment violation. Mark Cuban (who also filed an amicus brief) added that the silencing rule “deprives the markets of important information.”
Buying a company doesn’t get you out of the legal trouble you incurred through using that company — but hey, if you’re Elon Musk, the consequences of the law have never really stopped you from doing anything.
🎧 What We’re Listening To
This week, we’re listening to Chicago-based composer John Daniel. Under the moniker Forest Management, he takes a simple yet thoughtful approach to ambient music. His 2019 LP, After Dark, was composed of a worn vinyl copy of Claude Debussy’s La Mer. He used his computer to gradually add edits and effects to the 13 unique tracks. In its final form, it renders a looped journey with almost indistinguishable shifts between tracks.
Amazon isn't the only tech giant facing unionization efforts by its employees. 100 retail workers at an Apple store in Atlanta filed a petition with the National Labor Relations Board late last month to hold union elections with the Communications Workers of America (CWA). Apple has yet to respond to the petition but has hired Littler Mendelson — an anti-unionization firm which helped Starbucks fight unionization efforts among the coffee chain's employees.
“By retaining the notorious union-busting firm Littler Mendelson, Apple’s management is showing that they intend to try to prevent their employees from exercising their right to join a union by running the same playbook as other large corporations,” said CWA Secretary-Treasurer Sara Steffens, reports Engadget. “The workers at Starbucks, another Littler client, aren’t falling for it and neither will the workers at Apple.”
According to The Verge, an Apple retail worker in New York said the hardware maker is using employees' on-the-clock time to hold anti-union meetings. “There’s a lot of misinformation that’s been spread trying to scare the masses,” he added. “I think they’re panicking.”
Back at the corporate office, Apple is getting pushback from employees demanding a better work-life balance in the face of a return to the office. Organized under a group called Apple Together, employees wrote an open letter to the company stating that “We are not asking for everyone to be forced to work from home,” it reads, says CNN. “We are asking to decide for ourselves, together with our teams and direct manager, what kind of work arrangement works best for each one of us, be that in an office, work from home, or a hybrid approach.” The group further argues that a return to the office will waste resources, and benefit mostly “younger, whiter, more male-dominated, more neuro-normative, more able-bodied,” employees, thus hurting diversity.
Unionization efforts are continuing to spread among major employers’ workforces, and how they handle it may leave a long-lasting impact on labor relations. It will also be interesting to see if Apple Together’s claim that in-office requirements favor certain groups does pan out to be true.
🌅 On The Horizon
We’re lacing up for a new event series exclusive to our talent community: Legal Freelancer Bootcamp! We’ll cover the most important how-tos of being successful on our platform, including:
How to work in billable hours
How to stand out from the crowd
How to interview successfully
How to balance multiple clients
How to avoid burnout
How to start your own business
Moderated by our amazing team (and featuring some surprise guests 🤫) you won’t want to miss these tactical training sessions.
First up? How to Work in Billable Hours. Join our Head of Community, Matt Margolis, as he hosts a workshop on how you can manage time tracking as a freelancer, with insight from our guest, Megan Niedermeyer (GC, Fivetran).
The FDA wants to ban menthol cigarettes, but their reasoning is not entirely because of the product itself (though, to be clear, cigarettes kill). The ban of menthol and other flavored cigarettes would help prevent "youth initiation", or the targeting of young adults and teens, says the government agency, and the ban would also help fight health disparities that have widened as a result of the tobacco industry's targeting of Black consumers with menthol cigarettes.
Keith Wailoo, a history professor at Princeton and the author of a book on the subject of menthol cigarette advertisement, says that the tobacco companies began targeting the Black consumers in 1964 after the FDA ruled that the industry could no longer advertise to minors. “It's then that the industry began to pivot aggressively towards targeted marketing in Black communities,” he said, reports NPR.
A government survey found that 85 percent of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, while only 29 percent of white smokers do, says the New York Times.
The FDA notes that “menthol also interacts with nicotine in the brain to enhance nicotine’s addictive effects.”
“Smoking Is Back”
The rise of the Juul e-cigarette and vaping, as well as aesthetic uses of cigarettes on social media, have led to a rise in smoking. As the New York Times states, 2020 saw the first uptick in cigarette sales after a two-decade decline, even after hitting an all-time low in 2018. “Smoking is back,” 24-year-old Isabel Rower told the publication. “I don’t know why. No one is really addicted to it. It’s more of a pleasure activity.”
While it’s disheartening to see a return to smoking — whether because of the pandemic or because of social media — it’s hopeful to know that the FDA is pursuing regulations that end health disparities and trade practices rooted in racial profiling.
🤣 Meme of the Week
“Paralegal is out. Do you know how to file in federal court?”
📤 What Else We're Forwarding
iSpy: Remote work has caused employee monitoring to enter the home, reports The Hustle. Some employers have even taken to using services like Seek, which snaps a photo from an employee's webcam every 5 minutes.
Diversity Matters: Troy McKenzie has been appointed dean of NYU Law, and will assume the role on June 1. McKenzie will be the first Black dean of the school, and the only Black dean within the T14, says AboveTheLaw.com.
Price Cut: The median price of law school tuition in 2021 dropped to levels not seen in 6 years or more, claims a new report by AccessLex Institute, with non-resident tuition at public law schools dropping to 2013 levels. The overall average tuition was $22,100.
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See ya next week!