Posts in Regulatory.
Time 4 Minute Read

On April 1, 2024, California’s Assembly Bill No.1228 (“AB 1228”) took effect, making the state’s fast food workers the highest paid in the United States. However, uncertainty regarding precisely who is covered under the new law has left some employers reeling, as the stakes for complying with California’s Labor Code remain as high as ever.

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In a speech before the Yale Law School February 2024, SEC Chair Gary Gensler had AI top of mind. Interrupted only by a colorful collection of movie references, Chair Gensler focused almost the entirety of his remarks on AI and the SEC’s corresponding regulatory duties. Chair Gensler addressed the risks associated with AI while cautioning reporting companies to avoid “AI washing” and making boilerplate AI disclosures that are not particularized to the company. The speech nicely underscores the SEC’s two-fold, and at times juxtaposed, concerns about the important emerging technology.

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On March 6, 2024, by a party-line vote of 3-2, the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) adopted final rules (entitled “The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors”) requiring most public companies to disclose climate-related information in registration statements and annual reports filed with the SEC. The SEC first proposed climate disclosure rules in March 2022, and the proposal has been a source of much debate and controversy, generating over 24,000 comment letters, more than any regulation in the history of the SEC.

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On January 10, 2024, the US Department of Labor (DOL) issued the “Final Rule” that modifies the standard for determining whether a worker is an employee or independent contractor under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The Final Rule will take effect on March 11, 2024.

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On December 14, 2023, the European Parliament and the European Council reached a provisional deal on the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CS3D). Initially proposed by the European Commission in February of 2022, the CS3D requires certain companies to account for and mitigate adverse human rights and environmental impacts throughout their supply chains, including both their own operations as well as upstream and downstream activities. In November 2022, the European Council adopted the general approach proposed by the European Commission. Since then, the Council and the European Parliament have negotiated the parameters of the CS3D to reach a provisional agreement. While press releases from the Council, the Parliament, and the Commission all confirm an agreement has been reached, the text of the agreed upon CS3D is not yet publicly available. It is likely to be released in early 2024.

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On December 13, 2023, New York Governor Kathy Hochul signed Senate Bill S1048A into law requiring sellers that impose credit card surcharges to post the total price, inclusive of the surcharge. In addition, the surcharge to customers may not exceed the amount of the surcharge charged to the business by the credit card company for such credit card use. Per the legislative history, “This bill is necessary to prevent consumers from being misled when making a purchase using their credits cards.”

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The Federal Trade Commission has announced that it will hold an informal hearing on February 13, 2024 on the agency’s proposed rule banning fake reviews and testimonials. As we reported in July 2023, the FTC is proposing to ban business from using illicit review and endorsement practices such as using fake reviews, suppressing honest negative reviews and paying for positive reviews, which deceive consumers looking for real feedback on a product or service and undercut honest businesses.

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With the growing emergence of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) laws, companies selling products in the United States must increasingly plan for the end of a product’s life. EPR programs shift waste-management responsibilities that have traditionally been handled by consumers or state and local governments to the “producer” of the product.

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On October 7, 2023 California Governor Gavin Newsom signed two landmark climate disclosure laws aimed at making major companies publicly disclose their greenhouse gas emissions and report on their climate-related financial risks. The first, the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act (SB 253), will require all business entities with an annual revenue exceeding $1 billion to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions in a format accessible to the public. The second, SB 261, will require all business entities with annual revenue exceeding $500 million to publish a report on their “climate-related financial risks” on their websites. These first-in-the-nation laws are broader than the proposed SEC climate disclosure rule and reach more than just California-based entities.

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As we reported Friday, the FTC has proposed a rule to ban misleading and hidden fees. While that initiative is pending, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed similar legislation, SB 478, into law. Effective July 1, 2024, the California statute prohibits advertising, displaying, or offering a price for a good or service that does not include all mandatory fees or charges other than taxes or fees imposed by a government on the transaction, or postage or carriage charges that will be reasonably and actually incurred to ship the physical good to the consumer. The legislation takes aim at ...

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The FTC announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) targeting misleading and hidden fees, commonly known as “junk fees,” and how businesses may advertise and market prices to consumers. The NPRM was drafted based on over 12,000 public comments to the FTC’s Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking published in November 2022.

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The FTC announced an enforcement action against online shoe seller Hey Dude, Inc. (a subsidiary of Crocs, Inc.) alleging Hey Dude suppressed more than 80% of consumer reviews that provided less than four out of five stars. The complaint also alleges multiple violations of the FTC’s Mail Order Rule between 2020 and 2022. A proposed consent order would require Hey Dude to pay nearly $2 million and take certain steps to prevent future violations.

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In June 2023, EPA announced the dates for the 2024 submission period for information required under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) Chemical Data Reporting (CDR) rule. The information is collected every four years from manufacturers and importers of certain chemicals in commerce, generally when production volumes for those chemicals are 25,000 pounds or greater in a given reporting year. The 2024 submission period runs from June 1, 2024 to September 30, 2024.

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Since the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana in June 2022, trial courts in California have grappled with how to address the non-individual portion of a plaintiff’s PAGA claim that remains in court when a plaintiff’s individual PAGA claim is compelled to arbitration.[1]  Most trial courts have found it appropriate to stay the non-individual portion of the PAGA claim until the arbitration’s conclusion because that outcome would determine whether the employee retains standing to proceed in court.  On July 17, 2023, in the highly anticipated decision of Adolph v. Uber Technologies, the California Supreme Court addressed several questions in the post-Viking River landscape, including the propriety of staying non-individual PAGA claims pending the completion of arbitration. 

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The FTC recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) aimed at curbing deceptive consumer reviews and endorsements. The NPRM primarily aims to expand the Commission’s ability to seek civil penalties against businesses using false and misleading reviews online, which the FTC maintains can cause significant harm to consumers and competitors.

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The US Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on June 9, 2023, approved the listing standards Nasdaq and NYSE established requiring listed issuers to adopt and comply with written clawback policies meeting the standards specified by Rule 10D-1. The listing standards will take effect on October 2, 2023. Listed issuers, including publicly-traded retailers, will have until December 1, 2023 (i.e., 60 days after October 2) to adopt a clawback policy that is compliant with the new listing standards.

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Last week, the FTC announced its long-awaited finalization of updated Endorsement Guides. These guidelines come after the FTC initially voted to publish revised guidelines in May 2022. The new Guides were approved by a unanimous vote and make a significant number of updates to the 2009 version.

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It has been two years since the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Ford Motor Co. v. Montana Eighth Jud. Dist. Ct., 141 S. Ct. 1017 (2021), holding that Ford could be subject to personal jurisdiction in Minnesota and Montana because the suit “related to” the company’s contacts with the states, even though there was not a causal relationship between Ford’s contacts with the forum and plaintiffs’ claims. The Court’s ruling clarified its decisions in Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. v. Superior Ct. of California, San Francisco Cnty., 137 S. Ct. 1773, 1780 (2017) and Daimler AG v. Bauman, 134 S. Ct. 746, 749 (2014), which held that for state courts to exercise specific jurisdiction, the suit must “arise out of or relate to the defendant’s contacts with the forum.” As Justice Kagan explained, “[t]he first half of that standard asks about causation; but the back half, after the ‘or,' contemplates that some relationships will support jurisdiction without a causal showing.” Ford at 1026. Because claimants alleged a defective Ford vehicle caused the crashes and harm at issue, and “Ford had systematically served a market in Montana and Minnesota for the very vehicles that the plaintiffs allege malfunctioned and injured them in those States,” there was a strong “relationship among the defendant, the forum, and the litigation” such that Ford could be subject to personal jurisdiction in those states. Id. at 1028.

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On March 23, 2023, the FTC issued a notice of proposed rulemaking aimed at deceptive and unfair practices involving recurring charges for automatically renewing subscriptions and memberships. The proposed rule is part of a broader FTC initiative designed to crack down on “dark pattern” tactics that retailers employ to aid in customer acquisition and retention, among other things. Difficult cancellation procedures for subscription-based services are one such tactic identified as problematic by the FTC and targeted by the new proposed rule.

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Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have taken center stage. The Biden administration’s regulatory agenda plans numerous revisions to environmental regulations to address this broad class of pervasive substances. While the US Environmental Protection Agency grapples with implementing these initiatives, states are aggressively forging ahead with their own plans. Laws targeting PFAS in various products have taken effect and will continue to take effect in many states, representing a striking expansion from typical state regulations addressing environmental PFAS contamination from firefighting foam and other sources.

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As we recently reported, the FTC voted to issue a notice in the Federal Register seeking input on updating its Green Guides. The FTC’s notice seeks input on a number of areas addressed by the current Guides, which last were updated in 2012.

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The FTC announced that it will hold an open meeting on December 14 during which the agency will vote to publish a Federal Register notice commencing a regulatory review of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (“Green Guides”). The commonly followed Guides, which were last updated in 2012, set forth: (1) general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims; (2) how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims and how marketers can substantiate these claims; and (3) how marketers can qualify their claims to avoid deceiving consumers.

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The Securities and Exchange Commission (the “SEC”) on October 26, 2022, adopted new executive compensation “clawback” rules, thus fulfilling its 2010 mandate under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (“Dodd-Frank”). The purpose of this alert is to briefly summarize the rules and some related considerations and highlight next steps that issuers should be considering as they plan to comply with the new rules.

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Time 3 Minute Read

The Federal Trade Commission published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) on October 20 seeking public comment on a potential regulation aimed at curbing deceptive consumer reviews and endorsements. In its announcement, the FTC highlighted the prevalence of false and misleading reviews online and the harms they cause consumers and competitors.

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On October 18, 2022, the New York State Department of Financial Services (“NYDFS”) announced that EyeMed Vision Care LLC (“EyeMed”) agreed to a $4.5 million settlement for violations of the Cybersecurity Regulation (23 NYCRR Part 500) that contributed to the exposure of hundreds of thousands of consumers’ health data in connection with a cybersecurity event in 2020.

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The SEC instituted settlement proceedings against Kim Kardashian on Monday, alleging that the reality television star and entrepreneur violated the SEC’s anti-touting statute when she failed to disclose compensation that she received in exchange for an Instagram post endorsing cryptocurrency tokens.  The promotion, which Kardashian posted to her Instagram account on June 13, 2021, encouraged her 225 million followers to visit a website operated by EthereumMax, an online company that offers and sells digital “Emax tokens.” Kardashian’s Instagram post included an “#AD” hashtag, but failed to disclose that she received $250,000 from EthereumMax in exchange for the promotion.

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In the past year, the FTC has promoted consumers’ so-called “right to repair.” In particular, the FTC has focused on the “Anti-Tying Rule” of the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act (the “MMWA”), which limits manufacturers’ ability to steer consumers to manufacturer-affiliated repair shops. Plaintiffs’ firms have taken notice, filing a spate of class actions based on purported violations of the Anti-Tying Rule. These same firms have also filed a spate of consumer class actions against retailers alleging violations of the MMWA’s “Pre-Sale Availability Rule.” Manufacturers and retailers should confirm they are complying with the MMWA and state law.

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The FTC, through the Department of Justice, has entered a settlement with two companies and the joint corporate President for falsely claiming that the LED lighting products and personal protective equipment (PPE) they sold were “Assembled in the USA,” “Buy American Act Compliant,” “Manufactured in the USA” and “100% Made in the USA,” despite having been imported from China. According to the FTC’s complaint, the defendants, Axis LED Group, LLC, ALG-Health LLC and Adam J. Harmon, went so far as to peel “Made in China” stickers off the products and replace them with Made in USA labels. The FTC had previously investigated and warned the companies, and received assurances that they would remove unqualified Made in USA claims from their marketing materials. The defendants subsequently were investigated by the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health (NIOSH) over safety superiority claims for their KN95 masks.

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As part of a broader regulatory roll-back intended to stimulate business and economic activity post-pandemic, the New York City Council repealed regulations affecting the auction industry.[1] Generally, the repeal’s effect is to remove rules that regulate the conduct of auctioneers and auction houses, including licensing and disclosure requirements.

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The FTC has announced that it is taking a fresh look at its guidance for online disclosures, in part because, according to its Consumer Protection Director, “some companies are wrongly citing the guides to justify practices that mislead consumers online.”

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The FTC voted today to issue revised proposed Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, aka, the “Endorsement Guides.” In a 5-0 vote, including a yes vote from the FTC’s newest Commissioner, Alvaro Bedoya, the FTC agreed to publish their proposal in the Federal Register and will take comment on the updates from the public. In addition, the FTC announced that it will hold a virtual event on October 19, 2022, in which it will consider the special challenges presented by advertising to children, especially children under 12 years of age.

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On March 31, 2022, the staff of the Division of Corporation Finance and the Office of the Chief Accountant of the SEC issued Staff Accounting Bulletin (SAB) No. 121 (SAB 121), which “adds interpretive guidance for entities to consider when they have obligations to safeguard crypto-assets held for their platform users.” SAB 121 highlights the enhanced technological, legal and regulatory risks associated with safeguarding digital assets, as compared with more traditional asset classes. Specifically, SAB 121 asserts that a company is subject to “significant increased risks… including an increased risk of financial loss” when that company controls the cryptographic keys associated with a user’s digital assets. As a result, the staff believes that reporting companies should quantify and disclose that obligation, and record a liability and corresponding asset on their balance sheets at fair value.

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Last week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) revealed its much-anticipated proposal to require that public companies disclose climate-related information. The proposed rule is significant because, for the first time, the SEC would mandate that companies (including foreign companies) publicly traded in the US disclose climate-related risk and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions information beyond the information currently required by existing SEC rules applicable to registration statements and annual reports.

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On March 9, 2022, the Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) held an open meeting and proposed new cybersecurity disclosure rules for public companies by a 3-1 vote. If adopted, the new rules would impose substantial new reporting obligations with respect to material cybersecurity incidents and cybersecurity risk management, strategy, and governance for both domestic and foreign private issuers subject to the reporting requirements under the Securities Exchange Act of 1934.

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A series of recent regulatory actions at the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) reaffirms the agency’s commitment to ESG (environmental-social-governance) issues under new Chair Gary Gensler. These actions, which affect shareholder proposals, contested director elections, and proxy advisory firms, will each impact publicly-traded retailers.

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On September 22, 2021, the Division of Corporation Finance (Division) of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) issued a sample comment letter to highlight its increased focus on climate change-related disclosures or the absence of such disclosures in issuer filings under the Securities Act and the Exchange Act. This sample comment letter follows a recent increase in climate-related comments the Division has issued during the disclosure review process, and many of the sample comments appear to be derived from actual comment letters issued in 2021. The sample is consistent with the SEC’s 2010 Guidance Regarding Disclosure Related to Climate Change, which does not mandate specific, line item climate change-related disclosures, but instead takes a principles-based approach.

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On August 6, 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) approved new Nasdaq rules (Rules 5605(f) and Rule 5606) aimed at advancing diversity among board members of Nasdaq-listed companies and increasing disclosure of diversity statistics. Nasdaq’s new rules underscore the increasing attention in recent years in addressing environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues at the board level and creating new compliance obligations for Nasdaq-listed companies.

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As reported on the Hunton Andrews Kurth Privacy & Information Security Law Blog, on August 16, 2021, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) announced that Pearson plc (“Pearson”), a publicly traded British multinational educational publishing and services company, agreed to pay a $1 million civil penalty in a settlement related to charges that Pearson misled investors about a 2018 data breach resulting in the theft of millions of student records. The SEC’s order found that Pearson made material misstatements and omissions about the data breach in a report furnished to the SEC and in a media statement.

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As we previously reported, new SEC rules requiring reporting on human capital resources will take effect November 9, 2020. The new disclosure is not required to be included in third quarter Forms 10-Q, but publicly-traded retailers should begin the analysis now to assess whether disclosure will be required in Form 10-K, and if so, what will be disclosed in 2020 annual reports to shareholders. Retailers determining that disclosure is immaterial under the federal securities laws may still elect to provide a human capital narrative in corporate sustainability reports, which are not filed with the SEC, in an effort to address increasing stakeholder demand for such information.

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The ongoing effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and other recent socio-political events will present a number of disclosure questions for publicly-traded retailers completing their second fiscal quarters.

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COVID-19 has had an unprecedented effect on the retail industry across the United States, as many retailers grapple with government mandates that either require closure or impose stringent restrictions on being open, employment and supply chain disruptions, and an overall decline in consumer demand as market conditions remain volatile and unemployment rates continue to rise. The devastating consequences of the coronavirus began to come into focus at the same time many companies were preparing to issue quarterly or annual results and convene investor calls.

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On August 8, 2019, the SEC proposed rules that would revise disclosures for Regulation S-K Item 101 (description of business), Item 103 (legal proceedings) and Item 105 (risk factors), in an effort to make disclosures more useful for investors and make compliance easier for registrants.

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On March 20, 2019, the Securities and Exchange Commission adopted amendments to simplify and modernize disclosure requirements. These amendments implement recommendations from the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act and are intended to make disclosures easier to read and navigate and to reduce repetitive and immaterial information.

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In a recent speech, Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) Chairman Jay Clayton summarized a number of regulatory priorities for 2019 that may interest retailers.  Clayton began the speech looking back on 2018’s accomplishments, then spent the bulk of his time discussing planned rulemaking efforts in the coming year.

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