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Bankruptcy

Can a person be denied a job or be terminated because of a bankruptcy filing?

Section 525 of the Bankruptcy Code provides two slightly different standards for government applicants and employees, and for private employers. The bankruptcy discrimination statute for government employees

[s.525(a)] states that:

[The government] may not…deny employment to, terminate the employment of, or discriminate with respect to employment against, a person that is or has been a debtor under this title or a bankrupt or a debtor under the Bankruptcy Act, or another person with whom such bankrupt or debtor has been associated, solely because such bankrupt or debtor is or has been a debtor under this title or a bankrupt or debtor under the Bankruptcy Act, has been insolvent before the commencement of the case under this title, or during the case but before the debtor is granted or denied a discharge, or has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in the case under this title or that was discharged under the Bankruptcy Act.

Section [s.525(b)] applies to private employers, and states that:

No private employer may terminate the employment of, or discriminate with respect to employment against, an individual who is or has been a debtor under this title, a debtor or bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act, or an individual associated with such debtor or bankrupt, solely because such debtor or bankrupt (1) is or has been a debtor under this title or a debtor or bankrupt under the Bankruptcy Act; (2) has been insolvent before the commencement of a case under this title or during the case but before the grant or denial of a discharge; or (3) has not paid a debt that is dischargeable in a case under this title or that was discharged under the Bankruptcy Act.

Why is it important to search criminal records under the company’s name along with its principals?

Under the doctrine of respondeat superior, a corporation may be held criminally liable for the illegal acts of its directors, officers, employees, and agents. The most common criminal cases are filed for regulatory causes, but other charges also may be brought depending on the severity of the crime and the adequacy of the civil and administrative enforcement actions, among many considerations.

On a related note, several months ago, we posted a case study from our files about one of the biggest payroll-tax frauds in U.S. history. The $200 million fraud led to the subject company’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing and its subsequent federal indictment. The company’s former CEO, who was considered the mastermind of the fraud, was sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2008. Prosecutors in the case argued that a guilty plea from the company itself also was needed to deter similar crimes by other companies. However, the court ruled that, among other regards, this would lead to unnecessary costs of a trial and damage the legal claims contained in the bankruptcy.

What are “specialty consumer reports?”

“Specialty consumer reports” are compiled by specialty consumer agencies for targeted users such as insurance companies, employers, and landlords. The agencies collect information from a variety of sources and may include civil and criminal records, credit history, bankruptcy filings, driving records, business relationship information with banks or insurance companies, and even medical information.

Most consumers are unaware of the existence of a “specialty consumer report” unless they have been denied a job, insurance, or housing rental. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) imposes certain obligations on the specialty reporting agencies, the users of such reports, and those that furnish information for the reports. (See  http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/credit/bus33.shtm for more information.) When adverse action is taken based on the information in the report, the FCRA mandates that users of specialty consumer reports provide to the subject an “adverse action notice” along with a free copy of the report. The subject also has the right to dispute inaccurate information.

Background investigation reveals untruth in advertising

SI was engaged to investigate a national company along with two of its principals as part of our client’s risk management program. The company’s ads have appeared almost daily in major newspapers and on the Internet, and the merits of its consumer services (for confidentiality, we can’t say what they are) have been touted in the professionally scripted testimonials of “real” customers. But SI’s investigation found media reports and court documents showing that the claims were not so credible. There is a pending federal class-action lawsuit against the company and its principals alleging several fraudulent business practices, including the misleading advertising of a service guarantee that “is riddled with restrictions, waivers and limitations” and service enrollments without authorization. Six additional lawsuits for similar causes of action are pending in various county-level courts.

    Further, SI’s investigation uncovered the checkered backgrounds of the two principals behind the company. Searches of bankruptcy records revealed that both subjects had filed for protection from creditors – and in the co-founder’s case, had filed multiple times. Also missing from the company’s pitch was that the co-founder’s previous career in a similar business culminated in a federal judge’s order barring him from “promoting, offering for sale, performing or distributing any product or service related to

    [consumer] services.”  Had our client’s decision-makers relied on the company’s presentation of itself and its principals, they would not have been able to realistically assess the risk of engaging in business with the subjects. While a search of media stories might reveal complaints against a potential client, it’s a full in-depth investigation that brings all the pieces together.

    One of the largest employment tax-fraud cases in IRS history

    Our investigation, which included manual civil and criminal record searches and searches of media sources, revealed that the subject company and four of its subsidiaries are under federal indictment for conspiracy and wire fraud as part of a multimillion dollar tax fraud scheme orchestrated by the companies’ founder. This individual recently was sentenced to over 20 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution of $180 million to the Internal Revenue Service after pleading guilty to five felonies including failure to collect and pay payroll taxes and obstructing a federal investigation. It is reportedly one of the largest employment tax-fraud cases in IRS history. Before the sentencing, the individual attempted to justify his actions by claiming insanity.

    The subject company and its subsidiaries also were defendants in dozens of lawsuits for fraud and breach of contract with damage claims totaling over $220 million, in addition to filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Several motions had been filed to dismiss the bankruptcy proceedings, one of which was made by the company’s former accountants who were sued for professional negligence. In court papers, the accountants asked that the case be dismissed or converted to a Chapter 7 because “the only reason the debtor filed the petition was in an effort to help (the founder’s) criminal case.” The motion to dismiss also argued that the company has no chance to successfully reorganize because it is a “sham company used only for illegal activities,” has no remaining employees and no income.

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