News and Insights

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Written by: Ashley Petefish

Healthcare providers, practices, and companies today have a multitude of ways to reach consumers and patients. A provider can utilize Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media websites to target advertisements, post information about their practice, and attract new patients. This mass sharing of information, however, provides trademark infringers a prime opportunity to infringe on your trademark rights.

Start-up businesses and consumer products are not the only companies capitalizing on the social media boom. For example, Dr. Howard Luks, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist in New York, has an active presence on all social media channels. Dr. Luks uploads videos to YouTube to market and attract patients. In one video, Luks explains why meniscal tears are so common and whether surgery is always necessary for this type of injury. This video has been viewed almost 200,000 times. Dr. Luks is a prime example of a physician utilizing social media to market his medical practice. However, with social media marketing, healthcare providers, practices, and businesses need to ensure they protect their trademark rights.

What exactly are my “trademark rights”?

A trademark is a word, symbol, or phrase used to identify a particular manufacturer or seller’s products and distinguish them from the products of another. 15 U.S.C. § 1127. When such marks are used to identify services rather than products, they are called service marks, although they are generally treated just the same as trademarks. A trademark identifies the source of products or services and distinguishes them from the products or services of others. Trademark infringement occurs when there is confusion as to the source of products or services. Trademark rights are acquired through use, and owners can have common law rights even without a registration.

Where does social media come into play?

If a word, phrase, or design in a social media post is confusingly similar to another’s trademark and is used to promote similar or related products or services, the trademark owner having prior rights can object to the use (whether its mark is registered or not). This includes use of words and phrases in hashtags, captions, stories, and other platform-specific features. In healthcare, the importance of protecting your mark not only relates to your business or practice, but it also affects your professional reputation.

An interesting tale of a physician and his trademark.

In 2015, Dr. Draion M. Burch, known to patients as “Dr. Drai”, applied for the “Dr. Drai” trademark and requested protection for “educational and entertainment services,” with products to include books, audiobooks, webinars, podcasts and various other media related to his medical practice. Dr. Drai is a Pennsylvania-based gynecologist and media personality. On his website, he touts himself as “One of America’s Top Women’s Health Experts.” Surprisingly, Dr. Dre, the Grammy award-winning rapper, objected to the physician’s registration of the mark stating there was a likelihood of confusion.

  Earlier this year, the USPTO’s Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB) sided with Dr. Drai, writing, “the issue is not whether purchasers would confuse the goods or services but whether there is a likelihood of confusion as to the source of the goods or services.” The Board found “no evidence of record” showing that “consumers would likely believe the parties’ goods and services would emanate from the same source” and dismissed Dr. Dre’s opposition to the trademark application. Dr. Drai not only won his right to utilize his mark to advertise his brand, but Dr. Drai is now protected from future infringers in the medical field.

How do I protect my brand?

To maximize protection of your brand, you should consider registering your trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. This protects your business and gives you an edge in legal situations. If your business or medical practice utilizes social media for marketing, to interact with patients or customers, or to reach consumers, you may have certain trademark rights that need protection. Additionally, if you have acquired usage of a word or phrase used to describe your business or practice, you likely would benefit from registering that word or phrase as a trademark. To determine if you have trademark rights that should be protected, or if you have questions about the best way to protect your company or practice’s brand, contact the Milligan Lawless attorney with whom you usually work.

      Earlier this year, the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office filed suit against Community Care Health Network, Inc., doing business as Matrix Medical Network in Arizona, alleging Matrix violated federal law. The EEOC’s suit alleges Matrix rescinded a job offer to Patricia Pogue after discovering Ms. Pogue was pregnant.

      Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended by the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, the (“PDA”), prohibits employment discrimination based on sex, including pregnancy. Acts of pregnancy discrimination may include:

  • Firing a pregnant employee;
  • Laying off a pregnant employee;
  • Refusing to hire a pregnant employee;
  • Harassing a pregnant employee;
  • Refusing to provide accommodations for a pregnant employee;
  • Demoting a pregnant employee;
  • Forcing a pregnant employee to change positions or take time off.

     The PDA, which applies to employers with 15 or more employees, protects employees who go on leave due to pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition. Employers must hold an employee’s job open on the same basis as it does for other employees who go on leave.

     According to the EEOC’s suit, Matrix offered Ms. Pogue a position as credentialing manager. After Ms. Pogue accepted the offer, she informed Matrix she was pregnant and would need maternity leave. Approximately one week later, Matrix asked Ms. Pogue why she did not disclose her pregnancy during the job interview. Matrix then rescinded the job offer. 

Written by: Ashley Petefish

     The EEOC’s suit against Matrix seeks back wages, compensatory, and punitive damages for Ms. Pogue. Further, the EEOC is seeking a permanent injunction enjoining Matrix from engaging in any discriminatory practices based on a person’s sex, including pregnancy.

     The EEOC has focused in on PDA discrimination cases during the past couple of years. The EEOC receives, on average, more than 3,500 charges of pregnancy discrimination each year. In 2017, the EEOC settled multiple pregnancy discrimination cases for a total amount of $15 million in monetary damages.

     All employers, including medical practices, should institute and carry out policies and practices to prevent pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. Employers that would like more information about pregnancy discrimination, including advice on creating and implementing effective anti-discrimination policies, may contact the attorneys at Milligan Lawless for assistance.

If you are a member or manager of an Arizona limited liability company (or professional limited liability company), your obligations may be significantly expanded under a law that begins to take effect as early as August of 2019.  This article summarizes the impact of the new law relating to fiduciary duties of members and managers, and provides some thoughts as to how you can understand and manage those obligations.

Fiduciary Duties Defined

A fiduciary, in simple terms, is a person who owes to another person certain duties, such as good faith, trust, special confidence, and candor.  In the business context, fiduciary duties help ensure that each officer, director or manager of a business is acting in a manner that is consistent with the company’s objectives and the interests of other owners.  Under Arizona law directors and officers of corporations, and members of a partnership have long been deemed to owe fiduciary duties to the corporation or partnership.  Until relatively recently, it had been unclear whether managers or members of Arizona LLCs owe fiduciary duties to the company and the other members.  There had not been a statute addressing the issue, and Arizona case law had generally been interpreted so as not to impose fiduciary duties on LLC members unless the Operating Agreements imposes such duties on the members.

Imposition of Fiduciary Duties on Members or Managers of LLCs

On April 10, 2018, Arizona Governor Ducey signed the Arizona Limited Liability Company Act (ALLCA).  ALLCA will apply to all Arizona LLCs formed after August 31, 2019; on August 31, 2020, Arizona’s current LLC law will expire, and ALLCA will apply to all Arizona LLCs, regardless of their date of formation.  One notable change brought about by ALLCA is the imposition of fiduciary duties on members and managers of Arizona LLCs.  Under ALLCA, fiduciary duties will be imposed on members and managers if: (1) the LLC does not have a written Operating Agreement, or (2) if the LLC has an Operating Agreement that is silent on the subject of fiduciary duties.

For Members in a Member-Managed LLC

Under ALLCA, members of a member-managed LLC will owe a duty of loyalty and a duty of care to the LLC and to the other members; in addition, the members will be obligated to act in a manner consistent with a contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing.[1]  See A.R.S §29-3409.

For Managers in a Manager-Managed LLC

Similarly, a manager of a manager-managed LLC will owe the LLC and the members essentially the same duties of loyalty and care as the members in member-managed LLCs owe to the company and to one another.  A manager must also discharge his or her duties and obligations under the ALLCA in a manner that is consistent with the obligation of good faith and fair dealing.  In a manager-managed LLC, the members will not owe fiduciary duties to one another solely because they are members of the LLC; the existence and scope of any fiduciary duties of a member in a manager-managed LLC will depend on the extent to which the member controls or participates in the management of the company.

Eliminating or Altering Fiduciary Duties in the Operating Agreement

An Arizona LLC can depart from certain ALLCA provisions in the LLC’s Operating Agreement, and with the exception of a few items, the LLC’s Operating Agreement will supersede the provisions of the ALLCA.  A.R.S. §29-3105; See A.R.S. §29-3409(F) and A.R.S. §29-3409(N).  This means that certain of the duties imposed under the statute can be expanded, limited or eliminated by the Operating Agreement.  The Operating Agreement cannot, however, eliminate the managers’ or members’ contractual obligation of good faith and fair dealing, or the duty to refrain from willful or intentional misconduct.

Written By: Miranda A. Preston

To ensure that any fiduciary duties imposed on you as a member or manager of an Arizona LLC are aligned with your interests as a member or manager, you should consider whether you want to be bound by the provisions of ALLCA relating to fiduciary duties.  If you want to modify or eliminate those duties, to the extent permissible under ALLCA, please contact us or another legal adviser.

This article is made available for informational purposes only and is not for the purpose of providing legal advice.  You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem.

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[1] Arizona law recognizes an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing in every contract; this covenant obligates parties to a contract to act in good faith, and in a manner that is consistent with fair dealing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified individuals with a disability, unless doing so would trigger significant operational difficulties or expenses for the employer. Employees on leave for a disability may request reasonable accommodations in order to return to work. The employee may make the request, or the request may be outlined in a doctor’s note releasing the employee to return to work with certain restrictions.

When an employer becomes aware of an employee’s need for a possible accommodation, it is the duty of the employer to discuss the accommodation needs with the employee. Employers run afoul of the ADA when they impose “100% healed or recovered” policies. These policies refer to a practice mandating an employee be released to work without any restrictions before she may return to work. For example, if an employee is on medical leave for a surgery to address a disability and the employee’s physician releases her to work with a 20-pound lifting restriction, the employer cannot refuse to allow the employee to return to work with the lifting restriction if the employee’s essential functions do not require lifting 20 pounds. To do so would violate the ADA.

In May 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued guidance entitled “Employer-Provided Leave and the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Since issuing that guidance, the EEOC has been targeting employers with 100% Healed Policies. Recently, the EEOC set its sights on Corizon Health Inc., and Corizon LLC, (Corizon), nationwide health care companies that operate in Phoenix, Arizona.

On September 19, 2018, the EEOC filed suit against Corizon in the District of Arizona. The EEOC suit alleges Corizon violated federal law by discriminating against employees with a 100% healed policy. The EEOC states Corizon required employees with disabilities to be 100% healed or to be without any medical restrictions before they were allowed to return to work. The EEOC states this practice is a clear violation of the ADA.

The EEOC’s Phoenix Office, in filing this suit, has made clear it is committed to challenging 100% healed policies. Elizabeth Cadle, District Director of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office, stated in a press release,

Author: Ashley Petefish

“Employers should never have 100% return to work policies that require employees to have no medical restrictions. That policy tells employees that the company will not provide reasonable accommodations for employees with medical restrictions.”

 

What does this mean for Arizona employers?

If you are an Arizona employer with a 100% healed policy, you should contact legal counsel immediately to discuss policy revisions. While the ADA does not require employers to return every employee to work after medical leave, the law may prohibit automatic denials based on broad 100% healed requirements. Employers should consult with legal counsel to ensure their policies support a case-by-case analysis of employee accommodation requests. If you have a 100% healed policy, or have questions or concerns about your current accommodation and equal employment policies, contact the Milligan Lawless attorney with whom you usually work.

 

 

Miranda A. Preston

On April 30th, 2018, Dr. Rita Luthra was convicted of violating the HIPAA Privacy Rule and of obstruction of a criminal health care investigation.  A federal jury found that Dr. Luthra allowed a pharmaceutical sales representative to access her patient records and lied to federal investigators. Criminal charges under the federal Anti-Kickback Statute (“AKS”) were alleged initially but subsequently dropped.

Dr. Luthra’s conviction stems from her involvement with a pharmaceutical sales representative with Warner Chilcott. Warner Chilcott was the subject of a criminal investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) in 2015.  The investigation resulted in Warner Chilcott pleading guilty to a felony charge of health care fraud and agreeing to pay $125 million to resolve criminal and civil liability arising from alleged illegal marketing practices of certain drugs.

According to the government, the Warner Chilcott sales representative asked Dr. Luthra to participate in the company’s speaker program because Dr. Luthra prescribed a high volume of osteoporosis medication. Dr. Luthra agreed and spoke at medical education and speaker training events held in her office. The events involved Dr. Luthra speaking to the sales representative for about thirty minutes while she ate food provided by the representative for Luthra and her office staff. Warner Chilcott paid Dr. Luthra approximately $23,500 for her services.

In January 2011, Warner Chilcott launched a new osteoporosis drug which Dr. Luthra prescribed. Many insurance companies required a prior authorization before covering the new drug. In response to receiving numerous denials for Dr. Luthra’s prescriptions for the new drug, she asked the sales representative to assist one of her medical assistants with obtaining prior authorizations. The sales representative agreed, was given access to Dr. Luthra’s medical records to complete the prior authorizations, and filled out the prior authorizations.

Dr. Luthra later provided false information to OIG investigators when interviewed about her relationship with Warner Chilcott. She was convicted of a criminal violation of HIPAA for the improper disclosure of her patients’ protected health information to the sales representative. It is illegal to knowingly disclose protected health information in violation of the Privacy Rule. Most HIPAA enforcement activities are in the form of civil enforcement. However, the Privacy Rule also establishes criminal penalties for certain wrongful disclosures of protected health information.

Dr. Luthra’s sentencing has not yet been scheduled. Nonetheless, Dr. Luthra’s HIPAA violation provides for a sentence of up to one year in prison and/or a fine of up to $50,000. The obstruction conviction carries a higher potential penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

While criminal prosecutions of HIPAA violations are rare, this case serves as a reminder that HIPAA is more than a series of privacy and security rules; HIPAA establishes criminal liability and potential jail time for HIPAA violations. This case reflects the DOJ’s continuing scrutiny of physician-pharmaceutical manufacturer relationships, particularly those that can affect health care decision making. Providers should be mindful of their relationships with pharmaceutical companies, and third parties who may have access to protected health information. Moreover, if a provider is the subject of an investigation, he or she should be truthful and engage competent counsel at the early stages of the investigation.

For more information, or if you need assistance with an investigation or evaluating whether your relationships comply with HIPAA, please contact Miranda Preston or another health care attorney at Milligan Lawless.

 

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