John Allen Appointed to ABA Section Committee on Ethics and Professionalism

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Varnum trial attorney and Senior Counsel John Allen has received an American Bar Association (ABA) re-appointment to the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) Standing Committee on Ethics and Professionalism.

The Ethics and Professionalism Committee advises over 25,000 lawyers on matters of legal ethics and presents programs for the education of both lawyers and the public. Allen has served on that Committee for over 20 years and served as its Chair in 2002-2004 and 2011-2012.

Allen focuses his practice on business and commercial litigation, legal ethics and professional liability defense. He has over 50 years’ experience handling legal problems and has written and co-written dozens of articles and books. A frequent speaker to business and law groups, Allen also teaches courses in law and trial practice to other lawyers on a regular basis, and often serves as an expert witness.

Allen is a certified arbitrator and mediator and is a Board Certified Civil Trial Advocate, by the National Board of Trial Advocacy. Allen has been listed in The Best Lawyers in America® since 2005, and Michigan Super Lawyers since 2011. He was also named in the Michigan Super Lawyers Top 100 in 2011. He was selected as one of 20 Michigan “Leaders in the Law” in 2012. Allen is a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates, an elite, invitation-only recognition of jury trial lawyers in the United States.

Varnum Attorneys Named to Michigan Super Lawyers, Rising Stars and Florida Rising Stars

Several Varnum attorneys have been named to the 2023 Michigan Super Lawyers, Michigan Rising Stars and Florida Rising Stars lists.

Super Lawyers recognizes attorneys who have distinguished themselves in their legal practice. Inclusion is determined through a rigorous selection process involving third-party validation of professional accomplishments.

Varnum attorneys named to this year’s Michigan Super Lawyers and their areas of expertise include:

  • Brendan G. Best, Bankruptcy: Business
  • Adam J. Brody, Business Litigation
  • Jon M. Bylsma, Business Litigation
  • Ronald G. DeWaard, Criminal Defense: White Collar
  • Thomas W. Forster, Real Estate
  • Richard T. Hewlett, Construction Litigation
  • Robert E. Kass, Estate & Probate
  • Eric M. Nemeth, Tax
  • Michael Roth, Business Litigation
  • Perrin Rynders, Business Litigation
  • Elizabeth Wells Skaggs, Employment & Labor

Varnum attorneys named to Michigan Rising Stars, which recognized attorneys who are earlier in their practice, include:

  • Elliot Berlin, Mergers & Acquisitions
  • Kathleen A. Cieslik, Estate & Probate
  • Staci R. DeRegnaucourt, Intellectual Property
  • Gabriel Edelson, Business/Corporate
  • Herman D. Hofman, Business/Corporate
  • Robert M. Huff, Business/Corporate
  • Lauren Potocsky, Business Litigation
  • John J. Rolecki, Technology Transactions
  • Sam Vitale, General Litigation
  • Rebecca K. Wrock, Estate & Probate

In addition, Varnum attorney Steve Adamczyk, based in the firm’s Naples office, was named to Florida Rising Stars, for expertise in Real Estate.

Varnum Wins for Global Company in FLSA OT Dispute

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In a decisive win for multinational pharmaceutical company Perrigo, an employee who filed a complaint alleging a Fair Labor Standards Act claim involving miscalculation of overtime payment dropped the complaint in a joint stipulation filed July 27 in federal court. There was no settlement.

The complaint, filed in December 2022, alleged that the company hadn’t properly calculated overtime, claiming a quarterly bonus and a shift premium for working second or third shift were not factored into overtime payments. Varnum was able to demonstrate that under U.S. Department of Labor regulations, Perrigo did in fact properly calculate overtime, resulting in the plaintiff dropping the complaint. Had the claim been successful, it had the potential to be replicated by thousands of employees across the country in a collective action lawsuit.

Varnum attorneys Perrin Rynders, Beth Skaggs and Ashleigh Draft represented Perrigo in the matter.

Is Collaborative Divorce Right for You?

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Divorce is often associated with feelings of animosity, bitterness and lengthy, expensive courtroom battles. However, there is an alternative, less adversarial approach to ending a marriage – collaborative divorce. In collaborative divorces couples work together with their professionals to reach a settlement in a team approach. Unlike traditional divorce proceedings, collaborative divorce encourages a problem-solving mindset rather than an adversarial one.

The key features of a collaborative divorce include the following:

A Collaborative Team

Each spouse hires a collaborative attorney, who is specially trained in this approach, and assembles a team that may include financial experts, child specialists and/or therapists. This multidisciplinary team provides guidance and support throughout the process.

The Collaborative Agreement

At the start of the process, all team members sign a Collaborative Agreement in which both sides commit that neither will file anything in court until a final agreement is reached. If at any time the negotiations break down or either party abandons the process, all members of the team must withdraw from the case. This can be a harsh consequence, which often motivates people to stay committed to the collaborative process.

Transparent Communication and Disclosure of Assets

In collaborative divorce, all parties commit to open and honest communication along with efficient and full disclosure of financial information. This fosters an environment of trust, where concerns and interests can be expressed freely without fear of judgment or retaliation.

Interest-Based Negotiation

Instead of focusing on positional bargaining, where each party advocates for their demands, collaborative divorce focuses on identifying and addressing the underlying interests and needs of both spouses. This approach allows for creative solutions that may not be possible in a courtroom setting.

Out-of-Court Settlement

Through a series of negotiation sessions, the collaborative team helps the couple work towards a comprehensive and mutually satisfactory settlement agreement. This agreement covers all aspects of the divorce, such as property division, child custody and parenting time, child support, spousal support and other relevant issues.

Preservation of Relationships

Collaborative divorce prioritizes maintaining a respectful relationship between divorcing spouses, which is particularly crucial when co-parenting children. By fostering cooperation this process reduces the likelihood of long-lasting animosity and allows for healthier future interactions.

Privacy and Confidentiality

Unlike traditional divorce proceedings that take place in a public courtroom, collaborative divorce proceedings are private and confidential. This confidentiality provides a safe space for open communication and reduces the potential for public exposure of sensitive information. Though couples going through a traditional divorce may also get the benefits of privacy and confidentiality in a mediation, they will likely not have the transparency and interest-based negotiations utilized in a collaborative divorce. The mediation process in a traditional divorce may be less effective as well, if it is scheduled within the constraints of a court’s scheduling order before all financial disclosures are complete or conducted with shuttle-style diplomacy rather than a facilitative approach.

Emotional Support

Collaborative divorce recognizes that the emotional well-being of the parties involved is as important as the legal aspects of the process. All divorces involve some emotional trauma – whether or not there are diagnosable mental health issues. With the help of therapists or divorce coaches, individuals receive the emotional support needed to navigate the challenging emotions associated with divorce.


By avoiding lengthy and contentious court battles, collaborative divorce can often be a more cost-effective option. The process typically requires fewer hours of legal representation, resulting in lower attorney fees and overall expenses. In addition, couples learn problem-solving skills which often helps reduce post-judgment legal interactions.

Collaborative divorce offers a peaceful and constructive path to ending a marriage, allowing couples to move forward with their lives while minimizing conflict and stress. This approach can be beneficial to divorcing spouses, their children and extended families. However, not all cases may be suited for the collaborative process and may require court intervention.

Varnum’s Family Law Team can help guide you through the various options to help determine what may be best for your particular circumstances.

Varnum Represents Airport Concessions Business in Sale

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The concessions business of Midfield Concession Enterprises, Inc. (“MCE”), a premier food and beverage service organization operating restaurants in airports throughout North America, has been acquired by SSP Group plc (“SSP”). The acquisition adds more than 40 new concession locations at six different airports to the SSP portfolio. SSP said the acquisition is expected to contribute an additional $100 million to its North American revenue on an annualized basis.

Varnum represented MCE in the matter, negotiating and drafting purchase agreements and other transaction documents for the respective MCE business at each of the six airports, as well as providing due diligence and other ancillary work. The Varnum team included Michael Romaya, Jake Droppers, Mallory Field and Jake Whately. In addition to typical M&A work, the team navigated unique DOT and FAA regulatory issues, including the Airport Concessions Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (“ACDBE”) program, and helped coordinate third-party approvals, consents and/or notices for the 40+ concession locations. Chris Baker assisted with the transfer of the liquor licenses associated with various locations.

Founded by President Andrea Hachem, MCE is a minority-owned concessions company founded in 2002 in the Metro Detroit area and operating concessions located at Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW), Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), Cleveland Hopkins International Airport (CLE), Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport (MSP), San Francisco International Airport (SFO) and Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR).

“We were very happy with our representation from Varnum,” Hachem said. “Selling a business can be challenging but we felt comfortable every step of the way and very satisfied with the outcome.”

Sarah Wixson Named to MLW’s Influential Women of Law, Class of 2023

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Varnum partner Sarah Wixson was recently named to Michigan Lawyers Weekly’s “Influential Women of Law” Class of 2023. The program recognizes women attorneys and judges for their work with clients and the justice system, their commitment to community and their service to the profession.

Wixson’s unique legal practice includes serving clients with a variety of business, litigation, health care and real estate services. She works with physicians, physician groups, hospitals and health care entities on compliance and regulatory work, contracting, master service agreements, structuring and licensing.

As a litigator, Wixson represents businesses and individuals in a variety of matters. She has successfully prosecuted claims and defended corporate clients and individuals in connection with partnership agreements, contracts, business arrangements, shareholder disputes, real estate matters and complex commercial litigation. Her background in shareholder and other corporate disputes is a significant asset in negotiating and structuring various entities as well as advising on pre-litigation matters.

Wixson is a recent graduate of Leadership Detroit, Class XLIII, a transformational leadership course designed to challenge emerging and existing community leaders from Southeast Michigan. Within Varnum, Wixson serves as a member of the Associate Recruiting and Retention Committees and as one of four partners whose role specifically involves leading and developing associates’ growth, business generation acumen and client relationship skills.

Wixson and other members of the Class of 2023 Influential Women of Law will be recognized at an awards luncheon on Sept. 22 in Troy. More about the recognition and event can be found here.

NLRB Sets the Stage for Increased Scrutiny of Work Rules and Employee Handbooks

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In a troubling decision released yesterday, the National Labor Relations Board (the Board) issued a new standard for reviewing workplace rules that do not expressly prohibit activity protected under the National Labor Relations Act (the Act) and reversed the frameworks set forth in the 2017 Boeing case. The new standard evaluates whether a reasonable worker who is “economically dependent on the employer” would interpret the rule to prohibit organizing or engaging in concerted activities. This new standard applies to all work rules and employee handbooks in both unionized and non-unionized workplaces.

A work rule is unlawful under the Act when the rule has a reasonable tendency to chill employees’ exercise of their rights under the Act. Under the new Stericycle standard, an administrative law judge (ALJ) or the Board will interpret the rule from the perspective of an employee who is economically dependent on the employer. Any ambiguity in the rule will be construed against the employer. If an economically dependent employee could reasonably interpret the rule to restrict or prohibit concerted activity under Section 7 of the Act—even if a different, reasonable and lawful interpretation is possible—the rule is presumptively unlawful and invalid. The employer’s business reason for adopting the rule, for example, safety or protection of confidential information, does not matter. If the rule is found to be presumptively unlawful, the employer’s only defense would be to establish that that the its “legitimate and substantial business interest” could not be accomplished by a more narrowly tailored rule.

In light of the decision in Stericycle, employers should review their employee handbooks, policies, procedures, employment agreements and other workplace rules to ensure that such documents are narrowly tailored to effectuate the purpose of the intended rules without creating an opportunity for argument that the rule has a chilling effect on concerted activity. 

Please contact your Varnum attorney if you have any questions or for assistance with reviewing employee handbooks, policies, procedures, employment agreements and other workplace rules.

H-1B Cap Second Random Selection, Revised Form I-9 and ETIAS Implementation

H-1B Lottery

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced it will conduct a second lottery to reach FY 2024 numerical cap for H-1B registrations filed in March. We will notify clients of selection results as soon as they are completed.

Revised Form I-9

On August 1, 2023, USCIS will publish revised Form I-9 and end COVID-19 flexibilities. E-Verify employers qualify for new DHS procedure to remotely examine employees’ identity documents. All employers must utilize new Form I-9 starting November 1, 2023, that has the following updates:

  • Shorter in length
  • May be completed on tablets and mobile devices
  • Separates Preparer/Translator Certification into standalone supplement
  • Revises list of acceptable documents
  • Includes new checkbox for employers examining documents remotely

ETIAS Implementation

Expected implementation of European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS) online visa waiver system is early 2024. ETIAS will require individuals from certain visa-exempt countries, including US citizens, to register online before visiting more than 25 countries in Europe. Once ETIAS is granted, US citizens will receive visa-free entry for a maximum of 90 days within any 180-day period. ETIAS registrations are valid for three years or until registered passport expires.

Please contact your Varnum immigration attorney with questions.

SECURE 2.0: Important Changes to Roth Accounts

SECURE 2.0 has changed dozens of benefits plan rules. Among these are changes to when and how Roth accounts are used. Roth account are retirement accounts, in a 401(k) plan or an IRA, to which after-tax money is contributed and no income tax is paid on distributions, including earnings (as opposed to “traditional” 401(k) or IRA accounts, which accept pre-tax contributions, but for which distributions, including earnings, are taxed when received). These changes have increased the required and permitted uses of Roth contributions.

Matching Contributions

Plan sponsors may decide whether to offer participants the option to designate employer matching contributions as Roth contributions, rather than only as a traditional (pre-tax) match. This option also applies to matching qualified student loan payments (if the employer elects to do so) and matching contributions to a 457(b) plan. This is an optional provision. If a plan sponsor decides to offer Roth matching contributions, it will need to amend its plan. If implemented, matching contributions must be fully vested at all times, so employers should carefully consider whether to elect this option. Plan sponsors may elect to implement this provision effective any time on or after December 29, 2022.

Catch Up Contributions

Catch up contributions are 401(k) deferrals in excess of the regular elective deferral limits that may be made by participants who are over age 50. Plans must now require participants who made at least $145,000 (adjusted annually after 2024) in the previous year to designate catch up contributions, if any, as Roth contributions. Plan sponsors may also elect to require participants who made less than $145,000 (as adjusted) make catch up contributions as Roth contributions. Before SECURE 2.0, catch up contributions could be made as traditional (pre-tax) contributions or Roth contributions, depending on the plan. This change is effective for plan years beginning on or after January 1, 2024. Plan sponsors will need to coordinate with legal counsel and plan administrators to ensure this change is implemented properly.

Pre-Death Distributions

SECURE 2.0 makes several changes to required minimum distributions (RMDs). Effective January 1, 2024, plans are no longer required to make RMDs for Roth 401(k) accounts before the participant’s death.


For plans that do not currently permit Roth contributions, now may be a good time to reassess whether broad inclusion of Roth contributions should be added to the plan. Roth contributions are essentially required for any plan that offers catch-up contributions, and may be desirable for other plans as well. Employers should also monitor changes in this area, as there are industry groups requesting guidance, relief during the transition and delayed effective dates for implementing the required changes.

Varnum will continue to provide updates throughout the year highlighting other provisions. Employers are encouraged to contact their Varnum Employee Benefits Attorney with any questions.

Jailah Emerson Elected to WLAM Wayne RegionBoard of Directors

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Varnum attorney Jailah Emerson was recently elected to the Board of Directors for Wayne Region Women Lawyers Association of Michigan (WLAM).

Emerson, who previously served as Director of Programming for the organization, is an associate attorney on Varnum’s Litigation and Trial Practice Team. Her practice is primarily focused on complex commercial litigation, family law, tax and insolvency litigation. She assists clients in a wide variety of matters, ranging from standard breach of contract claims to complex real estate disputes.

Prior to her employment at Varnum, Emerson served as a legal intern at the U.S. Dept. of Justice and in the general counsel office of DTE. She also served as a legal extern to the Honorable Victoria A. Roberts of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. She graduated cum laude from University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University.

WLAM was founded in 1919 to advance the interest of women members of the legal profession. Its mission is to secure the full and equal participation of women in the legal profession in furtherance of a just society. WLAM Wayne Region serves women attorneys in Monroe and Wayne counties.