Reviewing Internet sources
Conducting Internet searches for information about employers
One of the best methods of obtaining information on an employer and its attorney is through a general search on the Internet.
The three main Internet searches regarding the employer and their attorneys are:
- A general Internet search.
- A search on EDGAR.
- A search for the Internet websites of the defendant and its counsel.
General Internet searches
Although a general Internet search on a search engine (e.g., Google, Bing, or Yahoo) is often nothing more than a “hit or miss” proposition, sometimes such a search will yield valuable information.
A general Internet search should be conducted on everyone involved in the case (plaintiff, defendants, witnesses, judges, and counsel) because it only takes a few minutes, and the potential payoff (even if unlikely) could be enormous.
For example, a general search by the employee’s attorney might yield information about similar lawsuits or allegations previously made against the employer. Even more valuable, such a search might locate a newspaper article in which the employer comments directly about the employee’s lawsuit in a manner that expands the lawsuit (e.g., a comment that allows amendment of the complaint to add a defamation/retaliation claim) or contradicts the position taken by the employer.
Similarly, a general Internet search by the employer’s attorney will ensure that the employer is aware of all information (whether good or bad) about the employee. A general Internet search may also be helpful in obtaining the whereabouts of a missing witness or defendant.
The United States Securities and Exchange Commission (“SEC”) requires all public companies (except foreign companies and companies with less than $10 million in assets and 500 shareholders) to file registration statements, periodic reports, and other forms electronically through its Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis, and Retrieval system (“EDGAR”).
The SEC has made the documents filed through EDGAR available to anyone who can access and download the information for free at www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml. In addition to the SEC website, certain private companies, like Edgar Online, Inc. (www.edgar-online.com) also provide access to the documents contained on EDGAR. Although the ability to conduct searches through some of these private companies is generally more robust than the SEC’s website, these companies typically charge for some of the searches.
According to the SEC website, the following documents are available from EDGAR (following each document is its SEC description):
- Annual Report to Shareholders. The Annual Report to Shareholders is the principal document used by most public companies to disclose corporate information to shareholders. It is usually a state-of-the-company report including an opening letter from the Chief Executive Officer, financial data, results of continuing operations, market segment information, new product plans, subsidiary activities, and research and development activities on future programs.
- 1933 Act Registration Statements. The 1933 Act Registration Statements is divided into two parts. Part I is the prospectus. It is distributed to interested investors and others. It contains data to assist in evaluating the securities and to make informed investment decisions. Part II of the registration statement contains information not required to be in the prospectus. This includes information concerning the registrants’ expenses of issuance and distribution, indemnification of directors and officers, and recent sales of unregistered securities, as well as undertakings and copies of material contracts.
- Forms 3, 4 and 5. Every director, officer, or owner of more than ten percent of a class of equity securities registered under Section 12 of the 1934 Act must file with the Commission a statement of ownership regarding such security. The initial filing is on Form 3 and changes are reported on Form 4. The Annual Statement of beneficial ownership of securities is on Form 5. The forms contain information on the reporting person’s relationship to the company and on purchases and sales of such equity securities.
- Form 8-K. This is the “current report” that is used to report the occurrence of any material events or corporate changes which are of importance to investors or security holders and previously have not been reported by the registrant. It provides more current information on certain specified events than would Forms 10-Q or 10-K.
- Form 10-K. This is the annual report that most reporting companies file with the Commission. It provides a comprehensive overview of the registrant’s business. The report must be filed within 90 days after the end of the company’s fiscal year.
- Form 10-KSB. This is the annual report filed by reporting “small business issuers.” It provides a comprehensive overview of the company’s business, although its requirements call for slightly less detailed information than required by Form 10-K. The report must be filed within 90 days after the end of the company’s fiscal year.
- Form 10-Q. The Form 10-Q is a report filed quarterly by most reporting companies. It includes unaudited financial statements and provides a continuing view of the company’s financial position during the year. The report must be filed for each of the first three fiscal quarters of the company’s fiscal year and is due within 45 days of the close of the quarter. Often, these reports contain copies of the employment contracts of and severance/settlement agreements with the high-level executives of the company.
- Form 10-QSB. The Form 10-QSB is filed quarterly by reporting small business issuers. It includes unaudited financial statements and provides a continuing view of the company’s financial position and results of operations throughout the year. The report must be filed for each of the first three fiscal quarters and is due within 45 days of the close of the quarter.
Website of the defendant employer and its attorney
Many companies (especially large, publicly traded corporations) maintain websites that contain valuable information that can be used in a lawsuit against the company. Among other documents and information, it is usually possible to find:
- The company’s annual reports, SEC filings, and other financial information.
- A list of the company’s subsidiaries, parents, and related companies.
- A description of the company’s business.
- A list of the company’s officers, directors, and high-level executives.
- Employee biographies.
- Company press releases.
- Job postings.
The information contained on a company’s website can be very useful in attempting to verify the claims of the company or its attorney. For instance, in rough economic times, employer defense attorneys often plead poverty on the part of their client. A quick check of the company’s financials on its website can easily verify or dispute this claim. Similarly, if an employer is arguing that the plaintiff’s termination was necessitated by a reduction-in-force, a review of the employer’s website might show that it is actually attempting to hire individuals to fill numerous positions, including the plaintiff’s former position.
As with their corporate clients, most defense employment law firms have comprehensive Internet websites that contain information regarding the firm’s attorneys and sometimes attorney articles, client newsletters, and other client advisories that can also be used to the plaintiff employee’s advantage.
More and more entrepreneurial and/or disgruntled (depending upon one’s point of view) current and former employees are launching blogs to highlight work-related grievances against their employers.
Often these blogs can serve as fertile ground for all sorts of useful information about these employers, including information about other claims of discrimination, harassment, and/or retaliation.
Some of the more popular blog search engines that might prove useful include: