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L’Oréal Beats Claims it Wrongly Fired Patent Lawyer Over Quotas

Oct. 23, 2020, 9:00 PM

L’Oréal USA Inc. shook off claims under a New Jersey employee protection law that it illegally fired an attorney who refused on ethical grounds to meet patent quotas after the District of New Jersey on Friday found no showing that the company ever asked him to do anything unethical.

Steven Trzaska alleged the company violated New Jersey’s Conscientious Employee Protection Act, which shields employees from retaliatory actions by their employers when they refuse to perform illegal or unethical actions.

But any assertion that a violation of a rule of professional conduct occurred or was imminent “is wholly undermined” by Trzaska’s testimony, the court said.

Trzaska conceded that he never filed a fraudulent application with the Patent and Trademark Office, and was never told to file an application he considered baseless, the court said.

Trzaska’s disagreement with the company’s desire to file a specific number of patent applications per year “cannot, without more, sustain a CEPA claim,” the court said.

The complaint alleged that general attorney Rules of Professional Conduct and specific rules set by the Patent and Trademark Office bar attorneys from filing frivolous or bad-faith patent applications or from knowingly making false statements.

Trzaska complained to L’Oréal management that he couldn’t meet the company’s quota without having to file applications he knew would not succeed. He refused two severance offers and then was fired.

Judge Susan D. Wigenton issued the opinion.

Raynes Lawn Hehmeyer represented Trzaska. K&L Gates LLP and Bowman & Brooke LLP represented L’Oréal.

The case is Trzaska v. L’Oréal USA, Inc., D.N.J., No. 15-cv-02713, unpublished 10/23/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Hayes in Washington at PHayes@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com

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