Tag: Board diversity

Federal court holds unconstitutional California’s board diversity statute regarding “underrepresented communities”

There have been a number of challenges to California’s board diversity legislation, SB 826, the board gender diversity statute, and AB 979,  the board diversity statute regarding “underrepresented communities.” In two cases, Crest v. Padilla I and II, filed in state court, the plaintiffs notched wins and the court issued injunctions against implementation and enforcement of these two statutes. Both of these cases are currently on appeal, and the injunctions remain in place.  But there were also cases filed in federal court, and, in one of those cases, Alliance for Fair Board Recruitment v. Weber, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California has just granted the Plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that AB 979 is unconstitutional on its face. The federal court decision could have reverberations in other states and potentially influence the ongoing state court appeals (as could an earlier decision on SB 826 by the Court going the other way. See the third SideBar below.)

Has the “internal affairs” doctrine been stretched too thin?

In this paper, Ann Lipton, an Associate Professor at Tulane Law School, contends that the “internal affairs” doctrine has gradually expanded its reach and, perhaps as a result, is now facing new challenges. As applied in Delaware—where it is applied most often—the doctrine, she argues, is “on a collision course with the legitimate regulatory interests of other states (and indeed the federal government).” Of course, many will strongly disagree with her argument, especially given the practical implications. Still, it may be worthwhile to gain some insight into her perspective.  Is it time to rethink the internal affairs doctrine? The author suggests that a more balanced, targeted approach would be more appropriate and more effective.

Nasdaq simplifies “confusing” timing requirements for board diversity rules

A new rule change designed to simplify the rules regarding the timing of compliance with the Nasdaq board diversity listing rules has been filed by Nasdaq and declared immediately effective.  As you probably remember, on August 6, 2021, the SEC approved Nasdaq’s proposal for new listing rules regarding board diversity and disclosure, along with a proposal to provide free access to a board recruiting service. The listing rules adopted a “comply or explain” mandate for board diversity for most listed companies and required companies listed on Nasdaq’s U.S. exchange to publicly disclose “consistent, transparent diversity statistics” regarding the composition of their boards in a matrix format. (See this PubCo post.)  Now, Nasdaq acknowledges that the formulation of the compliance deadlines, which were tied to the approval date of the proposal by the SEC, is “confusing and unnecessarily complicated.” Not Nasdaq’s fault though—it meant well! At the time of filing of the proposal, “Nasdaq and listed companies could not know when the proposal would be approved,” and Nasdaq “wanted to assure that listed companies had at least one year from the approval of the rules, or until their next annual meeting, to take necessary actions to satisfy the requirements” of the rules.  Nasdaq is now making technical changes to several rules to address that problem by eliminating complicated references to the SEC approval date, and instead requiring compliance by December 31st of the applicable year (which, according to Nasdaq, is the fiscal year-end for approximately 80% of Nasdaq-listed companies subject to the rules).
Happy Holidays!

California Appeals Court reinstates injunctions against California Board diversity laws

You may recall that, earlier this year, two Los Angeles Superior Courts struck down as unconstitutional two California laws mandating that boards of public companies achieve specified levels of board diversity and enjoined implementation and enforcement of the legislation. Those injunctions, however, were temporarily lifted as the state appealed. Now, the appeals court has vacated those temporary stays. What does it mean for the diversity legislation?

Diversity for foreign private issuers

Countries outside the U.S. have sometimes been trendsetters when it comes to board diversity.  For example, according to the California’s board gender diversity bill, SB 826, signed into law in 2018, “in 2003, Norway was the first country to legislate a mandatory 40 percent quota for female representation on corporate boards.” Under Nasdaq’s board diversity rules (see this PubCo post), board diversity encompasses more than gender diversity—it also includes persons who self-identify as underrepresented minorities or LGBTQ+. Nasdaq’s new diversity rules also apply to foreign private issuers. What does “board diversity” mean for foreign private issuers and non-US companies considering US IPOs? Does it focus solely on women or does it have a broader scope?  Who are “underrepresented individuals in home country jurisdiction”?  These questions and more are addressed in this fascinating piece, Board Diversity for Foreign Private Issuers: Does Board Diversity Mean the Same Thing Worldwide?, from Cooley’s Singapore office, posted on the Cooley CapitalXchange blog.

Board refreshment: are evaluations preferable to retirement policies?

A new report from The Conference Board (together with ESG data analytics firm ESGAUGE) , Board Refreshment and Evaluations, indicates that, in pursuit of board diversity—in skills, professional experience, gender, race/ethnicity, demography or other background characteristic—companies must overcome one key impediment: relatively low board turnover.  One approach is just to increase the size of the board; another is through “board refreshment.” To that end, the report observes, companies are relying less on director retirement policies based on tenure or age—which may sometimes be viewed as misguided and arbitrary—and looking instead to comprehensive board evaluations, sometimes conducted by a facilitator, as a way to achieve board refreshment. The Conference Board advocates that companies foster a “culture of board refreshment” that removes any stigma that could otherwise attach to an early departure from the board. In any event, The Conference Board cautions that “companies should expect continued investor scrutiny in this area. Indeed, while institutional investors may defer to the board on whether to adopt mandatory retirement policies, many are keeping a close eye on average board tenure and the balance of tenures among directors and will generally vote against directors who serve on too many boards.”

Is expertise trouncing strategy? The Conference Board reports on board experience and diversity

In a recent report, Board Composition: Diversity, Experience, and Effectiveness, The Conference Board explores the implications for board composition of current trends toward ESG expertise and board diversity, together with the continuing emphasis on ensuring the right mix of skills and experience. This expanding list of priorities has led to increased diversity disclosure as well as greater functional expertise, larger boards and enhanced needs for board education. But while there has been a significant increase in disclosure regarding board diversity, that increase “has not been matched by increases in racial/ethnic diversity.” One cautionary note from the report: as boards seek to recruit more directors with functional expertise, such as cybersecurity or climate, the proportion of board members with business strategy experience has declined. For example, among companies in the Russell 3000, the percentage of directors with experience in business strategy decreased by five percentage points in the last three years. According to the Executive Director of the ESG Center at The Conference Board, the “recent decline in board members with business strategy experience is worrisome. Directors without broad strategic experience risk hindering effective board discussions and will likely be less useful partners for management….Although boards may want to add functional experience…, directors can bring meaningful value only if they can make the connection between these functional areas and business strategy.”

Court grants summary judgment to plaintiffs challenging California’s board diversity statute for “underrepresented communities”

As you may recall, SB 826, the California board gender diversity statute, is not the only California board diversity statute facing legal challenges.  In 2020, AB 979, California’s board diversity statute for “underrepresented communities,” patterned after the board gender diversity statute, was signed into law, and it too has been facing legal challenges—in fact litigation brought by the same plaintiffs on the same legal basis. (See this PubCo post.) Framed as a “taxpayer suit” much like Crest v. Padilla I, the sequel, Crest v. Padilla II, sought to enjoin Alex Padilla, the then-California Secretary of State, from expending taxpayer funds and taxpayer-financed resources to enforce or implement the law and a judgment declaring the diversity mandate to be unlawful in violation of the California constitution.  As Crest v. Padilla I is awaiting a court decision following a bench trial (see this PubCo post), what’s happening in the sequel? After a hearing on motions by both parties for summary judgment in March, the Los Angeles Superior Court took the matter under submission and, on April Fool’s Day, the Court issued its order.  But it was no joke—the Court granted plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment.  The state has not yet indicated whether it will appeal the decision. In a statement, the president of Judicial Watch, which represented the plaintiffs, said that “[t]his historic California court decision declared unconstitutional one of the most blatant and significant attacks in the modern era on constitutional prohibitions against discrimination.”

California posts new report on board diversity— how much does it tell us?

It’s International Women’s Day! On March 1, the California Secretary of State, Dr. Shirley N. Weber issued the Secretary’s 2022 report required by SB 826, California’s board gender diversity law, and by AB 979, California’s law related to underrepresented communities on boards, on the status of compliance with these laws.  The report counts 716 publicly held corporations listed on major exchanges that identified principal executive offices in California in their 2021 10-Ks, and indicates that 358 (compared to 318 last year) of these “impacted corporations” filed a 2021 California Publicly Traded Corporate Disclosure Statement reflecting their compliance (or lack thereof) with the board diversity requirements. Of the 358 companies that filed, only 186 reported that they were in compliance with the board gender diversity mandate, a significant decline from the 311 reported last year.  Undoubtedly, the decline reflects the higher thresholds for compliance that applied at the end of 2021. The report also shows that 301 companies reported being in compliance with the phase-one requirements of the 2020 law related to underrepresented communities on boards. But is any of this data from the report really meaningful?

For the 2022 proxy season, SSGA continues its emphasis on climate and diversity transformation

In his last letter to boards as CEO of State Street Global Advisors, Cyrus Taraporevala (who has announced his planned retirement this year) writes that we are at a “moment of significant transition,” facing many challenges, including a pandemic, climate change and gender, racial and ethnic inequities, that have led to economic disruption and even political instability.  How should companies address these challenges?  SSGA expects its portfolio companies to manage “these threats and opportunities by transitioning their strategies and operations—enhancing efforts to decarbonize and embracing new ways of recruiting and retaining talent—as the world moves toward a low-carbon and more diverse and inclusive future.”  Accordingly,  SSGA’s “main focus in 2022 will be to support the acceleration of the systemic transformations underway in climate change and the diversity of boards and workforces.”