February 7, 2019

Corp Fin’s New CDI: Board Diversity Disclosure

Yesterday, Corp Fin issued two identical “Regulation S-K” CDIs – 116.11 and 133.13 – to clarify what disclosure of self-identified director diversity characteristics is required under Item 401 and, with respect to director nominees, under Item 407. Broc’s blogged about whether – and how – to address diversity in D&O questionnaires – and we’ll post memos in our “Board Diversity” Practice Area about how this new guidance impacts that analysis.

In the meantime, here’s the new CDI (also see this Cooley blog):

Question: In connection with preparing Item 401 disclosure relating to director qualifications, certain board members or nominees have provided for inclusion in the company’s disclosure certain self-identified specific diversity characteristics, such as their race, gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or cultural background. What disclosure of self-identified diversity characteristics is required under Item 401 or, with respect to nominees, under Item 407?

Answer: Item 401(e) requires a brief discussion of the specific experience, qualifications, attributes, or skills that led to the conclusion that a person should serve as a director. Item 407(c)(2)(vi) requires a description of how a board implements any policies it follows with regard to the consideration of diversity in identifying director nominees.

To the extent a board or nominating committee in determining the specific experience, qualifications, attributes, or skills of an individual for board membership has considered the self-identified diversity characteristics referred to above (e.g., race, gender, ethnicity, religion, nationality, disability, sexual orientation, or cultural background) of an individual who has consented to the company’s disclosure of those characteristics, we would expect that the company’s discussion required by Item 401 would include, but not necessarily be limited to, identifying those characteristics and how they were considered. Similarly, in these circumstances, we would expect any description of diversity policies followed by the company under Item 407 would include a discussion of how the company considers the self-identified diversity attributes of nominees as well as any other qualifications its diversity policy takes into account, such as diverse work experiences, military service, or socio-economic or demographic characteristics. [February 6, 2019]

“Shutdown Threat” Risk Factors & MACs

In light of the possibility that “government-by-shutdown” is our new normal, Intelligize has gathered a handful of risk factors that identify specific business threats caused by a non-functioning government – e.g. delayed FDA & CFIUS reviews. And Intelligize also reports that several companies are adding shutdown references to forward-looking statement disclaimers and MAC clauses. Here’s an excerpt:

For example, pest control provider Rollins Inc. noted in its 2018 earnings statement filed on Jan. 23 that “the impact of the U.S. government shutdown” was among the “various risks and uncertainties” that could cause the company’s actual results to diverge from its forward-looking statements. Other companies that have added similar language to their filings this year include Teledyne Technologies and financial services giant Bank of America Corp.

And back in September, the contract language in Fortive Corp’s acquisition of Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Ethicon nixed “any actual or potential sequester, stoppage, shutdown, default or similar event or occurrence by or involving any governmental entity affecting a national or federal government as a whole” as material adverse effects.

Securities Class Actions: Highest Levels Ever?

A pair of recent reports on securities class actions – from Cornerstone Research and NERA Economic Consulting – both say that a greater percentage of listed companies were hit with lawsuits last year (about 4.5% of all exchange-listed companies, and 9.4% of the S&P 500…even higher if you include merger-related litigation). This is due to the declining number of public companies as well as a higher number of class actions.

The Cornerstone report also highlights that state court filings – which have become more likely since the Supreme Court’s 2018 Cyan decision – are driving litigation to potentially record levels. Here’s an excerpt from Cornerstone’s press release:

Plaintiffs filed a total of 403 securities class actions in 2018 compared to 412 in 2017. The number of core filings increased from 214 to 221—the highest level since 2008, when securities class actions surged due to volatility in U.S. and global financial markets. Federal M&A filing volume was the second-highest on record, despite declining from 198 to 182.

Securities class action filings related to stock price drops reached levels not seen since the peak of the financial crisis, with the annual likelihood of such filings against exchange-listed companies at an all-time high.

Liz Dunshee