January 19, 2022

Director Independence: SEC Dings Company for Inadequate Disclosures

A recent SEC order serves as a reminder that the Commission is paying attention to disclosures about director relationships. This Stinson blog explains:

The SEC announced settled charges against formerly publicly-traded Leaf Group Ltd. for failing to adequately evaluate and disclose in its annual proxy statement the lack of independence of a director and a board committee as well as an “interlocking” board-of-directors relationship between that director and Leaf’s Chief Executive Officer.

According to the SEC’s order, Leaf made material misstatements in 2020 concerning the independence of a director and the existence of an interlocking relationship between that director and Leaf’s CEO. The order finds that Leaf materially misstated that the director was independent even though he served as Chief Financial Officer of another company, for which Leaf’s CEO served as a director and whose compensation committee Leaf’s CEO chaired. The order further finds that this “compensation committee interlock” disqualified the Leaf director as independent under the listing standards of the securities exchange on which Leaf’s stock traded and also required specific disclosure, under the SEC’s Regulation S-K, in Leaf’s proxy statement.

According to the order, Leaf further materially misstated the independence of a special committee that it had established to explore strategic alternatives, including a possible sale of Leaf, and also failed to maintain, during the 2019-20 period, disclosure controls concerning director independence and interlocks.

The blog points out several other interesting points from the order – and says that the company paid a penalty of $325,000 to settle the charges. As you head into proxy season, our “Director Independence” Handbook is an essential resource to help navigate the tricky world of interlocks and independence standards.

Liz Dunshee