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OVERVIEW

Marlén Cortez Morris
Partner

Chicago

One North Wacker Drive
Suite 4400
Chicago, IL 60606-2833

P 312-214-8808

F 312-759-5646

OVERVIEW

Marlén Cortez Morris
Partner

Chicago

One North Wacker Drive
Suite 4400
Chicago, IL 60606-2833

P 312-214-8808

F 312-759-5646

Marlén Cortez Morris represents and advises clients on a wide range of franchise and distribution, labor and employment, and commercial litigation matters in courts and alternative dispute resolution venues and before government agencies across the country.

OVERVIEW

Marlén Cortez Morris Partner

Chicago

One North Wacker Drive
Suite 4400
Chicago, IL 60606-2833

P : 312-214-8808

Marlén Cortez Morris represents and advises clients on a wide range of franchise and distribution, labor and employment, and commercial litigation matters in courts and alternative dispute resolution venues and before government agencies across the country.

Marlén litigates complex matters from inception through appeal. Her deep litigation experience includes the enforcement of contract and intellectual property rights, as well as the defense of claims for breach of contract, business torts, violations of franchise registration and relationship laws, state consumer protection violations and employment law violations, including vicarious and joint employment liability.

Marlén defends franchisors and employers against wage and hour class and collective actions arising under federal and state laws and claims for wrongful termination, discrimination, harassment and retaliation arising under various federal, state and local laws. In addition, she is experienced with the enforcement of restrictive covenants and unemployment compensation benefits claims.

A critical aspect of Marlén’s practice involves counseling and litigation prevention. Understanding the complexities of labor and employment law and franchising, she works closely with clients to provide strategic guidance on joint employment, vicarious liability and labor and employment law issues arising in the franchise relationship, corporate transactions and due diligence initiatives. Marlén is well-versed in auditing and advising on franchise training materials, operations manuals, technology systems and contracts with franchisees and third-party vendors, as well as in preparing employment policies, handbooks and agreements.

Marlén is committed to clients and her dedication to achieving client goals is manifest in her tireless work ethic. Marlén can and will serve as a formidable advocate when needed. However, she also takes pride in helping clients avoid or mitigate litigation and is valued for her balanced approach on striking the right outcome to meet her clients’ objectives in a timely and efficient manner.

Before joining Barnes & Thornburg, Marlén was a partner at Cheng Cohen LLC in Chicago, where she represented franchisors, licensors and distributors on a broad spectrum of commercial disputes involving trademarks, trade secrets, covenants not to compete and joint employment liability claims. She also regularly advised clients on labor and employment law compliance and best practices for navigating joint employment issues.

Professional and Community Involvement

Member, American Bar Association Forum on Franchising

Member, American Bar Association Section of Labor and Employment Law

Topic and Article Editor, American Bar Association Franchise Law Journal

Diversity Institute Board member, International Franchise Association

Member, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois

Member, Hispanic National Bar Association

Junior Leadership Board member, National Immigrant Justice Center

Board of trustees member, Hispanic Lawyers Scholarship Fund of Illinois

Honors

“Top Lawyers Under 40,” Hispanic National Bar Association, 2018

“Alumnus of the Year,” University of Illinois College of Law’s Latina/o Law Students Association, 2018

“Franchise Legal Player,” 1851 Magazine, 2018

“Rising Star,” Employment and Labor, Illinois Super Lawyers, 2016-2017

EXPERIENCE

Franchising & Distribution

  • Successfully prosecuted a claim for trade secret misappropriation under the then newly-enacted federal Defend Trade Secrets Act. Obtained a temporary restraining order, permanent injunction and default judgment, plus an award of attorneys’ fees and costs for a retail distributor, requiring a former dealer to return all of the distributor’s trade secrets, confidential information and merchandise and to cease from any further use and disclosure.
  • Won summary judgment and obtained a permanent injunction in favor of a nationwide casual restaurant franchisor and its licensor in an action against franchisees, an area developer and their guarantors (franchisees) who were terminated for failure to comply with the franchisor’s mandatory menus and promotional programs. Prevailed on the franchisor and licensor’s breach of contract and Lanham Act claims and defeated the franchisees’ counterclaims for fraud, breach of contract, breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, declaratory and injunctive relief, the Colorado Consumer Protection Act and tortious interference. The franchisees appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. Secured an affirmance of summary judgment on appeal.
  • Obtained a nearly $2.5 million judgment and permanent injunction in favor of a franchisor against multiple franchisees and their guarantor for breaches of franchise agreements, guaranties and promissory notes.
  • Won a motion to dismiss a franchisee’s claims for fraud and violations under the Florida and Colorado franchise and consumer protection statutes against a restaurant franchisor.
  • Successfully stayed federal litigation initiated by a group of franchisees against a nationwide spa franchisor, its owners and certain employees and compelled separate arbitrations of each franchisee’s claims where the franchisees disputed their claims were non-arbitrable and the claims involved certain non-parties to the arbitration agreements.
  • Won summary judgment on behalf of a national signs franchisor barring the franchisee’s counterclaims for fraud, breach of contract and franchise law violations.
  • Defeated a franchisee’s motion for summary judgment in a state court action challenging the franchisor’s termination of a marketing fund.
  • Obtained a $1.5 million judgment in favor of a restaurant franchisor in action involving a franchisee’s abandonment of franchised locations years before the agreements expired.
  • Part of the trial team that represented a beverage distribution company and its managing member in a membership dispute. Defeated the putative members’ emergency motion for appointment of a receiver following a two-day evidentiary hearing in federal court
  • Served as lead counsel for a major casual restaurant franchisor and licensor in multiple federal lawsuits by the franchisees. Briefed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and secured a stay of litigation while the appeal was pending. After the stay expired, briefed cross-motions for summary judgment and settlements were achieved.
  • Co-chaired an arbitration resulting in a defense victory for a pizza franchisor where the franchisee sought damages in excess of $1 million.
  • Defeated a franchisee’s wrongful termination state lawsuit against a franchisor of children education services and obtained an award of attorneys’ fees and costs, then sued the former franchisee in federal court for trademark infringement and violation of a non-compete and won the preliminary injunction, motion for contempt sanctions and award of attorneys’ fees and costs, as well as secured a dismissal of all counterclaims with prejudice.
  • Obtained favorable settlements for the franchisor of janitorial services in two federal court actions where the franchisees claimed breach of contract, fraud and franchise disclosure violations and sought millions in damages. After taking their depositions, the franchisees settled for nominal amounts.
  • Obtained a favorable settlement, consent judgment and permanent injunction for a sub sandwich franchisor early in a federal injunction action.

Labor & Employment

  • Perform joint employment audits of franchise companies’ operations manuals, training materials, technology systems, agreements with franchisees and third party vendors, and field personnel’s operating procedures. Franchise clients include both emerging and established brands in a number of industries, including restaurants, retail, communications and care services.
  • Secured dismissals of various charges of discrimination and harassment brought against franchisors by employees of their franchisees before federal and state agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and based on a joint employer theory.
  • Conducted labor and employment due diligence in connection with a private equity firm’s $175 million acquisition of a franchise company.
  • Defended a restaurant against a putative class and collective action alleging minimum wage, overtime and tip credit violations under the FLSA and additional wage claims under Alabama state law, and settled for nuisance value the named plaintiffs’ claims in early mediation, before any discovery or motion practice, resulting in a dismissal with prejudice of the action.
  • Successfully defended a nationwide franchisor of in-home care services against a class and collective action alleging overtime violations under the FLSA and Illinois state law against the franchisor and the franchisee and its owners on a joint employer theory.
  • Achieved an early dismissal of joint employment claims of minimum and overtime wage violations under the FLSA and North Carolina state law asserted against the holding company of a franchisor. Persuaded plaintiffs’ counsel to dismiss the holding company before the responsive pleading to the complaint was due.


*This experience occurred prior to joining Barnes & Thornburg.


EXPERIENCE
INSIGHTS & EVENTS
PRESENTATIONS
  • Panelist, HLAI & HNBA's Region IX, "Pathway to Partnership," Chicago, IL (March 6, 2019)
  • Moderator, Business Solution Roundtable on “Avoiding Joint Employer Liability,” 2019 IFA Annual Convention, Las Vegas, Nevada (Feb. 27, 2019)
  • Panelist, W-2 or 1099? Employee and Independent Contractor Issues in the Uber Age, 2016 HNBA Corporate Counsel Conference, Las Vegas, NV (Mar. 2016)*
  • Speaker (Spanish TV Segments), Conozca Sus Derechos (Know Your Rights): Workplace Harassment, Wage Payment, and Worker Classification: Employee vs. Independent Contractor, Univision Chicago & ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities (Apr. 14, 2015 & May 26, 2015)*
  • Co-Presenter, Employee or Independent Contractor?, Winston & Strawn eLunch (Aug. 2012)*

*These occurred prior to joining Barnes & Thornburg.

PUBLICATIONS
  • Co-Author, Franchising & Distribution Currents, 38:2 Franchise L.J. 303 (Fall 2018)
  • Author, Associated but Completely Disassociated? What the Latest Joint Employment Test Means for Franchising, 20:4 The Franchise Lawyer 3 (Fall 2017)*
  • Co-Author, Franchise (& Distribution) Currents, 37:1 Franchise L.J. 145 (Summer 2017)*
  • Author, The Joint Employment (Dis)junction, ABA YLD Labor & Employment Law Newsletter (Spring 2017)*
  • Contributor, Where Trump’s Labor Secretary pick stands on overtime, fiduciary rules, Employee Benefit Adviser (Dec. 9, 2016)*
  • Co-Author, Franchise (& Distribution) Currents, 35:4 Franchise L.J. 659 (Spring 2016)*
  • Author, Five Top Labor and Employment Issues to Watch in 2016, IFA Franchising World (Feb. 2016)*
  • Author, Reaching the Untapped Latino Market in Franchising, IFA Franchising World (July 2015)*
  • Co-Author, Navigating the Muddy Waters of the Affordable Care Act in Franchising, 34:2 Franchise L.J. 155 (Fall 2014)
  • Author, What the NLRB’s Joint Employer Position Means for Franchisors, Franchise Update (Sept. 2014)
  • Co-Author, International Enforcement of U.S. Securities Laws: Extending the Reach to German Companies, Wistra (Aug. 2008)*

These occurred prior to joining Barnes & Thornburg.

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