FROM OUR MANAGING PARTNER
Fall 2018 Newsletter

STEPHEN L. GOLAN

Managing Partner

As we prepare to bid farewell to an exciting – and sometimes disquieting – year, we at Golan Christie Taglia are reminded of our good fortune. You continue to give our work purpose. We are proud to celebrate our 25th year of partnering with you to foster your success. We value your trust, and will always endeavor to safeguard you and your interests. In this issue of our newsletter you will find both updates and recent developments regarding:

HOW SHOULD YOU RESPOND TO DEFAMATORY ONLINE REVIEWS?
In the second part of a two-part series, Beverly A. Berneman and Neil P. Johnson outline the available options when responding to negative reviews. Learn about the advantages and potential disadvantages you should consider when determining your strategy.

PROPERTY TAX BREAKS THAT COULD BENEFIT YOU
Learn about the Illinois laws designed to help homeowners and businesses cut their taxes. James W. Chipman summarizes the exemptions and incentives that could save you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.


MORE LAWS PASSED TO PROTECT PAY EQUALITY AND
ILLINOIS AMENDMENTS TO NURSING MOTHERS WORKPLACE ACT

Questions regarding salary history are already prohibited by many states and local governments—and it seems the trend will continue. Do you have policies in place to promote pay equality? Understand the changes to the Nursing Mothers Workplace Act, which may affect your current policy.

In addition, Golan Christie Taglia welcomes a new associate to our firm, and also are proud to feature two of our paralegals.

We are entering the season of giving thanks; please know that we are grateful for you. May you enjoy the company of family and friends as you celebrate throughout the holiday season. And, from all of us at Golan Christie Taglia, we send our warmest wishes for a prosperous new year!

Stephen L. Golan

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY
Cyber-Critics: Responding To Defamatory Online Reviews

BEVERLY A. BERNEMAN

Partner

NEIL P. JOHNSON

Associate

A business’ positive, proactive engagement over a negative review can often diffuse an otherwise volatile situation.

Business owners should be prepared to deal with defamatory reviews when they arise, but must carefully consider options before responding.

This is Part II of a two-part series discussing the plague of negative online reviews. This second part considers the practicalities and options available in response to illegal reviews (defamatory content).

When defamatory content is posted on a business’ profile, it can drive a business owner to madness. But a calculated response can stop the review from taking on a life of its own. Part I of this article helped distinguish a defamatory review from a simply negative one. What happens when a business owner is saddled with a false statement about his or her business where damages are suffered, devoid of any applicable legal exception?

The response to the defamatory review should be considered carefully. The risks have to be weighed against the rewards. While anger is often the first response, a business owner should consult with an attorney to understand which of the following responses would be appropriate.

(a) Removal of Review. Online review platforms usually have governing terms and conditions that outline impermissible content and provide for a process by which a business can request removal. Often, these terms and conditions will not expressly prohibit “defamatory” reviews but will provide for the removal of “illegal” content. Under Yelp’s “Review Guidelines,” Yelp expects a review of a business to be “factually correct” and to not “exaggerate or misrepresent” the reviewer’s experience. And if an owner reports a violation, the business is beholden to the online review website to determine whether and when to remove an online review.

The disadvantage of removing the review is potentially causing the defamatory information to become more widely spread across the Internet in the individual’s attempt to remove it from public view. The reviewer could be offended by the removal of its review which shines more of a light on the situation, causing a chain reaction of more negative reviews.

Also, by removing an online review, the reviewer could begin a game of “whack-a-mole” where the reviewer, who has now received attention from the business owner, could create a new user account and repeat the same defamatory review on the same platform, or on another one. Such an endless fight could take the business owner away from building goodwill with prospective and existing customers.

(b) Positive Response. This strategy may sound foolish but a business’ proactive engagement over a review can often diffuse the situation. These online review platforms encourage business owners to reach out to the individual and to discuss the dissatisfaction with the goods and services offered. It could lead to revised reviews and potentially continued business from the reviewer. According to Yelp’s Data Science team, “Yelp users are 33% more likely to upgrade their review if [a business] respond[s] with a personalized message within 24 hours.” Airbnb is resistant to remove reviews and, instead, gives each party the opportunity to respond to a negative review.

When the reaction has spread beyond a simple response by the business owner, a defamed party should consider retaining a public relations firm. Internet communities are prepared to publicly shame businesses in the name of social justice so prevention of this rising tide may require an immediate, professional reaction.

The nagging concern with reaching out is the continued existence of a false review. Even if the owner adequately addressed and resolved the reviewer’s dissatisfaction, the review could still remain on the business’ profile.

(c) Cease and Desist Letter. Prior to the nuclear option of litigation, a well-worded cease and desist letter may achieve the outcome of removal of the review. For more information, you may want to revisit articles in the Winter and Spring 2018 editions of this newsletter regarding cease and desist letters.

(d) Lawsuits. Upon the evaluation of the review as defamatory, the business owner can consider a lawsuit for defamation, along with other claims such as tortious interferences with existing and prospective business relationships and false light. If the reviewer continues to post about the business, the business owner could seek injunctive relief to halt the reviewer’s continued harassment.

The disadvantage of litigation is the considerable amount of time and fees expended. Given the ephemeral nature of Internet reviews, the sting from the defamatory review may subside by the time judgment against the reviewer is entered by the court. The significant cost of litigation should lead to a discussion between attorneys and their clients on the cost-benefit analysis especially when (i) the type of defamatory statement requires proven, not presumed damages, (ii) the damages are difficult to prove, and (iii) the reviewer is anonymous.

Further, even if the business wins in the court of law, it could lose in the court of public opinion. From the public’s perception, the initiation of litigation could be viewed as a company’s attempt to silence an unfavorable opinion that may be a legitimate gripe. This external factor should be considered in the overall cost-benefit analysis before the initiation of any lawsuit.

CONCLUSION
Business owners should be prepared to deal with negative (or defamatory) reviews when they arise because the reviews can occur and grow quickly and cause devastating effects to a business. Any response should consider the nature of the review (defamatory or negative) and the context to develop the best strategy for dealing with the review. Although false reviews cause strong reactions by business owners, a poor response by the owner could cause an even stronger reaction by its customers.

If you have questions or need additional information, please contact an intellectual property attorney at Golan Christie Taglia LLP.

PROPERTY TAX LAW
Are you taking full advantage of your property tax breaks?

JAMES W. CHIPMAN

Of Counsel

No matter where you live or what type of property you own, you may qualify for any number of special tax incentives that could save you hundreds, or even thousands of dollars.

Illinois may be second in the nation when it comes to the highest property tax burden, but the Prairie State offers its fair share of tax breaks too. Here are a few of the laws designed to help homeowners and businesses cut their taxes.

Exemptions that reduce the assessed value of your home:

  • General Homestead: Taxpayers can receive a maximum exemption of $6,000 for an owner-occupied residence ($10,000 in Cook County).
  • Senior Citizen: Homeowners age 65+ can receive a $5,000 exemption for an owner-occupied property ($8,000 in Cook County). An annual application is required.
  • Senior Freeze: Senior citizens who live in an owner-occupied home and meet certain income levels may have their assessments frozen. An annual application is required.
  • Home Improvement: Owners can make up to $75,000 worth of property improvements without an increase in taxes for at least four years from the date of completion and occupancy, or until the next reassessment, whichever is later.
  • Returning Veterans: Veterans returning from active duty who own and occupy a property as their principal residence are entitled to a $5,000 exemption for two consecutive years.

Special valuation incentives for homes and businesses:

  • Open Space: Land containing 10+ acres that is used exclusively for maintaining natural or scenic resources or promoting conservation of natural resources for the last three years is eligible for an assessment based on “use value,” which is significantly less than market value. Public and private golf courses qualify. This law can help residential owners with large undeveloped tracts and businesses holding excess land for future expansion.
  • Farmland: Land is eligible for a farmland assessment provided it meets the definition of “farm” and has been in that use for the two preceding years. This can include any property used solely for a variety of agricultural purposes with no acreage requirement. Farming must be the primary use of the land, and like open space, this assessment is based on use value.
  • Solar Heating and Cooling: When a solar energy system is installed on a property, the owner may apply for an alternate assessment. The improvement is then assessed as if heated or cooled by conventional means and with the solar energy system—the alternate valuation is the lesser of these two values.

Special valuation incentives for businesses only:

  • Model Home: A dwelling, condominium or townhome used as a display or demonstration model for prospective buyers is to be assessed at its value prior to construction or a zoning classification change. The home can be furnished and even used as an office. The lower assessed value remains in effect until the home is sold or leased for use other than a model home.
  • Developer’s Exemption (excludes Cook County): This exemption encourages real estate development by protecting developers from paying higher taxes until a return on investment can be realized. It applies to acreage in transition from vacant land to a residential, commercial or industrial use. The tax break ends when a lot is sold or used for a business or residential purpose, or a habitable structure is built on a lot.

TO LEARN MORE . . .
For more information and to determine whether your property is eligible for an exemption or incentive, please contact one of our property tax attorneys at Golan Christie Taglia LLP today. They’ll take you through each step required to qualify your property for these tax reducing benefits.

Trend Continues To Prohibit Employers From Asking Applicants About Salary History

LAURA A. BALSON

Partner

MARGARET A. GISCH

Partner

To address gender pay inequality, many states and local governments have passed laws that prohibit employers from asking job candidates about their salary history. As of January 1, 2019, all of the following states will have such a law in effect: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Vermont. Illinois’ law is still in limbo as of the writing of this article due to Governor Rauner’s veto, which the legislature has vowed to override. Additionally, the following municipalities have similar laws for employers within their jurisdiction: Chicago (applies to City departments only), Louisville, New Orleans (applies to City Departments only), and Kansas City. The purpose of these laws is to stop the perpetuation of pay inequality between men, women, and minorities by ensuring that a person’s salary is based upon their value to their current employer.

Such laws are gaining popularity in other states and on a national level. While federal law prohibits pay discrimination, violations are difficult to prove and persist. However, the clear trend is to promote pay equality. We advise employers to maintain policies that will prevent discrimination of any kind and to ensure that managers, supervisors, and other employees follow these policies carefully.

Illinois Governor Signs Amendments To Nursing Mothers Workplace Act

Since July 2001, Illinois has required employers with 5 or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for employees who want to express breast milk. This requirement includes providing a private room, other than a bathroom, which is in close proximity to the employee’s work area.

In August 2018, certain amendments were added to the Act, which became effective immediately. The changes are as follows: (a) nursing breaks are to be taken on a reasonable basis (as opposed to having mothers schedule breaks with employers); (b) the employer hardship exception is now defined as: if the break would “create an undue hardship” (as opposed to unduly disrupt the employer’s operations); and (c) employers cannot reduce an employee’s compensation for time used for expressing milk or nursing. Though the statute does not specifically state that breaks must be paid, that is the implication of the change.

If you have questions or need additional information, please contact an employment attorney at Golan Christie Taglia, LLP.

ANNOUNCEMENTS
Welcome M. Elysia Baker

M. ELYSIA BAKER

Associate

The firm is excited to welcome our newest associate, M. Elysia Baker. Her experience includes defending Fortune 500 companies, insurance companies, and public entities in employment disputes, commercial litigation, and internal and regulatory investigations. Elysia earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology from Harvard University and her Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center. While attending law school, Elysia served in the D.C. Law Students in Court legal clinic, where she represented clients in landlord and tenant matters. Prior to joining Golan & Christie, Elysia worked as a litigator with Robbins Schwartz Nicholas Lifton & Taylor and Pugh, Jones & Johnson, P.C.

Golan Christie Taglia Paralegals in the News

In August, Senior Litigation Paralegal/eDiscovery Specialist, Tisha Delgado, was featured in a Chicago Tribune article entitled “E-filing System Causes Confusion.” Tisha will also be presenting a session on e-filing at the Illinois Paralegal Association’s Fall Education Conference on November 7, 2018 at the Palmer House Hilton. For more information on this event, go to www.ipaonline.org.

Tom Stephenson, Senior Paralegal and Secretary of the Illinois Paralegal Association, was recently appointed to the National Federation of Paralegal Associations (NFPA) Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) Committee. Tom will attend the 2018 NFPA Annual Convention in Seattle, WA as part of the D&I Committee's efforts and Susan Bro's presentation of the inaugural Justice Champion Award in honor of her daughter, the late Heather Heyer, a paralegal killed during a rally in Charlottesville in late 2017.