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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Pop Goes ERISA - Robocop, Gordon Gekko and The Who/The Beach Boys Meet Employment Law, ERISA and Executive Compensation (Respectively)

So, other than on this crazy blog, do ERISA and Pop Culture really intersect? Clearly the answer is "yes," as the following discussion shows.

The Greatest Termination-of-Employment Scene in the history of movies has to be (spoilers follow - do not (!) read on if you haven't seen Robocop but may someday do so) the final scene in Robocop. Our titular hero discovers about halfway through the movie that Dick Jones (the always dependable Ronny Cox) is The Bad Guy. Jones is the #2 guy at Detroit's Omni Consumer Products ("OCP"), the company responsible for building (or rebuilding) Robocop from what was left of Officer Murphy. When Robocop first faces off against Jones, Robocop's programming stops him from proceeding. It turns out that Jones has imbedded in the programming a command - "Directive 4" (following three other very high-minded directives) - that stops Robocop from arresting any senior officer of OCP. Thus, Jones is safe. Fast forward to the movie's end, where an uninvited Robocop confronts Jones during a high-level company meeting, with indisputable proof of Jones' criminal activity and gross willful misconduct. Jones grabs OCP's CEO, who was at the meeting, and demands a chopper. The CEO asks Robocop why he isn't dispensing with Jones, at which point Robocop explains that Directive 4 "will not allow me to act against an officer of this company." Without missing a beat, the CEO looks back at his once-trusted #2 and, with clear cause therefor, calmly says, "Dick, you're fired." Robocop looks over, says, "Thank you," and proceeds to unload his hand cannon (as Quentin Tarantino might call it) into Jones, sending him through the high-rise window in a loud, bloody mess. Cool, . . . and presumably in accord with all then-applicable Michigan and U.S. laws governing terminations of employment.

Moving right along, the most high-profile movie of which I'm aware that is all about an ERISA issue is none other than Wall Street. How many forget that the core aspect of the plot is an attempt by a corporate raider to buy a company for its overfunded pension plan, shut down the company, terminate the plan and retain the reversion? (We're lucky the movie was made before the enactment of Section 4980.)

Onto music, a good friend of mine notes that the theme song for the option-mispricing scandal just has to be The Who's "Substitute" - "I look pretty young, but I'm just backdated, yeah." You can almost hear the affected options singing that line.

And another good friend points out the low-hanging fruit available to some creative soul out there who might go and make an executive-compensation song parody out of The Beach Boys' "409." (Giddy up!) As a related matter, yet another friend complains that Formula 409 never worked for him, anyway. These points surely should be discussed at Wolfgang's in New York, specifically at 409 Greenwich Street.

1 comment:

xtremErisa - said...

Further to my "Pop Goes ERISA" posting, Nick Curabba of the Baker & Daniels points to his favorite recent TV ERISA sighting as being from the FX show "Damages," with Glenn Close starring as a plaintiffs' attorney who brings an Enron-type case and asks an associate to write a memo on "the ERISA statute"! (Glenn Close might just be the best actress never to win an Oscar.) And how bad can Nick be? After all, he agrees "totally" with my take on Heath Ledger's Joker (you can find my views on Ledger's performance in my first and second postings). Nick also points out that I may not have been the first one to meld pop culture and ERISA, citing his reference to Jerry Kalish's May 11, 2008 Retirement Plan Blog post, which ranges from The Clash and Meat Loaf, on the one hand, to ERISA, on the other. However, with all due deference to Jerry (and Nick), Jerry's is just one posting - this site is obsessed with the concept! Anyway - thanks, Nick.