Five Stories That Matter in Michigan This Week – April 7, 2023

  1. Michigan Legislature Passes Amendment to Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to Protect LGBTQ Rights

The Michigan Legislature recently passed an amendment to the state’s Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) that explicitly includes protections against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression.

Why it Matters: Michigan entities covered by the ELCRA should ensure that their policies and practices protect against discrimination based on these amended protected categories.


  1. 2023 April Business Education Series

During the April Business Education Series, Emmie Musser, senior portfolio marketing manager, ​TechSmith, will share what we learned and best practices to positively impact employee satisfaction, job attitude, productivity, and innovation.

Why it Matters: Not all meetings can or should be replaced, but identifying which ones can and how to replace them will offer your organization greater flexibility and productivity and more dedicated “think” time. Hosted at the Lansing Regional Chamber on Tuesday, April 11. Full details and to register.


  1. Prominent Cannabis Brand Regains Control of Multiple Cannabis Stores Following Court Order

A recent court order has placed control of several cannabis stores back under Skymint’s leadership. In 2021, Skymint acquired competitor 3Fifteen Cannabis and its cannabis stores located across the state. Following reports of Skymint Brands being placed under receivership, 3Fifteen Cannabis challenged the company’s leadership and took back control of several of the stores that were acquired. However, a judge ruled that 3Fifteen Cannabis violated the receivership’s order and must relinquish control back to Skymint.

Why it Matters: The fact that Skymint’s assets were put into receivership is noteworthy, as state court receivership has become an alternative to bankruptcy for distressed cannabis companies. Because cannabis is still illegal at the federal level, companies can’t access federal bankruptcy to reorganize or liquidate.


  1. How Copyrights Protect Your Business

Copyright is the exclusive legal protection that covers an original work of authorship. Copyrights vest upon creation of the work, which means placing the work onto a tangible medium (e.g., applying paint to a canvas or words to a screenplay).

Why it Matters: As noted above, copyrights vest upon creation of the work, even if it isn’t published. Similar to trademark law, it can be difficult to enforce your copyright if the work is not registered with the U.S. Copyright Office. Learn more.


  1. Name, Image, Likeness Law for Student-Athletes in Michigan

The new law, which took effect December 31, 2022, set standards for how student-athletes can earn compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness (“NIL”) in Michigan. The NCAA also has its own NIL policy, which took effect on July 1, 2021.

Why it Matters: It’s important that Michigan student-athletes, covered higher education institutions, and businesses ensure that NIL deals comply not only with NCAA rules and regulations, but also with the new standards that will apply in the State of Michigan. Learn more on the subject from your Fraser Trebilcock attorney.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Business & Tax | Ed Castellani
Cannabis Law | Sean Gallagher
Intellectual Property | Jared Roberts
Higher Education | Ryan Kauffman

Five Stories that Matter in Michigan This Week – December 2, 2022

  1. New Michigan NIL Legislation Takes Effect December 31, 2022

Michigan House Bill 5217 which was passed into law in 2020, takes effect December 31, 2022 and sets new standards for how student-athletes can earn compensation for the use of their name, image, and likeness (“NIL”) in Michigan.

Why it Matters: Student-athletes, covered higher education institutions, and businesses must ensure that NIL deal comply not only with NCAA rules and regulations, but also with the new standards that will apply in the State of Michigan starting in 2023. For example, higher education institutions are prohibited from paying a student-athlete compensation directly for the use of their NIL rights, or revoking or reducing a student-athlete’s athletic scholarship because they earned compensation from an NIL deal.


  1. FTC Safeguards Rule Deadline Extended, But Don’t Wait to Implement Data Security Compliance Protocols

The Federal Trade Commission recently extended the deadline, from December 9, 2022, to June 9, 2023, for compliance with the most stringent requirements of its latest rulemaking, revisions to the Safeguards Rule under the Gramm Leach Bliley Act (“the GLBA”).

Why it Matters: The GLBA, which was implemented over 20 years ago, defines how businesses gather, use, and share certain financial information about their customers. The Safeguards Rule establishes certain data security requirements for how a business stores that information. Learn more from our Fraser Trebilcock attorneys on the matter.


  1. The Demise of the Open and Obvious Defense? (Michigan’s Evolution of Premises Liability Law

Premises liability cases are often litigated in Michigan with considerable difficulty. In a premises liability claim, a possessor of land owes a duty to an invitee to exercise reasonable care to protect them from an unreasonable risk of harm caused by a dangerous condition on the land. However, plaintiffs frequently find difficulty in successfully making claims under a premises liability theory due to the “open and obvious” defense.

Why it Matters: Michigan courts have traditionally held that the hazards presented by snow, snow-covered ice, and observable ice are open and obvious and do not impose a duty on the premises possessor to warn of or remove the hazard. However, the courts appear to be slowly eroding this traditional approach. Learn more on the subject.


  1. Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget Prevailing Wage Policy Upheld by Court of Claims

On March 1, 2022, the State of Michigan began to require state contractors and subcontractors to pay prevailing wage on construction-based contracts issued by the Department of Technology, Management & Budget (“DTMB”). The directive established the following guidelines for when the payment of a prevailing wage is required.

Why it Matters: In October, the Michigan Court of Claims sided with the state and ruled that DTMB did not violate the law when it implemented its prevailing wage policy. The court granted DTMB’s motion for summary disposition, resulting in the dismissal of the case.


  1. EEOC Issues New Workplace “Know Your Rights” Poster

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued an updated “Know Your Rights” workplace poster. Employers with more than 15 workers are required to display the poster, which can be found here, in their workplace. The updated poster identifies and summarizes laws that protect workers from discrimination and retaliation, and explains how employees or applicants can file a complaint if they believe that they have experienced discrimination.

Why it Matters: Employment law is a constantly evolving area, so it’s important for employers to stay abreast of new developments, such as this updated poster requirement from the EEOC. Contact a member of our Labor, Employment & Civil Rights team with any questions.

Related Practice Groups and Professionals

Higher Education | Ryan Kauffman
Business & Tax | Robert Burgee
Insurance Law | Laura DeMarco
Labor, Employment & Civil Rights | Aaron Davis

Colleges Object to “Name, Image and Likeness” Public Information Requests from News Media

As the University of Georgia prepares to compete in the NCAA College Football Playoff championship, it’s also fighting another battle, on another playing field: defending itself against public record lawsuits following its refusal to disclose its athletes’ “name, image and likeness” contracts. A similar lawsuit has also been brought against Louisiana State University.

By way of background, in 2021, the NCAA announced an interim policy that allows student-athletes from all three divisions to monetize their name, image and likeness (often referred to as “NIL”). The new policy went into effect on July 1, 2021.

The NCAA’s new policy was enacted on the cusp of laws taking effect in a number of states, such as Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico and Texas, which allow NCAA athletes to monetize their NIL.

The lawsuits against the University of Georgia and Louisiana State University were filed by two news organizations who sought details of NIL contracts, arguing that such records are not exempt from a public records request. In refusing the requests, the universities cited the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (“FERPA”), a federal law which protects certain records from public release without student or parent consent.

The court in the Louisiana State University case ultimately ruled against the news organization. At the time this post was written, the case against the University of Georgia was still pending.

As NIL deals become more common, and the dollar amounts of those deals grow larger, there will be increasing media scrutiny of them. As schools push back against public records requests, more lawsuits will be filed, and FERPA will likely continue to be cited as grounds for withholding records. Until a federal court of appeals has a chance to weigh in, there may be a patchwork of decisions with varying outcomes as to the question of whether the public has a right to the details of NIL deals at public universities.

We will continue to keep you apprised of developments in this evolving area of higher education law and regulations.

If you have any questions, please contact Ryan Kauffman.

Fraser Trebilcock Attorney Ryan Kauffman

Ryan K. Kauffman is a Shareholder at Fraser Trebilcock with more than a decade of experience handling complex litigation matters and representing higher education institutions. You can contact him at or 517.377.0881.

Recent NLRB Memorandum Argues that Certain College and University Student-Athletes Qualify as Employees and Should be Afforded Statutory Protections

The debate on whether college or university athletes should be considered as employees isn’t a new one, especially in light of coaches like Alabama’s Nick Saban receiving almost a $10 million salary. In fact, college coaches dominate lists of highest paid public employees in most states.

The conversation on the disparity between coach pay, revenue generated by the NCAA and higher education institutions from sports, and student-athletes seeking compensation for their participation is evolving. In July 2021, the NCAA adopted a new name, image and likeness (NIL) policy, by which student-athletes can be compensated for the use of their NIL. In addition, a recent memorandum by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) general counsel redefined the term “employee” as it applies to student-athletes. In the September 2021 nine-page memorandum, general counsel Jennifer A. Abruzzo takes the position that student-athletes are misclassified. The memorandum opens the door for students to be considered employees of a private university or college and have the option to unionize and participate in collective bargaining under the NLRB.

The purpose of the memorandum is to put private universities and colleges on notice of  NLRB’s pro-labor policy. NLRB doesn’t have jurisdiction over wages and compensation and cannot compel colleges and universities to pay student-athletes. The memorandum is not considered binding precedent, but Abruzzo’s reasoning indicates NLRB’s position should the right case appear before the board.

The Reasoning Behind the Memorandum

Abruzzo’s reasoning focuses on several key points, including misclassifying the term “student-athlete,” redefining the term “employee” in the context of an athlete, and the increasing social and racial justice activism occurring on campuses.

First, the memo argues colleges’ and universities’ use of the term “student-athlete” is an inherent  misclassification. This label prevents the athlete at a college or university from pursuing protection under federal law. Instead, Abruzzo calls on institutions to classify athletes as “players at academic institutions.”

In her second point, Abruzzo defines the term employee in the context of an athlete playing a sport at a college or university. “Players at Academic Institutions perform services for institutions in return for compensation and are subject to their control. Thus, the broad language of Section 2(3) of the Act, the policies underlying the NLRA, Board law, and the common law fully support the conclusion that certain Players at Academic Institutions are statutory employees, who have the right to act collectively to improve their terms and conditions of employment,” Abruzza asserts in her memorandum.

For example, a basketball player who plays on behalf of his or her private university and the NCAA performs a service by playing on the team and receives compensation in the form of a scholarship. The coach and staff dictate practices and general working conditions for the athlete.

Lastly, the memorandum also addresses the recent activism by students on campus. In the last few years, there has been an increase in participation in advocating for social and racial justice issues. She specifically highlights the Black Lives Matter movement and states that athletes who participate in such activism to improve working conditions should be protected from retaliation.

Precedent that supports NLRB’s recent memorandum

Abruzzo’s current memorandum essentially picks up where a 2017 memorandum left off. The NLRB, in GC 17-01, stated that Division 1 scholarship football players who competed in the NCAA at private colleges are employees, but declined to intervene. The memo was rescinded by the Trump administration, and the current Abruzzo memorandum reinstates the point that the football players at issue satisfy the definition of employee under Section 2(3) and the common-law agency test, in which an employee is “a person who performs services for another and is subject to the other’s control or right to control.”

In the June 2021 Supreme Court decision in NCAA vs. Alston, the Court unanimously upheld that a cap on education-related benefits for athletes violated antitrust laws. In his concurring opinion, Justice Brett Kavanaugh stated that college athletes “collectively generate billions of dollars in revenues for colleges every year. Those enormous sums of money flow to seemingly everyone except the student athletes. College presidents, athletic directors, coaches, conference commissioners, and NCAA executives take in six- and seven-figure salaries. Colleges build lavish new facilities. But the student athletes who generate the revenues, many of whom are African American and from lower-income backgrounds, end up with little or nothing.” Given this context, Kavanaugh suggests collective bargaining could be a solution to provide college athletes a fairer share of the revenue their institutions generate. This decision also indicates that the court is moving toward legislation that benefits the athlete playing for a private institution or college.

In addition, Abruzzo notes that players at academic institutions can now be compensated for the use of their NIL, similar to professional athletes.

What are the practical implications of the memorandum for public universities and colleges?

As it stands, the NLRB memorandum impacts only private universities and doesn’t apply to athletes in public universities. For example, in Michigan, where there isn’t a Division 1 private school, the public universities are subject to the jurisdiction of the MIchigan Employment Relations Commission rather than the NLRB.

There is a potential caveat since Abruzzo indicated that she might pursue a joint employer theory of liability to apply to public universities as well. She concedes that the current memorandum puts athletes at public universities out of reach, but if (potentially) an NLRB-covered entity is involved in the conditions or terms of employment, the joint employer liability theory might extend to these institutions. The current memorandum certainly opens the door to that possibility. Abruzzo explicitly states, “I will consider pursuing charges against an athletic conference or association even if some member schools are state institutions.”

For those institutions that fall within the scope of the memorandum, there will be more of an impetus to form unions. It is unlikely this development will occur immediately, but Abruzzo’s memorandum clearly sets up the possibility.

The underpinnings of the memorandum certainly challenge the current model employed by private universities and colleges as well as NCAA policy on compensation. If one college or basketball program started paying their athletes, what impact would this have on competition overall? Would the public universities feel the need to follow suit?

The NLRB position seems to embrace a pro-labor stance. The landscape of the student-athlete appears to be evolving, and clearly the colleges and universities – both private and public – need to be attuned to these changes.

If you have any questions, please contact Ryan Kauffman.

Fraser Trebilcock Attorney Ryan Kauffman

Ryan K. Kauffman is a Shareholder at Fraser Trebilcock with more than a decade of experience handling complex litigation matters and representing higher education institutions. You can contact him at or 517.377.0881.