Oil giant BP is challenging hundreds of millions of dollars in claims from businesses that were filed after the company's 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
The total price tag for BP's oil spill is huge — $42.5 billion. At issue here is a fraction of that — but still a lot of money. BP says $540 million has been awarded to businesses for losses that "are either nonexistent, exaggerated or have nothing to do with the Deepwater Horizon accident."
Florida attorney Kevin McLean represents one company that could fall into this category — a commercial printer near Tampa. "Did they suffer anything that I can prove was related to the spill?" asks McLean. "Absolutely not. I cannot prove that one dime of their revenue loss was related to the spill."
Still, McLean says he filed a claim for about $40,000 on behalf of the printer. He was able to do this because of the method the claims administrator set up. Essentially, if a business in the region could show its revenue was lower after the spill, the loss was assumed to be spill-related.
That prompted enterprising lawyers to run advertisements looking for clients who might qualify. Some mentioned specifically that losses didn't have to be traceable to the spill.
BP compiled a list of claims it believes should not qualify. They include a farmer who didn't plant a crop in 2010; a lawyer who lost his license before the spill; and an escort service.
BP argues the claims administrator, with federal Judge Carl Barbier's approval, misinterpreted a 2012 settlement the company signed with a group representing thousands of individuals and plaintiffs. Originally, BP estimated the settlement would cost $7.8 billion. But once the claims started rolling in, it was clear the figure would be higher. That's when BP began challenging the claims process in court.
Loyola University law professor Blaine LeCesne says he was surprised BP agreed to such a generous settlement. "They had, probably, the best legal representation in the world," he says. "They very easily could have excluded the kinds of businesses that they're now complaining about."
In exchange for this broad settlement, LeCesne says BP was able to avoid litigating thousands of smaller legal disputes.
Part of the problem may have BP's desire to settle quickly with plaintiffs. In the months after the spill, the company clearly felt pressure to prove that it was going to do whatever it could to help the Gulf recover. Wrapping up this big settlement was a key part of that public relations campaign.
But now pressure on the company has eased some, and it appears BP's strategy may be evolving.
"Now we're seeing what parties often do with this type of litigation: drag it out," says University of Alabama law professor Montré Carodine. "Eventually, you force people who may have very legitimate claims to leave them on the table because they're tired — you wear them down."
BP argues that it is just trying to get back to the settlement the company originally agreed to in 2012. It's turning to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit to accomplish that.
"The 5th Circuit is known to be a fairly pro-business circuit," says Tulane University Law School professor Ed Sherman. And so far, the judges there have sided with BP. Claims payments are on hold until the issue is resolved.
Some have speculated this huge settlement could be in jeopardy, but Sherman is not convinced. "I think there's very little likelihood that the entire settlement is going to be brought down, but BP certainly sees an opening now for reducing the amount of claims it has to pay," Sherman says.
And considering how much this spill is costing BP, saving even a few percent can amount to hundreds of millions of dollars.
Women are still not making headway when it comes to getting on corporate boards or into senior leadership roles within big companies.
New research out Tuesday examined Fortune 500 Companies and found that women hold only about 17 percent of the seats on boards of directors, and they have an even smaller percentage of senior executive positions.
Despite all the talk about the value of increasing gender diversity at the top, not much has changed according to Catalyst, a group that does research and promotes business opportunities for women.
Catalyst says this the eighth consecutive year the percentage of women on corporate boards didn't budge. Deborah Gillis, the chief operation officer of Catalyst, says the findings, based on mid-2013 data, are very disappointing.
"Frankly it's embarrassing," Gillis says. "There's no excuse in 2013 for women to remain shut out of the senior most decision making roles in these companies."
Beyond issues of equity or fairness, there's a strong business case for including more women. Researchers at Credit Suisse, for example, looked at the performance of more than 2,000 global companies over several years, ending in 2012. Companies with women on their boards had higher average returns on equity and higher growth.
These findings don't prove women made the difference, but Credit Suisse's CEO says that no one can say the results aren't striking.
Katherine Phillips, a professor of leadership and ethics at Columbia University's Business School believes women bring a perspective that men might not have. She says that diversity of perspective and opinion compels everyone in the room to think harder and more critically.
"You have something in your face telling you that your way of thinking about the world is not the only way," Phillips says. "And so when I think about this problem, or solutions to this problem, I'm actually going to be more creative and more open to multiple perspectives."
An expert in collective intelligence, Thomas Malone from MIT, suggests some slightly different explanations for why having women in the group can lead to smarter decisions.
"One possibility is that women are just more collaborative," Malone says. "Our results ... correlated with the degree to which people participated about equally, rather than a few people trying to dominate."
Historically, many companies have maintained they hire the best person for the job. But Tom Falk, the CEO of Kimberly Clark, says if you're only choosing talent from half the population, it is hard to imagine you have the best team. He says that to get more women, many managers will have to think differently.
"We often say we want ability, but we promote experience, or we select for experience," Falk says. "We want someone who's actually done it."
And since there are so few women in those top categories, Falk says, it can be tough.
"You've got to be willing to reach for that person who has great ability, but maybe doesn't have every experience you might want," he says.
Kimberly Clark makes things like diapers and feminine products, so perhaps it is not surprising the company would want and indeed has a sizeable number of women in senior positions.
But the fact is many companies who sell lots of goods and services to women — like Apple, Comcast, Safeway and Toys R Us — have just a single female on their corporate boards.
Thousands of mourners and dozens of world leaders have gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa this morning to celebrate the life of the late Nelson Mandela.
SABC, South Africa's public broadcaster, is live streaming its coverage. We're live-blogging the event, here. We've embedded SABC's coverage below:
The skies are gray over Johannesburg, this morning.
Still, tens of thousands of South Africans and dozens of world leaders have started to file into FNB Stadium in Soweto to pay tribute to the late Nelson Mandela, who died on Thursday.
"There is, of course, much music — some of it mournful and some of it joyful," NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports from South Africa. "Either way South Africans are dancing and swaying, with their umbrellas up."
The stadium itself is bookended with two huge portraits with the simple words "Nelson Mandela 1918-2013."
President Obama is one of the world leaders expected to speak at the service.
Andrew Mlangeni, one of only three surviving co-accused at the Rivonia treason trial that sent Mr Mandela and his anti-apartheid colleagues to prison for 27 years, is also expected to speak.
We've embedded the live video feed being live streamed by SABC, South Africa's public broadcaster, at the side of this post. C-Span2 is also airing and streaming, unanchored coverage of the event.
We'll be live blogging throughout the service, so hit refresh to see the latest.
Update at 5:10 a.m. ET. The Importance Of The Site:
Our colleague Greg Myre spoke to Melissa Block last night to explain the importance of FNB Stadium.
"Mandela had his first big rally there just days after he was released in Cape Town. He flew to the stadium - it's in Soweto, which is the big black community just outside Johannesburg," Greg said. "It's the biggest soccer stadium in the country, holds about 95,000 people. And some of our listeners may recall it was renovated for the World Cup in 2010."
Update at 4:57 a.m. ET. The Official Program:
Officially, the program was supposed to start at 11 a.m. They are running late.
According to the official program (pdf), after the national anthem and some interfaith prayers, the first to speak will be Andrew Mlangeni, one of only three surviving co-accused at the Rivonia treason trial that sent Mr Mandela and his anti-apartheid colleagues to prison for 27 years.
Also on the program: U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, President Obama, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff, Cuban President Raúl Castro. The keynote address will be delivered by South African President Jacob Zuma.