The courts were still full of action that impacted the tire business in 2020 despite the challenges of COVID-19.
A years-long legal dispute over labor representation at a Kumho Tire USA Inc. plant in Macon, Ga., apparently came to an end with the counting of disputed ballots that resulted in a narrow victory for union backers.
The company and labor organizers have been at odds since 2017, the year after the $450 million plant opened.
The United Steelworkers (USW) union claimed victory over the summer when contested ballots from a September 2019 vote were opened. Union supporters had a 141-137 lead heading into consideration of 13 contested ballots.
The National Labor Relations Board (NRLB) ultimately determined 11 of those ballots should be counted, and organizers eked out a 145-144 victory for USW representation. Union opponents had emerged victorious in an initial 2017 election, but the NLRB ordered a new election after ruling the company made several unlawful moves in an attempt to turn back unionization efforts.
Bridgestone Corp., meanwhile, claimed victory in a pair of patent infringement lawsuits in China against Fangxing Rubber Co. Ltd. and Shandong Vheal Group Co. Ltd.
Lawsuits filed in September 2017 involved patent rights protecting Bridgestone's R118 truck tire tread pattern developed for China and other Asian markets, the tire maker said.
Bridgestone claimed in a suit with the Beijing Intellectual Property Court that Fangxing Rubber and Shandong Vheal manufactured and sold truck tires using a tread pattern covered under a Bridgestone patent.
The court upheld the claims, ordering Fangxing Rubber and Shandong Vheal to stop infringing on the patent and pay about $95,000 and $76,500 in damages, respectively.
Michelin North America Inc. and Carlstar Group L.L.C. also settled legal differences over alleged misappropriation of trade secrets.
Michelin said the company agreed to settle lawsuits in U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Greenville Division, against former Carlstar and Michelin employee Michael Dotson, who went to work for Carlstar in 2018.
Carlstar also agreed to pay undisclosed damages to Michelin "and provided written and enforceable representations and warranties that it had not used, and would never use Michelin trade secrets or confidential information," Michelin said.
Michelin filed suit against Carlstar and Mr. Dotson in May 2019.
"Carlstar committed to destroy all Michelin information in its possession and to implement measures to prevent misappropriation in the future," Michelin said.
Mr. Dotson agreed to pay undisclosed "financial damages to Michelin that were sought in the lawsuit, which accused him of misappropriation of trade secrets and breach of his non-disclosure agreement," Michelin said.
Titan Tire International Inc., meanwhile, agreed in September to pay more than $11.5 million to the federal government to resolve a long-running environmental case in Iowa.
The tire maker entered into a proposed consent decree in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa that calls for the payment to satisfy past judgments of $1.62 million in civil penalties, $5.45 million in punitive damages and another $5.45 million in past costs incurred by the government.
The feds previously sued Titan, including subsidiary Dico Inc., for alleged violations of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) order at a Des Moines Superfund site and for recovery of costs at a separate Southern Iowa Mechanical, or SIM, site.
The case involved both trichloroethylene (TCE), a cleaning solvent, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a group of manmade chemicals that were once widely used but then outlawed when found to cause health problems.
TCE found its way into the surrounding grounds while the PCBs have contaminated the buildings themselves.
Titan had hired SIM to dismantle three buildings on its TCE-contaminated property, but allegedly did not alert the contractor to the presence of PCBs also at the site. SIM removed building materials to its own property in Ottumwa, Iowa, which caused PCB contamination there and required subsequent cleanup, the federal government said.
Schrader International Inc., in February, was ordered in a Delaware federal district court to pay $31.2 million to two Swiss companies in a patent infringement case involving sensors for tire pressure monitoring systems.
A jury found Feb. 14 that plaintiffs Wasica Finance G.m.b.H. and BlueArc Finance A.G. had proved by a preponderance of the evidence that Schrader both induced and contributed to infringement of the patent owned by Wasica and BlueArc for pneumatic tire monitoring sensors. It also found that Schrader had not proved its affirmative defense of patent exhaustion.
The death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in September 2020 also brought a newsworthy case involving Goodyear to the spotlight.
The case was an equal-pay suit brought by Lilly Ledbetter, a Goodyear employee from 1979-98. She ultimately lost the suit when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in 2007 against her in her quest for equal pay.
Ms. Ginsburg's scathing rebuke in her dissenting opinion gained widespread coverage and ultimately lead to legislative action — passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act — to change federal employment laws.
Ms. Ledbetter worked as a supervisor at Goodyear's Gadsden, Ala., plant. She learned late in her career she was being paid less than male counterparts and filed suit against the company shortly after she retired.