Parag Agrawal, Twitter’s chief executive, said in a memo to employees in May that the company had not lived up to its business and financial goals. To address the issues, he pushed out the heads of product and revenue, instituted a hiring slowdown and began an effort to attract new users and diversify into e-commerce. In April, the company stopped providing a forward-looking financial outlook to investors, pending the acquisition.

That trajectory is unlikely to change as uncertainty over the deal discomfits advertisers, the main source of Twitter’s revenue.

“Twitter will have trouble in the near future reassuring skittish advertisers and their users that they’re going to be stable,” said Angelo Carusone, the president of the watchdog group Media Matters for America.

In what was an implicit dig at Twitter’s top executives, Mr. Musk said he could have done way better with the company. In a presentation to investors in May, he said he planned to quintuple the company’s revenue to $26.4 billion by 2028 and to reach 931 million users that same year, up from 217 million at the end of last year.

letter filed to the Securities and Exchange Commission on Friday. The company’s “declining business prospects and financial outlook” had given him pause, his lawyers wrote, especially considering Twitter’s recent “financial performance and revised outlook” on the fiscal year ahead.

Mr. Musk, who has more than 100 million followers on Twitter, has also jackhammered the product, saying it is not as attractive as other apps. He has repeatedly claimed, without evidence, that Twitter is overrun with more inauthentic accounts than it has disclosed; such accounts can be automated to pump out toxic or false content. (The company has said fewer than 5 percent of the accounts on its platform are fake.)

His barbs about fake accounts have weakened trust in Twitter, just as the company prepares to moderate heated political discussions about an upcoming election in Brazil and the midterm elections this fall in the United States, misinformation experts said.

In another criticism of Twitter and the way it supervises content, Mr. Musk vowed to unwind the company’s moderation policies in the name of free speech. In May, he said he would “reverse the permanent ban” of former President Donald J. Trump from Twitter, allowing Mr. Trump back on the social network. That riled up right-wing users, who have long accused the company of censoring them, and renewed questions about how Twitter should handle debates over the limits of free speech.

Inside the company, employee morale has been battered, leading to infighting and attrition, according to six current and former employees.

Some of those who remain said they were relieved that Mr. Musk seemed to have decided against owning the company. Others shared nihilistic memes on the company’s Slack or openly criticized Twitter’s board and executives for entertaining Mr. Musk’s offer in the first place, according to internal messages viewed by The New York Times. The mood among executives was one of grim determination, two people with knowledge of their thinking said.

illustrated the mood with a cartoon that showed a shattered company that had been bumped off a shelf by Mr. Musk’s careless elbow. His caption: “You break it, you buy it!”

Ryan Mac and Isabella Simonetti contributed reporting.

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The Elon Musk-Twitter Saga Now Moves to the Courts

Now that Elon Musk has signaled his intent to walk away from his $44 billion offer to buy Twitter, the fate of the influential social media network will be determined by what may be an epic court battle, involving months of expensive litigation and high-stakes negotiations by elite lawyers on both sides.

The question is whether Mr. Musk will be legally compelled to stick with his agreed-upon acquisition or be allowed to back out, possibly by paying a 10-figure penalty.

Most legal experts say Twitter has the upper hand, in part because Mr. Musk attached few strings to his agreement to buy the company, and the company is determined to force the deal through.

inauthentic accounts. He also said that Mr. Musk did not believe the metrics that Twitter has publicly disclosed about how many of its users were fake.

Twitter’s board responded by saying it intended to consummate the acquisition and would sue Mr. Musk in a Delaware chancery court to force him to do so.

At the heart of the dispute are the terms of the merger agreement that Mr. Musk reached with Twitter in April. His contract with Twitter allows him to break off his deal by paying a $1 billion fee, but only under specific circumstances such as losing debt financing. The agreement also requires Twitter to provide data that Mr. Musk may require to complete the transaction.

Mr. Musk has demanded that Twitter give a detailed accounting of the spam on its platform. Throughout June, lawyers for Mr. Musk and Twitter have wrangled over how much data to share to satisfy Mr. Musk’s inquiries.

as they face advertising pressure, global economic upheaval and rising inflation. Twitter’s stock has fallen about 30 percent since the deal was announced, and trades well under the Mr. Musk’s offering price of $54.20 a share.

Legal experts said Mr. Musk’s dispute over spam could be a ploy to force Twitter back to the bargaining table in hopes of securing a lower price.

During the deal-making, no other potential buyer emerged as a white knight alternative to Mr. Musk, making his offer the best that Twitter is likely to get.

Twitter’s trump card is a “specific performance clause” that gives the company the right to sue Mr. Musk and force him to complete or pay for the deal, so long as the debt financing he has corralled remains intact. Forced acquisitions have happened before: In 2001, Tyson Foods tried to back out of an acquisition of the meatpacker IBP, pointing to IBP’s financial troubles and accounting irregularities. A Delaware court vice chancellor ruled that Tyson had to complete the acquisition,

jittery employees.

attempted to break up its $16 billion deal to acquire Tiffany & Company, ultimately securing a discount of about $420 million.

“This stuff is a bargaining move in an economic transaction,” said Charles Elson, a recently retired professor of corporate governance at the University of Delaware. “It’s all about money.”

A lower price would benefit Mr. Musk and his financial backers, especially as Twitter faces financial headwinds. But Twitter has made clear it wants to force Mr. Musk to stick to his $44 billion offer.

The most damaging outcome for Twitter would be for the deal to collapse. Mr. Musk would need to show that Twitter materially and intentionally breached the terms of its contract, a high bar that acquirers have rarely met. Mr. Musk has claimed that Twitter is withholding information necessary for him to close the deal. He has also argued that Twitter misreported its spam figures, and the misleading statistics concealed a serious problem with Twitter’s business.

A buyer has only once successfully argued in a Delaware court that a material change in the target company’s business gives it the ability to cleanly exit the deal. That occurred in 2017 in the $3.7 billion acquisition of the pharmaceutical company Akorn by the health care company Fresenius Kabi. After Fresenius signed the agreement, Akorn’s earnings fell and it faced allegations by a whistle-blower of skirting regulatory requirements.

Even if Twitter shows that it did not violate the merger agreement, a chancellor in the Delaware court may still allow Mr. Musk to pay damages and walk away, as in the case of Apollo Global Management’s deal combining the chemical companies Huntsman and Hexion in 2008. (The lawsuits concluded in a broken deal and a $1 billion settlement.)

habit of flouting legal confines.

revealed in May that it was examining Mr. Musk’s purchases of Twitter stock and whether he properly disclosed his stake and his intentions for the social media company. In 2018, the regulator secured a $40 million settlement from Mr. Musk and Tesla over charges that his tweet falsely claiming he had secured funding to take Tesla private amounted to securities fraud.

“At the end of the day, a merger agreement is just a piece of paper. And a piece of paper can give you a lawsuit if your buyer gets cold feet,” said Ronald Barusch, a retired mergers and acquisitions lawyer who worked for Skadden Arps before it represented Mr. Musk. “A lawsuit doesn’t give you a deal. It generally gives you a protracted headache. And a damaged company.”

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Drivers’ Lawsuit Claims Uber and Lyft Violate Antitrust Laws

A group of drivers claimed on Tuesday that Uber and Lyft are engaging in anticompetitive practices by setting the prices customers pay and limiting drivers’ ability to choose which rides they accept without penalty.

The drivers, supported by the advocacy group Rideshare Drivers United, made the novel legal argument in a state lawsuit that targets the long-running debate about the job status of gig economy workers.

For years, Uber and Lyft have argued that their drivers should be considered independent contractors rather than employees under labor laws, meaning they would be responsible for their own expenses and not typically eligible for unemployment insurance or health benefits. In exchange, the companies argued, drivers could set their own hours and maintain more independence than they could if they were employees.

ballot measure in California that would lock in the independent contractor status of drivers. The companies said such a measure would help drivers by giving them flexibility, and Uber also began allowing drivers in California to set their own rates after the state passed a law requiring companies to treat contract workers as employees. Drivers thought the new flexibility was a sign of what life would be like if voters approved the ballot measure, Proposition 22.

Drivers were also given increased visibility into where passengers wanted to travel before they had to accept the ride. The ballot measure passed, before a judge overturned it.

The next year, the new options for drivers were rolled back. Drivers said they had lost the ability to set their own fares and now must meet requirements — like accepting five of every 10 rides — to see details about trips before accepting them.

bears little relationship to what drivers earn.

Whatever the case, courts in California could be more sympathetic to at least some of the claims in the complaint, the experts said.

gas prices have soared and as competition among drivers has started to return to prepandemic levels.

“It’s been increasingly more difficult to earn money,” said another plaintiff, Ben Valdez, a driver in Los Angeles. “Enough is enough. There’s only so much a person can take.”

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How a Religious Sect Landed Google in a Lawsuit

OREGON HOUSE, Calif. — In a tiny town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, a religious organization called the Fellowship of Friends has established an elaborate, 1,200-acre compound full of art and ornate architecture.

More than 200 miles away from the Fellowship’s base in Oregon House, Calif., the religious sect, which believes a higher consciousness can be achieved by embracing fine arts and culture, has also gained a foothold inside a business unit at Google.

Even in Google’s freewheeling office culture, which encourages employees to speak their own minds and pursue their own projects, the Fellowship’s presence in the business unit was unusual. As many as 12 Fellowship members and close relatives worked for the Google Developer Studio, or GDS, which produces videos showcasing the company’s technologies, according to a lawsuit filed by Kevin Lloyd, a 34-year-old former Google video producer.

critically acclaimed winery; and collected art from across the world, including more than $11 million in Chinese antiques.

Revelations.” Mr. Burton described Apollo as the seed of a new civilization that would emerge after a global apocalypse.

sold its collection of Chinese antiques at auction. In 2015, after its chief winemaker left the organization, its winery ceased production. The Fellowship’s president, Greg Holman, declined to comment for this article.

The Google Developer Studio is run by Peter Lubbers, a longtime member of the Fellowship of Friends. A July 2019 Fellowship directory, obtained by The Times, lists him as a member. Former members confirm that he joined the Fellowship after moving to the United States from the Netherlands.

At Google, he is a director, a role that is usually a rung below vice president in Google management and usually receives annual compensation in the high six figures or low seven figures.

Previously, Mr. Lubbers worked for the staffing company Kelly Services. M. Catherine Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, won a similar suit against Kelly Services in 2008 on behalf of Lynn Noyes, who claimed that the company had failed to promote her because she was not a member of the Fellowship. A California court awarded Ms. Noyes $6.5 million in damages.

Ms. Noyes said in an interview that Mr. Lubbers was among a large contingent of Fellowship members from the Netherlands who worked for the company in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

At Kelly Services, Mr. Lubbers worked as a software developer before a stint at Oracle, the Silicon Valley software giant, according to his LinkedIn profile, which was recently deleted. He joined Google in 2012, initially working on a team that promoted Google technology to outside software developers. In 2014, he helped create G.D.S., which produced videos promoting Google developer tools.

Kelly Services declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Under Mr. Lubbers, the group brought in several other members of the Fellowship, including a video producer named Gabe Pannell. A 2015 photo posted to the internet by Mr. Pannell’s father shows Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell with Mr. Burton, who is known as “The Teacher” or “Our Beloved Teacher” within the Fellowship. A caption on the photo, which was also recently deleted, calls Mr. Pannell a “new student.”

Echoing claims made in the lawsuit, Erik Johanson, a senior video producer who has worked for the Google Developer Studio since 2015 through ASG, said the team’s leadership abused the hiring system that brought workers in as contractors.

“They were able to further their own aims very rapidly because they could hire people with far less scrutiny and a far less rigorous on-boarding process than if these people were brought on as full-time employees,” he said. “It meant that no one was looking very closely when all these people were brought on from the foothills of the Sierras.”

Mr. Lloyd said that after applying for his job he had interviewed with Mr. Pannell twice, and that he had reported directly to Mr. Pannell when he joined a 25-person Bay Area video production team inside GDS in 2017. He soon noticed that nearly half this team, including Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell, came from Oregon House.

Google paid to have a state-of-the-art sound system installed in the Oregon House home of one Fellowship member who worked for the team as a sound designer, according to the suit. Mr. Lubbers disputed this claim in a phone interview, saying the equipment was old and would have been thrown out if the team had not sent it to the home.

The sound designer’s daughter also worked for the team as a set designer. Additional Fellowship members and their relatives were hired to staff Google events, including a photographer, a masseuse, Mr. Lubbers’s wife and his son, who worked as a DJ at company parties.

The company frequently served wine from Grant Marie, a winery in Oregon House run by a Fellowship member who previously managed the Fellowship’s winery, according to the suit and a person familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified for fear of reprisal.

“My personal religious beliefs are a deeply held private matter,” Mr. Lubbers said. “In all my years in tech, they have never played a role in hiring. I have always performed my role by bringing in the right talent for the situation — bringing in the right vendors for the jobs.”

He said ASG, not Google, hired contractors for the GDS team, adding that it was fine for him to “encourage people to apply for those roles.” And he said that in recent years, the team has grown to more than 250 people, including part-time employees.

Mr. Pannell said in a phone interview that the team brought in workers from “a circle of trusted friends and families with extremely qualified backgrounds,” including graduates of the University of California, Berkeley.

In 2017 and 2018, according to the suit, Mr. Pannell attended video shoots intoxicated and occasionally threw things at the presenter when he was unhappy with a performance. Mr. Pannell said that he did not remember the incidents and that they did not sound like something he would do. He also acknowledged that he’d had problems with alcohol and had sought help.

After seven months at Google, Mr. Pannell was made a full-time employee, according to the suit. He was later promoted to senior producer and then executive producer, according to his LinkedIn profile, which has also been deleted.

Mr. Lloyd brought much of this to the attention of a manager inside the team, he said. But he was repeatedly told not to pursue the matter because Mr. Lubbers was a powerful figure at Google and because Mr. Lloyd could lose his job, according to his lawsuit. He said he was fired in February 2021 and was not given a reason. Google, Mr. Lubbers and Mr. Pannell said he had been fired for performance issues.

Ms. Jones, Mr. Lloyd’s lawyer, argued that Google’s relationship with ASG allowed members of the Fellowship to join the company without being properly vetted. “This is one of the methods the Fellowship used in the Kelly case,” she said. “They can get through the door without the normal scrutiny.”

Mr. Lloyd is seeking damages for wrongful termination, retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination and the intentional infliction of emotion distress. But he said he worries that, by doing so much business with its members, Google fed money into the Fellowship of Friends.

“Once you become aware of this, you become responsible,” Mr. Lloyd said. “You can’t look away.”

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At Wells Fargo, a Quest to Increase Diversity Leads to Fake Job Interviews

Joe Bruno, a former executive in the wealth management division of Wells Fargo, had long been troubled by the way his unit handled certain job interviews.

For many open positions, employees would interview a “diverse” candidate — the bank’s term for a woman or person of color — in keeping with the bank’s yearslong informal policy. But Mr. Bruno noticed that often, the so-called diverse candidate would be interviewed for a job that had already been promised to someone else.

He complained to his bosses. They dismissed his claims. Last August, Mr. Bruno, 58, was fired. In an interview, he said Wells Fargo retaliated against him for telling his superiors that the “fake interviews” were “inappropriate, morally wrong, ethically wrong.”

Wells Fargo said Mr. Bruno was dismissed for retaliating against a fellow employee.

Mr. Bruno is one of seven current and former Wells Fargo employees who said that they were instructed by their direct bosses or human resources managers in the bank’s wealth management unit to interview “diverse” candidates — even though the decision had already been made to give the job to another candidate. Five others said they were aware of the practice, or helped to arrange it.

damaged the bank’s reputation and led to more than $4.5 billion in fines.

qualified Black candidates. He later apologized for the comment when the memo became public in September.

Following Mr. Scharf’s directive, Wells Fargo adopted a formal policy in requiring that a diverse slate of candidates would have to be interviewed for all open jobs paying more than $100,000 a year.

That August, Wells Fargo paid nearly $8 million to settle a claim by the Department of Labor that it had discriminated against more than 30,000 Black job applicants for positions in banking, sales and support roles.

Wells Fargo had already been trying to increase diversity. In 2013, a group of Black financial advisers at Wells Fargo sued the bank for racial discrimination, saying they were corralled into poor neighborhoods and kept away from opportunities to win new clients and partner with white financial advisers.

The bank settled the case in 2017. Wells Fargo paid nearly $36 million to about 320 members of the class-action lawsuit, and pledged to “take actions designed to enhance opportunities for employment, earnings, and advancement of African American financial advisors and financial advisor trainees.”

sued by Black coaches, who claimed they were subject to “sham” interviews.

“Well-intentioned people created these initiatives, but when they hit the ground the energy was devoted not to implementing them but finding a way to get around them,” said Linda Friedman, the lawyer for the Black financial advisers involved in the 2017 Wells Fargo settlement.

Mr. Bruno joined Wells Fargo in 2000 and worked his way up to market leader for Wells Fargo Advisors in Jacksonville, Fla. He oversaw 14 branches of the bank’s wealth management operation. He saw himself as a champion of diversity.

Mr. Bruno was mainly responsible for filling two categories of jobs — financial advisers and financial consultants, who work alongside advisers. He said that he was often told to conduct interviews with Black candidates for the financial consultant positions, which were lower-paying jobs. In most such cases, Wells had no intention of hiring those people because either he or his superiors had already picked someone for the job, Mr. Bruno said.

Mr. Bruno said he eventually refused to conduct the interviews. “I got a Black person on the other side of the table who has no shot at getting the job,” he told his bosses.

Barry Sommers, the chief executive of Wells Fargo’s wealth and investment management business, said that fake interviews wouldn’t even have been necessary for the financial consultant positions that Mr. Bruno was hiring for. Their salaries, Mr. Sommers said, fell below the $100,000 threshold that required a diverse slate of candidates to be interviewed per Wells Fargo’s 2020 policy.

“There is absolutely no reason why anyone would conduct a fake interview,” Mr. Sommers said. Rather than tracking the identities of interviewees, the bank focused on the results, and “the numbers are getting better,” he said.

Of the nearly 26,000 people the bank hired in 2020, 77 percent were not white men, Ms. Burton said. And last year, 81 percent of the 30,000 people hired were not white men, she said. She declined to specify how many of those new hires were for jobs above the $100,000 salary threshold.

But six current and former Wells Fargo employees, including Mr. Bruno, said that fake interviews were conducted for many types of positions. Three current employees said they conducted fake job interviews or knew of them as recently as this year.

In 2018, Tony Thorpe was a senior manager for Wells Fargo Advisors in Nashville, overseeing 60 advisers. Mr. Thorpe said his boss and the human resources manager overseeing his area both told him that if he found a financial adviser worth recruiting, and that adviser wanted to bring a sales assistant along, it was permissible — but the assistant’s job had to be posted publicly.

Mr. Thorpe, who retired from Wells Fargo in 2019, said he was instructed to reach out to colleges and business associations in the area where he could meet nonwhite candidates for the assistant job. Mr. Thorpe said he never conducted a fake interview, but was required to document that he had tried to find a “diverse pool” of candidates, even though he knew exactly who would be getting the job.

“You did have to tell the story, send an email verifying what you’ve done,” Mr. Thorpe said. “You just had to show that you were trying.”

Ms. Burton said that she couldn’t speak to practices under Wells Fargo’s prior management, but that the bank kept records of every job interview. The record-keeping is necessary because the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the nation’s top banking regulator, conducts periodic audits. While the O.C.C. doesn’t impose its own diversity standards for banks, it does check to make sure they’re following state and federal laws, including anti-discrimination laws.

Don Banks, 31, a Black wealth manager living in Monroe, La., was contacted by Wells Fargo twice before he was hired. In 2016 and 2017, a human resources representative from the bank told Mr. Banks that he had advanced past an initial interview round for a financial adviser trainee position and would be getting a call from a manager. Both times, no one called.

Mr. Banks had been submitted to fake interviews, according to a former employee who was a manager in the area where Mr. Banks had applied, and who participated in the hiring process involving Mr. Banks’s application. The person spoke on the condition of anonymity because he still works in the industry.

Mr. Banks was eventually hired in 2018 by Wells Fargo in a more junior position. Two years later, he was laid off during cutbacks in the pandemic.

“It doesn’t sound like a great experience,” Mr. Sommers, the wealth management chief executive, said. “It shouldn’t have happened that way.”

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Truck Drivers’ On-the-Job Training Can Be Costly if They Quit

Once they have earned the license, drivers haul actual loads for their new employers. For typically four to 12 weeks, they are accompanied by a trainer. They earn a set weekly rate, varying by company but often $500 to $800, according to company websites. Mr. England said his company’s pay was $560 a week in 2019 and about $784 today.

Trainers may be barely trained themselves, often needing only six months’ experience, and they are allowed to sleep in the back while the new driver is alone in the cab, according to industry experts and many companies.

Ms. Jeschke said she finished her training without being able to back up, a crucial skill for truckers. She said she once spent a week at a truck stop, unpaid, waiting for another driver because she didn’t yet have the expertise to pick up a load on her own.

Frustrated with the working conditions and the low pay, she and Ms. Skamser left C.R. England before their contracts were up and went to work for another trucking company, Werner Enterprises, where they say they were more fully trained.

“I do not have words for how bad it was,” Ms. Jeschke said. “They do not care about drivers, only the loads.”

Ms. Skamser said a debt collection agency was pursuing her for $6,000 that C.R. England says she owes for her training.

It’s reasonable for companies to want to recoup the cost of training an individual, said Stewart J. Schwab, a professor at Cornell Law School. Still, he noted, like noncompete clauses, these contracts can significantly restrict worker mobility and hinder competition. In 2021, Mr. Schwab worked on a proposed law about restrictive employment agreements, such as the ones trucking companies use, with the Uniform Law Commission, a nonpartisan organization that drafts laws for states.

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Divorcing Couples Fight Over the Kids, the House and Now the Crypto

“Francis has been less than forthright with his ever-changing stories,” Ms. deSouza’s lawyers claimed in one filing.

No secret stash ever materialized. A spokeswoman for Mr. deSouza said he had disclosed the entirety of his cryptocurrency holdings at the beginning of the divorce. “As soon as Francis knew that the Bitcoin was caught up in the Mt. Gox bankruptcy, he told his ex-wife,” the spokeswoman said. “Had the Mt. Gox bankruptcy not occurred, the division of the BTC would have been entirely uncontroversial.”

Ms. deSouza declined to comment through her lawyer.

But the appeals court found that Mr. deSouza, 51, who is now the chief executive of the biotech company Illumina, had violated rules of the divorce process by failing to keep his wife fully apprised of his cryptocurrency investments.

He was ordered to give Ms. deSouza about half the total number of Bitcoins he had owned before the Mt. Gox bankruptcy, leaving him with 57 Bitcoins, worth roughly $2.5 million at today’s prices. Ms. deSouza’s Bitcoins are now worth more than $23 million.

Not all crypto divorces involve such large sums. A few years ago, Nick Himonidis, a forensic investigator in New York, worked on a divorce case in which a woman accused her husband of underreporting his cryptocurrency holdings. With the court’s authorization, Mr. Himonidis showed up at the husband’s house and searched his laptop. He found a digital wallet, which contained roughly $700,000 of the cryptocurrency Monero.

“He was like: ‘Oh, that wallet? I didn’t think I even had that,’” Mr. Himonidis recalled. “I was like, ‘Seriously, dude?’”

In another case, Mr. Himonidis said, he discovered that a husband had moved $2 million in cryptocurrency out of his account on the Coinbase exchange, a platform where people buy, sell and store digital currencies. A week after his wife filed for divorce, the man transferred the funds to digital wallets, and then left the United States.

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Judge Upholds His Block on New York Times Coverage of Project Veritas

The leader of Project Veritas, Mr. O’Keefe, often uses surreptitious cameras and faked identities in videos that are meant to embarrass news outlets, Democratic officials, labor groups and liberals. In a statement on Friday about the judge’s ruling, Mr. O’Keefe wrote: “The Times is so blinded by its hatred of Project Veritas that everything it does results in a self-inflicted wound.”

In his new ruling, Justice Wood rejected the argument by The Times that the memos prepared by Project Veritas’s lawyer — which advised the conservative group on how to legally carry out deceptive reporting methods — were a matter of public concern.

“Undoubtedly, every media outlet believes that anything that it publishes is a matter of public concern,” the judge wrote. He added: “Our smartphones beep and buzz all day long with news flashes that supposedly reflect our browsing and clicking interests, and we can tune in or read the news outlet that gives us the stories and topics that we want to see. But some things are not fodder for public consideration and consumption.”

Justice Wood contended that his ruling did not amount to a restriction on the newspaper’s journalism.

“The Times is perfectly free to investigate, uncover, research, interview, photograph, record, report, publish, opine, expose or ignore whatever aspects of Project Veritas its editors in their sole discretion deem newsworthy, without utilizing Project Veritas’s attorney-client privileged memoranda,” the judge wrote.

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., a lawyer who represents media outlets including CNN, said in an interview on Friday that the judge’s ruling was “way off base and dangerous.”

“It’s an egregious, unprecedented intrusion on news gathering and the news gathering process,” Mr. Boutrous said. “The special danger is it allows a party suing a news organization for defamation to then get a gag order against the news organization banning any additional reporting. It’s the ultimate chilling effect.”

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Whiplash on U.S. Vaccine Mandate Leaves Employers ‘Totally Confused’

“You can’t really mandate booster shots yet,” he said. “It hasn’t been signed off on by any federal agency.”

JPMorgan Chase, whose decision to require vaccines is complicated by its sprawling retail operations across the United States, declined to comment on how the court’s most recent decision, along with the recent spike in cases, affects any plans to mandate vaccines. But the bank on Friday told its American employees who do not work in bank branches that “each group should assess who needs to come into the office, work priorities and who should revert to working from home on a more regular basis over the next few weeks.”

Walmart, which has mandated vaccines for mainly its corporate staff, also did not have any comment on broadening that requirement. Only 66 percent of its roughly 1.6 million U.S. employees are vaccinated, according to data compiled by the Shift Project at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

Legal questions about the OSHA rule are far from resolved. Immediately after the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled on Friday, several of the many plaintiffs who have challenged that rule asked the Supreme Court to intervene as part of its “emergency” docket. Appeals from the Sixth Circuit are assigned for review by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who under Supreme Court rules could in theory make a decision on his own but is more likely to refer the matter to the full Supreme Court. With the Labor Department now delaying full enforcement of its rule until Feb. 9, the justices have several weeks to ask for abbreviated briefings if they want them.

“Things are going back and forth literally in a matter of hours,” said Sydney Heimbrock, an adviser on industry and government issues at Qualtrics, who works with hundreds of clients on using the company’s software to track employee vaccination status. “The confusion stems from the on-again-off-again, is it a rule or isn’t it a rule? The litigations, appeals, reversing decisions and making decisions.”

Even the spread of Omicron hasn’t changed the position of some of the vaccine rule’s most ardent opponents. The National Retail Federation, one of the trade groups challenging the administration’s vaccine rule, is among those that have filed a petition with the Supreme Court. The group is in favor of vaccinations but has pushed for companies to get more time to carry out mandates. Still, even as it fights the administration’s rule, the federation is also holding twice weekly calls with members to compare notes on how to carry it out.

“There’s no question that the increased number of variants like Omicron certainly don’t make it less dangerous,” said Stephanie Martz, the group’s chief administrative officer and general counsel. “The legitimate, remaining question is, is this inherent to the workplace?”

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