Marlén Cortez Morris
T 312-548-0592
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Did you know?

  • A true Chicago South Sider at heart, Marlén is a White Sox fan and has never been to Wrigley Field.
  • Marlén's first job involved bagging groceries and collecting shopping carts, dutifully weathering through rain, snow, and blazing heat.
  • Marlén is a survivor of the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that struck Mexico City in 1985.
  • Marlén is a cat person, but she might have been a dog person had a dog not bitten her as a little girl.
  • In another life, Marlén would be a chef or a singer.
  • One of Marlén’s favorite pick-me-ups: milky, foamy lattes (and the more milk, the better).
  • Marlén is a “Manática” (fanatic of Mexican rock band Maná).
  • When Marlén drifts off to wonderland, she lands in Rome.
  • Marlén was once a dance crew leader, showcasing her talents at many dance battles and stages.
  • Marlén won her first trial at the age of 16 as a member of her high school’s mock trial team.

Marlén is a commercial litigator and labor and employment lawyer who represents franchisors in courts, alternative dispute resolution venues, and before government agencies nationwide. Her extensive litigation experience includes the enforcement of contract and intellectual property rights and the defense of claims for breach of contract, business torts, violations of franchise disclosure and relationship laws, state consumer protection law violations, vicarious liability, and joint employment. Below are some representative matters:

  • - Won summary judgment for franchisor in a case arising out of the termination of two franchises for failure to comply with the franchisor’s mandatory menus and promotional programs, involving counterclaims for fraud, breach of contract and the duty of good faith and fair dealing, declaratory and injunctive relief, the Colorado Consumer Protection Act, and tortious interference.
  • - Co-chaired arbitration resulting in a defense victory for the franchisor where the franchisee sought damages in excess of $1 million.
  • - Defeated a franchisee’s wrongful termination state lawsuit against the franchisor and obtained an award of attorneys’ fees and costs, then sued the former franchisee in federal court for trademark infringement and violation of a non-compete and won preliminary injunction, motion for contempt sanctions, an award of attorneys’ fees and costs, and dismissal of all counterclaims with prejudice.
  • - Lead counsel for franchisor in multiple federal lawsuits brought by franchisees. Marlén briefed an appeal to the Seventh Circuit and secured a stay of the litigation while the appeal was pending.
  • - Obtained favorable settlements for a franchisor in two federal cases where the franchisees claimed breach of contract, fraud, and franchise disclosure violations and sought millions in damages. After taking their depositions, the franchisees settled for nominal amounts.
  • - Secured dismissals of various charges of discrimination and harassment brought against franchisors by employees of their franchisees before federal and state agencies, including the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Marlén also helps clients on a broad range of labor and employment issues. She has successfully defended wage and hour class actions arising under the Fair Labor Standards Act and state law and claims arising under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and other statutes. In addition, Marlén has enforced employers’ non-competes, litigated unemployment compensation benefits claims, up to appeals, and represented management in traditional labor disputes, including in proceedings before the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

An important part of Marlén’s practice involves counseling and litigation prevention. Understanding the complexities of labor and employment law and franchising, she works closely with clients to provide strategic guidance on joint employment, vicarious liability, and labor and employment law issues arising in the franchise relationship, corporate transactions, and due diligence. She is well-versed in auditing and advising on franchise training materials, operations manuals, technology systems, and contracts with franchisees and third party vendors, in addition to preparing employment policies, handbooks, and agreements.

Prior to joining Cheng Cohen, Marlén practiced at Winston & Strawn LLP in Chicago representing clients in a wide range of complex commercial litigation and labor and employment matters. She also was part of a team that successfully represented a pro bono client on appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in the criminal conviction being vacated.

Marlén is a member of the American Bar Association’s Forum on Franchising and Section of Labor and Employment Law, the Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, and the International Franchise Association. She serves on the IFA’s Diversity Institute Board and is a topic and article editor for the ABA’s Franchise Law Journal. Marlén also is active in her community. She serves on the Junior Leadership Board of the National Immigrant Justice Center and provides pro bono representation to Spanish-speaking clients in various immigration matters.

  • Juris Doctor, cum laude, University of Illinois College of Law
    • Associate Editor, University of Illinois Law Review
    • National Team Member, Editor and Best Brief Winner, Hispanic National Bar Association Moot Court
    • Recipient of the Rickert Award for Excellence in Advocacy
  • Bachelor of Science, with honors, magna cum laude,  The University of Tampa
Bar Admissions
  • State of Illinois
  • United States Courts of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Seventh Circuit, and Tenth Circuit
  • United States District Court for the Northern and Central Districts of Illinois, District of Colorado and Eastern District of Michigan
Awards and Recognitions
  • 2017 and 2016 Illinois Super Lawyers' Rising Star
Memberships and Activities
  • International Franchise Association,
    • Diversity Institute Board
  • American Bar Association
    • Forum on Franchising
    • Section of Labor and Employment Law
  • ABA Franchise Law Journal, Topic and Article Editor
  • National Immigrant Justice Center, Junior Leadership Board
  • Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois
Recent Speaking and Publications
  • Author, Associated but Completely Disassociated? What the Latest Joint Employment Test Means for Franchising, 20:4 The Franchise Lawyer 3 (Fall 2017)
  • Co-Author, Franchise (& Distribution) Currents, 37:1 Franchise L.J. 145 (Summer 2017)
  • Author, The Joint Employment (Dis)junction, ABA YLD Labor & Employment Law Committee Newsletter (Spring 2017)
  • Co-Author, Franchise (& Distribution) Currents, 35:4 Franchise L.J. 659 (Spring 2016)
  • Panelist, W-2 or 1099? Employee and Independent Contractor Issues in the Uber Age, 2016 HNBA Corporate Counsel Conference, Las Vegas, NV
  • Author, Five Top Labor and Employment Issues to Watch in 2016, IFA Franchising World (February 2016)
  • Author, Reaching the Untapped Latino Market in Franchising, IFA Franchising World (July 2015)
  • Speaker, Conozca Sus Derechos: Workplace Harassment, Wage Payment, and Worker Classification, Univision Chicago & ABA Commission on Hispanic Legal Rights & Responsibilities (Apr. 2015, May 2015)
  • Co-Author,  Navigating the Muddy Waters of the Affordable Care Act in Franchising, 34:2 Franchise L.J. 155 (2014)
  • Author, What the NLRB’s Joint Employer Position Means for Franchisors, Franchise Update (Sept. 2014)
  •  Contributing Author, Cheng Cohen Alerts:
    • NLRB Adopts New Joint Employer Standard (Sept. 2015)
    • Recent NLRB Guidance: Franchisor and Franchisee Not Joint Employers (June 2015), reprinted by Franchise Times (June 2015)
    • Update: NLRB Presses On Its Joint Employment Position (Dec. 2014)
    • Blurred Lines: What the NLRB's Joint Employer Position Means for Franchisors (Aug. 29, 2014)
    • Minimizing Risks Associated with Franchisee Email and Social Media Communications (Apr. 2014), reprinted by Franchise Update (Apr. 2014)
    • Franchisor Vicarious Liability: Stuck Between a Rock and a Hard Place? (Feb. 2014)
    • Recent Court Decision Holds Franchisor Lacked Control to be Liable for Franchisees Employment Actions: Are You in Control? (Sept. 2013)
  • Co-Presenter, Employee or Independent Contractor?, Winston & Strawn eLunch, (Aug. 2012)
  • Spanish

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