Sunday, April 06, 2014
Unions, incentives, and change
In March, the regional director of the Chicago office of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that football players at Northwestern University were employees, entitled to form a union and to collectively bargain with the university over conditions. That vote is scheduled for April 25, although the votes would be impounded if, as expected, Northwestern appeals the decision to the full NLRB. Yesterday, Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald publicly urged his players to vote against forming a union in a letter sent to players and their families. And at least a few players seem inclined to vote against it, at least based on quotations in the story.
What is interesting is the near-universal sense from everyone that things do need to change in college football in terms of benefits, hours, health care, and other conditions for student-athletes.--all the things supporters want to get through the union and collective bargaining. The dispute is over how those changes will or should occur. One player pointed to Fitzgerald and his activities with the American College Football Association (he is on the association's Board of Trustees); another said he hopes the NCAA will see the need for change. But what would cause anyone to believe either of those groups (or any other non-player group) is likely to act in the players' interests. Football coaches are control freaks (I say that as a control freak myself) who would see that control threatened by many of the changes the players might want. How likely is ACFA to support tighter limits on football hours--so players can spend more time being students--or tighter limits on contact practices--so players are subject to fewer hits? The NCAA is a dysfunctional organization that has never shown any inclination to truly protect and benefit players, especially when the changes transfer from it and its schools to the players. This is not an institution likely to change unilaterally or from within. Especially since the NCAA, conferences, and schools make massive amounts of money off football and men's basketball and may make less money if the system changes.Importantly, none of these organizations is structured or legally obligated to take player interests into account or even to hear their concerns. All the unfortunate anti-union sentiment in the United States obscures the real benefit of the NLRA and a union in this situation--the rules regarding the terms and conditions under which the players operate can only be made with consent from the players. Absent a union, the players are left hoping that someone else--ACFA, the NCAA, the Big Ten/Twelve, Northwestern--will deign to give them what they want or need. In other words, change comes because the same powers that be decide to throw the players a bone via the same paternalistic arrangements. Moreover, since Northwestern must follow NCAA regulations (as a condition of membership and maintaining eligibility of its teams), the only source of change really is the NCAA.
I thought of similar issues surrounding the union in doing an interview regarding this joint study by the Student Press Law Center and a journalism class at the University of Maryland (I am quoted in the report itself). The report describes some of the policies to which student-athletes are subject (either by the university, the athletic department, or the team) regarding social media and other speech activities; social, dating, and sexual activities; and privacy. For example, the University of Georgia men's basketball team has policies regarding monogamy (good) and visible hickeys (bad) and reserving the right to inspect a player's dorm room at any time. Obviously these policies would be unconstitutional as applied to an ordinary student at the University of Georgia. They probably are not much more constitutionally valid as applied to student-athletes--much depends on whether the court views student-athletes as akin to employees and thus subject to the tighter speech and conduct restrictions that government can impose on its employees. Of course, one still could argue that these policies are over the top even in that situation--seriously, telling a student-athlete how many girlfriends he can have or that he cannot use "offensive language" (whatever that means) on Twitter?
Of course, we never will find out whether these policies and rules are constitutionally valid because no player is ever going to challenge them in court, for fear of retribution from the powerful and in-control coach. Collective action eliminates that problem--the coach is not going to kick everyone off the team for objecting to these sorts of unconstitutional and offensive rules. Only the group, not the lone player, can resist the greater power of the coach, the school, and the NCAA.
Monday, January 06, 2014
"Sex offender seeks admission to Kentucky bar"
The title of this post is the headline of this notable new AP article discussing a notable dispute concerning the potential professional collateral consequences of getting convicted of downloading the wrong dirty pictures. Here are the details, followed by a bit of commentary:
Guy Padraic Hamilton-Smith graduated in the top third of his law school class at the University of Kentucky, but the state Supreme Court blocked him from taking the bar exam because he is a registered sex offender. In the first case of its kind in Kentucky, the court rejected Hamilton-Smith’s bid and a move by the state Office of Bar Admissions to create and endorse a blanket rule that would have kept all registered sex offenders from gaining access to the bar.
“Rather, we believe the better course would be to allow any applicant for bar admission who is on the sex offender registry the opportunity to make his or her case on an individualized basis,” Chief Justice John D. Minton wrote in the Dec. 19 opinion on Hamilton-Smith’s case and the proposed rule.
Hamilton-Smith, who was convicted of a charge related to child pornography in 2007, has until Jan. 13 to ask the court to reconsider its decision. In an email, Hamilton-Smith referred Associated Press questions to his attorney, who said the reconsideration request will be filed.
Nationally, cases of felons seeking admission or re-admission to the bar are common. But situations of registered sex offenders attempting to do so appear to be rare. Beyond a recent rejection in Ohio and an ongoing case in Virginia, legal experts and those who work to rehabilitate sex offenders couldn’t recall a similar situation arising in recent years.
But Shelley Stow of Reform Sex Offender Laws — a Massachusetts-based organization that seeks to ease restrictions on offenders and promote rehabilitation — said she wouldn’t be surprised to see more cases out there. “It is so difficult for registrants to even get jobs and support themselves and function day to day, let alone pursue a law career,” she said.
The Kentucky case brings up the question of how to treat someone who has admitted to criminal activity, wants to rehabilitate himself and serve others, but is still monitored by law enforcement, said Hamilton-Smith’s attorney, Scott White, of Lexington. “It’s a highly stigmatized thing,” White said.
Hamilton-Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of possession of matter portraying a sexual performance by a child in March 2007. He received a five-year prison sentence, which was suspended, and was required to register as a sex offender for 20 years — until 2027.
After disclosing the conviction and sex offender status on his applications, Chase Law School at Northern Kentucky University and Brandeis Law School at the University of Louisville both rejected him in 2008. But the University of Kentucky College of Law accepted him in 2008 and he graduated in 2011. Hamilton-Smith later competed on the National Trial Team and National Moot Court Team, and he had a piece published in the Berkeley La Raza Law Journal through the University of California law school.
Since graduating in 2011, Hamilton-Smith has held a non-lawyer position for Baldani, Rowland and Richardson. The Lexington firm has filed letters in support of Hamilton-Smith taking the bar exam, White said. But Hamilton-Smith still has not been cleared by the Kentucky Office of Bar Admissions to take the exam that would allow him to practice law.
White called Hamilton-Smith “a classic sex addict.”
“The classic example is somebody who just downloads buckets of pornography,” White said. “In that download, there just happened to be child pornography.” In this case, Hamilton-Smith has gone through Sex Addicts Anonymous, despite a few admitted relapses with adult, but not child, pornography, White said.
White also said his client used law school as a redemptive and rehabilitative effort while owning up to his criminal conduct. “He just hasn’t let it define him,” White said....
For the justices, the nature of the crime defines someone lacking in the “requisite character and fitness” to be admitted to the bar. “Indeed, our certification could significantly mislead the public into believing that we vouch for (Hamilton-Smith’s) good character,” Minton wrote. “Consequently, a client’s subsequent discovery of the registry listing could then justifiably lead him to question the value of this court’s certification of the good character of those who are permitted to take the bar examination.”
I find this matter interesting for lots of reasons, especially because I suspect that Hamilton-Smith's personal background and recent professional challenges are likely to make him a much better lawyer to serve the (ever-growing) legal needs of the (ever-growing) sex offender population. Indeed, were I running a law firm that often dealt with sex offense cases and offenders, I would be very eager to hire Hamilton-Smith to help me serve this client population whether or not he ever gets admitted to the bar.
That said, it is quite possible (even likely?) that Hamilton-Smith is eager to develop a legal practice that has nothing to do with sex offenders. If that is true, I cannot help but wonder and worry that his status as a registered sex offender may always serve as a problematic disability in the competitive legal marketplace: I fear Hamilton-Smith's adversaries may be inclined (even perhaps eager) to use the modern stigma associated with sex offenders to harmfully impact both Hamilton-Smith and his clients.
More broadly, if the goal of the barring process was only to ensure that only those capable of being a competent lawyer served in this profession, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should be allowed to sit for the bar exam. Conversely, if the goal the barring process was only to ensure that nobody with a blemished past could become a lawyer, it would be clear that Hamilton-Smith should not be allowed to sit for the bar exam. But because it seems the goal of the barring process is a little of both, this is an interesting case.
Cross-posted at Sentencing Law and Policy
Friday, November 08, 2013
Great jobs for green lawyers in the new green ganja legal world(?)
The statement/question in the title of this post serves as a reiteration of one reason I developed a new law school seminar titled "Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform" and as my reaction to this new Bloomberg article headlined "Pot-Smoking Quadriplegic’s Firing Shows Haze Over Rules." Here are a few excerpts from this article:
The marijuana that Brandon Coats smokes under a doctor’s supervision helps calm muscle spasms stemming from a car accident that left him a quadriplegic. It also cost him his job. Coats, 34, was fired as a customer service representative at satellite TV provider Dish Network Corp. after failing a random drug test, even though Coats lives in Colorado where marijuana is legal for medical use. A state appeals court in April upheld the company’s right to fire him based on the federal prohibition on pot.
“I wasn’t doing anything wrong,” Coats said. “I had a doctor’s permission to do something I need to help me get on with my life.”
Coats’ ordeal shows how workplace rules on drug use have yet to catch up to changing attitudes and laws. Employers have retained War-on-Drugs-era policies, in part because of conflicts between state and federal statutes. And commonly used drug tests are unable to differentiate between someone who is under the influence of pot on the job, or has merely used it in off hours.
“Employers ought to reconsider their drug testing policies in states where medical marijuana is legal,” Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute in Princeton, New Jersey, said in an interview. “Why discriminate against marijuana users? They’re not different than beer drinkers.”
Medical marijuana is legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia, yet illegal under federal law. Colorado and Washington allow recreational use of pot, and this week, Portland, Maine, and three cities in Michigan voted to back legalization. Meanwhile courts in Colorado, Washington, Oregon and California have held that laws permitting the limited use of pot don’t prevent employers from enforcing drug-free workplace rules....
Washington-based Costco Wholesale Corp., for example, continues to screen potential workers for drugs and conducts random employee tests on “reasonable suspicion,” according to Pat Callans, vice president of human resources at the retailer.
Others say the contradiction between state and federal law is sowing confusion, according to Kellis Borek, director of labor and employer relations for Washington Employers, a Seattle-based group that advises firms on human resources issues. “I’m seeing employers grapple with the concern about losing good people because they participated in legal, off duty activity,” Borek said in an interview....
Borek’s group is developing advice for companies seeking to amend drug policies to reflect changes in state laws. One option is to allow someone in a safety-sensitive job, such as driving a truck or fork lift, to go on job-protected leave or move to a different position until they stop using medical marijuana.
This article highlights that applications of labor laws are sure to be a big a source of dispute and uncertainty as marijuana law reforms continue to make marijuana use legal at the local level in various setting. That reality, of course, means that labor lawyers are going to be needed to help both employers and employees "grapple" with new and difficult state and federal labor law challenges.
In addition to the need for labor lawyers, tax and business-transactions lawyers will become more and more in demand as state-level medical and recreation marijuana reforms create new needs for new businesses to sort through new tax laws and business-planning challenges posed by operating a state-permitted marijuana business.
My post title here suggests that green (i.e., young/junior) lawyers may have a uniquely important role to play in this emerging new industry. I suspect and fear that many law firms and many veteran lawyers will be, for various sound reasons, very cautious and concerned about representing any persons actively involved in state marijuana business. Moreover, because marijuana reform movements seem often to be a "young man's game" in many ways, junior lawyers may be uniquely positioned to be of service to persons needing legal help in this arena.
But I have a question mark at the end of this post because I wonder if I may be unwise to urge my students and other junior lawyers to consider seriously seeking to be involved in helping those at the forefront of the new green ganja industries. Is there still so much stigma and concern with this drug that a lawyer's career plans and possibilities might become permanently damaged or distorted by representing even legal pot dealers?
Cross-posted at Marijuana Law, Policy and Reform
Tuesday, July 23, 2013
Nate Silver and the Hidden Genius of Capitalist Crowdfunding
After a long and difficult year personally, it gives me some quiet joy to announce that I've just uploaded a "shitty" first draft of Catalyzing Fans to SSRN. Actually, it's somewhat polished as a draft, but it's pre-submission, blissfully short (13,000 words) and, um, really interesting. Bonus: it has nothing to do with retributive justice. So, my co-authors, Mike McCann and Howard Wasserman, and I hope you'll read a draft and send along comments. Here's an overview:
Should Nate Silver have stayed at the New York Times, or instead go to ESPN? Where should Cass Sunstein teach? What team should Lebron James play on? In this paper, we have a proposal for how to think about the trilateral relationships among "talent" (Silver, Sunstein, James), teams (the NYT, the Miami Heat, Harvard), and fans. For some reason, the answers to where that talent should work are often only indirectly connected to the desires of third-party fans. We think this could be different.Specifically, we propose the development of Fan Action Committees (FACs).
Analogous to, but distinct from, Political Action Committees (PACs), these FACs would coordinate, aggregate, and monetize the intensity of fan preferences and would thus serve to either enrich "talent" directly, or, in a wrinkle we prefer, make contributions to charities favored by talent. If we're right about how fans could introduce crowdfunding as a way to re-configure that triangular relationship, well, it's a potential game-changer, if you'll pardon the pun. Once our paper lays out the architecture of the direct compensation and charitable models, we anticipate how to overcome obstacles to the development of FACs that may exist under current rules or laws. We also address a variety of policy concerns and objections ranging from considerations of competitive balance to distributive justice. Advancing and illuminating the possibility of FACs across pro team sports and commercial entertainment, journalists and academics, we show how crowdfunding options produce the potential for more efficient valuations of talent by registering not only the number of fans but also the intensity of their preferences. This insight, which stresses the upside of price discrimination, has relevance to a wide range of human endeavor. In short, the introduction of FACs can basically change the dynamic of any area where bilateral contracts have third party externalities that are not currently calibrated or adequately valued.
Btw, Howard, Mike and I began kicking this idea around last summer after I floated on FB something like the notion of fan interference, wondering why fans couldn't affect the Knicks' incentives to hire or retain Jeremy Lin in the midst of Linsanity. To transition this into a proper paper, however, I encountered the slight problem that I could not care less about sports or sports law, and knew zero about the area. So I enlisted my pals Mike and Howard -- two of the leading sports law guys in the country -- to write a paper with me about the law, policy and economics about fandom. The paper's come a long way from a facebook thread (which itself is a sort of crowd wisdom opportunity), and some of its most interesting moves and extensions come from conversations with prior readers at FSU and more recently the 10,000 Feet Legal Theory Workshop--so thanks to those folks! (The latter, btw, is a workshop that spontaneously emerged among the group of profs who went hiking with me in the afternoons while in the Rockies two weeks ago for the LEC's annual law and econ boot camp.) Anyway, we'll be sending it out soon, and, now that it's been gently road-tested, I'm sure any of us would be excited about the prospect of talking about it at your law school this coming year.
Thursday, May 09, 2013
Spousal Hiring, Ethics, and the Theory of the Family
Some of my work intersects with family law, although I've yet to fully step into the curricular powder room. After hearing a wonderful presentation about her upcoming book on women in academia by one of my Radcliffe Institute Co-Fellows, I have been thinking more about the ethics of spousal hiring in academi [full disclosure: I am unmarried myself]. As part of her interview with several university presidents and academics, apparently spousal hiring is often credited with helping to improve the number of women on faculties and there is also some data suggesting that in universities with spousal hiring the "index spouse" if you will (the one the university has gone after) performs better than where there is no such policy. I am very interested in how the laudable goals of accomodation and family support intersect with general priors against nepotism.
For today's post, though, I wanted to examine the notion that spousal hiring rules or tendencies may reflect a certain theory of the family. To see this, imagine the following hypotheticals.
1. Brenda and Allen are married. Brenda is hired to teach physics, and the university finds a position for her husband Alan in its law school clinic.
2. Carl and Dan are same-sex partners in a state without legalized gay marriage. Dan is hired to teach physics, and the university finds a position for Carl in its law school clinic.
3. Evelyn is the daughter of Frank. Evelyn is hired to teach physics, and the university finds a position for her father Frank in its law school clinic.
4 Garret is the father of Jordi and a senior scholar in the field. Garret is hired to teach physics, and the university finds a position for Jordi in its law school clinic.
5. Hector and Ingrid are best friends and have been for life. Ingrid is hired to teach physics, and the university finds a position for Hector in its law school clinic.
So each of these is a potential family relation. My sense is that many schools would do or have done hiring in case 1, some would do it in case 2, but none would do it in case 3 through 5. 3 and 4 at least are what average people would call family relationships, so this is interesting.
By making a cut (whether between 1 and the rest or 1 and 2 and the rest) universities are essentially endorsing once conception of the family over others. I want to suggest this is contested terrain, and we may need a justification for why they do so.
One answer would be that everyone asks for 1, and no one asks for 4 or 5. That kind of conventional answer, though, might suggest no one asks for the others because universities have never offered them. A more essentialist answer is that 1 is endorsed because there is a particular value that familial hiring is meant to secure relating to child rearing. That would raise the question of why universities should support that particular goal -- after all closeness and ability to care for an aging parent is also important -- whether some of these other family structures might also facilitate that goal (case number 3 in particular -- and what to do about relationship hiring that has no child rearing involved (including possibly case number 2). Finally, one might suggest that universities are committed to romantic love, or at least believe potential people they might hire care more about romantic love, than parental love or friendship. Again, though, it seems to me highly contestable as to what relationships people value more, very culturally contingent, and also I wonder what it is about the Telos (if I can be Aristotelian for a moment) about the university that connects it to romantic love?
What do people thing about these cases?
Wednesday, August 29, 2012
A Reminder to Hiring Committees: Don't Google The Candidates?
Here's some advice to hiring committee members travelling to the AALS conference: While it may be natural to search the internet for additional information about candidates for faculty positions, how you use the information you find may subject your university to legal liability. Here are two cautionary tales involving university hiring to keep in mind.
Cautionary tale number one illustrates that the refusal to hire an employee based on information gleaned from social media can sometimes give rise to a discrimination claim under Title VII. Two years ago, the University of Kentucky faced a Title VII lawsuit brought by a rejected job applicant who claimed that the University refused to hire him based on information about his religious views found by the hiring committee during an Internet search. Gaskell v. University of Ky., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 124572 (E.D. Ky. Nov. 23, 2010). Evidence in the case indicated that the chair of the department conducting the search asked the candidate about his religious beliefs, which the chairman had "personally" researched on the internet. In addition, an email from a staff member to hiring committee members during the process noted: "Clearly this man is complex and likely fascinating to talk with, but potentially evangelical." The case settled for $125,000 after a judge denied cross-motions for summary judgment.
Cautionary tale number two illustates that discrimination against hiring candidates on the basis of their political beliefs can subject state universities to liability for constitutional torts. This tale involves the University of Iowa's College of Law and the hiring of a legal writing instructor. In Wagner v. Jones, Teresa Wagner alleged that the College of Law refused to hire her because of her conservative political beliefs, and she sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The trial court granted summary judgment to the college, but a panel of Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed.
The Eighth Circuit determined that Wagner had made a sufficient claim of political discrimination to get to a jury. The court applied the following test (drawn from the Supreme Court's decision in Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dist. Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle):
A plaintiff alleging First Amendment retaliation must first make a prima facie showing that (1) she engaged in conduct protected by the First Amendment; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the protected activity was a substantial or motivating factor in theemployer’s decision to take the adverse employment action. If a plaintiff makes this prima facie showing, then “a presumption of retaliation arises and the burden shifts to the defendant to advance a legitimate reason for the employment action.
The court found Wagner had presented evidence from which a jury could conclude that her polticial beliefs were a substantial or motivating factor not to hire her. Specifically, a deposition in the case indicated that the candidate's conservative views may have been discussed at a faculty meeting on her candidacy; there was also evidence that she was advised to hide the fact she'd been offered a job at Ave Maria during the interview process at the College of Law, and a contemporaneous email from an associate dean expressed concern that Wagner's politics could have played a part in the faculty's decision not to hire her. In addition, the court noted (several times!) that only one of the fifty faculty members of the College was a registered Republican at the time Wagner interviewed. There's more to the decision, of course, including full discussion of why the court rejected the argument that the Dean was entitled to qualified immunity. Regardless, the decision should be a reminder to hiring committee members at state schools not to use information found on the internet or anywhere else to discriminate against potential hires in violation of their First Amendment rights.
Posted by Lyrissa Lidsky on August 29, 2012 at 02:17 PM in Constitutional thoughts, Employment and Labor Law, First Amendment, Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Life of Law Schools, Lyrissa Lidsky, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Employees with Religious Attire and the "Back of the Bus"
As a fellow at the Pluralism Project, a Harvard-based research center that explores the state of religious liberty in the United States, I examined an employment discrimination case involving Kevin Harrington -- a native New Yorker of Irish descent who converted to Sikhism as a youth and who has worked for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority since the 1980's. Harrington started working for the MTA as a bus cleaner, and for the last two decades has been an MTA train operator. On 9/11, Harrington was able to reverse his Number 4 train, which was headed to the World Trade Center station, and safely discharge his passengers. For this, Harrington was honored by the MTA.
Shortly after 9/11, however, Harrington claimed that the MTA discriminated against him on the basis of his religion. Harrington specifically stated that the MTA informed him that he had two choices: that he could continue working as a train operator only if he wore a cap with MTA's logo, or that he could wear his religiously-mandated turban in the railyard, away from customers. The MTA then told Harrington that he could wear a turban as a train operator only if he attached an MTA logo to it. The MTA apparently explained that the logo was necessary to alert customers and passengers that the person at the helm of the train was indeed an MTA employee -- not, as some would say, a "runaway terrorist." Newsday ran an editorial arguing that "perhaps [the logo] will ward off any biased fears that outsiders have commandeered the system."
The MTA was eventually sued by the Department of Justice, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and the Sikh Coalition, on the theories that the employer's generally applicable uniform policy was being selectively enforced against Sikhs and Muslims, including Harrington, and that the out-of-customer-view option was impermissible under Title VII. A CCR attorney, for example, stated that the MTA engaged in "a calculated attempt" to hide certain workers "on the grounds that they 'look Muslim' and might alarm the public for that reason." Yesterday, the MTA settled the case, agreeing to permit employees to wear religious headgear without the logo and to pay $184,500 to eight current and former MTA employees.
This case also lends support to the suggestion that the Department of Justice has taken great interest in religious liberty issues. (Though, in fairness, I should note that an astute reader has expressed to me the concern that the Department may be conflicted or divided as to the extent to which it is willing to robustly enforce statutes safeguarding religous liberty, including RLUIPA. The reader points specifically to the Solicitor General's position recommending that cert in a case involving a RLUIPA circuit split be denied or granted and summarily reversed. )
The title of this post is taken from a Sikh Coalition attorney's comment that the MTA's initial choice to Harrington was a "back-of-the-bus solution."
Wednesday, May 02, 2012
EEOC Accepts Transgender Discrimination as Sex Discrimination
I'm delighted to be back on Prawfs (even if Dan did "forget" to list me on this month's roster). In all seriousness, I much appreciate the community of bloggers and commenters on this site, and Dan for making it all happen.
It looks to be another busy news month. Leading off on the topics I want to pose is the news that the EEOC has decided that discrimination against a transgender person constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII (Macy v. Holder). Thanks to Nan Hunter's blog for noting this.
Macy's facts are straightforward. Macy, a police detective, applied for a job with the ATF. Things seemed to be going well until she disclosed that she was transitioning from male to female, when the bureau suddenly decided that budget cuts made it impossible to hire her, a fact that apparently was untrue. She filed an EEO complaint with the agency, which decided that her "gender identity stereotyping" claim could not be processed under Title VII, but only under the (apparently less favorable) intra-DOJ system for considering gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination claims.
On appeal, the Commission held that transgender discrimination claims were included within the types of gender discrimination that Title VII precluded. It relied heavily on Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the well-known 1989 case that allowed a female plaintiff to state a claim of sex discrimination based on her theory that she was denied promotion because of her failure to conform to traditional notions of how a woman should look and act. The Commission held that that type of sex stereotyping theory was broad enough to include claims of transgender discrimination.
Some preliminary thoughts after the jump.First, as a general matter (i.e., going beyond the details of Title VII interpretations) it's astonishing how quickly transgender status has come to be seen as grounds for a colorable discrimination claim. Given how deeply the transgender issue cuts into our notions of male and female it's notable that these claims have attained even the level of partial success they currently enjoy.
Second, it's interesting to consider what Title VII interpretations like Macy could mean for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. There's been a good deal of struggle about whether ENDA advocates should settle for a bill that excludes gender identity expression, on the theory that success on a less comprehensive law today will ultimately redound to the benefit of trans people, by building momentum for a more comprehensive law eventually. Cases like Macy may lead some to conclude that there's less reason to fight for gender identity inclusion in ENDA. Indeed, continued inclusion of GI status in ENDA might even lead some courts to reject interpretations like Macy's, on the theory that any congressional defeat of a GI-inclusive ENDA reflects congressional intent to exclude gender identity from employment non-discrimination.
Third, it may be interesting to see if cases like Macy redound to the benefit of gays and lesbians, who might be able to claim the same sort of sex stereotyping Macy accepted as discrimination on the basis of sex. In the past at least some courts have not favored this argument, drawing a distinction between sex and sexual orientation. (I believe some courts have also noted Congress's failure to enact ENDA over the last decade and a half as evidence that Congress agrees with that distinction.) How transgender status fits in with the relationship between sexual orientation and sex or gender is a fascinating, but tough, question. Macy's analysis will presumably contribute to that ongoing debate, as the arguments in favor of finding a closer relationship migrate from law review pages to case reporters.
Interesting stuff, for sure.
Monday, February 06, 2012
Is Sheryl Sandberg a Model for (Female) Prawfs?
I have a bit of a friend-crush on Sheryl Sandberg. No, I don't know her. But her sister was my classmate, and through FB, I get to keep track of some of her accomplishments. So from afar, I admire much of what she's done and come to represent. That said, as much as I love her advice to women (and men) about the need for audacity in professional and personal life, I also harbored some concern that audacity comes more cheaply to folks who aren't struggling financially. There was a fun piece about Sheryl's soon-to-come riches in the Times yesterday, and one of the quotations archly noted the same point:
“I’m a huge fan of her accomplishments and think she’s a huge role model in some ways, but I think she’s overly critical of women because she’s almost implying that they don’t have the juice, the chutzpah, to go for it,” said Sylvia Ann Hewlett, president of the Center for Talent Innovation, a research organization on work-life policy, and director of the Gender and Policy Program at Columbia University.
“I think she’s had a golden path herself, and perhaps does not more readily understand that the real struggles are not having children or ambition,” Ms. Hewlett continued. “Women are, in fact, fierce in their ambition, but they find that they’re actually derailed by other things, like they don’t have a sponsor in their life that helps them go for it.”
With much affection, I can think of a few friends in the academy who have internalized Sheryl's powerful message. But if Ms. Hewlett is right, as I think she is, then the message of toujours l'audace is one that must be shared by male mentors as well as female ones. I realize it's controversial to even acknowledge this, but I think male mentorship/sponsorship of women (the sort that happened when Summers took Sandberg under his wing) has been jeopardized by concerns that the menfolk want to avoid the creation of whispering campaigns of inappropriate behavior. There certainly was a lot of icky or abusive stuff that used to happen that our new norms have (thankfully) made less frequent. But, as a consequence, doors remain always open, and the kind of mentorly candor necessary for professional growth is, accordingly, more rare, and perhaps less desired. Perhaps the best way to overcome this is not by shutting out mentorship altogether, but by mentoring in small groups. For instance, the other day, we had a faculty lunch talking about tactics and strategies relevant to the law review submission process, as well as the craft of a good thesis. Peer mentoring also happens. E.g., our juniors are meeting frequently to workshop ideas, and, much like at Prawfsfests and similar venues, there is space and time for safe feedback, though again, candor, expertise (or insight into the folkways of an institution from a senior member) and individualized attention might be reduced because of the group dynamic.
So some questions: What is to be done? Do we have a mentorship deficit? If so, what's the best way for it to be overcome? Relatedly, can audacity ripen w/o the safety net and sponsorship that Sandberg has had? Or is this entirely misguided, and Sheryl's work/life balance story should be of no greater interest than Zuck's? (Signed, civil, and substantive comments invited.)
Friday, September 23, 2011
What's Keeping Prawfs from Imitating Judges?
The NYT has a funny story today about this year's clerkship madness. Judge Kozinski fesses up to recruiting at birth, or something approximating it. A triumphant student still vomits from the stressful experience. All this raises many questions but here's one: why has the FAR process held up more against the threat of unraveling than the clerkship market? Is it simply because hiring for a multi-year position requires more due diligence? The judges would probably deny that--they'd likely argue that a year with a judge is more socially significant than a career where we're marginalized to reporting our views in the ostensibly irrelevant law reviews. I'm not sure why some talent markets unravel and others don't. Maybe the law schools are more inclined to see the benefits to hiring in a context where one isn't operating under hot emotions. What's your rank speculation?
Posted by Dan Markel on September 23, 2011 at 02:34 PM in Blogging, Dan Markel, Employment and Labor Law, Getting a Job on the Law Teaching Market, Law and Politics | Permalink | Comments (11) | TrackBack
Friday, August 12, 2011
Earlier this year, the ABC News show, "What Would You Do?," aired a segment in which three job applicants – a Jewish man with a yarmulke, a Muslim woman with a headscarf, and a Sikh man with a turban – were denied employment at a restaurant, in front of and within earshot of customers, specifically because the applicants’ religious attire did not conform to the employer’s dress code policy. The purpose of this hidden camera show is to ascertain how unsuspecting members of the public will respond to an underlying problematic situation played out by actors. In this case, the objectionable situation designed to illicit a public reaction was the fact that the applicants were rejected solely because of their religious appearance. For example, the restaurant manager informed the Sikh applicant that he could not be hired “looking the way you look” because the turban could be considered “threatening to anyone sitting here eating.”
Some patrons took the bait -- they voiced concern that the restaurant manager’s decision was discriminatory and unlawful. One witness, for example, likened the treatment of the Sikh applicant to discrimination on the basis of race -- can the manager “say the same to me about my color or my religious beliefs, it’s the same thing.” Another troubled witness told the manager, “I’m not sure you’re aware how illegal this is…. You’re lucky there are no lawyers around."
As it turns out, the assumption that such conduct is inconsistent with the law is a mistake. For years, federal courts have enabled employers to engage in the behavior depicted in this broadcast.Where, as with the above scenario, there is a conflict between an employee’s religiously-mandated appearance and an employer’s interest in avoiding possible negative customer reactions to the religious employee’s identity, federal courts are allowing employers to resolve this conflict by placing the religious employee out of public view or by refusing to hire him or her altogether. In legal terms, courts faced with Title VII claims are reasoning that placing an employee with religious attire in the back is an acceptable “reasonable accommodation” of the employee’s religion or that to hire such an employee may result in economic costs that amount to an “undue burden.”
My recent research argues that these courts have it wrong. It seems to me that the text of Title VII forbids such employer action and that this conduct reinforces majoritarian norms and perpetuates harmful stereotypes as to who the public wants to interact with. Reserving social spaces for the familiar or likeable religions is problematic. Moreover, other contexts, particularly principles from the civil rights movement, also point to the discriminatory nature of this employer conduct.
While this position may not be controversial, what may serve as a lightning rod is how the aforementioned employer conduct is being described. In particular, if an employer places in the back an employee who looks different on account of his religious attire, or refuses to hire such an individual, can this be fairly termed "segregation"? In other words, it seems, the employer is segregating an employer in the workplace (by placing him or her away from the public) and from the workplace (by refusing to hire him or her). Title VII expressly prohibits "segregation" and language in the latest Workplace Freedom Restoration Act refers to this conduct as "segregation." The term is charged, but the question is whether its use is accurate or prudent in this context.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Amicus Support Requested: Hosanna-Tabor
Leslie C.Griffin and Caroline Mala Corbin have drafted an amicus brief in the Hosanna-Tabor case, which involves a ministerial exception to employment laws and has important implications for gender discrimination. They are asking interested law professors, particularly First Amendment Law professors and Employment Law professors, to join them in supporting the brief. Here's their description of the case and the issues, which I am happy to pass along:
Cheryl Perich was a kindergarten and fourth grade teacher at Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School, a K-8 school in Redford, Michigan. After she became suddenly ill at a school event, Hosanna-Tabor granted her a disability leave of absence and assured her that she would still have a job when she returned. After her narcolepsy was treated and her doctor cleared her to return to work, however, school officials questioned whether she was better and urged Perich to resign voluntarily from her position. After Perich told the principal that she would sue for disability discrimination, she was fired. Correspondence from the school indicates that she lost her job because of her insubordination and her threats to take legal action.
Perich sued for discriminatory retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The success of Perich’s retaliation claim turns on whether the Supreme Court finds that she is a minister. If she is not a minister, she will probably win. After all, the school stated in writing that a main reason for Perich’s termination was her threatened lawsuit. If, on the other hand, she is a minister, she loses. She loses because under the ministerial exception doctrine, ministers may not sue their employers for discrimination.
The ministerial exception grants religious organizations immunity from employment discrimination suits brought by "ministerial" employees, even if the discrimination is not religiously required. Thus, even if the tenets of the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church forbid discrimination on the basis of disability (and in fact their Governing Manual for Lutheran Schools states that the school will not discriminate on these grounds), ministers cannot sue the school for disability discrimination. The lower courts, who created and uniformly apply the ministerial exception, claim that the religion clauses require it
The ministerial exception has breathtaking consequences for the civil rights of thousands of women who work for religious organizations. Any employee (including elementary and secondary school teachers, school principals, university professors, music teachers, choir directors, organists, administrators, secretaries, communications managers and nurses) at any religious employer (school, mosque, synagogue, church, hospital, nursing home, social service organization, faith-based organization, non-profit religious organization) is at risk of losing the protection of the employment laws (including the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Title VII, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family & Medical Leave Act, Workers Compensation laws and state tort and contract law) as long as the employer decides that the employee performs “important functions” in the religion.
We wish to ensure that the range of scholarly views on the ministerial exception – including those that understand the widespread problem of discrimination and the need for legal protection from discrimination – are before the Court. Our brief explains why the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses do not require the ministerial exception. The Free Exercise Clause does not create a zone of church autonomy to which the laws do not apply. Indeed, Employment Division v. Smith held that neutral laws of general applicability do not violate the Free Exercise Clause, and no one disputes that the American with Disabilities Act is a neutral law of general applicability. The Court’s church property cases do not hold otherwise.
As for the Establishment Clause, applying the ministerial exception in this case actually causes more Establishment Clause problems than simply resolving the retaliation claim. Deciding whether Perich’s termination was caused by protected activity, when the school wrote her a letter stating that it intended to fire her because she threatened legal action, does not entangle the court in any theological disputes. In contrast, deciding whether Perich’s service as a Christian role model for her students is important to the religious mission of the school requires the court to delve into the religious beliefs of the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church. Resolving a theological dispute about the religious role of schoolteachers is precisely the kind of doctrinal issue the courts are incompetent to make, yet the ministerial exception requires such theological analysis in this case.
If you are interested in learning more about the case, reading a copy of the brief and signing on to it, please contact us at the following e-mail addresses:
Leslie C. Griffin & Caroline Mala Corbin
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
A New Twist on Customer Preference and Employment Discrimination
(The following is by my colleague Kerri Stone, who teaches and writes on employment and employment discrimination)
As an employment law and employment discrimination professor, I teach my students the same basic premises each year. Federal law protects many classes of people from employment discrimination. Title VII and its jurisprudence protect plaintiffs from defendant employers’ assertions that their biases are rooted those of their customers or clients. So-called “customer preference” as a justification for the intentional disparate treatment of employees will simply not fly; this would thwart the broad remedial purposes and the efficacy of the statute.
So you can imagine how delighted I was when a friend from my hometown of Long Island passed along a local, developing news story to me yesterday that, since then, has already been picked up by, among other media outlets, the Toronto Sun. This viral story has sprouted wings and taken off to such an extent that I believe that it will be getting exponentially more national media attention by the time this blog gets published. It is a story about what I will call “reverse customer preference”—about a single customer/bystander’s bringing to light and shaming a major national company over alleged employment discrimination, abuse, and bullying that is not unlawful under federal law—but should be.
This is one of the most moving and compelling stories about workplace discrimination that I have heard recounted. Having litigated and taught in this field for several years now, I can’t say that the underlying facts are worse than the worst things I’ve read recounted. But I can say that the poignant way in which the story unfolded and was brought to light—a glaring national spotlight— is nothing short of extraordinary and spectacular. Missy Alison is a gay mom who writes a blog about her family— the Lil Family Blog, which carries the tagline "2 Moms, 1 Toddler, and a Lot of Love." On June 13, she posted a letter that she had written to Starbucks after she returned from their store in Centereach, Long Island. Because I don’t think that I can give a better, more vivid and earnest account of what she alleges occurred or how her role in all of this should be seen than she did, I will quote liberally from her letter.
As Ms. Alison recites, she is “a loyal customer with concerns.” She elaborates:
I know probably 90% of the letters you receive trying to solicit something from you probably start the same way, but this is different. When I say, I am a loyal customer I mean you have had me for the better part of my adult life, hook, line and sinker. I will spend the extra $2.50 for a cup of your coffee. When I worked in Hoboken I would walk an extra three blocks for your coffee, walking past a Dunkin Donuts, Panera, Macdonalds and two bodegas to purchase from you. …When you roll out a new product, I flock to your nearest location like a moth to a flame. …I know, and speak your “lingo” that …is sometimes so complicated I feel like I speak a second language. I even, as much as I am ashamed to admit it, buy most of the adult contemporary CDs you peddle in the front of the store. …I am your disciple. I am part of the Starbucks machine. I am your dream customer because whatever your company puts into the market, I have and I would have continued to buy.
She continues to explain that she “never felt bad about my commitment to your chain …because I felt like you were a company that was ethically sound. Your commitment to free trade, The Starbucks Charitable Foundation, your appearance as a diverse work environment. These are all things that I as a customer felt good about. I felt like I was supporting a company that although huge, I felt you were doing your best to “do good” and leave a positive mark on the world.”
This was, she said, “the case, until yesterday.” After clarifying that the preface to her letter was “not written to solicit anything from you. I do not want free coffee or a refund,” she proceeded to ask “as a loyal customer for the past 15 years that I have your attention. Your time and consideration.” She then proceeded to describe her experience in the store as having exposed her to
one of the most brazen and unapologetic displays of homophobia I have ever witnessed…. What was most concerning about it was it was perpetuated by …THREE of your employees and it was directed towards a fourth employee. I don’t know this man, but I know his name is Jeffrey because the woman (who seemed to be in charge…) loudly scolded [him]…. In the middle of your store. Two feet away from my table. Then when Jeffrey, who was visibly shaken went to the bathroom to collect him self [sic], the women at the table went on a long…homophobic rant that lasted about five minutes. This …transpired two feet away from my table where I sat with my daughter. A three year old child, with two mothers. …
Ms. Alison then proceeded to recount the details of what I can only say sounds like, at the very least, a humiliating episode of bullying and a constructive discharge because of the employee’s sexual orientation:
The whole incident spanned about 15-20 min[utes]. It looked like it was …about something that had happened in the store, an earlier problem. What that was, I couldn’t be certain. I do know however,…that Jeffery’s sexuality was brought into the conversation…. The …Manager…spoke to him in a sharp condescending manner. She told him that they were not interested in his politics or beliefs and his thoughts were down right offensive to his co-workers. They did not want to hear about his personal life. … She was even so condescending to tell him, “It might not be today, it might not be tomorrow, but ten years from now you will thank me for this…”
For what? … For learning to put up with bigotry in the work place? She kept reminding him, “You are not fired but….” as if to say, you are not fired but you are really not welcome here anymore. I assume this was a clever HR move so he would not be able to collect unemployment. He told her that he felt like he was being FORCED to leave because he felt like the “problems” at that location were not being addressed and the workplace had turned into a hostile environment. She in turn told him that if he was not, “Part of the solution, he was the problem.” and his two weeks notice would not be needed. He asked if he would be marked by the corporation as “un-hireable. She smugly looked at him and said, “Well I don’t know. It’s not looking good for you.” Basically threatening his professional future.
…The event got more horrific, when he, who had kept his composure through the entire incident, not once raising his voice despite being attacked, got up from the table to go to the bathroom to cry in private. Then the three women turned on him like Vultures. “I’m done. I’m done. Nobody wants to hear it anymore. I don’t care who he is dating. I don’t want to hear about it.” “He should not get upset at the things people say to him. He should be used to it. It’s not like he turned gay yesterday.” “I used to listen to it, now I’m just sick of hearing about it.” “Nobody does, but it’s over now. You won’t have to hear about it anymore.” It went on, and on and on.
The focus of their discussion… when he left the table, was not about an incident that occurred in the previous days. It was about how they were intolerant to his lifestyle, nobody wanted to hear about the fact that he was gay, they didn’t want to be exposed to that. …
This man, this Starbucks employee was losing his job, because he was gay. …Whatever Jeffrey’s offense might have been… that is how one of your loyal customers perceived the events as they transpired based on the actions and the statements of your “manager”. …When Jeffrey returned from the bathroom she asked him for his keys. She was pretending to be sensitive and offered him her card if he needed to talk. Which disgusted me because, she was anything but concerned for his well being.
Finally, Ms. Alison ended her narrative by noting that she
followed Jeffery out of the store horrified by what I had just witnessed. I said to him, “That was unreal. …He …said, “Thank you.” I hugged him and he said, “I came to this company because I thought it was supposed to be better. I thought that it was a positive and tolerant work place to work. I was passed over for promotions, they hired from the outside,…. I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t have a chance here.”…I walked away from Jeffrey and I started to cry. …I strapped my daughter into her car seat and I thought about how in this society we are so self congratulating as we …promis[e] our children, “It gets better!” I found myself wondering, “Better than what?”
So many things about this account are remarkable. In the first place, Ms. Alison is the first person to concede that she is not an activist. An self-described ordinary person thrust into an Erin Brockovich-like scenario in which the impetus for her to respond was simply too great to ignore, she, by her own account is
not militant and I do not have an axe to grind nor am I looking for a soap box. I’m pretty boring to be quite honest with you. I do not even march in pride parades and I swear I own not a single thing that has a rainbow on it. I don’t celebrate my diversity, That’s simply not the type of person that I am. In fact, I’m more the type to wallow in how mediocre I am. I am an average American who just so happens to be gay. I live my life, I raise my family and I hope to also leave a mark on this world that is positive.
She also did not post her letter looking for any personal gain or to harm or precipitate any kind of boycott against Starbucks. In fact, as she noted, as she made her final entreaty to the company:
I want to still be able to walk into a Starbucks with my head held high. I want to drink your drinks, speak your code and even buy your newest record releases, even though they make me feel middle aged and unhip… and feel good about it. I want you to restore my faith that you are the company I always thought you were. Please don’t let this incident go unnoticed. Do something, anything you can to make this right. Please protect your (former) employee.
Her request did not go unnoticed. In this age of social media, the story has gone viral. Starbucks’s facebook page now has countless pleas from around the world for the company to “Please make good Starbucks. Homophobia - like racism - should never be tolerated,” and threats that customers “will no longer purchase any Starbucks products until there is Justice for Jeffrey. And I'm not even gay. I just abhor bullying of any kind. “
Starbucks, for its part, took to facebook and its website to acknowledge the incident rather quickly, saying, pretty much, what one would expect them to say in this day and age:
At Starbucks, we pride ourselves on being a great place to work. We are deeply dedicated to our core values – to embrace diversity and treat each other with respect and dignity. We’re committed to providing an inclusive, supportive and safe work environment for everyone. … Starbucks has supported the LGBT community for many years, and we have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind. We have one of the largest Employer Resource Groups for LGBT employees in the United States helping to raise awareness about issues in the communities in which we live and work. Our benefits program has always offered domestic partner benefits in the United States and Canada, and Starbucks partners actively participate and organize local LGBT events in their communities.
Starbucks noted that it was “disheartened by the allegations reported in an East Coast Starbucks store and are taking immediate measures to investigate and take any steps necessary to make this right. The actions reported do not correspond with our values, who we are as a company or the beliefs we try to instill in our partners.”
Those of us who monitor employment discrimination and the ways in which it is stoked or inhibited by the law and by society cannot help but marvel at how social media outlets, so often blamed for perpetuating and enabling expressions of bullying and discrimination, seem to have facilitated the publicity and the handling of this situation in a way and at a speed that more traditional outlets could not have. Although harassment may be unlawful under Title VII, sexual orientation is not a protected class (although it is under certain state and local laws, including laws in New York). This fact and the fact that the threshold for actionable harassment is so high means that that it is not likely that what transpired would be unlawful in many places. It certainly does not look to have been unlawful under Title VII. Workplace bullying that is not anchored to a cognizable protected class status is entirely (and some of us say, lamentably,) lawful.
Yet, lo and behold, a single “customer’s preference” for decency, civility, and nondiscrimination against one of the most discriminated against groups in the world was able to effect awareness and change that the law in most places could not. A woman who is most likely wholly unfamiliar with the jurisprudence that says that gay people are not discriminated against “because of sex” when they are stereotyped as nonconforming with their biological sex, the notion of a “mixed motive” jury instruction or the debate that has transpired as to precisely how a court should adjudicate a “mixed motive” case, or the concept of a constructive discharge; managed to impel action, where the same situation would have delayed, if not entirely stymied the law in its attempt. This twist should not elude those who lament the impotence of employment discrimination law and jurisprudence, as so many of us who write and think about it do regularly. Ms. Alison’s understated yet infinitely elegant and effective entreaty has ignited passions (and undeniably effective shaming mechanisms) and mobilized people to a degree and with a speed that it is doubtful that a lawsuit could have achieved.
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
Call for Labor & Employment Papers from the Saint Louis University Law Journal
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Creating a Conference from Scratch
Tomorrow Wash U and SLU will be hosting the Fifth Annual Labor and Employment Law Colloquium. It's a terrific event, with close to 70 presenters, and I'm very excited to be one of the hosts.
The event itself is a testament to the power of a good idea and hard work by a few folks -- in this case, Scott Moss, Joe Slater, and Paul Secunda. Here's the original post by Scott that prompted the conference, and here's his follow-up post. I think it's a great example of what a few prawfs can do when they put their mind to it.
Sunday, September 05, 2010
Postscript on Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of NashvilleFor those of you who teach Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville in employment law, here are some interesting facts about what happened after the Court's decision, taken from this Nashville Post article :
- The district court denied summary judgment on remand (2009 WL 3348233).
- The case went to trial.
- Crawford was awarded $1.436 million in damages ($300,000 in compensatory damages, $409,000 in back pay, and $727,000 in front pay).
- Her attorneys received $453,000 in fees, including UW Professor Eric Schnapper, who received $183,000.
Also, the employee resources director -- the one against whom Ms. Crawford testified -- resigned in 2003 after admitting he had falsely claimed to have been a lawyer, a Navy SEAL, and a professional football player in the past.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Where Are We Now after Ricci v. DeStefano?
As mentioned a few weeks ago, Prawfs is hoping to serve as a repository for some of the evidence of intellectual life that happens at conferences like SEALS. Thanks to SLU's Marcia McCormick, we now have a document that integrates the reactions and comments of the various speakers on her panel (see below). The theme of this panel is the title of this post. And you can read the notes of the various speakers here. (If you were on a panel at SEALS and want to coordinate collating some or all of your co-panelists' notes, please do so and send me an email and there'll be a post just like this one.)
The Supreme Court's decision in Ricci v. DeStefano at the end of its 2008 term was the first in decades to deal with the question of what practices constitute discrimination under Title VII. This panel will explore the effect of the Court's decision, specifically the current state of the law on employment discrimination, the theory of discrimination that seems to have been adopted by a majority of the Court, and the future of employment discrimination and affirmative action.
Moderator: Professor Jeffrey
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
"Formation is a very basic existential analysis": Thoughts on the Rent-a-Center Oral Argument
Those who are interested in contract law, arbitration, labor & employment law, and federal courts should check out the oral argument for Rent-A-Center, West v. Jackson. The quote above is from Robert Friedman, counsel for Rent-A-Center, and as a Contracts professor I enjoyed the sentiment. But ultimately Rent-A-Center's argument hinges on a effort to separate unconscionability into two different categories -- a separation that has no basis in common law or statute.
The question before the Court is "Is the district court required in all cases to determine claims that an arbitration agreement subject to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) is unconscionable, even when the parties to the contract have clearly and unmistakably assigned this 'gateway' issue to the arbitrator for decision?" The case involves a Sec. 1981 racial discrimination claim brought by employee Antonio Jackson against Rent-A-Center. Jackson signed an arbitration agreement which stated:
The Arbitrator, and not any federal, state, or local court or agency, shall have exclusive authority to resolve any dispute relating to the interpretation, applicability, enforceability or formation of this Agreement including, but not limited to any claim that all or any part of this Agreement is void or voidable.
In the opinion below, the Ninth Circuit held that courts must decide whether the agreement to arbitrate is unconscionable as a threshold matter, regardless of what the agreement itself says.
In his argument, Friedman conceded -- indeed, he had to concede -- that if an arbitration clause was fraudulently induced, it cannot force the defrauded party into arbitrating whether there was fraud. He also conceded that some cases of duress -- namely, "a gun to somebody's head" -- would not go to the arbitrator. What Friedman was trying to distinguish was cases in which no contract was formed (due to fraud or duress) and cases in which there is a contract but it needs reformation in some way. Some on the court seemed sympathetic to this, looking to draw a line perhaps between "total" and "partial" unconscionability. As Chief Justice Roberts put it, "[O]nce you get past that [g]ateway question of whether the formation of the contract was not unconscionable, then claims that particular provisions were unconscionable are by definition for the arbitrator to decide."
The First Circuit suggested something along these lines in Awuah v. Coverall N. Am., Inc., 554 F.3d 7 (1st Cir. 2009). In that case, the First Circuit said that a court could refuse to enforce an arbitration agreement if it were "impossibly burdensome" or provided only "illusory" relief. But the common law of unconscionability makes no such distinctions between "illusory" contracts and "non-illusory but unconscionable" contracts. All unconscionable agreements are subject to judicial reform. And it would make no sense to say that an agreement to arbitrate is possibly unconscionable, but the arbitrator -- whose power derives solely from that possibly unconscionable agreement -- gets to decide whether it is unconscionable and, if so, what the remedy shall be. As Ian Silverberg, counsel for Jackson, pointed out, Rent-A-Center wants "a rule where certain unconscionability challenges went to the court and other unconscionability challenges didn't go to the court." There's no basis for this in the FAA.
The Supreme Court has a legitimate concern that some state courts have been pushing the bounds of unconscionability with respect to arbitration agreements. Justice Ginsburg, in particular, seemed to think that the agreement at issue was not all that unconscionable. But that's the bed the Court made for itself in Gilmer. Once it said: (a) litigants can agree to arbitrate statutory rights prior to the dispute, but (b) they cannot waive those rights and (c) normal contractual remedies apply, a result like the one in Rent-A-Center was in play. The Court itself has said: “Of course, courts should remain attuned to well-supported claims that the agreement to arbitrate resulted from the sort of fraud or overwhelming economic power that would provide grounds ‘for the revocation of any contract.’ ” Mitsubishi, 473 U.S. at 627 (quoting FAA Sec. 2). The Ninth Circuit has to be upheld, I believe, unless the Court is going to start mucking around in state common law. It could make the argument that the Ninth Circuit is disingenuously applying unconscionability law here. But that's not the question presented. I don't see any way to give the arbitrator the ability to decide the legitimacy of the agreement to arbitrate itself.
Justice Breyer, author of First Options, summed it up this way:
[First Options says that] unless it's clear and unmistakable that they wanted this matter [--] the matter of whether the arbitration clause itself is unconscionable [--] referred to the arbitrator, whether or not they wanted that referred to the arbitrator has to be clear and unmistakable. And they are claiming no, because . . . the provision that says that is itself a product of unconscionability. . . . [W]hy isn't that the simplest, most direct and four-sentence ground for deciding this case?
If you haven't done so already, check out this great preview post by Aaron Bruhl. I hope Aaron will weigh in with his thoughts on the argument.
Monday, November 30, 2009
Goodbye and, BTW, Eight Circuit Reinstates ERISA Case Against Wal-Mart Involving Iqbal Plausibility Standard
Thanks to Dan and all for having me as a guest this November. I leave you all with the exciting world of ERISA/employee benefits and how the Iqbal/Twombley plausibility standard is impacting that part of the legal world.
Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, No. 08-3798 (8th Cir. Nov. 25, 2009) involves a class action dispute, alleging breach of fiduciary issues in the way that Wal-Mart managed its profit sharing and 401(k) retirement plans:
The gravamen of the complaint is that appellees failed adequately to evaluate the investment options included in the Plan. It alleges that the process by which the mutual funds were selected was tainted by appellees' failure to consider trustee Merrill Lynch's interest in including funds that shared their fees with the trustee. The result of these failures, according to Braden, is that some or all of the investment options included in the Plan charge excessive fees. He estimates that these fees have unnecessarily cost the Plan some $60 million over the past six years and will continue to waste approximately $20 million per year . . . .
Braden alleges extensive facts in support of these claims. He claims that Wal-
Mart's retirement plan is relatively large and that plans of such size have substantial bargaining power in the highly competitive 401(k) marketplace. As a result, plansn such as Wal-Mart's can obtain institutional shares of mutual funds, which, Braden claims, are significantly cheaper than the retail shares generally offered to individual investors. Nonetheless, he alleges that the Plan only offers retail class shares to participants. Braden also avers that seven of the ten funds charge 12b-1 fees, which he alleges are used to benefit the fund companies but not Plan participants.
The case is significant because the Plan has over one million participants and nearly $10 billion in assets.
Wal-Mart had moved for a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) and:
The district court granted the motion, concluding that Braden lacked constitutional standing to assert claims based on breaches of fiduciary duty prior to the date he first contributed to the Plan and that he otherwise failed to state any plausible claim upon which relief could be granted.
The Eight Circuit reversed and remanded. Specifically on the standing issue, the court held that that Braden made a sufficient showing on Article III standing and proving a cause of action under ERISA and that the district court erred in concluding that he lacked standing to maintain claims for the period before he began participating in the Plan:
In reaching this conclusion, the district court mixed two distinct issues. Whether Braden may pursue claims on behalf of the Plan at all is a question of constitutional standing which turns on his personal injury. Whether relief may be had for a certain period of time is a separate question, and its answer turns on the cause of action Braden asserts.
On the plausibility issue, the court took issue with the high standards the district court placed on the plaintiffs under Iqbal and Twombley:
We conclude that the district court erred in its application of Rule 8. Accepting Braden's well pleaded factual allegations as true, he has stated a claim for breach of fiduciary duty.
The district court erred in two ways. It ignored reasonable inferences supported by the facts alleged. It also drew inferences in appellees' favor, faulting Braden for failing to plead facts tending to contradict those inferences. Each of these errors violates the familiar axiom that on a motion to dismiss, inferences are to be drawn in favor of the non-moving party.
Braden's allegations are sufficient to state a claim that appellees breached their duty of loyalty by failing to disclose details about the revenue sharing payments. Braden alleges that those payments corrupted the fund selection process—that each fund was selected for inclusion in the Plan because it made payments to the trustee, and not because it was a prudent investment.
So, at this stage of the litigation, nothing of real substance has been decided as far as ERISA violations, but at least the court suggests that ERISA defendants will not be normally able to avoid more searching inquiries into their fiduciary acts in these fee litigation cases through a combination of standing and process objections.
Friday, November 20, 2009
Work Email: "I Always Feel Like ... Somebody's Watching Me"
A new Wall Street Journal article suggests that is what exactly may be happening, but now there is some push back from employees and their advocates:
Big Brother is watching. That is the message corporations routinely send their employees about using email.
But recent cases have shown that employees sometimes have more privacy rights than they might expect when it comes to the corporate email server. Legal experts say that courts in some instances are showing more consideration for employees who feel their employer has violated their privacy electronically . . .
In past years, courts showed sympathy for corporations that monitored personal email accounts accessed over corporate computer networks. Generally, judges treated corporate computers, and anything on them, as company property.
Now, courts are increasingly taking into account whether employers have explicitly described how email is monitored to their employees.
That was what happened in a case earlier this year in New Jersey, when an appeals court ruled that an employee of a home health-care company had a reasonable expectation that email sent on a personal account wouldn't be read.
To be honest, I don't think this a new trend at all (though it makes a nice theme in a WSJ story). Since I was practicing management side employment law back in the late 90s, we would advise clients routinely that they had to have clear language in their employee handbooks that employees had no expectation of privacy in their computers, internet browsing, or emails.
Nothing new, but still a good practice for employers to follow if they want to avoid this type of lawsuit.
Hat Tip: Joe Seiner
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Widespread Employer Under-Reporting to OSHA
So finds a new astonishing and disturbing report released by the GAO this past Monday and reported on by the New York Times:
Employers and workers routinely underreport work-related injuries and illnesses, calling into question the accuracy of nationwide data that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration compiles each year, the Government Accountability Office said Monday.
The report, by the G.A.O., the auditing arm of Congress, said many employers did not report workplace injuries and illnesses for fear of increasing their workers’ compensation costs or hurting their chances of winning contracts.
The report also said workers did not report job-related injuries because they feared being fired or disciplined and worried that their co-workers might lose rewards, like bonuses or steak dinners, as part of safety-based incentive programs . . . .
According to the G.A.O. report, 67 percent of the 1,187 occupational health practitioners surveyed had reported observing worker fear of disciplinary action for reporting an injury or illness, and 46 percent said this fear had some impact on the accuracy of employers’ injury and illness records.
It goes without saying that it is hard for OSHA inspectors to do their jobs if they are faced with this type of lying/gamesmanship. It also shows that previous reports that injuries in the workplace were declining during the conservative Bush era are a bunch of hogwash.
OSHA inspectors will now have to start with the presumption that employers may be holding back the truth as far as injuries and illnesses in the workplace and will have to interview individual employees to get information on what is really going on in the workplace: "In response to the report, which examined OSHA’s audits from 2005 to 2007, the safety administration said it would adopt the accountability office’s recommendations, which include requiring inspectors to interview employees during all audits to check the accuracy of employer-provided injury data."
And you wonder why regulation of the workplace is necessary? Because many employers (not all) cannot be trusted.
Hat Tip: Josh Pollack
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
Does Wal-Mart Use of Check Cards for Pay Purposes Violate Wage Payment Laws?
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest private employer, is eliminating paper payroll checks in the U.S., transferring workers' earnings to a debit card if they decline direct deposit to a bank.
Wal-Mart is the biggest company yet to make the move that it said will save paper and money. It estimates the move will save 257,572 pounds of paper a year. It declined to specify the savings but said the shift will reduce its payroll costs . . . .
Some Wal-Mart workers last month received earnings electronically in the form of credit to a MasterCard Inc. debit card. The program will roll out nationally this month, though many of Wal-Mart's 1.4 million U.S. workers will continue to receive paper checks for months while it is fully implemented. About half of its U.S. workers now receive paper checks.
Though the debit cards save companies money by reducing payroll costs, consumer advocates have criticized some card programs, noting that workers are often charged fees to access their money or even check balances.
I understand the consumer adovocates point and I appreciate the environmental angle, but as an employment law professor I wonder (out loud) whether this arrangement could violate a state's wage payment and collection law?
At least in Michigan, under the Michigan Wages and Fringe Benefits Act, the answer appears to be "no." There, Mich. Comp. Laws Ann. § 408.476 (West Supp. 2006) allows Michigan employers to mandate use of a payroll card by employees. Most of these laws require that employees be paid in cash or check, and not in some other form of payment.
Do any readers have insights from other states?
Hat Tip: Hammad Haider-sha
Tuesday, November 03, 2009
The NFL Commissioner Asks for Labor Law Reform?
Who knew that the commissioner of the NFL was such a labor law aficionado? From Yahoo! News and the AP:
Frustrated by court decisions that blocked the suspension of two football players who tested positive for banned substances, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is asking Congress for help.
"We believe that a specific and tailored amendment to the Labor Management Relations Act is appropriate and necessary to protect collectively bargained steroid policies from attack under state law," Goodell said in testimony prepared for a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing Tuesday.
Recent court decisions "call into question the continued viability of the steroid policies of the NFL and other national sports organizations," Goodell said.
I have written previously about the interesting state law questions lurking in the case concerning the suspension of two Minnesota Viking players. Here is the summary of that case again that started all of this:
In Williams v. NFL (8th Cir. Sept. 11, 2009), the appeals court affirmed three legal conclusions of the district court: 1. the Minnesota statutory claims alleged by Kevin Williams and Pat Williams of the Minnesota Vikings were not preempted by section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act; 2. their Minnesota common law claims were preempted by section 301; and 3. the arbitrator's award upholding the player's suspensions for using banned substances would be upheld. The NFL Players Associations was at least initially successful in getting it claims heard that they had some statutory defenses to the suspensions under the Minnesota Drug and Alcohol Testing in the Workplace Act and the Minnesota Consumable Products Act.
My colleague Matt Mitten, director of the National Sports Law Institute here at Marquette, thinks the court got it wrong:
The court gives no consideration to a national professional sports league's need for uniform rules by permitting state law to invalidate the terms of a collectively bargained anti-doping program. It conflicts with other federal appellate cases holding that state labor, antitrust, administrative, and tort laws cannot be used to regulate national sports leagues and governing bodies, which require rules that must be applied and enforced consistently nationwide. It's almost certain the NFL will petition the Supreme Court for cert., and I think there's a reasonable chance the Court will grant its petition.
Major league baseball also believes in a legislative fix:
Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of labor relations, also discussed a legislative remedy in his testimony, saying "a narrowly drafted statute could solve the problem faced by professional sports" while preserving the role of collective bargaining in drug programs without interfering with states' prerogatives.
Legislatively or judicially, it would not be surprising if what came out of all of this was some changes in the law which permit professional sports leagues some form of preemptive power to maintain uniformity in their substance abuse policies.
[Cross-posted on Workplace Prof Blog]
Employers Under Siege by the EEOC?
Not so says the EEOC. From the National Law Journal:
Many of Burwell's clients who attended the breakfast are facing EEOC charges, some for the first time. "A lot of people had questions" for the agency, said Josephine Avery, vice president of human resources of the Motor City Casino Hotel, who attended the breakfast. It was "a good opportunity to hear what they had to say."
And what did the EEOC say? "We're not the big bad government coming after them, and we truly do want to forge a partnership [with employers], but we have to enforce these laws," said Deborah Barno, the supervisory trial attorney in the Detroit EEOC office, noting that the jobless are seeking legal redress like never before. "Our lobby is full every day, and mailed-in charges are increasing even more." The Detroit office of the EEOC alone has 2,500 complaints pending before it — 25% more than it had pending at the start of the recession in 2007.
Welcome to the world of employers under siege. Discrimination complaints from their former and current employees are flooding into the EEOC and similar state agencies. Management lawyers are getting their desperate calls. And the lawyers anticipate that, by the end of 2009, the number of claims will look even worse.
From 2007 — the recession first started in December of that year — to the end of 2008, overall claims filed with the EEOC increased by 28%, from 83,000 to 95,000. Discrimination claims jumped by 28%, and retaliation charges — what lawyers call the hottest charge these days — jumped by 22% last year, from 27,000 to 33,000 claims. The EEOC does not have numbers yet for 2009.
Clearly, the EEOC is receiving more complaints because of the economic recession, but are the EEOC regional offices pro-employee too much? I would be interested in readers comments on their notions from both sides of the bar.
[Cross Posted on Workplace Prof Blog]
Monday, July 06, 2009
The following post was written by my FIU colleague Kerri Stone, who writes on employment discrimination:
In Ricci v. DeStefano, the Supreme Court held that “under Title VII, before an employer can engage in intentional discrimination for the asserted purpose of avoiding or remedying an unintentional disparate impact, the employer must have a strong basis in evidence to believe it will be subject to disparate-impact liability if it fails to take the race-conscious, discriminatory action.” In the case, the City of New Haven violated Title VII when it refused to certify the results of a test given for promotion on the basis that “too many whites and not enough minorities would be promoted were the lists to be certified,” and the City feared a disparate impact lawsuit. Having had not too much time to digest the opinion at this point or fully research the issues, I have only initial impressions to share about it, but one that I thought was interesting.
While, as the Court said, a “disparate-treatment plaintiff must establish ‘that the defendant had a discriminatory intent or motive’ for taking a job-related action,” does this mean that anyone who suffers an adverse action (and there is debate as to whether one was conferred here) because of a decision made on the basis of a racial consideration has been discriminated against “because of” his race? The Court’s language on this point is not entirely clear. The Court proclaimed that the premise of its analysis was that “[t]he City's actions would violate the disparate-treatment prohibition of Title VII absent some valid defense [because a]ll the evidence demonstrates that the City chose not to certify the examination results because of the statistical disparity based on race- i.e., how minority candidates had performed when compared to white candidates.” The Court noted that the District Court had concluded that the City’s “own arguments ... show that the City's reasons for advocating non-certification were related to the racial distribution of the results,” and found, based on that, that “[w]ithout some other justification, this express, race-based decisionmaking violates Title VII's command that employers cannot take adverse employment actions because of an individual's race.” The Court later noted that “the City made its employment decision because of race,” when it “rejected the test results solely because the higher scoring candidates were white.”
Title VII prohibits discrimination “against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual's race….” After reading this case, however, I have to take issue with the Court’s assertion that disparate treatment cases “present ‘the most easily understood type of discrimination.” As even the Court recited, disparate treatment claims succeed “where an employer has ‘treated a particular person less favorably than others because of’ a protected trait.” But does this case open a door to what might be called a “transferred intent” theory of Title VII, whereby one who is not the intended victim of a race-based decision may sue in the context of a policy in which another group is discriminated against?
Consider a tougher hypothetical. If an employer with an expressed bias against Asian Americans announced that in attempt to lower the number of Asian Americans in his workforce, he would be firing all employees who had one-syllable last names, and if a non Asian-American got fired because of this, would a cause of action under Title VII be viable? I ran this idea by Professor Anne Lofaso, and she commented that upon reading the case, she had thought that it would make proving discrimination cases easier for all Title VII plaintiffs.
I am thinking of writing on this principle, and I’d love to hear others’ thoughts.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Stimulus Blogging III: Conditional Grants & the Tenth Amendment
Legal controversy over ARRA, the stimulus legislation, continues. This week, a student in South Carolina filed an original petition in the South Carolina Supreme Court, seeking a declaration that the legislature could act to apply for more than $700 million in funds for S.C. education that the Governor has refused to request. Last time I posted, I argued that under ordinary principles of statutory interpretation, the statute can plausibly be read to permit legislatures to "apply" for education funds, and almost certainly to apply for federal unemployment subsidies. But, as I noted, the Congressional Research Service thinks that the statute should not be read that way, in order to avoid the 10th-Amendment question that, according to CRS, would be posed otherwise. (The South Carolina AG also suggested this argument in a footnote to their memo on the question).
CRS (and, to the extent he takes this position, the SCAG) is off-base on this one, I think.
Although the 10th Amendment bars Congress from "conscripting" state non-judicial officers, a conditional offer of funds is not conscription. The Supreme Court has said as much repeatedly, most notably in South Dakota v. Dole and New York v. United States. (As an aside, I've argued, drawing on the work of Rick Hills and others, that the best explanation for that combination of rules is that it forces Congress to internalize the costs of enacting and enforcing legislation.) So, ARRA is a conditional offer. Where's the conscription?
CRS's argument, as I understand it, is that allowing the legislature to "apply" in place of the governor would be, in effect, allowing Congress to enlist the state's legislature to conscript its governor. That's, um, a strange argument. For one, if the legislature applies itself, it isn't forcing the governor to do anything; in fact, it's acting without the governor at all. (Although para. 42 of the S.C. complaint also asks the Court to hold in the alternative that the legislature can force the Governor to apply.) For another, there's nothing at all unusual about a decision by some state officials that binds other state officials. No one would argue that a joint decision by governor and legislature to accept federal funds is a prohibited "conscription" because it also binds inferior state officers, such as the Secretary of Education.
I think the conceptual problem that trips up CRS is the potential puzzle over what the federal-law consequences should be if state law does not ordinarily authorize the actor specified by federal law to bind other state officials. So, in Jack Balkin's example, what if a federal statute says that the capital-house janitor can accept federal funds? Are the conditions attached to those funds binding on the state? Or, more realistically, what if the state treasurer, a person with no real policy authority, cashes a $700 million federal check? Is the state now bound, at least by estoppel, to follow the accompanying federal terms?
These are interesting questions (and I've addressed them in depth elsewhere), but at this point they have nothing to do with the stimulus. Even unelected state officials, such as state Secretaries of Education, routinely accept federal money in ways that bind states, and no one has ever suggested that these decisions would so undermine federalism norms that they should be problematic under the 10th amendment. Hard to see how, if these are fine, a decision by an entire state legislature would be a problem. Plus, the question for now is -- can the feds cut the check? Also hard to see how disbursing money is conscripting anyone to do anything.
Wednesday, April 01, 2009
NLRA Trumps ADEA in 14 Penn Plaza; Whither Gardner-Denver?
The Supreme Court has just handed down its decision in 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett. In a 5-4 decision, lined up according to the traditional liberal/conservative split, the Court held that a union-negotiated collective bargaining agreement (CBA) can force individual employees to arbitrate their ADEA claims against the employer. The CBA in 14 Penn Plaza was negotiated between Local 32BJ of the SEIU and NYC's Realty Advisory Board (RAB) -- a massive CBA covering thousands of workers. The Court held: "The NLRA provided the Union and the RAB with statutory authority to collectively bargain for arbitration of workplace discrimination claims, and Congress did not terminate that authority with respect to federal age-discrimination claims in the ADEA."
A few notes:
- The majority appears not to have overruled the holding in Gardner-Denver, but it admits it has overruled much of the "broad dicta" in the case that was "highly critical of the use of arbitration for the vindication of statutory antidiscrimination rights." However, it claims that Gilmer, rather than the present case, did the overruling.
- Justice Stevens and Justice Souter both dissent, focusing on the majority's abrupt rejection of prior precedent. Both point to the fact that Congress chose not to overturn Gardner-Denver in the last 35 years, so this ruling is (in their view) contrary to Congressional intent.
- The majority does leave a potentially huge hole in its holding, because it does not address the concern that a union may choose not to pursue an individual employee's claim through arbitration. The majority states: "[A]lthough a substantive waiver of federally protected civil rights will not be upheld, we are not positioned to resolve in the first instance whether the CBA allows the Union to prevent respondents from 'effectively vindicating' their 'federal statutory rights in an arbitral forum'" (quoting Green Tree). Justice Souter's dissent notes: "On one level, the majority's opinion may have little effect, for it explicitly reserves the question whether a CBA's waiver of a judicial forum is enforceable when the union controls access to and presentation of employees' claims in arbitration, which is usually the case."
- What will unions and employers do with this new-found power? In its amicus brief, SEIU claimed that the CBA did not cover the workers' claims, since both the union and the employer did not think the claims had merit, and under the CBA only disputes between the union and the employer were arbitrable. The Court seemed to ignore this argument as not presented below. I would guess that 14 Penn Plaza would be a double-edged sword for most unions. Neverthless, the politics are interesting: a holding that provides more power to unions gets the five conservative justices to overrule fairly venerable precedent.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Reflections on Ledbetter, the Statute
Thanks to Dan and everybody for letting me guest blog over here this month. I am usually found at Workplace Prof Blog or speaking only to my students at McBlogmick (my class blog), so having the option to publicly embarrass myself on subjects beyond workplace law will be a real treat. I'll start small and stick with a workplace subject first, though.
I hesitate to express value judgments in my analysis of workplace issues at those other places because of the nature of those fora, but I'd like to do that here a little, starting with the first-ish bill that Obama signed into law, the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The statute changes the statute of limitations for when an employee can file a charge of discrimination in pay on the basis of race, sex, age, disability, religion, national origin, or color, restoring it to what the circuits had held before the Supreme Court issued its decision in Goodyear Tire v. Ledbetter almost 2 years ago.
There was a lot of rhetoric on both sides of this legislation--it was going to eliminate discrimination v. it's a field day for the trial lawyers--but no one seemed to ask this question: is it really going to have any effect? My gut reaction is, not much, and I'll explain why after the jump.
All the Ledbetter Fair Pay act does in terms of enforcement is to extend the time to file a charge to within 180 days of a discriminatory paycheck or other decision. It makes these claims easier to bring then, in that plaintiffs will not be time barred so easily. But the time bar was just one obstacle that, frankly, didn't even really exist until the Ledbetter case. It seems to me that other obstacles operate with much more force, and this statute does not address those. Other, more powerful obstacles include a fear of retaliation and lack of access to legal help to pursue the claims.
I'll address the lack of legal help first. Discrimination cases are difficult to win or get enough of a settlement for to warrant an attorney taking the case on contingency, and most workers can't afford the kinds of hourly fees to pay an attorney up front. There is a wealth of empirical research on this winnability point. And this statute doesn't make these cases more likely to pay, which would enable attorneys to take them. The pay difference (amount of damages) may be a big deal to the individual plaintiff, but a relatively small amount in terms of recovery for the attorney. And attorneys can get fees if they win a judgment, but these cases almost never get to trial, when they get to trial most often lose, and when plaintiffs win at trial, are twice more likely to get reversed on appeal than when defendants win. And even where they win, plaintiffs can only recover damages for the two years prior to the charge being filed, so the available recovery is relatively limited.
And retaliation is a bigger problem. Pay discrimination cases are almost always going to arise in the context of continued employment. Particularly in a weak economy, no one is going to want to give their employer a reason to look for problems by suing for pay discrimination. Some kind of backlash is highly likely. Research has shown that people who complain about discrimination are viewed negatively even when the viewer knows that the person was actualy discriminated against. On top of that retaliation is very difficult to prove, and even if a person can prove they were discharged in retaliation for filing a charge, they're out of work during the time they're pursuing that claim. And at least some industries are tightly knit enough that the person wil be unlikely to be hired anywhere else, either.
So, the statute opens the door to the one group of people who don't have retaliation to worry about, people just like Lilly Ledbetter, those retiring. Maybe that will be enough.
Sunday, January 11, 2009
Is uncoercive workplace democracy impossible?
The ongoing propaganda battle over the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) is largely two sides’ trading anecdotes. The apparent futility of the debate suggests a larger and depressing possibility – that uncoercive workplace democracy is simply impossible.
EFCA provides (among other things) that employees can certify their desire to form a union by checking a card rather than by voting in a certification election. Employers’ organizations argue that the “card check” deprives employees of a secret ballot, exposing them to intimidation by union organizers. (The idea that EFCA undermines the secret ballot is a constant refrain in the anti-EFCA press). EFCA supporters respond that the “secret ballot” in certification elections demanded by Chamber of Commerce types is actually an intimidated ballot: Employers use intimidating tactics – for instance, threatening to close plants or lay off workers if union representation is approved -- without fear of serious sanction from the NLRB.
Without purporting to be any kind of expert in labor relations, I am inclined to think that both sides are right. It is hard for me to imagine that union organizers would not pressure workers during card-signing campaigns in ways that we would find intolerable in, say, a school board election. (Do union folks seriously contend that a worker who refused to sign the card would never face some degree of ostracism from a pro-union workplace?) Likewise, it is common knowledge that employers pressure workers with thinly veiled threats of job loss if they vote for the union -- threats that often materialize in actual termination. In theory, the NLRB could outlaw tactics deemed to be coercive, and Congress could stiffen the sanctions to make such limits stick. In practice, the NLRB will likely be either Democratic (pro-labor) or Republican (pro-management) and dilute any statutory limits that Congress enacts.
Is the moral of the story that uncoercive democracy in the workplace is a pipe dream? This is a sad thought to someone like myself with a soft spot for Brandeisian localism. But the more the defenders and detractors of EFCA defend their version of democracy, the more dispirited about workplace democracy I become.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Minority College Football Coaches and Civil Rights
The new-old controversy in college football is the lack of Black head coaches in Division I-A college football. With recent firings and resignations, there are four Black coaches (out of 119 schools) in a sport in which approximately 46 % of players are Black. Exacerbating this problem is the recent trend of current head coaches at major programs designating a current (usually white) top assistant as the new future head coach whenever the current coach retires, a process that pretermits any future coaching search in which outside, Black candidates might be considered for the job. Essentially, the practice locks-in the current state of coaching at many major schools.
Richard Lapchick, one of the leading scholars on collegiate sport, race, and society, criticizes this state of affairs. He argues that the NCAA should adopt a version of the NFL's "Rooney Rule," which requires that teams interview at least one minority candidate for a head coaching job. Lapchick calls his proposal the "Robinson Rule," after the late Eddie Robinson, the all-time-winningest D-I coach at historically back Grambling State (a D-I-AA school) who never even got an interview for a D-I-A head job.
So here are my questions for con law and employment-law types out there: Would such a rule be constitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment? The NCAA is not a state actor, but individual state schools would be in following and carrying out such a rule. So, given the current state of Equal Protection law, would it be unconstitutional for a governmental actor to automatically interview and give serious consideration to a minority for every position? Or, as to private schools, does it violate Title VII? Finally and conversely, would the NCAA's failure to adopt such a rule (or a similar rule designed to ameliorate the dearth of opportunities for minority coaches) violate Title VII (Lapchick reports that the Black Coaches Association is considering using Title VII to challenge current hiring practices)?
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
A Good Explanation of Labor Costs in the Auto Industry
With a bailout/bridge loan for the auto industry a perhaps increasing possibility albeit not a certainty, it's worth checking out an article in today's New York Times which breaks down the labor costs for the unionized American car makers and their competitors in non-union plants in the U.S. (e.g., Toyota and Honda).
The bottom line is that the difference in total labor costs is partly a matter of wages and benefits to current workers. Unionized workers get around $55/hr and non-union workers get around $45/hr. Most of that $10 difference is in benefits, not take-home salary. But an even more important part of the difference is health care costs for retirees: about $15-16/hr/worker for the unionized companies, but only around $3 for the non-union companies (note: this can be seen more clearly in a chart that is in the hardcopy version of the article).
The article then points out that this is not a matter of, say, GM providing more generous health care benefits to retirees, but rather at least mostly because GM simply has a lot more retirees than the more recent "transplant" companies.
The article then adds, "These retirees make up arguably Detroit’s best case for a bailout. The Big Three Three and the U.A.W. had the bad luck of helping to create the middle class in a country where individual companies — as opposed to all of society — must shoulder much of the burden of paying for retirement." Isn't this also a good argument for some form of nationalized health care -- a system that takes the burden of providing these benefits off the shoulders of specific employers alone, without leaving individuals to cope with a private insurance market not likely to offer these folks attractive terms? Finally, when considering these figures, it is also worth noting, as described here that the "'Big Three' U.S. automobile makers negotiated with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 2007 to significantly reduce the salary and benefits packages for certain new employees." Let me stress that I personally don't have a silver-bullet solution to the problems of the U.S. auto industry, nor do I have a detailed proposal as to what exact terms a bailout/bridge loan should contain. But this line from Bruce Springsteen's "Youngstown" has been running through my head: Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Now sir you tell me the world's changed
Once I made you rich enough
Rich enough to forget my name
The article then adds, "These retirees make up arguably Detroit’s best case for a bailout. The Big Three Three and the U.A.W. had the bad luck of helping to create the middle class in a country where individual companies — as opposed to all of society — must shoulder much of the burden of paying for retirement."
Isn't this also a good argument for some form of nationalized health care -- a system that takes the burden of providing these benefits off the shoulders of specific employers alone, without leaving individuals to cope with a private insurance market not likely to offer these folks attractive terms?
Finally, when considering these figures, it is also worth noting, as described here that the "'Big Three' U.S. automobile makers negotiated with the United Auto Workers (UAW) in 2007 to significantly reduce the salary and benefits packages for certain new employees."
Let me stress that I personally don't have a silver-bullet solution to the problems of the U.S. auto industry, nor do I have a detailed proposal as to what exact terms a bailout/bridge loan should contain. But this line from Bruce Springsteen's "Youngstown" has been running through my head:
Seven hundred tons of metal a day
Monday, November 03, 2008
SEIU & Election Politics
If you have a hankering for election-related content, here is a story you might have missed. It's a traditional story about union politicking for a particular candidate -- in this case, SEIU's work for Barack Obama. Some details from SEIU's website:
Through October 30, SEIU's members have:
- Knocked on 1,878,421 doors.
- Made 4,405,136 phone calls.
- Sent 2,562,689 pieces of mail.
- Registered 85,914 voters.
- Helped more 10,982 people vote early.
- Distributed 52,005 workplace flyers.
- Made workers' voices heard by investing $13 million in independent expenditure ads that have run more than 10,000 times
The website clains: "No single organization has done more than SEIU to make sure that Barack Obama is our next president." (Even the Democratic Party?)
It makes sense for SEIU to be making noise about its role in Obama's election. The union is hoping for support for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), which would allow employees to join unions by signing cards rather than requiring a secret ballot. Politicos seem to think that the EFCA would be among the first pieces of legislation passed by an Obama administration and Democratic Congress. Perhaps because of this, EFCA opponents have ratcheted up their public campaign against it. (See George McGovern inveighing against it here.)
If you're interested in reading more about SEIU and union politics, I just have posted the final version of my paper, Mother Jones Meets Gordon Gekko: The Complicated Relationship between Labor and Private Equity (forthcoming Colorado Law Review). The paper discusses how SEIU's political influence is part of its overall bargaining strategy -- particularly in its recent dealings with private equity. One of the article's overall normative claims is that unions should be allowed to play politics like other businesses. The effect of this election on the EFCA's chances is solid proof, in my view, of the importance of politics to the business of unions.
Monday, September 22, 2008
Public Responsibility for Stopping the Big Squeeze
It's a pleasure to be part of this discussion of Steven Greenhouse's masterful, though depressing, The Big Squeeze. The book is impressive in scope, weaving together changes in corporate structure like outsourcing and contingent work, faces of globalization ranging from immigration to offshoring, shifts in management philosophy, and the assault on labor unions. Greenhouse also tacks effectively between compelling, illustrative stories of individual workers and bigger picture analysis of trends backed up by a wealth of statistics and snippets of expert commentary.
Before raising some questions and concerns, I want to highlight an important piece of Greenhouse's analysis that often is missing from tales of workers' woes and what to do about them: labor law enforcement. Again and again, we see workers cheated out of wages by being required to begin work before they clock in, continue while nominally on breaks, finish tasks after they clock out, and even then having their hours deleted from payroll records at the stroke of a key. Related themes are retaliatory firings for union organizing and workers exiled from employment's benefits or protections through misclassification as independent contractors or shunting into fly-by-night subcontractors. Against this backdrop, legal reforms like raising the minimum wage or strengthening union rights may be meaningless unless they can be enforced more effectively, and Greenhouse's policy recommendations helpfully reflect this pragmatic point.
Thinking about enforcement immediately puts the spotlight on the government and, more generally, the citizens and taxpayers. Enforcing labor law, after all, takes money to hire the inspectors whose ranks, Greenhouse notes, have thinned, and it takes a political commitment to use public power on behalf of workers. Unfortunately, I worry that the overall thrust of Greenhouse's argument leaves us ill-prepared to make the case for government action. Almost every story has the same basic structure: big corporation stomps on noble worker, or in more complex cases, big corporation forces small corporation (or middle manager) to do the stomping. This way of telling the story lets almost all real people off the hook: either we are fellow sufferers, or we are innocent bystanders. That's great for focusing anger on the corporate miscreants, but I fear that it falls short, both morally and politically, when the solutions require all of us to put skin in the game. I'll leave it there for now, but in subsequent posts I'll suggest a few ways of broadening the frame, both to think more about relationships among workers and to think more about relationships between the labor market and other institutions.
Monday, September 08, 2008
losers, and the losers who prey on them
I'm cursed with being a fan of what is now officially the most pathetic team in major sports -- it's sixteen years and counting of losing seasons for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Since being brainwashed by the guy who ran my little league team in New York City, I have variably enjoyed and endured the team's remarkable success in the 1970s, drug scandals in the 1980s, heartbreak in the early '90s (for which I've been mocked!), and irrelevance ever since. Beautiful ballpark, awful team. We did have the incomparable Roberto Clemente, the memory of whom makes lots of hard times bearable and whose visage on a Cheerios box stares down at me each breakfast. But even Roberto can't help me with this.
But now there's a law angle to my pathetic misery, and one that, if tweaked and simplified, could make a sweet contracts or labor law exam question. It's the story of a hapless franchise, a powerful sports agent, and a midnight deadline. Read all about it after the jump.
After finally firing a fantastically incompetent general manager, the Pirates have shifted their resources from mediocre, over-priced free agents to the amateur draft and scouting and player development in Latin America -- the best way for a small market team to compete. So this year we (I hope you don't mind if slip into the third-person plural sometimes) drafted the best player available in the draft, a third baseman named Pedro Alvarez who had just finished his junior year at Vanderbilt, and hailed originally from the Washington Heights neighborhood in NYC. Great kid, fabulous talent. The only catch: Alvarez is represented by Scott Boras, proud graduate of the McGeorge Law School and world reknowned for being the hardest of the hardball negotiators among sports agents. Alvarez and the Pirates -- and, of course, Boras -- are now in a dispute regarding whether they agreed to a contract on or about the night of August 15.
To simplify this sad story: As is Boras's MO, Boras delayed negotiations with the club until the very last minute before the signing deadline -- midnight on August 15. Sometime between 11:58 PM and after midnight, Alvarez agreed to a $6 million signing bonus, a figure that, it turns out, was not the highest bonus of this past signing season. As I understand it, there's no question that Alvarez verbally committed; nor is there any question that the verbal nature of the commitment was sufficient under Major League Baseball (MLB) practice, so long as the contract is ultimately confirmed by the MLB office and signed by the parties. What is contested, however, is whether Alvarez verbally committed before or after midnight, whether the Pirates were granted an extension by MLB to continue negotiating after midnight, and more importantly whether MLB could authorize extensions past midnight, something they've apparently done with one or two other teams this year and last (notably, to enable negotiations with other Boras clients). Soon after verbally committing, Alvarez contested the legality of his commitment and has refused to sign the contract to which he verbally committed, on the grounds (presumably) that the agreement was void for occurring after the deadline.
The MLB Players Union has now grieved the issue of MLB's practice of granting signing extensions beyond midnight -- a grievance that clearly will affect Alvarez and the other player for whom an extension may or may not have been granted this year, Eric Hosmer. Hosmer is another Boras client who was drafted by the KC Royals, and who actually signed his contract. He was already playing for a Royals minor league affiliate when the grievance was filed; MLB has now rescinded approval of his contract (thereby keeping him from playing in the minor leagues) while the grievance is awaiting adjudication by an arbitrator. The arbitration is scheduled for September 10.
A preliminary legal issue is the aribtrator's jurisdiction. Draftees are not yet eligible for union membership; accordingly, does an arbitrator limited to settling disputes between the league and its players have the authority to consider this question? There are also reports that some fairly significant facts are in dispute. Apparently, there are records of two phone calls between Boras and the Pirates, one placed at 11:58 and another after midnight. Some conspiracy theorists among Pirate fans -- who, in case you haven't already figured it out, detest Boras -- think Boras purposely disconnected the earlier phone call so that any agreement Alvarez agreed to would take place after midnight so Alvarez could later disavow it. The theory presumes that Alvarez flinched at the last minute and agreed to the Pirates' offer against Boras's advice-- in this narrative, he's a good kid, his dad drives a cab in NYC, and he just wanted a good chunk of money and to start his career. It's also unclear whether Hosmer actually agreed after the deadline; but apparently another Boras client, Julio Borbon, who signed with the Rangers last year after the draft, also agreed to a contract after the deadline. Neither Borbon, Boras, or the players' union challenged that agreement.
Equally interesting are issues with Boras's representation. There's no question that Boras is the preeminent agent in maximizing draftees' contractual value. When an amateur player signs with Scott Boras, he sends a signal to teams that he wants to get paid and is willing to risk the reputational hit that being represented by an extremely hardball negotiator frequently gets. But it's unclear what Boras hopes to achieve here. If the union wins and the arbitrator invalidates Alvarez's contract, Alvarez presumably couldn't squeeze the Pirates for more money because, of course, the signing deadline has passed. Alvarez can't return to play at Vanderbilt. Returning to the draft next year after sitting out the year -- perhaps playing in an independent league, as J.D. Drew (another Boras client) did after refusing to sign for the Phillies a decade ago -- risks not getting the $6 million he would have gotten this year, but also losing a year's interest on the bonus, a year salary and development.
The sad part, though, is watching how Pirates' fans have turned on the kid. All of the franchise's hopes, after all those losing seasons, were invested in Pedro Alvarez. He could turn things around -- after all, a similar issue arose after another Pittsburgh franchise, the Penguins, drafted another highly touted draft pick. That was Mario Lemieux, a future hall of famer who ultimately signed with the Penguins, spent his entire career in Pittsburgh, leading the time to unparalleled success. I don't think anyone begrudges the kid getting paid. It's both the disappointment of watching this spectacle and the idea that this is merely a "technicality" -- a strategic legal trick that an agent appears to be using to squeeze additional leverage and get out of a deal to which the player agreed -- that could lead to another dozen years of losing baseball.
Sources: Dejan Kovacevic of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has provided the best day-to-day coverage of this, as have the best Pirate blogs. Baseball Prospectus, as ever, has supposedly offered the most knowledgeable and thoughtful coverage, but it's behind a pay wall, and since the Pirates have been so awful for so long, I've invested more time in my NBA fetish and so dropped my subscription....
Saturday, September 06, 2008
Link to Passive Discrimination Paper
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Approaching Deadline: Current Scholarship in Labor and Employment Law, San Diego, October 2008
Even if you are not a hardcore employment, labor, discrimnation or benefits scholar, you can benefit from this lively and enriching program coming up soon in lovely San Diego. The deadline is quickly approach to submit your paper topics and abstracts to Third Annual Colloquium on Current Scholarship in Labor & Employment Law. The Colloquium will be held October 23-25 in San Diego. The deadline for submission is August 31.
The organizers, Ruben Garcia, Susan Bisom-Rapp and myself have begun putting together the panels based on the several dozens of submissions already in. As an insider, I can tell you that the topics are terrific, ranging from empirical analysis of discrimination to debates about constitutional law and the scope of public sector speech rights; from cognitive and behavioral studies to theoretical analysis of private and public law; from new frontiers in identity-based civil rights litigation to new developments in international and comparative law.
Harry Arthur is the keynote speaker and events will take place in all three law schools in town: University of San Diego, Thomas Jefferson and California Western.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The Future of Labor Law: The Public Sector; and States as Laboratories of Democracy
Labor law, some conventional wisdom says, is dead. True, union density in the private sector has taken a long slide from around 35% in the 1950s to under 10% today. In reaction, a number of schools do not even regularly offer a labor law class. This, I suggest, is a mistake. There are still over sixteen million workers in unions today, and last year overall union density actually increased a bit. And while labor law under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) has been increasingly hostile to unions, did you know, e.g. that despite the failure of the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), many unions have recently won the legal right to be recognized by showing majority support through a "card check"? There is a strong present and future in labor law – just not entirely as we traditionally conceived of it.
The key is the public sector. In the past fifty years, union density in the public sector has risen from under 10% to nearly 40%. Indeed, today of all union members in the U.S., around 40% are government employees. Thus the practice of labor law is increasingly in the public sector. Yet few schools teach public sector labor. This is a shame, and not just for students who want to represent unions or management in labor relations or ponder the legal and practical issues involved.
Public sector labor law also a wonderful opportunity to consider the states as laboratories of democracy, and to consider questions of democracy as well as workers’ rights. Public sector labor law varies tremendously. They are typically modeled in part on the private sector law, the NLRA, but they can vary significantly. For example, public employees in most states cannot legally strike, but about eleven states (including Ohio) allow most public employees to strike. A majority of states allow at least some public employees to bargain collectively, but some limit bargaining to a few types of employees (e.g., police, fire, and/or teachers), and a significant minority bar all public sector collective bargaining. In states which allow bargaining, some allow unions to bargain over basically the same subjects private sector unions can; but a number of states significantly limit the subjects over which they can bargain; and significant minority of states do not permit any public employees to bargain. This "scope of bargaining" issue raises interesting policy debates about democracy and workers rights: what issues should be beyond the scope of bargaining and rather be in the hands of elected officials? The public sector also features interesting Constitutional doctrines, since the state-as-employer is a state actor.
The public sector also is an opportunity to try out rules different from those in the private sector. Last year, in the EFCA, unions unsuccessfully sought to amend the NLRA to, among other things, provide that employers must recognize a union with a "card check" majority. The law then was that employers could voluntarily recognize unions with such a majority, but were not obliged to do so. Later in 2007, the NLRB in its decision in Dana Corp. made the use of card-check recognition even more difficult (for details, see an interesting new piece by Raja Raghunath).
Meanwhile, in the public sector several states have recently passed card-check recognition bills (New York has such a rule; recently Illinois, New Jersey, and New Hampshire passed this rule; and Massachusetts is coming). Also, the NLRB recently reversed a Clinton Board precedent and held that graduate assistants generally were not "employees" covered by the Act; the majority of public sector jurisdictions disagree. Indeed, many public sector jurisdictions allow supervisors to form unions and bargaining collectively; the NLRA categorically excludes supervisors. Of course, as noted above, many states have laws which are grant employees and their unions much more limited rights than those in the NLRA. While the traditional question has been, "how much of the private sector law should public sector jurisdictions adopt," a new question is, "should the federal private sector law be informed by developments in state public sector law?"
The future of labor law is in both the public and private sectors. Course offerings should acknowledge this, and scholars should check it out. There is much to chew on.