Tuesday, March 12, 2013
Oddball SCOTUS Cases
The purpose of this post is to crowdsource an issue that Suja Thomas has identified.
I got the idea from seeing Suja’s presentation at AALS this year, in which she argued that Twombly, Wal-Mart, and Ricci are oddball cases—cases with atypical facts in which the Court made broad changes to the law in a way that significantly affects cases with more typical facts. She has written an article entitled The Oddball Doctrine: How Atypical Cases Make Bad Law in which she argues that the Court should exercise restraint by not making legal changes in these types of cases. During Suja’s presentation, it occurred to me that the Oddball Doctrine could apply to many of the Court’s recent arbitration decisions.
An example is ATT Mobility v. Concepción, in which the Court enforced a class-action waiver in a consumer arbitration agreement. The arbitration agreement at issue in Concepción strongly favored the consumer – for example, it included a provision (added by AT&T after the Concepcións had filed suit) requiring AT&T to pay $7500 to a consumer if an arbitrator awarded the consumer an amount greater than AT&T’s largest settlement offer at the time of arbitrator selection. Anyone even vaguely familiar with consumer arbitration knows that 99.99% of the time they skew very strongly in favor of the company – not the consumer.
Had the Court enforced a class-action waiver in the far-more-typical consumer-arbitration factual scenario in which the prohibition of a class action makes it impossible for consumers to individually advance their low-dollar claims, the Court would have invited a political (perhaps Congressional) backlash. But by choosing for certiorari that one-in-a-million case in which the class-action waiver favored the consumer, the Court was able to create a broadly applicable legal rule permitting companies to prohibit class actions in all arbitration agreements.
My new article argues that the Supreme Court recently has chosen for its arbitration docket a set of cases with wholly atypical fact patterns in what appears to be a deliberate effort – successful so far – to advance its pro-arbitration policy agenda without provoking a political backlash. See Oddball Arbitration. My question for Prawfsblawg readers is: do you see Thomas’s Oddball Doctrine in other areas of the law?
Wednesday, January 09, 2013
The Religious Freedom Rights of Corporations and Shareholders
A late and grateful hat tip to Charlotte Garden, who posted last week about the Seventh Circuit's decision in Korte v. Sebelius. The court granted a preliminary injunction against the enforcement of provisions of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) and related regulations requiring that K & L Contractors purchase health care coverage for employees that included abortifacient, contraception, and sterilization coverage. Accourding to the majority, the plaintiffs had some likelihood of success on their Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) claim that the required health care coverage put a substantial burden on their free exercise of religion.
Although the case raises a number of interesting issues, I want to focus on the religious freedom rights of corporations and shareholders. It is the corporation that has the obligations to provide health care coverage with certain coverages. However, the court seems to find that the corporation's obligations infringe on the religious liberties of the shareholders. As the court states:
[T]he government’s primary argument is that because K & L Contractors is a secular, for‐profit enterprise, no rights under RFRA are implicated at all. This ignores that Cyril and Jane Korte are also plaintiffs. Together they own nearly 88% of K & L Contractors. It is a family‐run business, and they manage the company in accordance with their religious beliefs. This includes the health plan that the company sponsors and funds for the benefit of its nonunion workforce. That the Kortes operate their business in the corporate form is not dispositive of their claim. See generally Citizens United v. Fed. Election Comm’n, 130 S. Ct. 876 (2010). The contraception mandate applies to K & L Contractors as an employer of more than 50 employees, and the Kortes would have to violate their religious beliefs to operate their company in compliance with it.In dissent, Judge Rovner took issue with this, but in a somewhat indirect fashion:
Although the Kortes contend that complying with the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandate violates their religious liberties, they are removed by multiple steps from the contraceptive services to which they object. First, it is the corporation rather than the Kortes individually which will pay for the insurance coverage. The corporate form may not be dispositive of the claims raised in this litigation, but neither is it meaningless: it does separate the Kortes, in some real measure, from the actions of their company.
Charlotte Garden takes on the issue of whose religious freedom rights are at issue in her post:
This analysis raises an interesting question about the interplay among the rights of majority shareholders, managers, and corporations after Citizens United. The Seventh Circuit seems to treat them as essentially overlapping, so that government regulation of corporations would be unlawful if it violates the rights of one, two, or all three of the above. But it seems to me that Citizens United could also support the contrary result. For example, if the funds of dissenting shareholders can be used for political speech without violating the First Amendment, then why can’t the Kortes’ funds be used for K&L’s contraception coverage without violating their RFRA rights? The Seventh Circuit doesn’t answer this question, though it seems its answer would have to turn on whether or not the shareholders in question were in the majority—a result that seems both counterintuitive and at odds with the Supreme Court’s approach to dissenters’ rights in other context, including the union dues context.
I agree with Charlotte's thinking here. It is the corporation that is being forced to provide a certain level of health insurance to employees. When does a corporation have rights of religious freedom? The court characterizes the company as "secular," and it is clearly not a religious organization. And if it is the Kortes, rather than the corporation, whose rights are being infringed, when do actions taken with respect to a business entity impinge upon the rights of stakeholders? The court mentions that the Kortes are 88% shareholders and that the business is run by the family according to their religious beliefs. Are these material facts? What if they owned 51% of the company, but it was run by someone else? What if they owned 33% but had de facto control? What if they owned a single share?
This case reminds me in part of Thinket Ink Information Systems v. Sun Microsoft, 368 F.3d 1053 (9th Cir. 2004). In that case, the court held that a corporation had a right to bring suit under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1981 for discrimination based on race. Although noting that a corporation generally does not have a racial identity, the court found that in the particular case, Thinket had "acquired an imputed racial identity" sufficient to bring a claim. The court stated that: "[t]o receive certain governmental benefits, Thinket was required to be certified as a corporation with a racial identity; further, it alleges that it suffered discrimination because all of its shareholders were African–American." This was enough to give the corporation itself standing under Sec. 1981.
At the time, Stephen Bainbridge characterized the Thinket decision as "just nuts" because the corporation was just a legal fiction and instead represented a nexus of contracts. However, he did allow that "[i]t may be useful to invoke that fiction here, so as to promote administrative convenience by allowing the entity rather than its individual constituents to sue, but it doesn't change the basic theory." A similar problem may be presented here. But at the least, a court should establish whether it is the corporation or the shareholders who have standing to sue for actions required of the corporation. And if it's the shareholders who have standing to sue, it seems unclear when they would be sufficiently entwined with the corporation to get that standing.
Friday, November 02, 2012
The Unappreciated Link between Health Insurance and Job Creation
Thanks to Prawfs for having me back. I hope to blog about a variety of things this time around, mostly in my primary areas of interest. But first, I've got a post that I've been thinking about for a while, and while I've got the bully pulpit, I'll try it out.
After two presidential debates (three if you count the “foreign policy” debate), a vice-presidential debate, and eighteen months of campaigning, the candidates seem to be missing a critical link between health care reform and job creation. This link undermines Governor Romney’s plan to create jobs through tax cuts as much as it represents a missed opportunity by President Obama to defend his signature legislation. I have views about the best way to bring affordable health insurance to everyone, but I won’t express those here. I don't want my main point to get bogged down in the details of how you get there. Instead, I’ll only point out the importance of widespread availability of such insurance.
More than tax cuts, and more than abandoned regulation, small businesses need customers. Health insurance is a critical but unappreciated link to provide these customers. I’ll give a personal example. In May of this year, my wife and I committed to a modest renovation of a part of our home. A couple months later, just before work was to start, I was diagnosed with an extremely rare condition that took two surgeons about six hours to repair . The bill for my five day stay at the hospital was about $133,000, and the doctor’s bills, CAT scans, and MRIs will easily put the total over $150,000. But I was insured. We had to pay for a chunk of the operation – about $2000 after all copays.
Coincidentally, work started on the house the day I came home from the hospital. We could continue with the plan, and our contractor and his employees, subcontractors, and supply houses will all see business. Our contractor may make over $250,000 per year, but I doubt it based on what we are paying for this work and what we are getting in return. He’s just a decent guy doing good work, but he needs customers – especially in a tough economy – and we would have been one less job. Our project isn’t the biggest one in the world; indeed, it’s a fraction of what I would have owed the hospital if I were uninsured. My insurance created jobs, and I am sure my insurance is not alone in that respect.
Insurance not only creates customers, it can help directly create jobs. Just last month, my sister—a podiatrist—seriously considered selling her practice for almost zero equity to become an employee at a large practice. This would have likely cut her lifetime earnings in half and forced her to lay off her three staff, one of whom is our mother! Why would she do such a thing? To get health insurance, of course. She has been denied several times due to a “preexisting condition” that is related to her sex, essentially healed, and never life threatening. In other words, she cannot get insurance at any price. Her staff is all insured by other means, so she can’t form a group, and even if she did her coverage would likely be limited by preexisting conditions. She is holding on for the ability to buy insurance under the new law, and we are all hoping it will come soon. She is surely not alone.
My sister’s story ties to a bigger job creation issue. Without the ability to obtain affordable healthcare, people will simply not form businesses and hire other people. They will remain employees. This is a much bigger implication of insurance cost reduction. I know how much small group insurance plans can cost; I used to negotiate them for my law firm. We wound up having to purchase major medical insurance while self-insuring the first $5,000 of medical expenses because our premiums rose at astronomical rates. My partners and our employees were not happy with the bureaucracy this created, but the alternatives were daunting. This is not an incentive to form a business, and shaving some percentage points of my top tax rate won't get me to create a business if I think I can't get insurance at any price. That's me, by the way. Not that I would ever quit being a professor (the greatest job in the world), but because of my condition I won't be able to get insurance without. I would be an employee for the rest of my life, without even the ability to take a year off that isn't a sabbatical that includes coverage. So much for harnessing bright ideas to hire others.Maybe it would be better to have more expensive insurance available to fewer people like we do now, but justifying the status quo should take into account all the effects of insurance. Accessible, affordable health insurance creates jobs in ways no one is talking about, but they should be.
Thursday, June 21, 2012
Political Spending = Business Spending (by Unions as well as Corporations)
Earlier this week, the WSJ touted a new Manhattan Institute study showing that political contributions by corporations have a positive effect on the bottom line. The study found that "most firms, like most individuals, behave rationally and strategically in their spending decisions on campaigns and lobbying, devoting resources in ways that, they have reason to expect, will benefit the corporations themselves and their shareholders." And benefits do come, in the form of lower taxes, more favorable regulation, and earmarks that help the business. The authors calculate that these political benefits improve returns for shareholders by 2% to 5% a year.
It should not be a surprise that corporate political spending helps corporations. This recent study follows upon research by Jill Fisch on FedEx's political spending, which found that "FedEx has successfully used its political influence to shape legislation, and FedEx's political success has, in turn, shaped its overall business strategy." The WSJ uses the Manhattan Institute report to beat back critics of Citizens United who are looking to get corporations out of politics. The Journal opines:
Liberals have been trying to persuade CEOs and corporate boards to stop spending money on politics by claiming that it doesn't pay. But according to a new study by the cofounder of the Democratic-leaning Progressive Policy Institute, corporate participation in politics works for the companies and their shareholders. * * *
In a better world, corporations wouldn't have to devote money and time to politics. . . . But politicians have created a gargantuan state that is so intrusive that businesses have no alternative than to spend money to defend themselves and their shareholders from such arbitrary looting as the medical device tax in ObamaCare. Liberals want business to disarm unilaterally.
Oddly, neither the Journal nor the Supreme Court seem to understand these principles when it comes to unions.
In today's Knox v. SEIU, the Court again privileges the rights of represented employees to opt out--or rather, not to have to opt-out in the first place--from union political spending. The Court clings to the trope that the union's political spending is somehow extraneous to the core services provided by the union to the represented employees. But political spending is perhaps even more important to unions than it is to corporations. I have posted before about SEIU's electoral activity, but it bears repeating--SEIU spent an estimated $85 million to help elect Barack Obama in 2008. Although the Obama administration failed to get the Employee Free Choice Act passed, it did pass healthcare reform -- which was arguably more of a SEIU priority. (See Chapter 9 of this book by Steve Early, entitled "How EFCA Died for Obamacare"). Former SEIU President Andy Stern had the highest number of oval office visits of any outsider--22--during the president's first six months in office. Stern was not in there based on his individual perspicacity about the nation's various problems. He was in there as president of the fastest-growing union in the U.S. -- one whose members largely worked in the health care field and would benefit from an expansion of health care benefits.
Knox v. SEIU concerns a "Political Fight-Back Fund" levied against represented employees, including nonmembers, to fund political activities in California. Two propositions were on the California ballot: Proposition 75, which would have required an opt-in system for charging members fees to be used for political purposes, and Proposition 76, which would have given the Governor the ability to reduce state appropriations for public-employee compensation. In response to the petitioner's objection to the special assessment, an SEIU employee said, "we are in the fight of our lives," and it's easy to see the urgency. If you accede to the principles that (1) employees can choose as a majority whether to have union representation, and (2) all represented employees need to pay for their representation, then political spending should not be excluded. In an era where state governments are reconsidering collective bargaining rights for public sector unions, political spending is critical to the unions' very existence as businesses. Unions need to have collective bargaining rights in order to bargain collectively on behalf of represented employees.
The majority's opinion in Knox v. SEIU assumes the distinction between collective bargaining expenses and political expenses without much discussion, other than an interesting block-quote from a Clyde Summers's book review. (I would argue that all of Summers' examples don't really prove his or the Court's point.) And at this point, not even the dissent questions the Hudson framework. But it makes no sense. Unions and academics should start fighting the framework: unions are businesses, and political spending is business spending.
I did see one glimmer in the Court's opinion, in the following passage:
Public-sector unions have the right under the First Amendment to express their views on political and social issues without government interference. See, e.g., Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. ___ (2010). But employees who choose not to join a union have the same rights.
The Manhattan Institute report, like the Wall Street Journal, recognizes that corporations are not merely "express[ing] their views on political and social issues" when they make political contributions. They are fighting for their businesses. The Court should not continue to disarm unions unilaterally in a post-Citizens United world.
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, December 28, 2011
Potentially Important Law Faculty Hiring Decision...
I'm not a First Amendment scholar, nor am I an employment discrimination scholar. I did, however, go through a hiring process twice, and this decision by the Eighth Circuit surprised the heck out of me. The gist of the opinion is that a jury must decide if a professor who was not hired at a public law school was discriminated against in violation of Section 1983. The allegation, quite simply, is that she was conservative and a liberal faculty (or more specifically, the dean following the recommendation of the faculty) refused to hire her.
The court held that this is a legally cognizable injury, and that a jury has to decide whether she wouldn't have been hired anyway.
For those of you on the market this year (or thinking about it), the case is also an insightful view into the black box of academic hiring. It shows how mixed signals can occur, and how uniformly positive feedback can still not lead to getting hired for all sorts of reasons outside of the candidates' control. I won't comment on the reasoning or facts in this case, because I just don't know them. That is, as they say, up to the jury now.
One final point - there is a key faculty governance nugget buried in this case. One factual question was whether the dean always followed faculty recommendations, and/or whether the dean must. While most deans follow almost all faculty hiring recommendations, they usually (technically) don't have to. One issue in this case is that no such policy was in writing. After this case, deans might want to put such a policy in writing for self protection, but maybe the deans (or university provosts and presidents) won't want discretion so limited.
H/T How Appealing
Thursday, November 17, 2011
According to a survey recently released by the National Association of Women Lawyers, only 47 percent of first and second year law firm associates are women; this shows a drop by one percent from past surveys. Moreover, 55 percent of staff attorneys are women, making staff attorney the attorney position with the highest percentage of female lawyers. Both female partners and female associates lag behind their male counterparts in pay, and the difference largely shows up in the respective bonuses paid to each. Finally, "[t]he majority of large firms have, at most, two women members on their highest governing committee. A substantial number have either no women (11 percent of firms) or only one woman (35 percent of firms) on their highest governing committee."
We know that nearly half of law students are women, so we must question why women are not faring nearly as well in private practice as are their male counterparts. Is actionable discrimination in law firms operating so rampantly and unchecked? Is something more subtle than actionable discrimination at work? Several European countries, aware of the dearth of women at the helm of leadership in industry and other places, have decided that to the extent that the culture of corporate leadership is somehow not welcoming to women or conducive to their success, large scale forced integration is the best way to alter it.
The internet and newspapers are abuzz with recent word of quota requirements implemented in many European countries that are designed to place more women on corporate boards and in other leadership positions. The idea had its genesis in Norway, but Spain, France, Iceland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Italy are now adopting it, according to reports.
Some are saying that these countries have the right idea-that imposing these quotas and forcing integration to a point where the law and educational and professional pipelines have been unable to take it is a necessary step in the right direction for these countries. Others, opposed to quotas of any kind, feel that the forced nature of the integration will breed more backlash and strife than progress when it comes to equality of opportunity. Quotas are inimical to American attempts-legal and otherwise-to foster equality, integration, and increased access to whom it has historically been denied. Even court mandated or court approved affirmative action plans shy away from the notion of imposing flat out quotas.
So what is to be done here at home? The fact of the matter is that the recently released statistics here in the U.S. are grim, and a more searching look into this widening disparity of opportunity and achievement is clearly warranted, in one way or another. Quotas surely aren't the answer, but the widening rift is growing too big to ignore. We should be looking into why it persists and thinking about what can be done to stem it. Is there a role that law schools and legal education can play?
Sunday, November 13, 2011
Perfect Makes Practice?
I wanted to revisit a comment that I posted on a really thoughtful post by Robin Effron about students' lack of professionalism and when the duty to seize a so-called teachable moment kicks in. I wrote that
Tuesday, November 08, 2011
Where does it start? Where does it end?
This week, the American Association of University Women released information from a study that said that almost half of students in grades 7-12 have experienced sexual harassment in the last school year. Although more girls than boys reported being the target of sexual harassment at school, defined by the nonprofit research organization as “unwelcome sexual behavior that takes place in person or electronically,” boys and girls alike were identified across the board as harassers and victims. Rumors and jabs about students’ promiscuity and sexual orientation looked to be a significant part of the reported behavior, and victimized students reported deleterious tangible effects of the harassment that resulted in physical ailments and missed school days.
It is very interesting that most of the concentration of awareness, prevention efforts, and campaigns around schools has dealt primarily with the problem of bullying, when, in fact, the nature of the bullying has apparently been so overwhelmingly sexualized and gendered. This is especially ironic when one notes the fact that in the workplace, bullying is wholly lawful, while sexual harassment may result in corporate liability. Even more ironic and unfortunate, because sexual orientation is not a protected class status under federal law, many courts have rejected harassment claims made by homosexuals because although in many cases, they are being abused because of their failure to conform to gender norms, the courts see them as trying to advance claims that are ultimately not cognizable. Referring to someone’s sexual orientation (actual or perceived) as the reason for an adverse employment action is similarly seen as lawful under federal law. Moreover, in all but a few courts, “generalized vulgarity,” even that of a somewhat sexual nature, so long as it is not directly targeted at one sex, is seen as lawful as well.
Yes; 56 percent of girls, as opposed to only 40 percent of boys reported being harassed in school, but these are still relatively large numbers that reveal the pervasiveness of sexualized verbal and physical abuse aimed at children of both sexes by children of both sexes. Has society become too preoccupied with the notion of students being bullied to notice how much of this bullying is sexualized? Have those who set forth the law of the workplace been too preoccupied with the idea that actionable workplace abuse be “because of sex” as per title VII for lawmakers to pass the anti-bullying statutes that have come to their attention, but have not been passed, in 21 States since 2003? There are currently 16 anti-bullying bills active in 11 states, but proponents of the Healthy Workplace Bill, a model statute that has yet to be passed, cannot seem to convince lawmakers that employees’ dignity and sense of well-being at work need to be protected when threatened outside of a “because of sex” context, or some other context that would implicate currently cognizable harassment.
Of course, there is the argument that children are fragile and should be spared the indignities of sexual harassment and bullying, whereas adults in the workplace are just that—adults. When workplace bullying, even gendered workplace bullying comes up in my class, many of my students (male and female alike) take the position that people generally need to “toughen up” and “move along” if workplace bullying (even gendered bullying) becomes too much for them to bear. With so many people leaving school and “graduating” to the workplace each year, however, I wonder how much longer it will behoove us as a society to fail to call attention to both the sexual harassment that goes on in schools and the generalized bullying that goes on in the workplace.
I have written and will continue to write about the connection between this attitude and the professional status gap that exists with respect to women and minorities, and I continue to think that this connection is worthy of consideration. We can only look at skewed statistics as to who is assuming leadership roles in every arena from politics to law, to industry, to the academy, and tell ourselves that some people just “don’t have what it takes” or “can’t tough it out,” for so long before we stop and reconsider whether “what it takes” is aligned with the traits and values we want to see reflected at the top of organizations from Wall Street to Washington.
We might want to rethink everything we thought we had decided about what is going on and what is being permitted at every stage of the education, training, evaluation, and promotion of American employees and decide whether the cultures that we’ve permitted to take hold might be weeding out hardworking and talented people and ultimately thwarting the goals of equal access, equal opportunity, and the eradication of discrimination held out by Title VII.
Tuesday, October 11, 2011
A welcome back to . . .
Well, since Arrested Development is coming back I figured I should return to blogging as well. Actually, I've never seen that show and don't really intend to. But I did think this would be an opportune time to fire up the old blog, as lots is going on in the world of disability law.
Sunday, October 02, 2011
I'm grateful to Dan Markel for inviting me to be an October guest blogger on PrawsBlawg. I am primarily interested in talking about my new book, BREAKING THE DEVIL'S PACT (NYU Press 2011), but your responses and breaking news may well take me in other directions as well.
Breaking the Devil's Pact is a case study of DOJ's effort, by means of Civil RICO, to purge the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT) of organized crime's presence and influence in the union. U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani brought the lawsuit in 1988 against the president (Jackie Presser) and general executive board (GEB) memberts of the IBT and some two dozen Cosa Nostra bosses. The complaint alleged a "devil's pact" between the union and organized crime defendants to exploit the union and its pension and welfare funds and to violate the rights of rank and file members. The massive complaint cited scores of past criminal prosecutions for theft, embezzlement, fraud and violence. None of these allegations came as a shock.
Labor racketeering in the IBT had been notorious for decades. Indeed, in 1957 the AFL-CIO expelled the IBT from the labor federation on account of corruption and racketeering. However, there was no positive change in the next 30 years. In 1986, the President's Commission on Organized Crime (PCOC) called the Teamsters (then the nation's most populous labor union) the most "mobbed-up" union in the country and called for a civil RICO lawsuit to impose court monitorship.
You'll recall that in 1988, Ronald Reagan was president. You may not recall that the IBT was the only major labor union that had endorsed his presidential candidacy (twice). Shortly before the lawsuit was filed, 300 members of Congress delivered a petition to Attorney Gneral Meese, exhorting the DOJ not to file the rumored civil RICO lawsuit because it would be harmful to a "free and independent labor movement." (How's that for cynicism?) All the candidates, Democrats and Republicans, except George H.W. Bush, promised not to file the lawsuit. Nevertheless, the DOJ (via Giuliani) did file it, an impressive statement about DOJ's political independence at that time.
U.S. v. IBT was settled in 1989 on the eve of trial. The consent decree stated that there should be no organized crime presence in the union, that association with organized crime would constitute a disciplinary offense, that for the next 5 IBT elections, the president and GEB members would be selected via one person one vote secret balloting by the rank and file supervised by a court appointed elections officer, and that the IBT disciplinary machinery would be wielded by court appointed investigators and adjudicators. The lawsuit in its remedial phase is now in its 22nd year, with no end in sight. The disciplinary prong of the remediation has expelled 500 IBT officers, including some of the most powerful figures in the union. The election prong has produced the most democratic union elections in American history. I argue that by any standard of assessment, U.S. v. IBT must be regarded as one of, if not, the most important organized crime case in American history. A case could also be made that it is the most important labor litigation of the last 50 years. Nevertheless, it has attracted little if any attention from criminal law or labor law scholars. Students are likely to finish a course in federal criminal law without having heard about the case. Similarly, labor law casebook authors apparently do not see it worthy of much, if any attention. Perhaps you have some thoughts about why this is the case?
James B. Jacobs
NYU School of Law
Friday, July 22, 2011
NFL Agreement? Don't Count Your Chickens
The theme of my NFL blogging, which you can see here (post-Eighth Circuit hearing) and here (post-Eighth Circuit decision) is that the players' antitrust litigation strategy was really much more effective than the owners anticipated. It totally reversed the usual roles you see in a lockout. Generally, when an employer locks out its employees, it has time on its side. The company closes its gates and waits for the workers to start missing paychecks. (That's what's happening in the NBA.) Ever since the district court enjoined the lockout, however, it's been the NFL owners who can't wait to get an agreement. Check out this remarkable paragraph from ESPN's "Owners approve proposed lockout deal":
In their proposal, the owners told players that they must re-establish their union quickly for the proposed CBA to stand. The NFL also said it wanted evidence by Tuesday that a majority of players have signed union authorization cards.
In the history of labor relations, I don't think I've ever seen employers so eager for employees to (re) join a union. In fact, the point of a lockout is generally to break a union -- or at least, a hoped-for side effect. But the NFL owners can't wait to get the union back in place and, in effect, put back together the Humpty Dumpty CBA they foolishly pushed off the wall.
But wait -- maybe the players aren't all that eager to agree! There's this ominous paragraph:
However, Smith wrote in an email to the 32 player representatives shortly after the owners' decision: "Issues that need to be collectively bargained remain open; other issues, such as workers' compensation, economic issues and end of deal terms, remain unresolved. There is no agreement between the NFL and the players at this time."
So what's going on? The players' representatives are still working things through, but the NFL is using its vote to pressure the players into agreeing to the proposed CBA. Otherwise, why would the lead owner in the negotiations say this?
"That's baffling to me," Panthers owner Jerry Richardson told ESPN's Sal Paolantonio [in response to Smith's email]. "We believe we have handshake agreement with the players."
Although details are somewhat spotty, the deal looks like a decent one for the players. At the very least, it's a much better deal than the owners were talking about when they first went to the negotiating table. It's also a ten-year deal -- much longer than the standard 3 to 5 year agreement. Why? So the players can't bring another antitrust challenge for ten years.
But I think the players have smelled the owners' fear. That's what this is about:
A high-ranking NFLPA executive committee member told Mortensen that the owners' approval "puts the onus on players to make a decision to agree -- paints us into a corner with fans. We'll discuss tonight but the idea of reconstituting as a union has never been a slam dunk as the owners have already assumed."
Said another high-ranking NFLPA official: "We are not happy here. We had to honor to not vote on an agreement that was not final (Wednesday). This is not over. This actually takes away incentives from players to vote yes tonight."
We'll see what happens with the eventual CBA details. But the players have already won.
Friday, July 08, 2011
Injunction Ruling Against NFL Lockout Overturned
The opinion is here. The Eighth Circuit rescinded the district court's lockout based solely on the Norris-LaGuardia Act. As to the other arguments, the majority said:
Given our conclusion that the preliminary injunction did not conform to the provisions of the Norris-LaGuardia Act, we need not reach the other points raised by the League on appeal. In particular, we express no view on whether the League’s nonstatutory labor exemption from the antitrust laws continues after the union’s disclaimer. The parties agree that the Act’s restrictions on equitable relief are not necessarily coextensive with the substantive rules of antitrust law, and we reach our decision on that understanding.
I think this narrow holding preserves the players' longer-term arguments, as I discussed in this earlier post. This decision only dissolves the injunction. As I said at the time:
Let's say the court holds that Norris-LaGuardia prohibits the injunction. Well, that only removes the injunction against the lockout; it does not mean that the NFL won't ultimately be liable for antitrust violations. In fact, Judge Benton seemed to indicate that antitrust damages would continue to accrue even if the lockout could not be enjoined under the NLA.
Perhaps these still-open possibilities are pushing the parties to settle. The named players in the suit may want to blow up the existing system, but it's not clear to me that the lower-paid players want that. And it would likely take at least a year, and likely two or three, for the antitrust case to render the league crippled from a massive antitrust award. So the two sides seem to be stepping away from the precipice.
The fact that the NFL is negotiating at all, however, indicates to me that its lockout strategy was not as effective as predicted. The typical lockout strategy is to lock out and then wait until workers to come crawling back, after they've missed a big chunk of their salaries. I don't know how things will end up, but a deal should come soon. And I expect that the final deal will be much more favorable to the players than most folks would have predicted six months ago.
One final question: why isn't the NBPA pursuing this strategy as well?
Monday, June 20, 2011
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes is out
The opinion is here. Footnote 8 might be of particular interests to academics who have been following the debate between Monahan, Walker & Mitchell and Hart & Secunda:
Bielby’s conclusions in this case have elicited criticism from the very scholars on whose conclusions he relies for his social-framework analysis. See Monahan, Walker, & Mitchell, Contextual Evidence of Gender Discrimination: The Ascendance of “Social Frameworks,” 94 Va. L. Rev. 1715, 1747 (2008) (“[Bielby’s] research into conditions and behavior at Wal-Mart did not meet the standards expected of social scientific research into stereotyping and discrimination”); id., at 1745, 1747 (“[A] social framework necessarily contains only general statements about reliable patterns of relations among variables . . . and goes no further. . . . Dr. Bielby claimed to present a social framework, but he testified about social facts specific to Wal-Mart”); id., at 1747–1748 (“Dr. Bielby’s report provides no verifiable method for measuring and testing any of the variables that were crucial to his conclusions and reflects nothing more than Dr. Bielby’s ‘expert judgment’ about how general stereotyping research applied to all managers across all of WalMart’s stores nationwide for the multi-year class period”)
The late Richard Nagareda's work is also given extensive treatment in the majority and dissenting opinions.
Friday, June 03, 2011
The End of the NFL as We Know It
Greetings from the Thomas F. Eagleton Courthouse. I was fortunate enough to attend the oral arguments for Brady v. National Football League this morning at the Eighth Circuit. As you can tell from this notice, the Eighth Circuit was expecting quite a crowd; congrats to Clerk of the Court Michael Gans and his staff for their excellent handling of the event. Since this is a football case, I feel free to use sports metaphors, so this morning's argument was like an all-star game -- nay, a heavyweight bout -- between two of the country's top attorneys. Paul Clement represented the League, and Theodore Olson represented the players. It was a terrific show. But more importantly, I was really struck by how huge this case is to the future of the NFL, and perhaps the future of all U.S. sports leagues. Whether or not the league wins the battle over the injunction, there is a lot left to come. And we could end up with a completely new landscape.The case is a great example of how the law makes strange bedfellows. The NFL is relying primarily on the Norris-LaGuardia Act to strike down the injunction against its lockout of the players. Yes, that Norris-LaGuardia Act -- the one that was passed to prevent state federal courts from enjoining unions from forming. Clement acknowledged as such in his argument, which I think was a savvy move, because the thrust of his argument was that this is all really a labor dispute and it should be treated as such. Although he did not, until the very end, insinuate that the NFLPA's disclaimer was not legitimate, he essentially said that the union should not be allowed to jump back and forth between labor coverage and antitrust coverage as it suits their needs. Collusive activity is perfectly legal and even encouraged in the nonstatutory labor exemption context, but suddenly it's illegal once the union has disclaimed. Clement analogized this to turning a light switch off and on, and he made this back and forth seem unfair to the NFL. After all, he argued, a lockout is one of the "classic tools" of labor law that employers can use in an attempt to resolve a dispute.
Olson, representing the players, emphasized that the players had voted to get rid of the union, and it was gone. "That union does not exist," he said, at least a few times, with emphasis. The players were therefore entitled to antitrust protection. Olson maintained that players could elect whether to have a union and enjoy collective bargaining rights under labor law, or disclaim the union and get the protection of the antitrust laws. If not, players would be stuck in a "no man's land" where neither labor law nor antitrust protections applied. Characterizing the NFL as antitrust "recidivists," Olson convincingly contended that the players needed some form of protection, and he made it clear that the decision to disclaim should mean that the antitrust protections apply.
The oral argument was fascinating to me, because it illuminated the jury-rigging that is necessary for modern sports leagues to exist in their current forms. They are clearly collusive, and they clearly dominate their respective industries. So antitrust liability seems to naturally follow. The leagues have escaped this quandry (when it comes to the players) by falling under the nonstatutory labor exemption. But what if the players don't want to play ball, as it were? Brady v. NFL is the result.
That's why this injunction may not matter that much. Let's say the court holds that Norris-LaGuardia prohibits the injunction. Well, that only removes the injunction against the lockout; it does not mean that the NFL won't ultimately be liable for antitrust violations. In fact, Judge Benton seemed to indicate that antitrust damages would continue to accrue even if the lockout could not be enjoined under the NLA. Or, let's say that the injunction is lifted because the nonstatutory labor exemption still applies. Well, even Clement admitted it can't apply forever -- so how long? Clement seemed to be pushing for at least a year, but Benton seemed comfortable with six months -- which would be, according to his calculations, September 11. Would the antitrust violations and the injunction kick back in then?
So the hearing ultimately convinced me that (a) the players took a truly radical move by disclaiming and (b) this problem is not going away, even after the Eighth Circuit rules on the injunction. I had thought that the longer the lockout lasts, the more it favors the owners -- players need paychecks after all. But what if the longer it lasts, the more antitrust damages that pile up against the league? It's one thing for players to resist a deal in the hopes that the league will cave before they do. That's a hard one to win, and I think the NBPA showed how disastrous such a strategy can be in the late 1990s. But what if the players resist a deal in the hopes that one day soon, it will be all free agency all the time. No draft, no salary cap, no restrictions whatsoever. Could you hold on for a few more months in the hope that there's no salary cap -- hard, soft, or otherwise? Seems like a lot more to fight for.
So for those of you -- like me -- who thought that the disclaimer was just a clever, but ultimately discardable, negotiating tactic, think again. When the news went out that (former) NFLPA president De Smith was calling for "war," I now understand those ramifications. I believe the league brought this upon itself by a series of moves: characterizing the last deal as way too player-friendly, hiring Bob Batterman, opting out of the deal early, and enforcing a lockout. They opened the can of worms. But this could get away from the players, too -- do all players really want a world with no collective bargaining agreements?
In his argument, Clement said that the lockout would be "a self-inflicted wound" and "suicide" if it were not intended to ultimately bring about a settlement of the labor dispute. He's right. And I think the league now, far more than the players, needs to settle that dispute to save itself.
Friday, February 18, 2011
Public employee Ann Althouse
I've always found it an interesting wrinkle that five of the top conservative/libertarian law prof bloggers are public employees: Glenn Reynolds, Ann Althouse, Eugene Volokh, Stephen Bainbridge, and Larry Ribstein. I would imagine this status would create some ripples between one's ideological beliefs and personal economic interests. Back when the UC system had furloughs in 2009, here was Professor Bainbridge's reaction:
Ann Althouse has been fairly critical of the Wisconsin protests, based on the language and tone of some of the signs, as well as the conduct of the protesters. But she also has some interesting thoughts on the conflict between the personal and political:
It really is odd that Wisconsin became ground zero, because we didn't have the budget disaster that was going on conspicuously in some of the other states. I'm really trying to understand this. Why Wisconsin? A distinctive thing about us is how good our public employees' benefits are. The cut we — I'm one of them — are being asked to take is severe. (I'm looking at a loss of more than $10,000 a year, myself.) But it's hard to complain and appear sympathetic, because we're only being asked to go from paying 0.2% of the payments into our pension fund to 5.8%, which probably looks astoundingly low to outsiders. We're being asked to pay more for our health insurance, but the coverage is extremely good, and the annual hit will be about $2,500.
So maybe we public employees in Wisconsin are a great target — a great starting place for what is a national movement by the Republicans. I'm trying to understand the party politics. Tell me if this is correct: There are vast numbers of public employees, who vote overwhelmingly for Democrats. Once elected, the Democrats create more and more public jobs with greater and greater benefits, and, consequently, more voters who are even more locked into voting for Democrats. This is a cycle that approaches political graft, and the Republicans, to win, must overcome all those passionate, self-interested Democratic voters. Why wouldn't the Republicans embrace a strategy hostile to the public employees? Why wouldn't they drive a wedge between the public employees and all the other citizens in the state?
So I see 3 questions: 1. Is this what the Republicans are really doing? 2. How good a political strategy is it? and 3. Is it a good idea to reduce the political and economic power of public employees?
The 3 questions are interrelated, but they should contemplated separately... but who is capable of doing that? I'm trying to be fair, and it's possible that I'm in as good a position as anybody. I voted for Walker and support many of the things the Republicans are trying to do, but this budget plan — as I said — will cost me more than $10,000 a year.
Wednesday, February 09, 2011
Employees, the Firm, and the Corporation
Last week you may have seen the 2010 productivity numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Overall nonfarm business productivity was up 3.6 percent for 2010, almost identical to 2009's 3.5 percent growth. Wages, however, were fairly stagnant -- real hourly compensation was up only 0.3 percent. These most recent numbers are just the latest instantiation of the growing gap between productivity and employee compensation -- a trend that began in the 1970s. For a nice series of graphical illustrations of this divergence, check out BLS's The compensation-productivity gap: a visual essay. A similar trend can be seen in this rising share of GDP attributable to corporate dividends. Karl Smith at Modeled Behavior breaks this down: since the late 1980s, dividends as a share of GDP have more than doubled.
These trends illustrate, in my view, another societal development: the corporation has become the perfect legal machine for separating workers from the firm. In Employees and the Boundaries of the Corporation, I argue that our legal construction of the corporation has diverged quite significantly from our theoretical conception of the firm. It's actually quite striking: whenever we think of a firm--whether it be Coase, respondeat superior, or the work-for-hire doctrine--we think of employees. But employees are nowhere to be found in corporate law. The result has been a "firm" that consists mainly of employees and a "corporation" that consists of shareholders, directors, and officers. Labor and employment law seeks to redress the vulnerability of employees left outside corporate boundaries, but these can only go so far.
"Employees and the Boundaries of the Corporation" is a contribution to Elgar's forthcoming Research Handbook on the Economics of Corporate Law (Claire Hill & Brett McDonnell, eds.). (David Walker is also contributing The Law and Economics of Executive Compensation: Theory and Evidence). I would love to hear your thoughts.
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.
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.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Stimulus Blogging II: Can Legislatures "End Run" Governors?
Some recent news reports have mentioned that governors who earlier said they would reject stimulus money now have "backed off" and certified that they will take federal money. But, as I described in my first post, "certification" is only one of two steps states must take to receive much of their stimulus money. For most of the important grants, including education and unemployment, the states also have to apply. Gov. Sanford (SC), for instance, maintains that he won't apply for education dollars, and several other governors say they won't apply for unemployment (and possibly TANF) money. Reports are that the state legislatures are going to try to "make end runs around their governors and accept the money." Can they do that?
Whether they can turns on the question I flagged in my first post: we know that state legislatures can "certify," but can they also "apply" in place of the governor? South Carolina's attorney general has opined that the answer is no (and Prawfs guest Tommy Crocker agreed). I think that the AG is about half right on educational dollars, and not at all right about unemployment. Here's why.
First, let's recall that ARRA (i.e., the stimlus legislation) requires governors to certify that they'll take federal money, but also allows state legislature to certify if the governor doesn't. The SC AG argues that this certification power is insufficient to empower the legislature, acting alone, to obtain federal money. For instance, the education provisions of ARRA state that "the Governor" has to submit certain information to the federal Dep't of Education before federal money can flow. SCAG argues that this application language would be meaningless if the SC legislature could trigger federal money simply by certifying.
But SCAG simply assumes that the South Carolina legislature can't apply as well as certify. True, the statute says "the Governor" must provide the required information. But if the certification clause allows a legislature to stand in the governor's shoes for certification purposes, why can't it also fill his/her role for application, too? That seems to me at least a plausible way to synthesize the two clauses; otherwise, the clause permitting the legislature to certify doesn't accomplish much, other than to obtain some small pots of money for which no application is needed. So, at a minimum, I think a federal agency authorized to implement the statute could opine that legislative application would be sufficient, and stand a good chance of obtaining some kind of judicial deference to that view.
For other provisions, such as the unemployment money, the argument that legislatures can apply is even stronger, because the statute does not mention "the Governor." Instead, the section simply requires an agreement between the Secretary of Labor and "any State," ARRA section 2002, or for other provisions the "option of a State," ARRA Section 2005(b), or the "request" of "each State," ARRA section 2101(a)(3)(A). Since ARRA specifically uses the term "governor" elsewhere, there is a strong implication that where that word is not used, action by the governor is not required. So the legislature or its designee would be able to apply for unemployment and TANF benefits.
There might be an argument, though, that these readings empowering the state legislature to act should be set aside because of constitutional concerns. That is the interpretive move made by the Congressional Research Service memo I mentioned last time (as well as by a second memo that I think hasn't been made widely available, but which I have, if anyone is interested). CRS, following some earlier suggestions by Jack Balkin, thinks that empowering the legislature might violate the anti-commandeering aspects of the 10th Amendment. I've already said a bit about that point on Jack's blog, but I'll follow up on the avoidance point here a little later this week.
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.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
The Employee Free Choice Act
Those of us teaching Labor Law last semester had a rare treat: a proposal to amend the National Labor Relations Act, in a significant way, made the news. Students brought it up on their own, presidential candidates were discussing it, and my own friends and colleagues were asking me about it. I say "rare," because the NLRA is notoriously difficult to amend. Since 1960, there has only been one, relatively minor, amendment (applying the NLRA to hospitals). Indeed, NLRA amendments are exactly comparable to playoff victories by the Detroit Lions, in terms of frequency and significance, in the last half-century. Wait, that’s another post. . . .
Most of the public debate over EFCA has concerned the "card check" provision. My take on EFCA, in short, is this: "card check," while an easy target for opponents to attack, is not nearly as radical as opponents claim; the second part of EFCA, which would stiffen the remedies for employer violations of the NLRA during union organizing campaigns is obviously justified; and that the third part, which would mandate binding arbitration if the parties could not agree on a first contract within a specified time period is the most interesting and radical part of EFCA.
First, card check. Yeah, yeah, how can anybody oppose elections? I’ll get into why the union elections aren’t much like political elections, but I’ll begin by suggesting that requiring employers to recognize unions if the union produces cards, signed by a majority of workers in an appropriate bargaining unit where there is no proof of coercion or fraud, is not actually a radical idea. For one thing, mandatory card check was the law under the NLRA until the 1950s.
Also, from the passage of the NLRA through today, employers always have been allowed to recognize unions via card check and without an election. This means, among other things, that EFCA does not take away any right that any employee has to an election. EFCA would merely take away the right of an employer to force an election, in the face of a valid majority card showing. Employees would still have the same rights to, say, decertify the union later. Indeed, under Dana Corporation (NLRB 2007), before a card check recognition would be granted any protection from a decertification election, there must be a 45-day window after the recognition in which 30% of the employees are entitled to demand an election.
Further, in the public sector, where labor law is state and local law, five or six states have enacted mandatory card check recognition. I am not aware of any incidents of menacing union/mob stereotypes – the kind one sees in anti-EFCA ads – coercing employees in these jurisdictions. Similarly, mandatory card check recognition is the law in some Canadian provinces.
Second, to understand both the card check and remedies parts of EFCA, one has to understand that lots of folks think that the union election process is fundamentally broken. There are many studies on this. To summarize a few results: 91% of employers force employees to attend intimidating one-on-one meetings with supervisors; 51% illegally threaten to close their worksite when employees try to form a union; 30% unlawfully fire workers who support forming a union as a way of intimidating others. An alarmingly high percentage of employees feel that they would be fired if they supported a union in a union election process.
Now you may say, "but that’s illegal, sp why don’t unions and workers just bring claims?" The problem is the uniquely weak remedies under the NLRA. An employee fired for union organizing gets the right to reinstatement and backpay – minus whatever the employee made or should have made while waiting to be reinstated. And after all the litigation and appeals, reinstatement usually takes years. Compare other employment law statutes, like the FLSA (double damages, attorneys fees) or Title VII (punitive damages, consequential damages, emotional distress damages, attorneys fees); none of that is available under the NLRA. It’s clear that a not-insignificant number of employers intentionally violate the NLRA because the penalties are so trivial. So, I think, the part of EFCA that would increase penalties for employer violations during union organizing campaigns is a no-brainer.
Finally, EFCA would require mandatory arbitration for first contracts when the employer and union haven’t reached agreement. This addresses the problem of employers refusing to agree to contracts with unions, then provoking strikes and/or decertification campaigns, thus frustrating the purpose of the NLRA. A study by Kate Brofenbrenner shows that in about one-third of cases in which unions vote for representation, after a year, employers still have not agreed to labor contracts. Current law does not require any agreement; it merely requires bargaining "in good faith." Again, the remedy for violating the duty to bargain in good faith is almost comically weak: it’s an order to begin bargaining in good faith – which often takes years to get – and that’s basically it. Also, if the union and employees reach an impasse during bargaining, current labor law allows management to implement its proposals unilaterally.
EFCA allows employers or employees to request mediation by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service (FMCS) if no agreement on a first contract has been reached after 90 days of bargaining. If the FMCS is unable to bring the parties to agreement after 30 days of mediation, the dispute must be referred to binding arbitration. Unions and employers can agree to lengthen these time limits.
Binding arbitration is a relatively radical idea under the NLRA, in that the NLRB and courts have always been loathe to do almost anything that would set substantive terms of labor contracts. On the other hand, such procedures are common in the public sector in the U.S., and are used in a number of Canadian jurisdictions. Also, it’s likely that if this part of EFCA were enacted, the vast majority of negotiations would not actually use binding arbitration; rather, the law would serve as an incentive to bargain in true good faith.
I don’t have any inside information, but obviously there will be a tough fight over EFCA, and compromises might well be made. Along those lines, I note that the public sector jurisdictions that use binding arbitration to resolve bargaining impasses tend to have very specific rules about how the arbitrations should work (e.g., what criteria arbitrators should use). Some more details might be useful in EFCA’s arbitration section. I also wonder whether, if the unions got the tougher remedies, they would feel quite as strongly about either or both of the other two sections. So we’ll see if EFCA will pass as written, or at all. One thing is for sure, however: in the next couple of years, labor law reform is looking a lot more likely than another Lions playoff win.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
The Republic Sit-Down Strike: A Response to Richard Ensberg
Sure, I could have left this in the comments to Richard’s post, but since I’m a guest-blogger too, I’ll make a separate post. Plus, I’ve always wanted to be a part of some "A Response To . . ." debate.
Neither BOA nor any other bank can survive by making, not merely a poor - but an insane "loan" in response to political pressure. In a free economy, businesses fail and various stakeholders - shareholders, employees and creditors - will be hurt by it. We can't expect banks - even those who have had an influx of federal capital - to insure against it. The Republic employees acted boldly and certainly benefited from being from the President-elect's hometown. Maybe (although I would oppose it) the government should guarantee obligations under the plant closing laws. But shifting the costs to a firm's lender based upon who can and cannot exert the requisite political pressure seems irrational and even dangerous.
Neither BOA nor any other bank can survive by making, not merely a poor - but an insane "loan" in response to political pressure. In a free economy, businesses fail and various stakeholders - shareholders, employees and creditors - will be hurt by it. We can't expect banks - even those who have had an influx of federal capital - to insure against it.
The Republic employees acted boldly and certainly benefited from being from the President-elect's hometown. Maybe (although I would oppose it) the government should guarantee obligations under the plant closing laws. But shifting the costs to a firm's lender based upon who can and cannot exert the requisite political pressure seems irrational and even dangerous.
One response to his post questioned whether the loan was indeed "insane," given that this seems to be in part a "run-away shop" issue.
More broadly, though, I don’t think this should be seen primarily as a "make a bank lend money" protest. The workers were protesting that the employer did not pay benefits the workers felt they were owed under the WARN Act and under their union contract. When the employer argued it couldn’t pay these benefits because it didn’t get a loan, the workers then focused on the bank. That was smart, practically and politically. But the protest was first and foremost about rights the workers had or reasonably believed they should have under an employment law and their contract with their employer.
Now, perhaps under the law as currently written, the employer’s financial plight would have allowed it to avoid these obligations. WARN is famously riddled with exceptions and is problematically toothless. Also, as debates over the auto industry’s fate remind us, bankruptcy courts can be part of a process in which labor contracts are rewritten. So, perhaps the legal claims by the workers would have failed. And of course even if the workers had good legal claims, it’s not legal to occupy the employer’s property.
Still, many of us remember with some sympathy a history of workers asserting their conceptions of rights against employers – rights that the law did not at the time recognize, but later did. As I cautioned in my initial post, I wouldn’t over-read this incident as being the harbinger of a new New Deal’s worth of labor militancy. But if workers want to press the point, by peaceful, disciplined protest, that they deserve a better deal when companies go under (or are claiming to go under), I’m for it. And if they succeed in their protest, yeah, I’ll celebrate it.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
The Modern Sit-Down Strike (re-post)
[Here's the post I accidentally deleted for the sake of an Accurate Archival Record. Thanks to Dan M. for finding it in the netherworld. More new content soon!]
Some labor historians have a tendency to romanticize and exaggerate the importance of certain forms of worker "militancy." With that caveat, I was interested in this story about a group of union workers who were recently laid off by Republic Windows and Doors and Chicago but have thus far refused to leave the plant in what the workers are calling an "occupation." The workers claim they are owed severance pay and that the three-day notice of the shut-down they received violated the WARN Act’s requirement of sixty days' notice. Further, as the NYT reports, "their anger stretched broadly to the government’s costly corporate bailout plans, which, they argued, had forgotten about regular workers."
They want the poor person to stay down," said Silvia Mazon, 47, a mother of two who worked as an assembler here for 13 years and said she had never before been the sort to march in protests or make a fuss. "We’re here, and we’re not going anywhere until we get what’s fair and what’s ours. They thought they would get rid of us easily, but if we have to be here for Christmas, it doesn’t matter."
. . . [S]ome workers said they doubted that the company was really in financial straits, and they suggested that it would reopen elsewhere with cheaper costs and lower pay. Others said managers had kept their struggles secret, at one point before Thanksgiving removing heavy equipment in the middle of the night but claiming, when asked about it, that all was well. Workers also pointedly blamed Bank of America, a lender to Republic Windows, saying the bank had prevented the company from paying them what they were owed, particularly for vacation time accrued.
"Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?" said Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers. "The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s."
The workers said they were determined to keep their action — reminiscent, union leaders said, of autoworkers’ efforts in Michigan in the 1930s — peaceful and to preserve the factory.
"The fact is that workers really feel like they have nothing to lose at this point," Ms. Fried said. "It shows something about our economic times, and it says something about how people feel about the bailout."
According to other reports I’ve read, Bank of America received $25 billion in bailout money and then cut off operating credit to the Republic Windows and Doors.
Despite all the comparisons to the Great Depression and New Deal floating around these days, it would be a stretch to call this single act a tip of an iceberg of renewed labor militancy. Still, one can see this act as consistent with a long tradition of alternative views of economic justice and rights at the workplace, a tradition that has had a significant impact on the development of labor and employment law.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
Setttlement at Republic Windows and Doors
Because I'm an idiot, I inadvertently deleted my previous blog post here about the sit-down strike at Republic Windows iand Doors in Chicago. Fortunately, events give me a chance to update the story.
Jobs With Justice has the following report.
Workers at Republic Window and Doors in Chicago voted to accept a settlement late last night.
The settlement totals $1.75million. It will provide the workers with:
- Eight weeks of pay they are owed under the federal WARN Act;
- Two months of continued health coverage, and;
- Pay for all accrued and unused vacation.
JPMorgan Chase will provide $400,000 of the settlement, with the balance coming from Bank of America. Although the money will be provided as a loan to Republic Windows and Doors, it will go directly into a third-party fund whose sole purpose is to pay the workers what is owed them. In addition, the UE has started the "Window of Opportunity Fund" dedicated to re-opening the plant.
As the Local 1110 leaders characterized the settlement, "We fought to make them pay what they owe us, and we won."
It's also worth quoting labor historian Nelson Lichtenstein. In a good editorial comparing and contrasting this action with the sit-down strikes during the New Deal, he writes in part:
Factory occupations are rare because they violate the everyday laws of property, and for the most part American workers are law-abiding people.
They occur only when workers feel morally aggrieved, when they sense that ownership has itself violated the law, when the boss has become the outlaw in their eyes and in that of the community as well.
Thursday, December 04, 2008
Awkward But Interesting
Imagine you are a labor/employment law prof. with interests in, among other things, gay/lesbian rights, employment discrimination rules, religion, public employment, and the First Amendment. Imagine further that a very interesting case with all these issues involving a public university as an employer has just hit the court system (and blogosphere). And imagine it's your turn to guest blog on a prominent legal blogsite. It would be a great opportunity to make a post analyzing the case, legal rules, and policies involved, right?
It would be, unless the defendant in the case was your very own employer. Which counsels discretion, to say the least. Still, it's worth discussing, and there are interesting posts and comments at the V.C. and Religion Clause.
I would be interested in the thoughts of others. FWIW, I don't have any "inside information" about this case.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
An Exercise in Judgment
The company has two valuable and high-potential employees, Jack and Stephanie. They are managing the critical launch of the company’s newest product, one upon which the future of the company rides.
An internal audit reveals that the two have been using Jack’s company credit card to purchase personal items that have no conceivable connection to the company (a new DVD recorder, for example). The human resources manager confronts Jack, who admits that his personal finances had gotten out of control, that it was a bad mistake, but he was desperate, and at some point, intended to repay it. Jack says that he told Stephanie what he was doing, learned that she also was in bad financial straits, and lent the card to her. Jack is terminated for cause immediately and escorted out of the building, and does not contest the termination.
The human resources manager then confronts Stephanie. Stephanie first admits that she used the card, then claims later that she did not, and that Jack purchased the items for her, without her knowing the source of the funds. Over the next two days, as the manager investigates the situation, Stephanie consults with a lawyer, who insists that the company does not have a basis for a termination with cause. In order to get the matter behind him, the manager agrees that Stephanie will be allowed to sign a routine separation agreement and mutual release, and to receive two weeks’ severance pay, half of the amount to which she would have been entitled under the company policy.
Friends of Jack complain that concessions made to Stephanie are not right, and that there has been unfair and unequal treatment of the two: if Jack was terminated for cause, Stephanie should have been as well.
Was it either illegal or wrong for the manager to treat Jack and Stephanie differently? I am more interested in the wrong than the illegal (as I cannot think of any reason why it would be).
Note Bill Henderson's observation that "it is just damn hard to define judgment in a way that is objectively defensible." Is objective evaluation of this judgment even possible? If not, how do we evaluate it? Respond to Jack's friends?
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Where Were the Feminists When Elizabeth Vargas was Mommy-Tracked?
Feminists are speaking out in droves regarding Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid. Her treatment by the media, opponents, and pundits is getting careful scrutiny from women’s advocates. That’s great. But the attention has caused me to re-focus on a question I had two years ago, which still bother me.
Where were the feminists when Elizabeth Vargas – brief holder of the “permanent” anchor position at ABC World News Tonight – had to give up her post upon becoming pregnant?
There are two important aspects to the story that beg for feminist scrutiny. First, Vargas left her position early in her pregnancy, and “voluntarily” chose not to come back to the anchor-chair after giving birth. Press-release pleasantries aside, it sure looks like mommy-tracking. This is an issue that is explicitly legal in nature, as it raises the prospect of colorable employment-discrimination claims under federal law. Where were the feminist law professors to lend this story a critical eye, forcing these concerns into the national consciousness?
The second facet of ABC’s maneuver begging feminist scrutiny is that Vargas’s downgrade came after her male co-anchor, Bob Woodruff, was sidelined following a severe head injury suffered in a roadside bombing in Iraq. The questions raised by this aspect are less legal than social, but deserving of examination nonetheless: Did ABC decide it could tolerate a woman in the anchor chair only if the feng shui on set was put into balance by a male presence?
[More after the jump ... ]
The three major-network anchor chairs are positions of enormous influence and power – arguably more significant – and I know I’ll get flak for this – than seats on the U.S. Supreme Court. While each justice gets only one of nine votes on the Court, each national anchor is one of only three people who deliver, and thereby shape, the national news for millions upon millions of Americans. Anchors generally wield considerable power over story selection and editing as well.
There are few people suited for anchoring the national news. Candidates need to be able to use disarming ebullience in one instant, and mass-casualty gravitas in the next. They have to project a sense that they could share a good-natured laugh with you over coffee, yet be your polestar in times of history-turning tragedy.
It’s a talent that NBC’s recent hire, Brian Williams, appears to lack. He would deliver the news of National Candy Day the same as he does for genocide: Punching. Three words. In every sentence.
Katie Couric, the new face of the CBS Evening News, also seems to lack the ability. After debuting to considerable fanfare, her sinking ratings quickly became tabloid fodder.
Virtually everyone who has done the national anchor job brilliantly has been male – Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Walter Cronkite. Yet Vargas possessed the rare gift. Perhaps ABC could not overcome the image of a male anchor in their mind’s eye. But isn’t that why we have federal employment discrimination law? Too bad public intellectuals didn’t force America to confront the issue.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
Law-Firm Associates Should Unionize
Law-firm associates should unionize. I don’t know why they haven’t already, except that they are, on the whole, rather gutless.
Think about it. Associates at big law firms are perfectly suited to unionize. They are overworked and underpaid. And partners utterly depend on them. If associates actually used their latent collective bargaining power, it seems to me they could extract huge concessions from partners.
Now, I know nothing about labor law. Is there a legal barrier here? Or are associates just holding themselves back? There would certainly be some professional responsibility issues with an all-out strike, as client interests could be threatened. But I think associates could flex considerable collective-bargaining muscle without creating an ethics problem.
Let me note that when I say associates are underpaid, I do not mean that they are impoverished and we should feel sorry for them. But, compared to the amount that the partners bill clients for associate hours, the portion associates receive is trifling. Why should they surrender more than three-quarters of their billable rate to pay for the partners’ rainmaking services and office overhead?
I am struck by the irony that associates are trained and employed to play hardball in their litigation work and corporate deals, yet, when it comes to dealing with the partnership over pay, associates seem to take what they are given, unless they feel so slighted they move to another firm. That’s my observation, having been one.
One last point: I am sure many associates would claim they are uninterested in unionization since, as they see it, they will be a partner someday. But, of course, if everyone thinks that, most are wrong.
Friday, December 21, 2007
Jeff Hirsch is En Fuego
It is a rare blog post that can combine thoughtful analysis with passionate feelings over the subject matter. This post is one.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
What Should a 50-50 Union Vote Mean?
Since I started looking at corporate voting discontinuities, I've gotten a little obsessed with voting discontinuities in general. One place I've looked for discontinuities is NLRB workplace elections seeking to certify a union. (Disclaimer: I basically know nothing about the topic other than the ability to look at data, so please correct me if I say anything egregiously wrong.) I've learned a few things from looking at these votes. 1: There is no evidence that anything fishy is going on in close elections. and 2: When there is a perfect tie vote, the tie goes to the company.
I'm puzzled by point 2-- why should a tie go to the company? I think it would make more sense to vote again or even flip a coin in these circumstances, rather than just give a victory to one side or the other.
If ties never happened, then this would be a trivial detail. But they do happen. In my dataset of over 84,000 NLRB certification/decertification votes from 1977-1999, there was a tie in over 3,000 votes (3.6% percent of all votes). This happens because many votes come from small workplaces with even numbers of workers, making ties a frequent outcome. Given the frequency of ties and the apparent unfairness of the apparent "unfairness" of the "tie goes to the company" rule, I think a different tie-breaking rule, such as revoting or even coinflipping, is worth considering.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Unionize! (or I'll slap the Figure Four on you)
-- The Nature Boy, Ric Flair
One of the more interesting topics I saw presented at the Employment Law Conference that Blogs Built was John Hall's talk on workplace safety in the pornographic film industry. (The only reason I went to this particular session was because of my deep interest in workplace safety. Really.) The thing that was most striking about Professor Hall's topic was, given the obvious risks of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, just how badly porn actors are in need of legal protection and just how little protection California safety and health officials actually provide. According to Hall, this is an area in which California health officials have more or less turned a blind eye.
Hall's talk eventually got me thinking about another industry that has largely been ignored by the law and those who enforce it: the professional wrestling business. Like the porn industry, professional wrestling is a high-risk business for performers. The number of professional wrestlers who have died young in the past few years is truly frightening.
In many instances, the cause of death appears attributable, in part, to abuse of painkillers, steroid abuse, and/or general physical abuse resulting from risky on-the-job behavior. Like performers in the porn business, wrestlers take sometimes extreme risks in terms of their job performance. While modern wrestlers spend less time in the ring than their predecessors, their style of wrestling has far more potential for serious injury. High-risk maneuvers -- such as flips, leaps from the top rope to the floor, and unprotected chair shots (i.e., smacks to the head with metal chairs) -- are far more common now than in the past as workers try to push the envelope to keep the attention of the public. The risky behavior doesn't end in the ring, however. Steroid use is reportedly widespread in the business. As a result of these factors, the potential for sudden paralysis (see Darren Drozdov) or death (see Owen Hart) is fairly high. So too is the potential for long-term, chronic pain (see the Dynamite Kid), a condition frequently treated by copious amounts of painkillers (see Kurt Angle).
Like performers in the porn industry, wrestlers are easily exploited. Because they are classified as independent contractors, wrestlers are not entitled to collect workers' compensation, so working with serious injury is a common occurrence. Unlike football players, wrestlers don't have pensions. They don't enjoy employer-provided health insurance. State athletic commissions generally take a hands off approach. (At least as of a few years ago, Oregon was the only state whose commission tested wrestlers for steroids. Coincidentally (?), the WWE didn't run shows in Oregon.). In short, this is an industry that is largely unregulated to the detriment of the performers.
So, if the law won't protect wrestlers, what's the solution (short of siccing Professor "Samoa Joe" Slater on management)? Unionization might be one possibility, but it would be a tough sell. Because there are plenty of people who dream of being a wrestler, the performers are often quite willing to assume risks workers in other industries would never tolerate. Years ago, Jesse "the Body" -- later "the Governor" -- Ventura actually tried to organize the WWE (then the WWF). According to Ventura, however, he was ratted out to management by one Hulk Hogan.
In discussing all of the above, I don't mean to overstate the seriousness of the situation. There are plenty of occupations out there in which workers earn far less money and face greater health risks (say, coal mining, for example). But there is something at least slightly offensive to me about the fact that lawmakers and regulators are unwilling to take steps to protect those such as wrestlers and porn actors because (I surmise), in part, they don't want to associate themselves with such "embarrassing" industries.
Friday, December 08, 2006
Law Firms: One Last Bastion of Legal Discrimination?
The New York Times reports on the surprising prevalence of age-based mandatory retirement at big law firms:
In a survey last year of 46 law firms with 100 or more lawyers, about 57 percent of them reported a mandatory retirement age, ranging from 65 to 72
Let me converse with myself about this:
(1) Scott, haven't the standard "retirement ages" become obsolete? Excellent point, Scott. "65 isn’t old anymore,” one lawyer is quoted as saying. This reminds me of how the social security "retirement age" was set in the 1930s at 65... because 65 was the life expectancy at the time.
(2) Is this really legal, Scott? Good question. Yes and no. The federal age discrimination law covers only "employees," and the folks in question here are partners, not employees. But the EEOC's position, and a 7th Circuit ruling against Sidley & Austin in an age discrimination case, is that many so-called "partners" are really "employees" with fancy titles -- e.g., if they lack a meaningful equity stake or role running the firm. Such partners are, legally speaking, "employees" protected against age discrimination -- which means that mandatorily "retiring" them is illegal.
(3) Isn't mandatory retirement just younger lawyers grabbing business from older lawyers? Sure looks that way.
“To be a healthy institution, you have to encourage people to hand off business to the younger generation,” said Richard J. Davis, a partner and Weil Gotshal’s general counsel
This is one of those sentences: if you're not reading it carefully, you'll just nod your head because it has a lot of common catchphrases ("healthy institution"..."younger generation"); but if you think about it for a minute, it makes no sense whatsoever. Say a partner normally would have a client from age 40 to 75 without mandatory retirement, but mandatory retirement truncates that relationship from 35 years to 30 years: (1) Is that 5-year shortening of a partner's client relationship really that critical to "the younger generation"? (2) Is this guy really asserting that forced turnover of clients to new lawyers is a good thing for business? (3) isn't this policy -- you must give up your business to help others without business -- kind of like a 100% estate tax (which even Nancy Pelosi doesn't advocate)?
Sunday, October 29, 2006
The Conference that Blogs Built
So, I just returned to California from the First Annual Colloquium on Current Scholarship in Labor & Employment Law at Marquette Law School, and I think I can speak for (most? many?) when I say that this was a great conference. With so many interesting papers, on everything from Title VII, to whistleblowing, to labor, it's difficult to know where to begin.
Over on WorkplaceProf, Paul Secunda (Ole Miss) has already graciously thanked everyone, and I have –already - mocked his use of the smiley face graphic (a bit ironic to use the Walmart symbol for a labor and employment conference, eh Paul?).
A “theme” of the conference that emerged involved the use of powerpoint graphics. One panel I attended featured Michael Z. Green (Texas-Wesleyan) who had powerpoint animations, Scott Moss (Marquette) who had odd embedded clip art deployed to humorous effect, and Marcia McCormick (Cumberland) who had meticulously drawn images that looked almost postmodern. Of course, these speakers all had interesting things to say too (about arbitrator bias, confidential settlements, and collaborative dispute resolution respectively), but that’s beside the point, no?
It was also great to catch up with folks on blogs, which in addition to the aforementioned, also included Joe Slater (Toledo); Michael McCann (Mississippi College); an unnamed, but very cool blogger; and Prawfsblawg’s own Orly Lobel.
Which I guess brings me to the point of this post, which is that the conference had its beginnings in the blogosphere, with Joe, Scott, and Paul deciding – in cyberspace – that they were going to organize this conference. I’m still thinking this through, but perhaps this conference is a testament to the idea that blogs aren’t by any means the antithesis of scholarship (as a distraction, or just providing glib soundbites, as I have seen argued by others before). Perhaps what they can do is assist us in creating welcoming scholarly communities (whether online, or in person).
Monday, October 09, 2006
Employment Discrimination by Religious Employers
There’s an interesting article in the New York Times (click here; registration required) discussing employment discrimination by religious employers. The article begins by recounting why J. Jeffrey Heck, a management-side attorney decided, in this instance, to take on a plaintiff’s case:
“The only employee cases I take are those that poke my buttons… And this one really did.” His client was a middle-aged novice training to become a nun in a Roman Catholic religious order in Toledo. She said she had been dismissed by the order after she became seriously ill – including a diagnosis of breast cancer. … Along with her occupation and her home, she lost her health insurance[.]”
The story continues by describing how the U.S. District Court dismissed the novice’s case (under the Americans with Disabilities Act), reasoning that this was an ecclesiastical matter. The article also describes a lawsuit by a rabbi, diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, who was dismissed from his position (and whose case was also dismissed, due to the ministerial exception).
Although some of the cases involving clergy members were rather disturbing (if you can’t expect compassion from the church or synagogue for anyone who is ill, let alone an ill clergy member, who can you expect compassion from?), even more troubling were the cases described where religious institutions, as employers, were exercising discriminatory biases against workers in rank-and-file positions that had nothing to do with religion (such as receptionists) and were shielded from liability.
More commentary from Paul Secunda (Ole Miss) here at Workplace Prof Blog.
Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Last semester, when I taught employment law, I remember having a conversation with some students that ended up carrying over into a question I kept asking (seemingly) everyone. The question was, what do you think is an “immoral” job and why? The responses I received varied widely. One friend, an entrepreneur - and also a fan of the Sopranos – replied that his only category was “hitman” but then, under my intensive questioning, qualified that answer with “anything illegal.” But of course, that begs the question of what is illegal and why, etc., which wasn’t really what I was thinking about, at all. To the other extreme, another friend was adamant that plastic surgeons belonged on the list. Me, personally? I think if your job is “spammer,” well, that might be immoral. (No one mentioned any law-related jobs, but that might be because everyone I was talking to knew I was a lawprof…)
Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Shiver me Timbers
Just a note, mateys, to remind you that today is “International Talk Like a Pirate Day” a fact that I'm sure is not lost on our colleagues at Pitt Law. As you drink your bottle of rum to celebrate, you could check out Theresa Beiner & Robert Chapman’s article on employment law and bankruptcy claims, Take What You Can, Give Nothing Back: Judicial Estoppel, Employment Discrimination, Bankruptcy and Piracy in the Courts, 60 U. Miami L. Rev. 1 (2005) (quoting Captain Jack Sparrow).
[Hat tip: Amy Landers]
Sunday, August 13, 2006
Course Preparation and the 800-Pound Gorilla in the Room
OK, so Jeff Lipshaw has clearly set a torrid pace for guest bloggers on Prawfs. Geesh, he made me feel guilty for not posting yesterday (I mean the guy is driving across country and apparently blogging as he's changing lanes). And to think I really liked the guy when I met him in Baltimore in July.
In any event, and keeping with the spirit of discoursing on course preparation for the upcoming fall semester (alas, I am not lucky enough to teach Secured Transactions like Jeff), I will let everyone in on my prep situation.
In a word: ERISA. Yes, I am one those masochistic people who actually went into their Associate Dean's office and offered to teach employee benefits. Unlike Article 9, ERISA does not only not make sense when you get to thorny little issues, but it is also maddeningly complex at a global level.
Things just got a lot more hectic though for employee benefits people. I give you the 907-page Pension Protection Act (PPA) about to be signed into law by the President. In short, I don't know how I am going to incorporate this new statutory bad-boy into the already confusing ERISA framework.
Everything from minimum funding of pension plans to automatic enrollments in 401(k) plans have been altered to a degree that will keep ERISA attorneys busy and rich for many years to come (to students, I refer to my employee benefits law class as "the guaranteed future employment in law" class. Thinking back to Kim Roosevelt's recent post, however, the students in their evaluations of the class do not seem to appreciate the gift I am giving them).
So, I am interested in hearing whether other people are dealing with anything similar as they prepare for their classes this semester. Any other 900-page statutory gorillas out there?
At least for my other class, Labor Law, it really has now just come down to a situation which Stephen Colbert sums up best when he concludes: "It's time for management and labor to put aside their differences and come together as management to exploit labor."