Monday, 27 April 2009
When these two are confirmed, which of course may take some time, the Board will be lacking one Republican member. By tradition, the Board consists of three members of the appointing President's party and two of the other.
Madison owner and president Steve Schickler walked in and sat down. "So you're a 'he' now, right?" Schickler asked. Ferraiolo nodded. "Good enough," Schickler said briskly. "I'll let the managers know."
For Schickler, 50, there was no question about what would happen next. Ferraiolo would continue to supervise more than half of the plant's 50 employees. Life would go on as before, with one small difference: Ferraiolo would no longer use the ladies' room.
One interesting note in the article, 322 major companies have added gender identity to their diversity programs. One small mistake is the statement that the first court to recognize protection for transgendered employees under Title VII was a DC District Court case brought by an employee of the Library of Congress last year. In reality that honor goes to the 6th Circuit decision Smith v. City of Salem, almost five years ago, see Transsexual Discrimination - By Definition Sex Stereotyping and Actionable Under Title VII.
Friday, 24 April 2009
The bottom line of the Act, which has been introduced as H.R. 1020 is to make pre-dispute agreements to arbitrate employment or consumer disputes invalid. Not all employers will be impacted, but those who have set up alternative dispute resolution programs which culminate in binding arbitration will have those programs blown away by the legislation.
Obviously taking a lesson from the EFCA debates, the proponents are quick to point out that the act does not prohibit arbitration. Technically true, but the fact of the matter is it does prohibit arbitration as a condition of employment, which means as a practical matter, arbitration of employment law claims will be a thing of the past once the bill passes.
Will it pass? I have not seen a lot of handicapping on this one yet, but given that not all employers are impacted and that one of the big proponents of consumer arbitration, also banned, are financial institutions which are not exactly in favor with Congress (or the American public) at the moment, I would have to say the odds are in favor of its passage.
Sunday, 19 April 2009
Last week, Barab was named Deputy Assistant Secretary for OSHA, and until a permanent OSHA Director is named, he will also be filling that role. See House Aide Jordan Barab Named Acting Head of OSHA.
I actually got to meet Jordan the last week of February at a seminar where we were both speaking. I know workplace safety is something that he is passionate about. He has always been a strong and vigorous advocate, but now moves even more to the center of the action.
Others have been quick to sing his praise, see quotes from the AFL-CIO's director of safety and health, Peg Seminario and the Chair of the House Committee where he has been working, Rep. George Miller, here. And from the blogosphere, Effect Measure, titles it a Miracle at OSHA.
Best of luck in a challenging position.
Friday, 17 April 2009
In Kastl it was a male to female employee who was barred from using the female restroom. Interestingly, although it held she could state a claim under Title VII, summary judgment for the employer was upheld because she was unable to rebut the employer's articulated business reason. That may be why the decision was unpublished.
Hat tip to the folks at Alaska Employment Law for catching this development.
Today, the Supreme Court takes another wording dispute and removes it from the mix. In Mann Frankfort Stein & Lipp Advisors, Inc. v. Fielding (Tex.. 4/17/09) the Court dealt with a covenant in an at-will contract where the employee promised not to disclose confidential information, but there was no explicit promise to provide confidential information by the employer. In short, enforceable:
The Court ducked another issue -- whether or not the covenant not to compete statute pre-empts attorneys fees under the Declaratory Judgment Act. Here, the employee filed a declaratory judgment action, got a favorable ruling that the covenant was not enforceable, and was awarded his attorneys fees. Since the Court reversed the underlying favorable ruling, the basis for the attorneys fee award went away, and the Supreme Court did not provide any indication of how it would rule when the case is presented.
We hold that if the nature of the employment for which the employee is hired will reasonably require the employer to provide confidential information to the employee for the employee to accomplish the contemplated job duties, then the employer impliedly promises to provide confidential information and the covenant is enforceable so long as the other requirements of the Covenant Not to Compete Act are satisfied.
Wednesday, 8 April 2009
On the other hand, the other new Colorado senator, Michael Bennet stressed strong reservations about the bill's viability and his concern that it will prove divisive and get it in the way of health care reform, which he clearly places ahead of EFCA.
The final total on their tally sheet is 46 supporters, 12 undecided/uncommitted, 5 who oppose the current version but have not closed the door to compromise and 36 opponents, which is where they now have Sen Specter of Pennsylvania.
In an update to their original post, one of the 5 they say Senator Voinovich of Ohio, appears to be in the opponent category, meaning the road is that much bleaker.
Still it's only April of the first session of the 111th Congress, and giving the blitz labor is putting on during this two week Congressional break it would appear that they have not yet folded their tents.
If all the above is accurate, it is hard to see how that means anything but that people should start examining the pro's and con's of compromise. Notice that is not the same thing as the merits of any particular compromise. As I said yesterday, the first real decision, for both sides, is whether this is one where compromise is desirable, even if it were to prove possible.
Tuesday, 7 April 2009
His reporting is that the "almost universal belief" among labor activists is that framing the argument in favor of EFCA around the "right of workers to avoid secret ballot provisions," has turned out not to be a winner.
If that is true, and everything I see makes me agree that it makes sense, Shaw poses and answers the logical question:
Shaw's hope is that the two primary legislative sponsors, Senator Harkin and/or Representative George Miller will take the lead in initiating a new plan.
”Why is labor continuing to frame the EFCA debate in a way that its own base feels makes no strategic sense? It could be that labor lacks a decision-making process to change course.
SEIU’s Andy Stern is the nation’s most politically influential labor leader. But his Change to Win labor federation is disintegrating, he is in outright warfare with John Wilhelm of HERE, and he is not in a position to sit down with other union heads –particularly those with the AFL-CIO – and work out a new campaign plan.
In many ways EFCA is a great poker game. Both organized labor and the business opposition so far have been saying that there is no compromise on this issue. It is all or nothing. If the poker game is only the 111th Congress, then organized labor's continued statement of this position is nothing more than a bluff.
It would be the irony of all ironies if the labor movement were to founder in achieving substantive labor law reform because of internal fighting.
Monday, 6 April 2009
Melissa Borck complained of numerous obscene gestures and comments, many of them around a pregnancy that resulted in a still born birth of her son. That emotional element clearly added to the emotional issue that was presented to the jury. The jury award was $1 million in economic damages and $1.3 million in non-economic damages, including mental anguish.
Although it is always hard to tell everything from a news report, it appears that the LAPD was in one of those difficult positions, where it thought it had a legal defense, fail to timely file, but must not have been able to win that point on summary judgment. Since if you can't win on summary judgment the only way to test it is after a jury verdict, that can make for a very difficult decision. How strongly do I feel about my legal point? In this case, if in fact that was the decision making process that occurred, the answer is potentially, $2 million dollars plus.
Thursday, 2 April 2009
Three comments made by the employer, and contradictory explanations as to why she did not get the position, were enough to convince the Court to send it back to trial. The comments:
- Two months before the promotion decision was made, the decision maker found out that Chadwick was the mother of three six year olds and sent her an email saying, ""Oh my -- I did not know you had triplets. Bless you!" (A sentiment that most of us would probably share!)
- During an interview for the position, Chadwick was asked what she would do if an associate did not complete a project on time, and apparently unhappy with her answer, the interviewer responded: "Laurie, you are a mother. Would you let your kids off the hook that easy if they made a mess in their room? Would you clean it or hold them accountable?" ; and
- In the interview, Chadwick was told, ""if [the three interviewers] were in your position, they would feel overwhelmed."
Interestingly, not only was the person selected female, but she was also a mother of two, ages nine and fourteen. (Chadwick had not only the six year old triplets, but also an eleven year old.) The appellate court gave that claim short shrift.
Working mothers everywhere should take comfort in the view expressed by the Court:
The appeals court did affirm the trial court's decision not to allow expert testimony on sexual stereotyping because the expert did not relate it to the specific individuals. That view is critiqued at Judicial Flubber at the Feminist Law Professors blog.
In the simplest terms, these cases stand for the proposition that unlawful sex discrimination occurs when an employer takes an adverse job action on the assumption that a woman, because she is a woman, will neglect her job responsibilities in favor of her presumed childcare responsibilities. It is undoubtedly true that if the work performance of a woman (or a man, for that matter) actually suffers due to childcare responsibilities (or due to any other personal obligation or interest), an employer is free to respond accordingly, at least without incurring liability under Title VII. However, an employer is not free to assume that a woman, because she is a woman, will necessarily be a poor worker because of family responsibilities. The essence of Title VII in this context is that women have the right to prove their mettle in the work arena without the burden of stereotypes regarding whether they can fulfill their responsibilities.
Wednesday, 1 April 2009
In 14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett (4/1/09) (pdf) Justice Thomas wrote for the majority in a 5-4 decision, holding a collective bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate claims arising under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act is enforceable. Justice Souter wrote a vigorous dissent, joined by Justices Stevens (who added his own dissenting opinion), Ginsberg and Breyer.
Much of the battle between Justice Thomas and Justice Souter is carried out in the footnotes, which is where in footnote 8, Justice Thomas delivered probably the best summary of today's opinion:
In order for this opinion to have an impact on any individual it would require that an employee be a member of a bargaining unit that has explicitly agreed that discrimination claims would be arbitrated rather than tried in court. Given the well documented decline in union membership, and the lack of such clauses in a large number of union contracts, the actual number of individuals is probably not all that great.
Because today’s decision does not contradict the holding of Gardner-Denver, we need not resolve the stare decisis concerns raised by the dissenting opinions. But given the development of this Court’s arbitration jurisprudence in the intervening years, see infra, at 16–19, Gardner-Denver would appear to be a strong candidate for overruling if the dissents’ broad view of its holding, were correct. See Patterson v. McLean Credit Union, 491 U. S. 164, 173 (1989) (explaining that it is appropriate to overrule adecision where there "has been [an] intervening development of the law" such that the earlier "decision [is] irreconcilable with competing legal doctrines and policies"). [internal cites to today's opinions omitted]
Of more immediate interest is how this case may be played out in the discussion of two pieces of potential legislation. First, EFCA opponents will use it to argue that it is another reason why it is important that employees retain the secret ballot, since they are electing a representative with the power to strip them of their right to have discrimination claims heard in court. Although I anticipate it will be used, I don't think it will have any great impact in that debate.
More significantly, I think this gives a shot in the arm to the Arbitration Fairness Act, which so far has not drawn a lot of attention. Here's the substance of that proposal:
No predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable if it requires arbitration of--
(1) an employment, consumer, or franchise dispute; or
(2) a dispute arising under any statute intended to protect civil rights.
(c) An issue as to whether this chapter applies to an arbitration agreement shall be determined by Federal law. Except as otherwise provided in this chapter, the validity or enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate shall be determined by the court, rather than the arbitrator, irrespective of whether the party resisting arbitration challenges the arbitration agreement specifically or in conjunction with other terms of the contract containing such agreement.
By precluding pre-dispute agreements, the Act would effectively kill arbitration of employment law disputes. Given today's result in 14 Penn Plaza, my guess is that the Arbitration Fairness Act will begin to get attention and pick up attraction, it will probably be revised to make it clear that it applies to a union waiver as well, so that today's opinion would effectively be overruled. That will have a tremendous impact on employers who have established mandatory arbitration programs.
Similar to the decision that led to the Lilly Ledbetter Act, today's ruling may turn out to be a very short term, if not Pyrrhic, victory for the business community.