Monday, February 26, 2018
Well, that didn't last long. Two months following its several of the Browning-Ferris joint-employer standard in Hy-Brand, the NLRB has vacated that recent decision. No, it wasn't a change of heart. Rather, the NLRB vacated Hy-Brand because its Inspector General recommended that action due what it viewed as the improper participation of Member Emanuel, who participated in the case despite the fact that his former firm represented one of the parties involved with the Browning-Ferris litigation, which was still involved in litigation that would be influenced by the NLRB's joint-employer standard.
Needless to say, as soon as JohnRing is confirmed--and he now has a hearing date of March 1--we will likely see Hy-Brand again under a different name.
Today, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME, the newest in several decisions in which a bloc on the Court has attempted to strike down public-sector mandatory union fees (see here, here, and here for some of our earlier coverage). I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that this time is the charm. The 8 veteran Justices age no reason to think that they moved from previous positions, which results in a 4-4 split on this issue. The newer Justice Gorsuch was uncharacteristically silent during oral argument, but I'd be stunned if he doesn't vote with the conservative bloc to overturn Abood and find such fees to be unconstitutional. You can judge for yourself by reading the oral argument.
Today, the Supreme Court granted in cert. in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido. The question presented was whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act applies to state and local employers with fewer than 20 employees. I'll confess that I hadn't thought much about this issue, which arises from the ADEA's definition of "employer" (29 U.S.C. 630). As most of us know the ADEA's small employer exception requires private employers to have at least 20 employees. But whether that exception applies to state and local government employers is less clear. I'll quote the provision to show why:
The term “employer” means a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees for each working day in each of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year: Provided, That prior to June 30, 1968, employers having fewer than fifty employees shall not be considered employers. The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State, and any interstate agency, but such term does not include the United States, or a corporation wholly owned by the Government of the United States.
As you can see, the inclusion of state and local employers is separate from the private-sector part, with its 20-employee requirement. The Ninth Circuit has held that, as a result, there is no small employer exception for state and local employers, while the 6th, 7th 8th, and 10th circuits have applied the exception to those employers. Hence the Supreme Court intervention.
Today, the Second Circuit issued an en banc decision holding (9-3) that Title VII prohibits sexual orientation discrimination. We've been covering this issue quite a bit since the EEOC concluded that Title VII's prohibition against "sex" discrimination necessarily includes sexual orientation (for example, see here, here, here, here, and here). You can read the text by clicking on the case name here, Zarda v. Altitude Express.
What remains to be seen is whether the Supreme Court will take up this issue at some point. It's declined thus far, but stay tuned.
Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Why are women paid less than men? Prevailing ethos conveniently blames the woman and her alleged inability to negotiate. This article argues that blaming women for any lack of negotiation skills or efforts is inaccurate and that prevailing perceptions about women and negotiation are in-deed myths. The first myth is that women do not negotiate. While this is true in some lab studies and among younger women, more recent workplace data calls this platitude into question. The second myth is that women should avoid negotiations because of potential backlash. Although women in leadership do face an ongoing challenge to be likeable, it is clear that not negotiating has long-term detrimental effects. The third myth, based on the limited assumption that a good negotiator must be assertive, is that women cannot negotiate as well as men. However, the most effective negotiators are not just assertive, but also empathetic, flexible, socially intuitive, and ethical. Women can and do possess these negotiation skills. This article concludes by proposing an action plan which provides advice on how women can become more effective negotiators and identifies structural changes that might encourage negotiation and reduce the gender pay gap.
- Pay transparency & gender pay differences: devising an effective regulatory framework -closing date: 28/02/2018.
- Addressing the impact of new forms of work on gender equality - closing date: 28/02/2018.
Tuesday, February 20, 2018
From Marianne Levine, Behind the Minimum Wage Fight, a Sweeping Failure to Enforce the Law, Politico 2/18/18:
As Democrats make raising the minimum wage a centerpiece of their 2018 campaigns, and Republicans call for states to handle the issue, both are missing an important problem: Wage laws are poorly enforced, with workers often unable to recover back pay even after the government rules in their favor.
That’s the conclusion of a nine-month investigation by POLITICO, which found that workers are so lightly protected that six states have no investigators to handle minimum-wage violations, while 26 additional states have fewer than 10 investigators. Given the widespread nature of wage theft and the dearth of resources to combat it, most cases go unreported. Thus, an estimated $15 billion in desperately needed income for workers with lowest wages goes instead into the pockets of shady bosses.
But even those workers who are able to brave the system and win — to get states to order their bosses to pay them what they’re owed -- confront a further barrier: Fully 41 percent of the wages that employers are ordered to pay back to their workers aren’t recovered, according to a POLITICO survey of 15 states.
That’s partly because, in addition to lacking resources, states lack the tools to go after the landscaping firms, restaurants, cleaning companies and other employers that shed one corporate skin for another, changing names while essentially continuing the same businesses — often to evade orders to pay back their workers.
Thanks to Aaron Halegua for passing along this feature story from last week's Bloomberg BusinessWeek about a Chinese casino in Saipan. It gives a very compelling account of the labor and safety issues concerning the Chinese construction workers there. And, these issues became the subject of many questions during a Senate hearing earlier this month about a bill concerning the future of a CNMI-specific guest worker program. For those who want further information about the labor situation in Saipan and the response by the federal authorities, see Aaron's short piece in ChinaFile.
Sunday, February 18, 2018
I just posted a short piece on SSRN ruminating on the relationship of artificial intelligence to current doctrine. The abstract's below, and the full text will be available shortly. Here's the link.
Imagine that, today or in the not-so-distant-future, a company desires to take full advantage of the developments of artificial intelligence by effectively delegating all its hiring decisions to a computer. It gives the computer only one instruction: “Pick good employees.” Taking “Big Data” to the logical extreme, the computer is also provided with all the employer’s available data and empowered to find whatever data it might consider relevant on the web.
Thought experiments, such as this one, can be useful not only in exploring new concepts but also in bringing interesting perspectives to bear on old problems. “People analytics,” perhaps someday leading to use of artificial intelligence in selecting and managing employees, offers an opportunity to do both.
One disturbing conclusion from analyzing this scenario is that the current disparate treatment paradigm does not seem to reach even the explicit use of race, sex, or other “protected classes” as selection criteria when deployed by artificial intelligence. That sheds some interesting light on the limitations of current law, entirely apart from actual developments in AI.
Equally important, applying disparate impact theory to artificial intelligence’s use of correlations between any of a number of variables and various measures of job performance poses challenges for long-standing ways of viewing the job relation/business necessity defenses to a showing that a particular employment practice has a disparate impact.
Friday, February 16, 2018
Yesterday, the NLRB announced that it is seeking input on whether an employer's misclassification of employees as independent contractors should be a unfair labor practice under Section 8(a)(1). In the case at issue, Velox Express, an ALJ found such a violation. This comes on the heels of some recent NLRB decisions finding a ULP in misclassification cases, as well as the General Counsel's release of a Division of Advice memorandum along the same lines (indicating more of a focus on that issue). Unsurprisingly, the new Board looks to be reigning in this type of ULP, if not eliminating it altogether. The question presented in the Velox call for briefs:
Under what circumstances, if any, should the Board deem an employer’s act of misclassifying statutory employees as independent contractors a violation of Section 8(a)(1) of the Act?
Stay tuned . . . .
Inside Higher Ed is reporting on three different graduate student election certification efforts being abandoned in recent days. Following the NLRB's 2016 Columbia University decision, there was a surge of organizing activity for private-school grad students. However, with the new Trump Board, the fear among unions and organizers is that Columbia will soon be overturned. As a result, unions are abandoning the formal NLRB representation process, hoping to gain voluntary recognition from the universities. Thus, last week, unions working with grad students at Boston College, University of Chicago, and Yale University withdrew election petitions they had filed with the NLRB. Just to underscore the significance of these moves, note that the unions had already won elections at all three schools. But given that the schools were challenging those elections, the unions clearly felt that the better strategy was to stand down and attempt to gain voluntary recognition. The chances of voluntary recognition at these three schools appear to be low--it's unclear why the schools would reverse their strong opposition to their grad students' organization efforts--but it's something that has worked at other schools. As the article noted:
William Herbert, executive director of the National Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining in Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said it appeared graduate students will rely on the already demonstrated showing of majority union support. “Keep in mind that graduate student unions were voluntarily recognized at NYU and the University of Connecticut,” he said, the latter case involving a public institution subject to state labor laws.
[Update] Bill also has a recent article exploring the early history of organizing in higher education, including examples of voluntary recognition. The paper is "The History Books Tell It? Collective Bargaining in Higher Education in the 1940s," which appears in the Journal of Collective Bargaining in the Academy. Check it out.
Thursday, February 15, 2018
U.S. workers are increasingly finding it difficult to escape from work. Through their smartphones, email, and social media, work tethers them to their workstations well after the work day has ended. Whether at home or in transit, employers are asking or requiring employees to complete assignments, tasks, and projects outside of working hours. This practice has a profound detrimental impact on employee privacy and autonomy, safety and health, productivity and compensation, and rest and leisure. France and Germany have responded to this emerging workplace issue by taking different legal approaches to providing their employees a right to disconnect from the workplace. Although both the French legislative and German corporate self-regulation models have their advantages, this paper puts forth a hybrid approach using existing U.S. safety and health law under OSHA to respond to this employee disconnection problem. Initially under the general duty of clause of OSHA, and then under OSHA permanent standards and variances, this article provides a uniquely American approach to establishing an employee right to disconnect from work.
Sunday, February 11, 2018
The American College of Employee Benefits Counsel is sponsoring a competition, with a $10,000 prize, for the best original legislative proposal to simplify employee benefits law. The College plans to sponsor the competition annually for at least five years. The initial award will be presented at the College’s Annual Meeting and Induction Dinner in September 2018. To be eligible for the 2018 award, a proposal must satisfy the rules linked below, and be submitted on or before April 1, 2018. Criteria for judging submissions include the degree of simplification, prospects for enactment, and originality. Submissions must enhance, or at least have no adverse effect on, any material rights of employees and plan participants.
The award winner will be selected each year by the ACEBC Simplification Award Committee. The Award Committee’s selection of a winner will be subject to the approval of the ACEBC’s Board of Governors. Detailed rules, eligibility and selection criteria, and submissions procedures are available here. A list of FAQs is posted here, and may be updated during the competition as the Committee deems appropriate.
Friday, February 9, 2018
All, as you begin to plan/budget your travel and conferences for next year, I wanted to remind everyone that the Thirteenth Annual Colloquium On Scholarship in Employment and Labor Law (COSELL) will be held at the University of South Carolina School of Law in Columbia, South Carolina. We are celebrating our move into a completely new legal facility, and look forward to you joining us for the conference on September 27th-September 29th, 2018. Information on registering and participating in the conference will follow in the next few weeks. Some general information on travel/airports is available here, and information on the conference hotel (The Inn at USC) is available here.
More details to follow very soon, we look forward to seeing everyone in South Carolina next fall!
Friday, February 2, 2018
There’s been considerable fuss recently about age-based targeting of social media job advertisement, in a variety of media, including the New York Times and NBC. The short version of the story is that the ads were shown to a younger demographic, thus giving such workers a considerable leg up in the job hunt, maybe even a monopoly on many openings.
It’s not at all clear that the practice is illegal under current federal law. While the ADEA does reach advertisements, the language of § 623(e) bars only expressing an age preference, and these ads do not do that. Indeed, they don’t need to because older workers never see the ads in the first place. Maybe Facebook can be viewed as an “employment agency,” as one suit argues, but it’s still somewhat of a textualist stretch to reach this particular kind of conduct. And maybe state laws, especially those with aiding and abetting prohibitions, fill the gap although many seem to track the ADEA’s phrasing.
The reality is that current laws did not envision a world in which employers could market openings to niche groups of potential employees, and none of the current legal paradigms is a very good fit for the problem. And that’s true even if we all agree that such targeting is contrary to the goals of the ADEA because people outside of the specified age range will often be effectively shut out from participation in the recruitment and hiring process.
Maybe public outcry will address the concerns? The Times reports that, while Google does not prevent advertisers form displaying ads based on the user’s age, LinkdIn has changed its system to prevent such targeting. And one could imagine an amendment to the ADEA that proscribed that conduct. Senators Collins (R) and Casey (D), seem concerned.
But would either a shift by social media or a statutory amendment be effective? The ads in question were tailored to an age demographic, and prohibiting that precise conduct might be easy. But would it solve the problem or would employers simply shift to other methods of targeting desired workers? Social media outlets allow advertisers to aim at other groups, say “recent college graduates” or maybe “active Facebook users.” Such targeting might be a pretty good proxy for age while avoiding a formal age classification.
How would we even think about that? Disparate treatment because a particular employer shifted from a facially discriminatory policy to a proxy? But what about an employer who never used age targeting but starts looking for recent grads? Or disparate impact because the target group is facially neutral even though heavily youth-centric? And if we go the latter route, might the ads be justified by a reasonable factor other than age, given that likely applicants for entry level jobs are probably younger and targeted ads may be more cost-effective? Of course, the latter possibility depends on how Facebook, Google, or LinkedIn charge advertisers – a per click rate might obviate cost concerns.
All in all, quite a challenge for the antidiscrimination project.
Hat tip to Charles Mueller Seton Hall ’18 for his research assistance.
Wednesday, January 31, 2018
Ann McGinley and I (Nicole Porter) invite you to apply to our Revised Call for Authors for an exciting new project we are working on: Feminist Judgments: Employment Discrimination Opinions Rewritten. Details about the project and how to apply to be one of the authors of a rewritten opinion or commentary are all in the Revised Call for Authors. Please distribute to anyone who might be interested. And if you have already applied to us, please note that there is no need to do so again.
Tuesday, January 30, 2018
As will be a surprise to exactly no one, we're seeing a challenge to the NLRB's Columbia decision concluding that grad students can be classified as employees under the NLRA. This time it's a challenge in the actual Columbia case. Following the union's 1602-623 win, the university is pursing a challenge via a technical 8(a)(5). That's the process for appealing most representation decisions of the NLRB. The employer refuses to bargain with the union--typically a violation of Section 8(a)(5)--and uses the proceedings of that unfair labor practice case to challenge the underlying representation action. In this case, the grad students' status as employees eligible to union under the NLRA.
More to come on this one, so stay tuned.
Monday, January 29, 2018
In an incredibly timely piece recently posted on SSRN, Equal Work, Professor Stephanie Bornstein (Florida) does a superb job of evaluating and critiquing our equal pay laws. Over at Jotwell, Professor Bornstein's piece is reviewed in much greater detail, highlighting the importance of her work. I highly recommend this piece if you are doing any research in this area. Professor Bornstein is quickly becoming one of the go-to experts in this area.