Thursday, February 25, 2016
An interesting article over at CNNMoney discusses interesting proposed legislation in France that would allow workers to ignore emails/texts/etc. that they receive after work. The proposal essentially gives workers a "right to disconnect" from their electronic devices when away from their place of business. From the article:
"The draft bill, originally leaked by French newspaper Le Parisien, is part of a wide range of labor reforms designed to make France a more competitive, business-friendly country, while still protecting workers' interests. . . French unions have long pushed for a "disconnect" rule, saying digital technologies have created an "explosion of undeclared labor" that is forcing employees to work well beyond 35 hours per week."
France has long been a fascinating country with which to take a comparative look at employment rules and regulations, and much has already been written in this area. We will follow this proposed legislation to see whether it is ultimately signed into law.
-- Joe Seiner
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Congratulations to Christine O'Brien (Boston College-Management) for her extensive citation in a New York Times article about workplace profanity, bikini contests, social media, and Section 7 of the NLRA. Christine's article on point is I Swear! From Shoptalk to Social Media: The Top Ten National Labor Relations Board Profanity Cases, 90 St. John's LL. Rev. ___ (forthcoming 2016). The NYT article is Fired for Cursing on the Job, Testing the Limits of Labor Law.
Rafaeol Gely (Missouri-Columbia) writes to announce the launch of ArbitrationInfo.com. Here's a description:
The Center for the Study of Dispute Resolution at the University of Missouri School of Law (CSDR) is delighted to announce the launching of ArbitrationInfo.com. In 2014, faculty at the CSDR and the National Academy of Arbitrators (NAA) began conversations about a possible collaboration on a website that would provide information about labor arbitration. Leadership of the NAA, founded in 1947 as a nonprofit honorary and professional organization of arbitrators in the United States and Canada, was concerned about the manner in which labor arbitration and the arbitration process were being portrayed in the media. With the expansion of the use of arbitration outside the labor area, particularly in consumer and employment disputes, negative descriptions of the process in the media had reached an alarming level. While some of the criticism in these other areas was, and continues to be justified, the NAA feared that such criticism could have a delegitimizing effect with regard to labor arbitration. Our initial conversations led us to believe that in part some of the press that arbitration was receiving was due to misunderstandings and misinformation about the different contexts in which arbitration was used and the various types of arbitration.
The website addresses these concerns by providing the public, professionals and the media with a neutral, noncommercial and comprehensive source of information about arbitration. It includes an Arbitration 101 page, which serves as a primer on the arbitration process. In addition, the site features a list of press contacts who are available to talk to members of the media about arbitration. The website is managed by an editorial board composed of members of the NAA and faculty at the CSDR. Students at the School of Law have the opportunity to develop content for and help maintain the website, in collaboration with distinguished members of the NAA. Unlike other arbitration-related websites, ArbitrationInfo.com doesn’t generate or funnel business to a particular arbitrator or an arbitration practice group.
Monday, February 22, 2016
Miriam Cherry (SLU) just posted on SSRN her article (forthcoming Comparative Labor Law & Policy Journal) Beyond Misclassification: The Digital Transformation of Work. Here's the abstract:
The first part of this article provides a brief litigation update on various worker lawsuits within the gig economy. While the O’Connor v. Uber case has received the lion’s share of attention and analysis, similar lawsuits on labor standards have been filed against other on-demand platforms. Analysis of the ongoing litigation reveals several important themes, including an emphasis on the labor law of California. The second part of the article shifts from the doctrinal issues around misclassification to look at broader trends, arguing that we are currently experiencing a far-reaching digital transformation of work. The changes include the growth of automatic management and a move toward ever more precarious work. To the extent that technology can help us realize an increase in skilled knowledge work that is a positive goal. It is questionable, however, if present forms of crowdwork extend that framework. In fact, some forms of the new crowdwork seem to be a throwbacks to a Taylorist deskilling of the industrial process, but without the loyalty and job security. These results are not inevitable, but we need to pay attention to them if we hope to arrest the race to bottom in labor standards online.
Word from Joseph Mastrosimone of Washburn that the Washburn Law Journal, the Law School’s main journal, is seeking an employment law article for its Issue 3.
This is a fairly tight turn around and would be a good opportunity for someone with a substantial draft at or near completion and who's looking for getting in print much faster than is usual. The Journal would like the draft to be complete by the end of next month and it would be published in June 2016. So, a quick turn around on both ends.
Joe reports that the student editors at the Law Journal are top notch and are a pleasure to work with. Questions about this publishing opportunity and drafts can be directed to the Journal’s Articles Editor at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Saturday, February 20, 2016
A recent article in The Economist, The big fight, notes that European companies are far ahead of American companies in developing dispute esolution systems for consumer disputes, especially in online ADR. I think a good case can be made that SCOTUS's pro-arbitration line of cases -- especially those that all but extinguish consumer class actions -- have removed the incentive for American companies to invest in developing effective dispute-resolution programs. As a result, American companies risk falling yet farther behind their European competitors.
Here's some key language from the article in The Economist:
The more consumer-friendly stance [of European companies] did not just evolve in the courts but was to a large degree the result of a decision y the European Commission more than 20 years ago to make all small print subject to being examined and potentially overturned by the courts.... The most recent [directive] gives a shot in the arm to ADR, by for instance forcing businesses to inform consumers of their dispute-resolution options.... Firms won't be forced to sign up to an ADR scheme, but eh hope is that most will feel obliged to as the directive takes hold.
Europe also leads the way in developing online mechanisms for mediating the millions of cross-border e-commerce disputes that arise each year.
Friday, February 19, 2016
A union is arguing that the University of Southern California inappropriately interfered with its attempts to organize non-tenure-track faculty members. The alleged interference came in the form of both promises and threats. From the LA Times:
"Faculty at Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the oldest school at USC, voted against joining the Service Employees International Union Local 721 last week, with 113 educators casting ballots in favor of organizing and 127 against. . . [T]he objection alleges that the Dornsife election was 'infected by widely disseminated threats' and 'promises and grants of benefits' that 'affected the outcome of the election.'"
Forming unions in the academic setting certainly presents some unique obstacles, and it will be interesting to see how these particular allegations play out.
Many of our readers have been following the on-going employment questions raised by technology-based companies in the on-demand sector. Much has already been written in this area (see, e.g., here). With regard to the transportation part of this emerging sector, there is now growing concern over the potential liability resulting from driver fatigue. In an apparent response to this concern, Uber has limited the number of hours of its drivers in New York. From Yahoo! News/The Verge:
"Uber says that drivers who are on the road longer than 12 hours will be temporarily deactivated. If they do it again soon after being reactivated, they will be permanently removed from the platform. . . The new policy was adopted just as the TLC says it is looking into new ways to crackdown on driver fatigue, after a cabbie struck and killed an 88-year-old woman on the Upper West Side after 16 hours on the road."
The on-demand economy presents numerous employment issues, and we will continue to follow these developing trends.
Monday, February 15, 2016
Stacie Strong (Missouri) posted this to the ADR profs listserv. I am cross-posting it here with her permission:
As some of you may know, another case involving class waivers in the employment/labor context was heard Friday by the Seventh Circuit. The case, Lewis v. Epic Systems, Inc. (No. 15-2997) (here's the district court opinion), saw the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) filing an amicus brief. While it is unclear how the Seventh Circuit will rule in this instance, it would seem that the Supreme Court will soon need to address this issue, either to resolve the split between agency (NLRB) determinations on the proper reading of the National Labor Relations Act and various federal court rulings (if the Seventh Circuit follows the approach used by other federal courts since the D.R. Horton case), or between different federal courts (if the Seventh Circuit adopts the NLRB approach).
Sunday, February 14, 2016
In the welter of outpourings of tributes, recollections, and political prognostications that followed the unexpected death of Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, I suspect that his impact on the employment arena will not be front and center. And I also suspect that readers of Workplace Prof generally decry his influence on our field. Nor can I claim not to have offered my fair share (OK, maybe more than my fair share) of criticism, including a recent spoof of his arbitration jurisprudence written with Tim Glynn.
That said, it's easy to forget that Justice Scalia authored some pretty important, and, on balance, pro-plaintiff opinions. Oncale comes to mind, as does Staub v. Proctor Hospital and, most recently, Abercrombie & Fitch. It's true that I've been known to wonder where the hook was when the Justice seemed to be offering a fat, juicy worm to us employment discrimination folk, but that may be just me.
And beyond the contributions of analysis and results of which we approve, the Justice's opinions will be missed for the sheer exuberance (sometimes overexuberance) of his prose. His style was inimitable and, if there is one thing that is almost certain in the future, it is that his replacement's opinions will be less fun to read and engage with.
Friday, February 5, 2016
[Employers often unilaterally alter the terms of at-will employment,] often without advance notice. To date, however, neither courts nor commentators have holistically considered this problem of “midterm modifications” - contractual documents imposed post-hire on implicit or explicit threat of termination. Bringing together the law of noncompetes, arbitration agreements, and employee handbooks, this Article calls for a universal reasonable notice rule for all midterm modifications. Under this rule, courts would enforce midterm modifications only ... where the employer provides enough advance notice to allow the employee time, not only to meaningfully consider the proposed change, but also to compare and secure alternate work. The Article justifies this move [on the basis of] good faith. Procedural good faith means that the employer must act fairly in carrying out discretionary modifications otherwise immune from substantive review. An employer’s choice to impose new terms with immediate effect precludes an employee from exercising what is often his or her only form of bargaining power - the ability to convincingly threaten to leave.
A belated but heartfelt congratulations to Scott Bauries (Kentucky), who last week was voted up for full professorship. Scott's colleagues at Kentucky are extraordinarily lucky to have him a member of their faculty, and I am equally lucky to have Scott as a friend.
As we are well aware, breastfeeding in the workplace continues to be a controversial employment law issue. Recent case law and regulations on the topic have helped to provide some guidance on this issue. The United States is not alone in recent attempts to address this topic. A fascinating article in the New York Times looks at a recent move to permit breastfeeding for members of the Australian Parliament. From the article:
"The rule change in the House of Representatives — where 40 of the 150 members are women — on the first sitting day of the year means that lawmakers can now bring their babies into the chamber. Previously children were confined to the public galleries or offices."
It is easy to forget that other countries around the world sometimes struggle with the same employment issues that we face in this country, and this article serves as an important reminder.
Mitch Rubinstein reports over at Adjunct Prof Blog that a federal judge in Louisville, Kentucky has struck on NLRA preemption grounds a Hardin County, Kentucky ordinance purporting to establish the county as a right-to-work county. The judge found that the NLRA Section 14(b) permits "States and Territories" -- not subdivisions thereof -- to enact right-to-work laws. The case is UAW v. Hardin County, ___F. Supp. 2d ___(W.D. Kentucky, Feb. 3, 2016).
Thursday, February 4, 2016
Lise Gelernter (SUNY-Buffalo) sends word of a recent Fourth Circuit consumer arbitration decision with important implications for employment arbitration and the waiver of substantive rights through arbitration generally. Apart from the second paragraph below, which I added, what follows in entirely Lise's analysis:
A recent Fourth Circuit consumer arbitration decision has an interesting discussion on arbitration agreement enforceability that has implications for the employment and labor arbitration arenas. Hayes v. Delbert Services, Docket No. 15-1170 (4th Cir. 2/2/16).
Western Sky was an online lender owned by Martin Webb. Webb was a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and Western Sky's offices were located on the Cheyenne River Indian Reservation in South Dakota. From its base on the Reservation, Western Sky issued payday loans to consumers across the country. Named Plaintiff James Hayes took a loan from Western Sky for about $2500 and an annual interest rate of 140% . Over the four-year life of Hayes's loan he would have paid more than $14,000. Western Sky all but conceded in the litigation that its loan practices violated a wide variety of federal and state laws.
The loan agreements contained an arbitration clause that stated:
This Loan Agreement is subject solely to the exclusive laws and jurisdiction of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, Cheyenne River Indian Reservation. By executing this Loan Agreement, you, the borrower, hereby acknowledge and consent to be bound to the terms of this Loan Agreement, consent to the sole subject matter and personal jurisdiction of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Court, and that no other state or federal law or regulation shall apply to this Loan Agreement, its enforcement or interpretation.
(emphasis added). The loan agreement also stated: “Neither this Agreement nor Lender is subject to the laws of any state of the United States of America.”
The loan agreement’s arbitration agreement required the arbitration of any disputes related to the loan or its servicing and stated that the arbitration proceedings shall be “conducted by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Nation by an authorized representative in accordance with its consumer dispute rules and the terms of this Agreement.” The version of the agreement at issue in the case also provided that a party “shall have the right to select” the AAA or JAMS, or another group to “administer the arbitration.” The arbitration clauses also provided that the agreement
IS MADE PURSUANT TO A TRANSACTION INVOLVING THE INDIAN COMMERCE CLAUSE OF THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, AND SHALL BE GOVERNED BY THE LAW OF THE CHEYENNE RIVER SIOUX TRIBE. The arbitrator will apply the laws of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribal Nation and the terms of this Agreement.
The agreement also prohibited the arbitrator from applying “any law other than the law of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe of Indians to this Agreement.”
After finding that Delbert was not a tribal entity, the Fourth Circuit ruled that the arbitration agreement was unenforceable because it “fails for the fundamental reason that it purports to renounce wholesale the application of any federal law to the plaintiffs’ federal claims.” The court recognized that the Supreme Court has found choice of law provisions and waivers of certain rights, such as class actions, to be enforceable, but distinguished the Delbert case because it violated the Supreme Court’s ruling that arbitration waivers that blocked “a party’s right to pursue statutory remedies” were not enforceable. The court stated: “a party may not underhandedly convert a choice of law clause into a choice of no law clause -- it may not flatly and categorically renounce the authority of the federal statutes to which it is and must remain subject.”
This appears to be a pretty extreme case of a waiver. In the employment and labor arena, the Fourth Circuit’s reasoning might have some play if there is an arbitration clause that appears to effectively waive all the rights of a party under an otherwise applicable law, such as Title VII or the FLSA. But the Fourth Circuit made it clear that it considers the Supreme Court’s decisions in ATT v. Concepcion and Italian Colors to limit that inquiry by embracing the enforceability of waivers of certain procedural or attendant rights, such as class actions, that merely make it more difficult or costly to pursue a federal remedy.
Monday, February 1, 2016
Roger Abrams (Northeastern) has just published The Labor Arbitration Workshop: An Experiential Approach (Carolina Academic Press, 2016). The book is a fascinating collection of (mostly) arbitration awards. An accompanying website contains simulations that can be used to develop lawyering skills. Here's the publisher's description:
Using these unique experiential materials, students explore the important role of alternative dispute resolution in the workplace. Using court and arbitration decisions as well as supplementary materials and problems, students discuss the role of the advocate, the relationship between arbitration and the judicial system, issues of arbitrability, evidence and procedure, as well as a variety of substantive contractual issues normally addressed in arbitration, such as seniority, fringe benefits, wages and hours, subcontracting and union security. In particular, the workshop focuses on "just cause" discharge and discipline cases. Using transcripts and simulations provided in a supplementary website, students draft an arbitration brief based on a transcript of a hearing and participate in an arbitration simulation using witnesses and documentary evidence.
Richard Kaplan (Illinois) has just posted on SSRN his chapter What Now? A Boomer's Baedeker for the Distribution Phase of Defined Contribution Retirement Plans (NYU Review of Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation, Chapter 4, 2015). Here's the abstract:
Baby Boomers head into retirement with various retirement-oriented savings accounts, including 401(k) plans and IRAs, but no clear pathway to utilizing the funds in these accounts. This Article analyzes the major factors and statutory regimes that apply to the distribution or “decumulation” phase of defined contribution retirement arrangements. It begins by examining the illusion of wealth that these largely tax-deferred plans foster and then considers how the funds in those plans can be used to: (1) create regular income; (2) pay for retirement health care costs, including long-term care; (3) make charitable donations; and (4) provide resources to those who survive the owners of these plans.
Saturday, January 30, 2016
In a highly controversial move, the President announced this week proposed new rules requiring private employers with over 100 employees to provide additional data to the EEOC on worker salary. The move could help provide more transparency on pay issues, thus reducing the likelihood of pay discrimination. The New York Times has a great summary of the issue here. The EEOC has also issued a press release on the rules, which states that:
"This proposal would add aggregate data on pay ranges and hours worked to the information collected, beginning with the September 2017 report. Proposed changes are available for inspection on the Federal Register website and will be officially published in the Federal Register on February 1, 2016. Members of the public have 60 days from that date April 1, 2016, to submit comments. . . The new pay data would provide EEOC and the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) of the Department of Labor with insight into pay disparities across industries and occupations and strengthen federal efforts to combat discrimination. This pay data would allow EEOC to compile and publish aggregated data that will help employers in conducting their own analysis of their pay practices to facilitate voluntary compliance. The agencies would use this pay data to assess complaints of discrimination, focus agency investigations, and identify existing pay disparities that may warrant further examination."
We will certainly follow this proposed rule, which could dramatically impact the field of pay discrimination.
Friday, January 29, 2016
The New York Law Journal reports a story about a restaurant group going the extra mile in trying to dig up dirt about a plaintiff in an employment discrimination suit. According to the story, the defendant served third party subpoenas on the plaintiff's former employers, seeking pretty much everything they had on the plaintiff's work record. To add a nice touch, the subpoenas were served on Christmas Eve.
In Henry v. Morgan's Hotel Group, the plaintiff's motion to quash was granted by Magistrate Judge Cott. First, the defendant failed to serve notice on the plaintiff before serving the subpoenas on the third parties, thus frustrating the plaintiff's opportunity to object before the third parties were notified. This created the real possibility of prejudice -- indeed, one of the former employers had produced the records before the court's decision on the motion to quash. Indeed, the mere service of the subpoena was found to be prejudicial to the plaintiff -- his concern that once and potentially future employers were effectively notified that plaintiff had filed a discrimination suit was legitimate.
To add insult to injury, the subpoenas were both overbroad as to what was to be produced and sought clearly irrelevant information. The defendant claimed that it needed the information to challenge plaintiff's credibility in his claim that he was an "exceptional waiter." The court found it not "remotely apparent what difference that would make regarding the allegations of discrimination and retaliation he has made in this case. The issue presented here is whether Defendant's actions directed toward Henry were based on valid considerations or violated the discrimination laws. Henry's prior employment has little if any bearing on that issue." The court did not that there was no evidence adduced about any misrepresentations that might justify an after acquired evidence defense.