Tuesday, April 26, 2016
Lisa Gelernter (SUNY-Buffalo, and a Bills fan) writes to share her take on the Second Circuit’s decision upholding the four-game suspension of Tom Brady of the Patriots for the deflate-gate scandal. [Side note: all the NFL's footballs are manufactured right here in Ada, Ohio -- come visit the factory, and ONU Law School, some time!]
I've cut-and-pasted Lisa's comments here:
The [Second Circuit] overturned the district court’s vacatur of what the parties (including the union) all characterized as an arbitrator’s award. The “arbitrator” in the case was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who under the clear language of the collective bargaining agreement, was allowed to appoint himself as the hearing officer reviewing his decision to suspend Brady.
The Second Circuit’s opinion was totally consistent with the Supreme Court’s doctrine on the limited judicial review available for arbitration awards. The twist in this case is that the arbitrator was not a neutral party – Goodell was reviewing his own decision. The Second Circuit said that since the CBA specifically provided for this unusual review process, the court had to adhere to what the parties had agreed to. Although that seems right in the collective bargaining context when both parties are on somewhat equal footing in terms of bargaining power, hopefully that reasoning will not be carried over into consumer and employment arbitrations where the individual consumer or employee may not realize that he or she is “agreeing” to a partial arbitrator. After all, the Supreme Court has said that the reason that the FAA allows for enforcement of arbitration agreements is to allow for an alternative to litigation in court, which presumes some minimal level of procedural fairness and neutrality.
Friday, April 22, 2016
Many of us in the labor and employment law community have been following the pending class-action litigation against Uber on the issue of whether its drivers are employees or independent contractors. Widespread news reports now indicate that this litigation has been settled in California and Massachusetts for $100 million. The settlement will still allow Uber to classify its workers as independent contractors. Though a massive settlement, Uber has been valued at over $60 billion, so the company should be able to easily handle the costs. It is difficult to project what the long-term impact of the settlement will be, but it is probably safe to say that it will only lead to increased litigation in the on-demand economy. From the Chicago Tribune:
"The agreement calls for Uber to pay as much as $100 million to drivers in California and Massachusetts and allows them to solicit tips from riders, but keeps them classified as contract workers instead of formal employees . . . Uber will initially pay $84 million to the drivers, with another $16 million contingent on the ride-share service going public and its valuation continuing to grow, according to the company's statement. A quarter of the payout will go toward attorney fees"
Much has already been written in this area including how to define independent contractors and employees in the technology sector, as well as how to aggregate these claims. Hopefully additional scholarship in this area will help the courts and litigants to better interpret the terminology in these gig sector cases.
Thursday, April 21, 2016
image from eeoc.gov
For those of us teaching courses in ADR/Employment, an interesting case comes out of Mississippi between the EEOC and Halliburton. The case, EEOC v. Halliburton Energy Service, Inc. and Boots & Coots, LLC d/b/a/ Boots and Coots Services, Civil Action No. 3:16-cv-00233-CWR-FKB (S.D. Miss.), alleges a violation of a mediated agreement between the parties. The original discrimination charge, which was settled by the parties, involved allegations of disability discrimination. From the government's press release:
"According to EEOC's suit, Halliburton entered into a mediation settlement agreement with EEOC and the applicant on Feb. 4, 2014, resolving a disability discrimination charge against the company. Among other relief provided, Halliburton promised to rehire the applicant into a position subject to successful employment screening. Despite the applicant's compliance with the terms of the settlement agreement, Halliburton has since failed to hire him for any position. EEOC contends that Halliburton's actions constitute breach of the settlement agreement. Further, such alleged conduct violates Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA)."
This case will be an interesting one to follow, and the allegations can be instructive on the requirements for following mediated agreements. As we are all well aware, many discrimination claims are settled and very few actually make it to trial.
Friday, April 15, 2016
Meanwhile, back in North Carolina, there is still no private right of action for employment discrimination under North Carolina law—except now, North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory says he wants to “restore” it. There is, however, a third way.
By now, you’ve heard the story: On a single day (March 23), the North Carolina House and Senate passed, and the Governor signed, HB2 into law. Many have blasted HB2’s bathroom provisions as motivated by prejudice against transgender people and as unconstitutional, too. HB2 also preempts local anti-discrimination ordinances, including those that had covered sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as local wage and hour laws.
But as a few quickly noticed, HB2 had also supplanted existing law affording a private right of action to enforce the North Carolina Equal Employment Practices Act (EEPA). Before HB2, EEPA had declared:
It is the public policy of this State to protect and safeguard the right and opportunity of all persons to seek, obtain and hold employment without discrimination or abridgement on account of race, religion, color, national origin, age, sex or handicap by employers which regularly employ 15 or more employees.
As originally passed in 1977, EEPA had declared such a “public policy” but afforded no real enforcement mechanism. Years later, however, some judges began letting plaintiffs use the common-law tort of wrongful discharge to sue for violation of EEPA’s expressed public policy. Not everyone was happy with this. For example, Cohen (1995, p. 55) complained that, by letting plaintiffs use the tort of wrongful discharge to enforce EEPA, judges had changed EEPA “from a toothless legislative compromise into an apparently limitless source of employment discrimination claims”—something the legislators that originally passed EEPA in 1977 wouldn’t have wanted.
Then came HB2, which supplanted the existing legal grounds for private tort suits to enforce EEPA by adding this to EEPA itself:
This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.
So, now to our latest episode, in which Governor McCrory issues an Executive Order No. 93, dated April 12, 2016, which includes this statement: “I support and encourage the General Assembly to take all necessary steps to restore a State cause of action for wrongful discharge based on unlawful employment discrimination.” And from the Governor’s accompanying video statement: “I will immediately seek legislation in the upcoming short session to reinstate the right to sue for discrimination in North Carolina state courts.” Who put HB2’s no-civil-action sentence in there in the first place? The Governor didn’t say, and no one else is talking—for now, that’s an unsolved mystery.
What will North Carolina’s legislators do now? Repeal HB2’s no-civil-action sentence? Do nothing? There is a third way. Amend HB2’s no-civil-action sentence like this:
This Article does not create, and shall not be construed to create or support, a statutory or common law private right of action, and no any person may bring any civil action based upon the public policy expressed herein.
Instead of just restoring the law to pre-HB2 days, now—almost forty years after North Carolina passed EEPA as a “toothless legislative compromise”— maybe it’s finally time for EEPA to get some teeth of its own.
Wednesday, April 13, 2016
Our own, Joe Seiner, has a new Employment Discrimination textbook now out, which is definitely worth looking into. According to promotion materials, the book, Employment Discrimination: Procedure, Principles, and Practice:
This text offers a fresh perspective on employment discrimination law, presenting a procedural-based approach to the topic with interactive materials throughout the book. While still providing the traditional employment discrimination casebook coverage, this text emphasizes the importance of procedural issues in workplace cases. It includes a unique “best practices” chapter which discusses the most effective ways to address workplace discrimination, from both a theoretical and legal perspective. Numerous exercises and problems foster classroom discussion. Practice tips situate students in the role of a practicing lawyer.
Cases are modern and cutting-edge, demonstrating the importance of employment discrimination law. Each chapter includes a chapter-in-review, and summary charts and graphs are used throughout the text to further student comprehension. Text boxes within cases, historical notes, and news events are all used to help bring the material to life in an innovative new way. Instructors will have access to sample exam problems and answers, proposed syllabi, Teacher’s Manual with problem answers, and PowerPoint slides.
Thanks to Jonathan Harkavy for alerting us of a recent Fourth Circuit decision, Gentry v. East West Partners Club, that will likely be of interest to many of us. The case addresses a number of employment issues – – including causation in jury instructions, how to define disability, and the question of damages in an employment case. It is thus instructive on a number of different workplace issues, and is worth reviewing if you practice or write in these areas.
Thanks to Leora Eisenstadt (Temple) for sending along an interesting Boston Globe article which discusses a new Uber/Lyft type company -- Chariots for Women -- that has a launch date set for next week. The company would assure passengers that a female driver would always be behind the wheel. This raises obvious discrimination questions under both federal and state law. Of course, for purposes of Title VII, coverage will apply only if the drivers were seen as employees – a question which remains both controversial and complex. Feel free to weigh in below with any comments on whether such a service can be viable under the law.
Tuesday, April 12, 2016
Today marks Equal Pay Day -- the day on which women's pay catches up to what men were paid in the previous year. There are a number of different articles on the topic, and one at CNN highlights several challenges faced by pay issues. And, as we addressed recently, the EEOC has proposed controversial changes to the EEO-1 data form collection process which would include the disclosure of certain information on worker pay for larger employers. Between debates over minimum wage and salary discrimination, wage issues continue to be hot topics both on and off the political battlefield.
Friday, April 8, 2016
As technology becomes increasingly less expensive, employers are beginning to ponder some of the potential benefits of having workers use body cameras while on the job. As we are all well aware, there is already substantial debate as to whether police officers and other law enforcement officials should wear such devices. The debate is now extending beyond that sector into a number of other areas of the workforce. Most notably, there is now a question as to whether teachers, doctors, and nurses should be required to use body cameras. An interesting Op-Ed in the LA Times takes on this question. From the piece:
“Currently, parents who insist their children are innocent or are being excessively punished for minor offenses have no evidence. . . Make teachers wear body cameras, and parents would see and hear exactly what the teacher heard and saw. An overreaction? Keep in mind, a growing body of evidence shows that school punishments do long-term damage.”
The entire issue seems a bit Orwellian, but at the same time, the relatively low cost of body cameras may seem quite attractive to a number of employers trying to limit their liability in other areas. The obvious privacy questions abound, and there are likely to be a host of other issues raised by the increased use of these technologies.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
I had the pleasure of seeing Ted St. Antoine (Michigan - emeritus and former dean) speak at today's Ohio State Journal on Dispute Resolution's Schwartz Lecture on Dispute Resolution. His topic was Labor and Employment Arbitration Today: A Midlife Crisis or a New Golden Age? OSU Dean Alan Michaels gave an eloquent and heartfelt introduction in which he aptly praised Ted for mentoring and nurturing several generations of labor scholars and practitioners (and, true to form, Ted spent much of his lecture praising the empirical work of Alex Colvin).
I still have a handwritten note Ted sent me, when I was still in practice, congratulating me on my first publication. Ted is a terrific role model, and it was a special pleasure to see him again today.
As we are all aware, the EEOC's position on LGBT discrimination has been evolving in recent months. The agency recently posted a helpful summary on its website regarding LGBT worker protections, which is available here. The summary includes hyperlinks to a wealth of valuable information including federal sector law, private sector developments, and training and outreach.
Friday, April 1, 2016
In what is shaping up to be a fascinating case, five high-profile members of the U.S. Women’s Soccer team have filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC pursuant to the Equal Pay Act. The female players allege that they receive about four times less than the male players, despite having had greater success on the field and generating substantial revenues. Both the men’s and women’s team players have the same employer – – the U.S. Soccer Federation. From an article in the Washington Post:
“The pay disparities exist even though the U.S. women have been successful not only on the field, but also at the ticket booth and in terms of television ratings. The team’s 5-2 win over Japan in last year’s World Cup final was the second-most-watched soccer match in U.S. television history, with 25.4 million viewers. . . the biggest audience for a U.S. men’s game was 18.2 million for a USA-Portugal World Cup match in 2014.”
Pay discrimination continues to be a high profile issue, and one that is frequently in the news. We will follow this charge closely and see how the EEOC handles this claim.