Tuesday, October 24, 2017
What do unions do for regulation? That's the subject of Alison Morantz's recent and timely review of the research literature: "What Unions Do for Regulation," Annual Review of Law and Social Science 13 (2017): 515-534. Here's the abstract:
The question of how organized labor affects the content, enforcement, and outcomes of regulation is especially timely in an era in which protective laws and regulations are being scaled back or minimally enforced and union membership is in decline. This article surveys literature from a wide array of regulatory domains—antidiscrimination, environmental protection, product quality, corporate governance, law enforcement, tax compliance, minimum wage and overtime protection, and occupational safety and health—in an effort to identify common findings on what unions do for regulation. Literature on the topic has taken up five questions: how labor unions affect the passage of protective laws and regulations; how they affect the outcomes that regulators target; how they affect the intensity of regulatory enforcement; the specific activities and channels of influence they use to influence regulated outcomes; and the role they play in self-regulation. Drawing on empirical literature from the domains listed, I review and analyze literature on each of these questions and offer several conclusions and suggestions for future research.
Morantz's main conclusion: There's a lot of support in the research literature for thinking that, "in most contexts, unions' tendency to strengthen workers' collective voice and mitigate market imperfections predominates their tendency to exert monopoly power and engage in economic rent-seeking." The best evidence of this comes from studies of how unionization strongly correlates with lower rates of serious and fatal workplace injuries. Some prior research also shows that unions tend to lower overall wage dispersion, which may indirectly reduce pay discrimination against women and racial minorities.
Congratulations and kudos to Suja Thomas (Illinois) and David Lopez (EEOC General Counsel) on their article published yesterday in the San Francisco Chronicle on the persistence of sexual harassment in the workplace. Here's an excerpt; the full article is at Why Judges Routinely Dismiss Sexual Harassment Cases:
The scandals involving Harvey Weinstein, Silicon Valley and Fox News have shone a spotlight on corporate tolerance of sexual harassment by executives. The U.S. Supreme Court recognized people could sue for such harassment more than 30 years ago. But at least 25 percent of women say that they are still harassed in the workplace. So, why does sexual harassment persist? A surprising part of the story lies with federal judges. Despite coverage under the law, when an employee alleges sexual harassment, a judge will likely dismiss the case.
Let’s look at the facts of some dismissed cases: co-workers and a supervisor engaged in conduct toward a female employee, such as making comments about the worker’s breasts, requesting to lick whipped cream and wine off of her, and rubbing her shoulder, arms and rear end; a supervisor asked a female worker to go to hotel room and spend the night with him, asked her for a sexual favor, constantly referred to her as “Babe,” and unzipped his pants and moved the zipper up and down in front of her; a supervisor told a worker she had been voted the sleekest posterior in the office and on another occasion deliberately touched her breasts with some papers he held in his hands.
In deciding whether to dismiss a case, a judge examines the paper records of the evidence — a written account of what the witnesses will say and relevant documents. Using this information, if the judge thinks a reasonable jury could not find for the employee, then the case is dismissed. When employers request dismissal of discrimination claims, including harassment claims, more than 70 percent are dismissed in whole or in part, according to a 2007 federal study.
This high dismissal rate should give us pause to consider whether judges are making the right decisions. Judges are not supposed to dismiss cases based on their own opinions of the evidence. But, their own opinions are all they have, and a judge’s opinion may differ from a jury’s.
Sunday, October 22, 2017
Congratulations to Minna Kotkin (Brooklyn) on her fine article in today's Washington Post on how confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements undermine the enforcement of Title VII's prohibition of sexual harassment. Here's an excerpt:
A secret about sexual harassment on the job is finally coming to light. It’s not that harassment is still rampant in some industries, recalling the worst of the “Mad Men” days. Or that networks of women quietly help to protect their co-workers from the worst offenders. The real secret is that our regulatory and judicial systems are complicit in protecting harassers from public exposure and opprobrium. Recent revelations about Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes and Harvey Weinstein show that they confidentially settled harassment claims in the millions of dollars over decades, using legal maneuvers to keep their conduct under the radar. How common is this?
Since 1986, when the Supreme Court first recognized that sexual harassment is a form of discrimination, employers and their attorneys have generally insisted that victims who receive financial settlements as a result of harassment allegations sign confidentiality agreements. In my three decades of research and litigation on harassment claims, corporate officials have always insisted that unless settlements are confidential, firms will be overwhelmed by a deluge of accusations, with every disgruntled employee looking for a payout.
A typical confidentiality clause prohibits the employee not only from revealing the amount paid to her but also from discussing the facts and allegations relating to the underlying events. Often, these clauses contain a “liquidated damages” provision: If the facts are revealed, the employee automatically owes the employer some astronomical sum. Liquidated damages generally include the amount paid in the settlement and sometimes much more, especially if the settlement amount was small. This keeps many victims of harassment from making their experiences known to others who might face the same dangers.
For the entire article, see How the Legal World Built a Wall of Silence Around Workplace Sexual Harassment.
Wednesday, October 18, 2017
Ben Sachs and Noah Zatz have an op-ed in the New York Times today arguing that they believe that the NFL players' national anthem protests are protected under various legal theories, mirroring some of their early writings that Rick posted about recently. With respect to Ben & Noah, I think their conclusion that "[s]tifling the protests would be illegal" misses the mark.
The op-ed lays out three theories for protection: state action that results in First Amendment protection for the players; Title VII's anti-retaliation provision; and the NLRA's Section 7/Section 8(a)(1). Although I'm supportive of the players and would love to see changes in the law that would protect this type of activity, given the current state of affairs, I don't think any of these theories will work.
First, while I'm no constitutional scholar and am prepared to be corrected, I don't see any state action here. Even with the President's statement a few hours ago, I'm not seeing the level of coercion or control that is usually required for state action. That could come if the President ramps up the pressure, but it doesn't appear to be at that level now.
Second, I also didn't see the nexus to employment that is required for coverage by Title VII and the NLRA. One point on which we agree is that this nexus might exist if the players are protesting their treatment as players/employees, such as opposition to calls for their termination or discipline. But that doesn't seem to be their motivation. Colin Kaepernick started this movement by kneeling in protest police brutality and social injustice (see, e.g., here and here). The recent spread to other players following Charlottesville and other events have appeared to mirror these concerns, rather than focus on players' employment concerns. That could change at some point (although risk more criticism of "spoiled, rich players"), but until it does, I'm unaware of case law that interprets these type of societal concerns as protected activity under Title VII or NLRA. And I don't think the Trump NLRB or most courts would conclude otherwise.
Finally, I worry that painting an overly rosy picture of employment law protections has risks. As we all know, most employees already think they enjoy far more workplace protections than they actually do. Reasonable minds can differ on strategies to address this issue, but I've always taken the opportunity to shine as much light on the actual state of the law. I want workers to know the limitations of the law and the risks involved in their actions so they can seek employers that provide more protection or at least have better reputations. Or, heaven forbid, actually push for legal reforms or a union that can negotiate protections.
Monday, October 16, 2017
As I mentioned recently, the Supreme Court had requested the Solicitor General's view on whether the abrogation of state sovereign immunity under USERRA was valid. The SG's office just submitted its brief, recommending the denial of cert. There are reasonable grounds to argue against cert., most notably the lack of a circuit split, but the SG's brief was, to put in bluntly, lazy. It didn't make any meaningful attempt to address the constitutional or historical reasons why abrogation under the war power should be treated especially carefully; indeed, it went so far as to suggest that the war powers are equivalent to other Article I powers when it come to the balance of federal and state power, which I find disturbing ("But the central problem with petitioner’s argument [that Congress' war powers is exclusive and important] is that all Article I powers could be described as exclusive and important to at least some degree.").
Again, if you're curious about this issue, I've got an older article that delves into it the question in detail. Needless to say, I conclude that the war powers is very much not like other Article I powers when it comes to federal authority supplanting state authority.
Saturday, October 14, 2017
Over at Indisputably, Sarah Cole has a great post about the Fifth Circuit's rejection of a preliminary injunction by the NFL Players' association that would have prevented the suspension of Cowboy running back Zeke Elliott. As Sarah points out, the arbitration clause that the NFL and the Players' Association agreed to is bizarre, but the Players' Association must follow the procedure it agreed to before challenging the outcome in court.
In other news, an unfair labor practice charge has been filed against the Cowboys (and owner Jerry Jones) for threatening to bench players who kneel during the national anthem to protest race discrimination and violence. As Ben Sachs points out over at onlabor, this is a possible ULP for interfering with the players' protected concerted activity under the NLRA. In a separate onlabor post, Noah Zatz makes a convincing case that any benching would violate the opposition clause of Title VII's anti-retaliation provision.
Wednesday, October 11, 2017
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission just announced new training seminars that it will be conducting. The training, conducted by EEOC staff, focuses on exemplifying respect and inclusiveness in the workplace. From the EEOC:
"The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced ... that it will launch two new trainings for employers: Leading for Respect (for supervisors) and Respect in the Workplace (for all employees). Instead of traditional compliance training that solely focuses on legal definitions and standards for liability, the new program provides an exciting training alternative for harassment prevention. . .
The training program focuses on respect, acceptable workplace conduct, and the types of behaviors that contribute to a respectful and inclusive, and therefore ultimately more profitable, workplace. The program is customizable for different types of workplaces and includes a section for reviewing employers' own harassment prevention policies and procedures."
These new training programs provide a great new resource for employers. As we see in the prior post below, allegations of disrespect, abuse, and harassment still occur in the workplace. Training can help educate and prevent this type of behavior. More information on the EEOC's program is available here.
Tuesday, October 10, 2017
As we are all aware by now, there have been numerous allegations of sexual harassment and assault against the well-known Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The allegations go back many years and are made by many well-known members of the acting community. The story is an important reminder that while harassment is often subtle, it can be (and still often is) quite overt and frequently crosses the line into assault.
There are many issues in this story which involve various aspects of harassment law, and this news story is certainly one that could be discussed for several different purposes in both your employment law and employment discrimination courses. Feel free to share your thoughts on the case in the comments below. One interesting aspect of the issue to me involves the relative silence of male members of the Hollywood community, and the lack of males generally to report the issue. There is a good story on that particular part of the case in the Guardian, which is available here. Regardless of gender, everyone must be cognizant of an existing hostile working environment, and should report it when it occurs. And employers must foster an open environment that encourages this type of reporting by every employee in the workplace.
It is unfortunate that it often takes this type of story to bring these issues to light. Nonetheless, the story can help bring awareness to this ongoing problem in the workplace.
-- Joe Seiner
Monday, October 9, 2017
Hi fellow Employment and Labor scholars:
I am excited to share California Western School of Law’s Call for Proposals for an innovative Gender Sidelining Symposium to be held in San Diego on April 26 & 27, 2018. As detailed in the attached Call for Proposals, we are seeking individuals both to serve as primary presenters in various “salons,” as well as to serve as commentators on these presentations. Please see the attached Call for Proposals for more information.
We are thrilled that our keynote speaker will be Dean Camille Nelson from American University Washington College of Law, a widely published and well-respected scholar. We further are excited to be hosting a “Judge’s Panel” on the opening night of the Symposium – including Justice Judith Haller (Associate Justice, CA 4th Dist. Court of Appeals) and Judge Margaret McKeown (U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Cir.) – during which these respected jurists will discuss issues related to our Symposium topic.
We hope that you will strongly consider submitting a proposal to join us at the Symposium this April.
The call for proposals gives more details, also:
The Symposium will begin with a panel discussion that will provide the relevant context and background for the concept of Gender Sidelining, followed by a dinner and remarks by a panel of highly respected judges who will provide their thoughts and insights regarding this topic. The second day will include lunch and a keynote address by American University Washington College of Law Dean Camille Nelson, a well-respected and widely published scholar who focuses on gender inequality. The second day will also include three salon-style sessions, in which a primary anchor will discuss their work in conjunction with others who will provide commentary and response. Finally, the Symposium will conclude with a final reception and rap session, where participants will be encouraged to share their reflections in an open discussion.
In seeking to explore this Gender Sidelining phenomenon, we invite proposals for three interactive salon-style sessions surrounding the themes of Employment, Entrepreneurship/Business, and Popular Culture. Interested participants also are free to suggest other salon session topics that are consistent with the Symposium’s broader theme. Each individual submitting a proposal should indicate the following: (1) whether you would like to serve as a primary anchor for one of the themed salon-style sessions or (2) have an interest in providing commentary in one of the themed salons.
Proposals should be submitted to firstname.lastname@example.org no later than November 17, 2017, and include an abstract that indicates the specific themed salon session of interest, the presenter’s proposed role (primary anchor or commentator), a description of the presenter’s research/expertise, and a CV. We also welcome proposals that are fully developed in terms of a primary anchor and commentators. Please include “Gender Sidelining Symposium” in your email subject line. Please use Microsoft Word or the equivalent, but do not use PDF. By submitting an application, you are agreeing that you will be present at the symposium to present your work. Questions should be directed to Prof. Jessica Fink at email@example.com.
Read the whole call for proposals for more complete descriptions of the salon sessions: Download CFP-Revised.doc It looks really interesting.
Saturday, October 7, 2017
Some recent labor & employment news to catch up on:
- The NLRB is back at full strength, at least for a while, now that William Emmanuel has been sworn in. Terms that are set to expire soon are Chairman Miscimarra (Republican) on Dec. 16, 2017 and Mark Pearce (Democratic) on Aug. 27, 2018. They're close enough that we may see a package deal for a Republican and a Democratic nominee, but we'll see.
- Kate O'Scannlain, a partner at Kirkland & Ellis has been nominated to be Solicitor of Labor. And yes, she is the daughter of Judge Diarmuid O'Scannlain on the Ninth Circuit.
- The Ninth Circuit put the Uber driver classification cases (O'Connor et al.) on hold. The court decided that it should pause the numerous class action suits pending the Supreme Court's decision on whether the NLRA bars class-action arbitration waivers.
- Speaking of the Court's class action arbitration case (Epic et al.), oral argument on the case was held on Oct. 2. SCOTUSBlog has a good summary of the argument--bottom line, it doesn't look good for the argument that the NLRA prevents these class-action waivers. Justice Gorsuch didn't ask any questions and his like of textualism suggests at least a chance that the NLRA argument could win. But I have a hard time believing that he's going to buck the trend in the Court of interpreting the Federal Arbitration Act in a way that upholds arbitration agreements.