Wednesday, October 31, 2018
Thanks to Paul Harpur (U. Queensland - Beirne Law) for sending word that today, the Australian State of Queensland introduced a new Human Rights Bill 2018 (Qld) before Parliament. As Queensland has only one House of Parliament, where the government currently has a majority, it is almost certain this bill will soon become law.
The Human Rights Bill 2018 (Qld) declares that Queenslanders have 21 Civil and political rights and two Economic, social, and cultural rights. Many of these rights are relevant to university students and workers/labour in Queensland. On the labor side, thee rights include:
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief,
- Freedom from forced work,
- Freedom of expression, and
- Peaceful assembly and freedom of association
On the education side, the right is extended, beyond K-12, to a right to “have access, based on the person’s abilities, to further vocational education and training that is equally accessible to all.” Ability equality is a concept that disability rights scholars across the globe have been arguing for. In Queensland, for example, Paul testified in 2018 to a Queensland Parliamentary Committee, arguing that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is the declaration of ability equality.
Some recent labor and employment news:
- Wages look like they're finally rising in a significant way. A DOL report showed an almost 3% increase in wages for this time last year, which outpaces inflation and is the highest increase in a decade.
- A couple of joint-employer items. First, the NLRB has extended the time to comment on a proposed new rule to Dec. 13. Also, the tussle between Congressional Democrats and the Board over the proposed change continues. As this Bloomberg Law (subscription required) article details, the Democrats want evidence supporting the claim that the current, broader joint-employer test is causing the problems that critics claim. This touches on a broader area--the NLRB is really bad at using actual evidence to support its policy views. Some of this is the legacy of the ban on economic analysis (which is so stupid--why in the name of all that is rational can't we have a bipartisan agreement that analysis is useful for labor law, like, say, the rest of the government?). But some of this, frankly, is just lazy. There's nothing stopping the Board from citing others' studies, which it does far less that it could. And this is an equal-opportunity offense. Although some members have been better on this, Board from both parties tend to be woefully inadequate on this score.
- As is the case when the White House changes parties, the DOL has been adjusting how it regulates union finance requirements. Unsurprisingly, they're ratcheting up the requirements by increasing the number of entities covered and expanding what covered entities need to provide. This is shades of the Bush II administration, where the changes were challenged in court. Expect the same here.
- The General Counsel has announced that it's changing its approach to allegations of union negligence. In contrast to the long-standing deferential approach the Board has taken, the GC says he will now prosecute unions for negligence under Section 8(b)(1)(A) (for failure of the duty of fair representation) when it does things like lose a complaint or fails to return a call.
Tuesday, October 30, 2018
Joe Seiner just his latest article, The Discrimination Presumption, 94 Notre Dame L. Rev. __ (2019) (Forthcoming), on SSRN. The short version--everyone's had it wrong and Twombley & Iqbal don't apply to Title VII. The abstract:
Employment discrimination is a fact in our society. Scientific studies continue to show that employer misconduct in the workplace is pervasive. This social science research is further supported by governmental data and litigation statistics. Even in the face of this evidence, however, it has never been more difficult to successfully bring a claim of employment discrimination. After the Supreme Court’s controversial decisions in Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), all civil litigants must sufficiently plead enough facts to give rise to a plausible claim. Empirical studies show that this plausibility test has been rigidly applied in the employment context, creating a heightened pleading standard for workplace plaintiffs. This paper argues that Twombly and Iqbal are largely irrelevant for employment discrimination claims. As employment discrimination is a fact, most allegations of workplace misconduct are plausible on their face, rendering these Supreme Court cases meaningless for this subset of claims. This Article summarizes the overwhelming number of social science studies which demonstrate the fact of employment discrimination, and this paper also synthesizes the governmental data and litigation in this field. This Article offers a model framework that the courts and litigants can use to evaluate workplace claims, taking into consideration the widespread scientific research in this area. This proposed model navigates the Supreme Court decisions and federal rules and provides a new approach to pleading employment claims, where the fact of discrimination is presumed. This Article concludes by situating the proposed framework in the context of the broader academic scholarship.
Check it out!
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
Amazon has long been known as a high-tech Moneyball employer, striving to make data-driven decision when possible. But this week shows that there are limits to that approach. After working since 2014 to develop AI-driven hiring algorithms, Amazon recently abandoned that approach. The reason? The algorithms were biased against women. This is an issue that several folks, including Rick Bales, have been talking about (and is a small part of a larger tech project I'm working on), and isn't a surprise given the dearth of women in the tech industry. This is the classic garbage-in-garbage-out issue. Amazon was training its algorithms based on resumes it has received, and because men disproportionally applied to the company, the algorithms were spitting out decisions that undervalued women; indeed, they were specifically penalizing resumes that included references to women. If Amazon or other companies want to use AI (really Machine Learning) for hiring, they should first use the technology to analyze its current hiring practices to try to root out pre-existing bias. Only once that's addressed does AI have even the hope of being effective.
To be clear: Amazon says that it never actually used the algorithms for actual hiring decisions. It wasn't for a lack of trying though. Amazon realized what was going on in 2015, but didn't disband the program until the start of last year. In other words, despite working for quite a while to eliminate the bias, they couldn't do it to their satisfaction. That a company like Amazon couldn't pull this off should serve as a strong warning to everyone about the limits of AI. I'm actually more optimistic on AI's eventual potential to reduce employment discrimination than many, but I am still extremely cautious about the technology. There's definitely a right way and wrong way to use it and, as Amazon shows, the right way can be really hard. As a result, I think the greatest risk of AI in personnel decisions is its misuse by companies that are too lazy, cheap, or blinded by the shiny object that is AI to realize that is is only a tool and, like other tools, can be used the wrong way.
Saturday, October 13, 2018
ILERA is pleased to announce the third call for book proposals with the theme of comparative labour and employment relations. The term “labour and employment relations” will be interpreted broadly to include all aspects of work including labour policy, labour market analysis, labour relations and collective bargaining, human resource management, and work- and workplace- related topics. Book proposals by a single author, multiple authors, or edited volumes will all be welcome. Books in this series will be published by ILERA in English, French or Spanish, based on the language of the manuscripts received.
A Committee of Editors was established under the leadership of Prof. Mia Rönnmar (Lund University, Sweden), President-Elect of ILERA, who will act as Editor-in Chief. Editorial members include: Prof. Anil Verma (University of Toronto, Canada), Prof. Annette Jobert (ENS Cachan, France), and Prof. Cecilia Senén González (University of Buenos Aires, Argentina).
To encourage members to submit high-quality book proposals, ILERA provides an incentive of USD 5,000 as a contribution towards the expenses of preparing a manuscript which is accepted for publication. Future book royalties will accrue to ILERA.
The deadline for submission of the book proposal has been extended to 30 November 2018.
Proposals should elaborate on the following headlines:
- a brief description of the themes of the book;
- its contribution to existing knowledge in the field;
- its novelty compared with similar previous books;
- a summary of the structure and contents of the book;
- the names, full contact details and institutional affiliations of the authors and editors (if necessary);
- a curriculum vitae of all contributors; and
- a proposed time-table for completion of the manuscript.
Julia Belian (Detroit Mercy) sends word of a call for papers for University of Detroit-Mercy Law Review's extraordinarily timely Women in the Law Symposium. Here are the details:
The Detroit Mercy Law Review will host its 2019 Symposium, Women and the Law, on Mar. 8, 2019. The deadline for proposals is Nov. 9, 2018 at 5:00pm EST.
Possible topics include, but are not limited to: the history of women in the law, how women have impacted the law, how the law impacts women today, how future legal decisions could affect women’s rights (e.g. if Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) were to be overturned), what challenges women still face in the legal profession, the role of gender in the law, and any other topic regarding women and the law. Proposals should be approximately 250-500 words, double-spaced, and detail the proposed topic and presentation. Submit to Samantha Buck, Symposium Director, at [email protected]. Please indicate whether your proposal is for a presentation only or if you would also like to publish an article with the Detroit Mercy Law Review on your presentation topic. If you are interested in submitting an article, it will be due to the Law Review on Friday, Mar.15, 2019. Please submit a current CV or resume along with your proposal. We will notify chosen speakers by Nov. 30, 2018. Preference will be given to those willing to submit an article for publication.
Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Meanwhile, back in Kentucky, employers are thinking about next steps in the wake of Northern Kentucky Area Development District v. Synder, decided Sept. 27, 2018. There, the Kentucky Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925 ("FAA") does not preempt a Kentucky statute that, among other things, bans employers from making arbitration of employment disputes a condition of employment. Given how at least four US Supreme Court Justices may want to read the FAA, Synder might soon be headed to Washington.
The background: The FAA provides that an arbitration agreement "shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2. The US Supreme Court today reads this as "a sort of 'equal-treatment' rule for arbitration contracts" that preempts any law that discriminates against arbitration, either on its face or covertly, such as by interfering with some fundamental attributes of arbitration. Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S.Ct. 1612, 1622 (2018).
In 1994, the Kentucky legislature enacted this statute:
[N]o employer shall require as a condition or precondition of employment that any employee or person seeking employment waive, arbitrate, or otherwise diminish any existing or future claim, right, or benefit to which the employee or person seeking employment would otherwise be entitled under any provision of the Kentucky Revised Statutes or any federal law.
Ky. Rev. Stat. § 336.700(2). About a year later, the Sixth Circuit read the FAA workers exemption, 9 U.S.C. § 1, to cover only transportation workers. Asplundh v. Tree Expert Co. v. Bates, 71 F.3d 592, 600-02 (6th Cir. 1995); see also Circuit City v. Adams, 532 U.S. 105 (2001)(adopting this view).
Some years later, the lawsuit: After getting fired, Danielle Synder sued her former employer, a State government entity, for violating State whistleblower and wage-and-hour law. The employer sought to compel arbitration pursuant to the mandatory arbitration clause in her employment contract. The lower courts denied the employer's motion on the ground that Ky. Rev. Stat. § 336.700(2) had rendered that clause unenforceable.
So, why doesn't the FAA preempt that statute? In Synder, the Kentucky Supreme Court reasoned that the statute satisfied the FAA's equal-treatment rule, for two main reasons. First, the statutes doesn't single out arbitration clauses. Rather, it treats arbitration as only an example of an agreement that tends to "diminish" a worker's rights, claims, or benefits ("waive, arbitration, or otherwise diminish"). Other examples include "an agreement whereby the employee waives the ability to file a [Kentucky Whistleblower Act] claim against the employer, or an agreement that limits the amount of damages the employee can recover against the employer." Slip Op. at 12. This reasoning implies that the FAA permits Kentucky's statute even though the US Supreme Court reads the FAA as endorsing the idea that employment arbitration does not tend to diminish workers' legal protections.
Second, the statute "only proscribes conditioning employment on agreement to arbitration, not the act of agreeing to arbitration." Slip Op. at 9. Thus, the statute does not "invalidate arbitration contracts because they are arbitration contracts; KRS 336.700(2) only invalidates arbitration contracts when the employer evidences an intent to fire or refuse to hire an employee because of that employee’s unwillingness to sign such a contract. This is not an attack on the arbitration agreement—it is an attack on the employer for basing employment decisions on whether the employee is willing to sign an arbitration agreement." Id. at 11. In this respect, the statute is a generally-applicable "antiemployment discrimination provision." Id. at 12. The premise here: Making employment arbitration mandatory (a condition of employment) isn't a fundamental attribute of such arbitration.
In so reasoning, the Kentucky Supreme Court did not follow the plaintiff's lead. She'd argued more narrowly: Because her former employer was a political subdivision of the State, the FAA couldn't be read to supplant statutory restrictions on her government employer's powers without raising concerns of "federalism and the Tenth Amendment." It's unclear how much that litigating position will affect the odds that, if asked, the US Supreme Court will hear this case.
Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Last week (yeah, I'm still catching up), the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido. It's one of those technical cases that hinges on textual question's about the ADEA's definition of "employer." In particular, at issue is whether the ADEA's usual 20-employee small employer exception applies to government employers. There's no question that the exception applies to private employers, but because of the way the provision is written, its application to public employers is less clear. Because the text is so important, let me quote the relevant part (Sec. 11(b)):
(b) 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 small-employer exception is in a separate sentence from the sentence that includes public employers under the ADEA. That's what the plaintiffs stress and the 9th Circuit held. But four other circuits went the other way, holding that "person" includes public employers. Charlotte Garden's (Seattle) provided an argument analysis in SCOTUSblog. Although she's too wise to make a prediction, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I think the plaintiff is going to win this one. Not unanimous, but questions from some of the conservative justices (e.g., Roberts) makes me think that the more grammatical reading of the text is going to win the day. Also, I hope someone mentions to Justice Alito that if the Court is going to align the ADEA's coverage to Title VII's simply because they were enacted a couple of years apart from each other, then the Court needs to overrule all of its cases where it expressly rejected that argument when it came to interpreting the 1991 Civil Rights Act Amendments (e.g., Nasser and Gross).
Saturday, October 6, 2018
Wednesday, October 3, 2018
John Howe (University of Melbourne) writes to remind us that the deadline for submitting paper ideas to present at the Fourth Labour Law Research Network Conference is October 15. You can get more info about the conference here: Download LLRN4 Valparaiso - Call for Papers).I The conference will be from June 23-25 in Valparaiso, Chile.
I went to the first LLRN conference in Barcelona, which was very interesting. From what I've heard, they're only getting better, so submit your ideas soon.
Tuesday, October 2, 2018
Robert Iofalla at Bloomberg Law has an interesting article out today looking at the number of times the NLRB's new joint-employer test in Browning-Ferris has been applied. As readers know, there has been a lot of handwringing over this test. But according to the article, it's been applied in only 14 out of almost 1,100 ALJ and Regional Director cases since it was issued in 2015. But it's unclear what that figure means.
As the article points out, there are two ways to look at this. On one hand, it may mean that Browning-Ferris isn't that big of a deal and that employers easily adjusted to the new standard or, as was likely the case for the majority of businesses, the changed standard didn't affect them in the first place. On the other hand, the number of cases invoking Browning-Ferris doesn't capture its full impact, as businesses may have made significant changes to stay in compliance. I suspect there's truth to both views. For instance, the 14 cases almost certainly doesn't capture the new rule's full impact; it's impossible to believe that far more businesses didn't at least have Browning-Ferris as a consideration when making relevant decisions since 2015. However, this also reflects that the histrionics that followed Browning-Ferris--predicting the demise of franchising and the like--were grossly exaggerated. As the Board explained in Browning-Ferris, it was returning to an earlier version of the joint-employer rule and the changes it made from the immediately prior standard were not so great that it would fundamentally change business models like franchising.
Time may tell whether we'll see further evidence of Browning-Ferris' impact. Or not, if the tea leaves are correct that the NLRB will reverse it soon.
Two Fight for $15 stories today. The first is that Amazon has agreed to pay all of its U.S. workers at least $15 an hour. Notably, this includes part-time and temp workers. Effective November 1, this change is expected to apply to 350,000 workers (although I can't find a number on the number of those workers who currently make less than $15 an hour). Amazon is also raising pay in Britain. This follows other increases or promised increase by major companies like Target, but given Amazon's size and profile, it's unsurprising that this is making a bigger splash.
In related news, the Fight for $15 movement has organized a series of national walkouts, rallies, and protests from October 2-4. The aim of these actions are for higher pay and to help candidates that support labor rights. Its still early, but thus far some of the more notable actions seem to be focused in the Midwest, although there are certainly others as well.