Monday, July 29, 2019
Kate Griffith at Cornell's ILR school writes about this exciting job search:
Tenure-Track Position in International and Comparative Labor & Employment Law
Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations (ILR) invites applications to fill a tenure-track faculty position (at the assistant, associate or full professor level) in International and Comparative Labor & Employment Law to begin August 2020. Applicants should have research and teaching interests related to international and comparative labor & employment law. A demonstrated potential for high quality teaching and research leading to publication in top-tier journals is essential. Policy-oriented experience in the field of international and comparative labor & employment law is desirable. At the time of appointment, applicants must have completed a J.D. and/or a Ph.D. in industrial relations, sociology, political science, management, or other related disciplines. Interested candidates should submit a cover letter, vita, research statement, teaching statement, diversity and inclusion statement, writing sample, and three reference letters. Review of applications will begin October 1, 2019. Inquiries about this position should be directed to Prof. Virginia Doellgast (firstname.lastname@example.org), Prof. Kate Griffith (email@example.com), Prof. Shannon Gleeson (firstname.lastname@example.org), or Prof. Sarosh Kuruvilla (email@example.com).
Diversity and Inclusion are a part of Cornell University’s heritage. We are a recognized employer and educator valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities.
Tuesday, July 23, 2019
Although employers are more resistant to agreeing to mutual nondisparagement obligations after employment than they used to be, such agreements remain important in one situation: where ending the relationship is conditioned on a good reference and no bad mouthing of the soon-to-be-ex-employee.
But there are complications when it is the corporate employer who is being gagged as compared to the more common situation where an individual employee agrees not to disparage her former employer. The problem arose in Bissette v. University of Mississippi Medical Center, where Garth Bissette, a professor at the Medical Center, ran into difficulties leading to possible detenuring. Before UMMC’s review process was completed, Bissette entered into a settlement agreement providing for his departure but containing a clause requiring UMMC to give Bissette a favorable recommendation and also requiring mutual non-disparagement and confidentiality.
As you might guess, Bissette was later bad mouthed by one Woolverton, a UMMC employee (who hadn’t been told about the agreement). There wasn’t much doubt that Woolverton’s comments were disparaging: he allegedly attended a NIH conference at which he told participants from other universities that, among other things, Bissette had no professional accomplishments during his tenure, did nothing with his scholarship or professional service, and was often intoxicated after returning from lunch.
Although Bissette brought several claims, the most interesting was the breach of contract cause of action. The Mississippi Court of Appeals first found that the individual defendants were not bound because of the wording of the clause in question, which provided that “This agreement is being entered into …. between [....UMMC] for the benefit of itself, all related corporate entities, its and their officers, directors, employees, agents, successors, and assigns . . . . and Dr. Garth Bissette.” According to the court, “employees” such as Woolverton were not individually bound by the agreement since they were merely its third-party beneficiaries. Under this construction, UMCC had not made any promises as to them not disparaging Bissette. Had the University agreed “on behalf of” such persons, the result might have been different. But the court also indicated that reading the commitment so broadly would lead to odd results, such as embracing “even a receptionist” at a UMMC clinic.
This is all pretty odd. How could an agreement between A and B bind C contractually? There’s no indication that UMCC was acting as its employees’ agent. Plus, of course, Woolverton didn’t even know about the settlement! The more sensible reading of the clause is that UMCC is promising that none of its employees, etc. will bad mouth Bissette. And the confidentiality clause seemed to confirm this: it permitted UMMC to disclose to those “necessary to carry out the terms and conditions of this Agreement.”
No matter: the court also rejected the argument that UMCC was vicariously liable by virtue of Woolverton’s acting as its agent (even if he were not personally liable). “Employee” is not synonymous with “agent,” and there was no evidence that Woolverton was furthering UMMC goals at the conference, so the university wasn’t responsible for what he said. That may be true (although the court’s stress on the fact that NIH (not UMMC) paid for the conference seems dubious given how often university work is grant -funded), but if UMCC had committed that none of the named persons would disparage Bissette, it’s not clear that such a promise should be read to be limited to actions taken on the employer’s dime and time.
The net effect was that Bissette walked away with considerably less than he had thought he’d gotten for not continuing to fight his detenuring. Even the “good recommendation” Bissette bargained for seems of doubtful value in light of this story. The lesson for plaintiffs’ attorneys looking for this kind of protection is to work through more carefully exactly what it means for an organization not to disparage or at least the steps the organization will take to inform its employees about what is expected of them.
And there are broader issues this scenario raises. Practically speaking, anyone familiar with academia might doubt both the efficacy of a promise that no one will tell tales out of school at scholarly conferences and the ability of a plaintiff to prove damages should such a breach occur. More theoretically, there’s the question of whether gag clauses really are a societally good idea: what if Bissette really was frequently intoxicated after lunch? Finally, there’s a not insignificant policy question of whether employers, especially public ones., should be free to constrain their employees’ speech, especially when not acting within the scope of their employment.
Thanks to Kamille Perry, Seton Hall class of 2021.
Friday, July 19, 2019
Thanks to Susan Bisom-Rapp for forwarding the following call for papers:
[T]he call for papers of the 18th International Conference in commemoration of Prof Marco Biagi has been opened. The conference will take place in Modena (Italy) on 19 and 20 March 2020, and will be entitled "Beyond Employment: Protecting Autonomous Work".
The Scientific Committee welcomes the submission of proposals for papers or panels by the members of the international scholarly community.The proposals should be submitted by 9 September 2019 by email to the address: firstname.lastname@example.org. More details on the call and the conference are available here.
Wednesday, July 17, 2019
Apart from the COSELL and the AALS session described in the post below, I'm not aware of any LEL-themed academic conferences or live symposia in the U.S. for AY 2019-20. If you know of any, would you please add a brief description and link as a comment to this post? Many thanks,
Thanks to Stephanie Bornstein for sending along this CFP:
The AALS Section on Employment Discrimination Law and the AALS Section on Labor Relations and Employment Law invite submissions for a joint program, New and Emerging Voices in Workplace Law, at the AALS 2020 Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, on Saturday, January 4, 2020, from 3:30-5:15 p.m.
About. This works-in-progress session will give emerging workplace law scholars the opportunity for engagement on a current project with leaders in the field. Each selected scholar will present a work-in-progress and receive comments from an assigned commentator, as well as from an audience of other scholars in the field. The session will provide newer scholars with a supportive environment in which to receive constructive feedback.
Eligibility. Full-time faculty members of AALS member and fee-paid law schools are eligible to submit proposals. This call for papers is targeted to scholars with seven or fewer years of full-time teaching experience. Visitors (not full-time on a different faculty) and fellows are eligible to apply to present at this session.
Submission Format. Please submit an abstract, précis, and/or introduction of the article that is sufficiently developed to allow the reviewers to evaluate the thesis and proposed execution of the project.
Submission Instructions. To be considered, proposals should be submitted electronically to Professors Stephanie Bornstein, at email@example.com, and Michael Oswalt, at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline for submission is Sunday, September 1, 2019.
Selection. Presenters will be selected after review by the Chairs of both sections. Selected authors will be notified by September 27, 2019. Presenters will be responsible for paying their annual meeting registration fee and travel expenses. To facilitate valuable feedback at the session, presenters should provide a substantial draft by December 1, 2019.
Questions. Any inquiries about the Call for Papers should be submitted to the Chair for the Section on Employment Discrimination Law, Stephanie Bornstein, at email@example.com, and/or the Chair for the Section on Labor Relations and Employment Law, Michael Oswalt, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Friday, July 12, 2019
... two or more entry-level or pre-tenure lateral new faculty, including in labor/employment law. Below is a brief summary of the position announcement; here's the full copy. Thanks to César Rosado for the heads-up.
Chicago-Kent College of Law expects to hire two or more entry-level or pre-tenure lateral faculty to join our vibrant and nationally recognized intellectual community. We are especially interested in candidates with a demonstrated commitment to scholarship and teaching in ... fields [which include] first-year subjects (including Legislation) and Labor/Employment law.
Thursday, July 11, 2019
Ruben Garcia and Ann McGinley (UNLV) wish to remind you that registration for the 14th Annual Colloquium on Scholarship in Employment and Labor Law (COSELL) is still open. The colloquium takes place from October 10-12 in Las Vegas. They recommend that you register and get your hotel rooms now before the prices go up!
Here's the link to the website for registration and other information: (https://law.unlv.edu/event/14th-annual-colloquium-scholarship-employment-and-labor-law
Tuesday, July 2, 2019
New Jersey recently passed a law declaring nondisclosure agreements “with the purpose or effect of concealing the details relating to a claim of discrimination, harassment, or retaliation” to be against public policy and therefore unenforceable against the employee. N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12:8(a). According to state Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, the law aims to allow victims of such abuse “to speak out about their experiences if they so choose.” While a parallel promise by the employer would generally remain enforceable against it, the employer would be permitted to respond if the employee goes public. The law explicitly excludes noncompete agreements or NDAs intended to protect trade secrets.
An outgrowth of the national #MeToo movement, New Jersey’s law will be a test case for competing predictions about the effects of preventing victims from bargaining away their right to speak out. While no one seems to doubt that gag clauses have enabled serial harassers to continue their predations, the defenders of such provision include not only employer-side counsel but many plaintiff-side attorneys who fear that victims will be deprived of one of their more valuable bargaining chips and therefore disadvantage the employees it intended to protect.
In any event, the prospective effects of the new law will largely depend on how employers in the state will respond. For them, settlement agreements are a transactional means of protecting their reputations from the large-scale backlash that has made the Me-Too movement so palpable. Nothing about New Jersey’s new stance changes this reality.
But the new law doesn’t allow them much wiggle room. Two possibilities for creative avoidance are possible, but neither seems likely to be successful. The first is for employers to seek to recover in restitution amounts paid for a now-unenforceable promise once the employee goes public. But § 197 of the Restatement Second of Contracts tells us that courts will normally leave parties as it finds them in such cases, even if this may result in one party retaining a benefit it received as a result of a transaction based on an unenforceable promise. Employers thus have no claim in restitution for payments rendered in return (in part) for the unenforceable promise of their employee’s silence. The Restatement recognizes an exception for “disproportionate forfeiture,” but it seems unlikely to apply here, especially given the strong statutory language disapproving such agreements.
A second possible way for employers to try to work around the statute would be to structure settlement agreements to space out payments over time to create a financial incentive for employees to remain silent. The agreement would be drafted such that the employee does not promise nondisclosure but her silence is a condition on the employer’s promise to make future payments. In other words, there’s never an employee promise to enforce to begin with.
Clever, but probably no cigar in a state whose supreme court has a tendency to read statutes – especially employment regulations – to achieve their purposes regardless of the technical language. In any event, the statute deems any contract or settlement against public policy if it has the “purpose or effect” of concealing discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. Clearly, the legislature’s intent in passing this law was to enable victims to speak publicly about their experiences to guard against serial harassers. By conditioning future payments on silence, such a settlement could certainly have the effect (not to mention the purpose) of concealing discrimination, at least temporarily, by creating a strong financial incentive for the employee to be silent.
A few other points. First, the bar on nondisclosure agreements is only a part of a statute that, on its face, might be read to bar mandatory arbitration agreements. So read, that provision would almost certainly be preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act, and a reviewing court would have to decide whether the ban of nondisclosure agreements could be severed to could survive such invalidation. Second, while the focus of #MeToo and the commentary on this law has been on disclosure of sexual harassment claims, the statute also bars gag rules for discrimination and retaliation claims, which substantially increases its reach. Third, the statute bars retaliation for refusing to enter into an agreement that would be unenforceable under it, but, given that such an agreement is unenforceable, one wonders why a well-advised employee would refuse to sign it in the first place.
Hat tip to Luke Dodge, Seton Hall class of 2021, for his help with this post.
UPDATE: The statute is not retroactive, and this post has been modified to correct a mistake as to that in the original.
Monday, July 1, 2019
Rick Bales &Kathy Stone has just published on SSRN their article, The Invisible Web of Work: The Intertwining of AI, Electronic Surveillance, and Labor Law. The abstract:
Employers and others who hire or engage workers to perform services use a dizzying array of electronic mechanisms to make personnel decisions about hiring, worker evaluation, compensation, discipline, and retention. These electronic mechanisms include electronic trackers, surveillance cameras, metabolism monitors, wearable biological measuring devices, and implantable technology. These tools enable employers to record their workers’ every movement, listen in on their conversations, measure minute aspects of performance, and detect oppositional organizing activities. The data collected is transformed by means of artificial intelligence (A-I) algorithms into a permanent electronic resume that can identify and predict an individual’s performance as well as their work ethic, personality, union proclivity, employer loyalty, and future health care costs. The electronic resume produced by A-I will accompany workers from job to job as they move around the boundaryless workplace. Thus A-I and electronic monitoring produce an invisible electronic web that threatens to invade worker privacy, deter unionization, enable subtle forms of employer blackballing, exacerbate employment discrimination, render unions ineffective, and obliterate the protections of the labor laws.
This article describes the many ways A-I is being used in the workplace and how its use is transforming the practices of hiring, evaluating, compensating, controlling, and dismissing workers. It then focuses on four areas of law in which A-I threatens to undermine worker protections: anti-discrimination law, privacy law, antitrust law, and labor law. Finally, this article maps out an agenda for future law reform and research.
Obviously a hot topic (and one close to my heart), so check it out!