Thursday, October 29, 2020
This article offers a review of and commentary on every opinion of the Supreme Court of the United States in each case relating to employment and labor law during the Court's 2019-2020 Term. The article also briefly summarizes the Court's grants of certiorari for its 2020-2021 Term relating to employment in the American workplace. In addition to the author's commentary on each case, the article includes a broader look at how the Court is dealing with workplace jurisprudence, including references to its "shadow docket" and the assignment of majority opinions.
Wednesday, October 28, 2020
Christopher Albertyn (Albertyn Arbitration Inc.) is kind enough to write this guest post on the important new Canadian decision of Fraser v. Canada (Attorney General), 2020 SCC 28 (CanLII):
The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) pension plan discriminated against women. The pension plan therefore breached an Equality Right at section 15(1) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms:
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
The claimants were full-time RCMP members who took advantage of a job-sharing arrangement offered by the RCMP. During the period they were job-sharing their employment was characterized as part-time. Part-time employees were not entitled to purchase full-time pension credits. So, when the claimants ended the period of their job-sharing and they sought to purchase their full-time pension credits, they were advised that, as part-time employees during their job sharing, they could not buy back their full-time pension credits. They claimed this determination discriminated against them in violation of section 15(1) of the Charter.
On October 16, 2020, the Supreme Court of Canada (the SCC) ruled that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) pension plan breaches section 15(1) on the ground of sex. This was because a provision of the plan perpetuated discrimination against women by precluding members who participate in job-sharing arrangements from purchasing full-time pension credit. The result was that their eventual pension entitlements were less than those, predominantly male employees, who were able to purchase full-time pension credits during periods of less than full-time work, including when they were on disciplinary suspension. Only those regular, full-time employees who were on the job-sharing program were not able to purchase the credits for their periods of less than full-time work.
The S.C.C. found that the RCMP pension plan has a disproportionate impact on women and so violated women’s rights to equality under the Charter.
The finding was not because “women continue to have disproportionate responsibility for childcare and less stable working hours than men, but because the pension plan ‘institutionalizes those traits as a basis on which to unequally distribute; pension benefits to job-sharing participants” [para.136].
Justice Abella, writing for the S.C.C., made clear that the Charter guarantees substantive equality, having regard to the actual impact on the affected employees. On its face the imposition of less favourable pension benefits for job-sharing members seemed to affect all RCMP members equally, but it had a disproportionate impact on the women officers, and so was found to be discriminatory.
The S.C.C. applied the two-step test to section 15(1) claims. The claimant had to demonstrate:
- that the impugned action, in its impact, created a distinction based on a prohibited ground, and
- that the action imposed had a disproportionately adverse effect on the members of the protected group, in this case, women.
On the first step, the S.C.C. found that statistical evidence showed a clear association between sex and fewer working hours. So, the RCMP’s use of a temporary reduction in working hours as a basis for imposing less favourable pension consequences had an adverse impact on women. The RCMP members who took part in the job-sharing program were predominantly women with young children. Most of these women gave childcare as their reason for doing so.
In holding that the second step was established, the S.C.C. found that the RCMP’s pension plan perpetuated a long-standing gender bias that favoured “male pattern employment” (permanent, full-time workers with long uninterrupted service records) over “female pattern employment” (temporary or part-time service). This resulted in a disproportionate economic disadvantage for women.
This case is important in reiterating and clarifying how discrimination cases are to be decided. It gives a clear statement that substantive equality is the standard on which the protection is to be decided. Also, the question is not whether a provision explicitly targets a protected group for differential treatment, but rather, does the provision do so indirectly through its impact? The S.C.C. suggested that two types of evidence are useful to provide that a law or action has a disproportionate impact on a protected group: evidence of the full context of the protected group (i.e. their physical, social, cultural or other barriers), and evidence about the results or effects of the law or action on them. To establish the link between the impugned provision and the alleged disadvantage, the claimants need only demonstrate consistent statistical disparities in how the provision affects them, without having to explain why that was the result. Such evidence “is itself a compelling sign that the law has not been structured in a way that takes into account the protected group’s circumstances”. Through such evidence, some seemingly neutral policy can be shown to have a disproportionate impact on the protected group.
The S.C.C. also had some helpful additional observations:
- The intention of the legislator is irrelevant. It is not necessary to prove an intention to discriminate.
- If the claimants demonstrate that a law has a disproportionate impact on members of a protected group, they need not independently prove that the protected characteristic “caused” the disproportionate impact, i.e. that the basis of the exclusion was the protected characteristic. The effect is all that matters.
- The claimants need also not show that the impugned provision affected all members of the protected group in the same way, or even at all. Practices that amount to partial discrimination are no less discriminatory than those in which all members of a protected group are affected.
Friday, October 23, 2020
Big news for Chicago-Kent’s Institute for Law in the Workplace.
Long-time leader Professor Martin Malin is retiring in 2021. Professor Malin built the ILW into a national center for research, training, dialogue, and reflection on the law that governs the workplace. As someone who personally benefitted from Professor Malin’s expertise and mentorship, I wanted to send out a public thank you for all of this work in the field.
The ILW is naming an excellent new director. In the fall of 2021, Professor Michael Z. Green will become the second director to lead the institute. Congratulations, Professor Green!
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
It's that time of year again (actually it's a bit late, but ... 2020): SEALS is open for submissions for its 2021 conference. The dates are July 26-August 1 (although our panels will be only a couple of days of that) and it's tentatively planned to be at the Boca Resort, although if things still aren't safe then I'm sure they do remote again, which worked well this summer.
At this point, please let me know if a) you're interested in participating in a SEALS panel TBD, or (especially) b) you have any ideas for a panel or discussion group. As a reminder, we can have either or both of panels--which are more traditional presentations--or discussion groups, which involve a larger group engaged in more of a back-and-forth. One obvious area that I'd like to organize is something on COVID's impact on the workplace. So if that's of interest, please reach out!
Thursday, October 15, 2020
Congratulations to Mark Rothstein, Lance Liebman, Kimberly Yuracko, & Charlotte Garden on the publication of Employment Law, Cases and Materials (9th ed. 2020). Here's the publisher's description:
This popular casebook provides a comprehensive overview of the constitutional, statutory, regulatory, and common law principles of employment law. The doctrinal development of the law is assessed in light of contemporary economic, technological, social, and political conditions. The 9th edition includes a more detailed treatment of independent contractors and gig workers, sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination under Title VII, updates on employee health coverage, and the Secure Act of 2019 dealing with small employer retirement plans. Among the statutes covered by the casebook are Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, Americans with Disabilities Act, Family and Medical Leave Act, Employee Retirement Income Security Act, and Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
Desiree LeClerq (Cornell ILR) sends an invitation to an online fireside chat with ILO Director General Guy Ryder this Thursday, 15 October, 08:30am Eastern Time. The discussion will address a range of issues, including rising unemployment, the impact of the crisis on migrant and informal workers, the impact of trade agreements on workers, and gaps in social protection. The final portion will be open to audience questions. Desiree will moderate. Registration is free and is available here.
Sunday, October 11, 2020
Thanks to Lance Compa for circulating this: The AFL-CIO and SEIU have filed a complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association against the Trump administration for violations of ILO standards on Freedom of Association in connection with the Covid-19 crisis in the workplace. Here is a Washington Post article on the complaint; here is the complaint itself.
Thursday, October 1, 2020
Sara Slinn (York - Osgoode) has posted on SSRN her timely and well-written article Protected Concerted Activity and Non-Unionized Employee Strikes: Worker Rights in Canada in the Time of COVID-19, 57 Osgoode Hall L.J. ___. Here's the abstract:
During the pandemic employees in the US have engaged in a wave of strikes, protests and other collective action over concerns about unsafe working conditions, and many of these involved non-unionized workers in the private sector. Similar employee protests were notably absent in Canada. This article examines the differences in labour legislation between the US and Canada which may help to explain these diverging experiences, primarily: the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) section 7 protection for concerted activity, and the NLRA section 502 ability for a good faith strike due to abnormally dangerous conditions for work. This article outlines and compares the situation of, and consequences for, three categories of workers engaging in a strike over fears of workplace safety: unionized employees, non-unionized employees, and non-employees, such as independent contractors under the NLRA compared to under the Ontario Labour Relations Act (OLRA), as generally representative of Canadian labour legislation. In the final section, this article considers how a statutory provision similar to the NLRA protected concerted activity provision might be incorporated into Canadian labour legislation such as the OLRA. It also considers some more fundamental questions that such changes might prompt policymakers to reconsider, including: the focus of our statutory system on “organizing” collective action to the exclusion of “mobilizing” collective action, and questions about the potential role of minority unionism in our labour legislation system.