Thursday, September 19, 2019
Jonathan Harkavy (Patterson Harkavy) has just posted on SSRN two articles. First is his annual review of Supreme Court employment and labor decisions and cert grants. Second is a briefer article that offers a blueprint for lawyers representing workers and unions during fraught political times - e.g., right now. The articles and abstracts are below.
This article summarizes in detail all decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States from its October 2018 Term (2018-2019) that affect employment law, labor relations, employment arbitration and the employment relationship generally. The article also provides commentary on each of the decisions and on the Supreme Court's regulation of the employment relationship. The article also summarizes briefly the grants of certiorari in employment-related cases for the October 2019 Term and concludes with brief commentary on justice in the American workplace.
This article suggests approaches to dealing with the current anti-union climate in the American workplace. Building on examples of what union-side lawyers did when faced with the challenge of representing labor unions in Southern textile mills, the article makes a number of specific suggestions to counter what observers have termed a relentless assault on labor involving unchecked corporate power accompanied by income inequality and a decline in the well-being of working Americans. The article recommends, among other things, imposition of employer fiduciary responsibility for workers, a more clarion collective voice in the Supreme Court for working people, and increased use of state laws and federal antitrust laws to combat inequities in the workplace.
Tuesday, September 10, 2019
Just a scholarly note that Duke's Law and Contemporary Problems journal symposium issue on "Work After the End of Employment" is now published. I was lucky enough to moderate part of the symposium, which was really interesting and features Catherine Fisk (who was the special editor for the issue), Sameer Ashar, Cynthia Estlund, Michael Oswalt, Sanjukta Paul, and Marshall Steinbaum. There's also a student note by William Sowers.
Monday, September 9, 2019
Christine Michelle Duffy (Director, New Jersey Program, Pro Bono Partnership) sends us the following guest post:
It Will Not Be 'Game-Set-Match' for Women's Sports
Earlier this month, The National Law Journal (NLJ) published an op-ed piece by Jennifer Braceras and Anita Milanovich that argues that if the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of the gender-affirmed plaintiff, Aimee Stephens, in R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. EEOC, female athletes will lose the opportunity to compete because “male-to-female transgender athletes” will suddenly flood into women’s sports. Oral argument in that case will be held on October 8.
It’s simply not true that there will be a loss in opportunities. “Male-to-female transgender athletes” have been competing in women’s sports for some time, and there is no significant evidence that “the number of opportunities for biological women and girls” has diminished or that they have an unfair advantage. (The foregoing quoted statements come directly from Braceras and Milanovich’s op-ed.) Moreover, leading medical organizations now recognize gender-affirmed people to be of the sex that matches their gender identity.
The NLJ commissioned a counter-piece to the op-ed, written by Jennifer Pizer, Law and Policy Director for Lambda Legal. Pizer does a terrific job debunking the arguments put forward by Braceras and Milanovich. As Pizer notes, “Their leaps of logic are long indeed, but they won’t win any medals. They mistake the facts, the law and who is at risk.” Though, as your will read below, I do take issue with Pizer, something I rarely do.
Braceras and Milanovich’s thesis is wrong for a number of reasons. Here are three of them.
Friday, September 6, 2019
Today, the NLRB released another decision placing employer's property interests above NLRA rights. This time, in Kroger Ltd. Partnership, the NLRB addressed when an employer can exclude union and other nonemployees from its property, even though it lets other groups solicit in the same place. Like a lot of situations, the employer let the Girl Scouts, Salvation Army, Lions Club, and the Red Cross solicit on its property. But it prohibited a church group and a union that was encouraging a boycott of the store because of a labor dispute (a "primary boycott" which is protected activity under the NLRA). At issue was whether excluding the union was unlawful.
This is just a quick take, so I won't get too far into the weeds (those who want more, can check out this chapter). But the short version is that an employer can usually exclude nonemployees from its property, unless it does so in a "discriminatory" fashion. The question is what does "discrimination" mean? As the linked chapter describes, there are a lot of ways to define discrimination and the NLRB in Kroger takes a very narrow--i.e., pro-employer--view:
Under the standard we adopt today, to establish that a denial of access to nonemployee union agents violated the Act under the Babcock discrimination exception, the General Counsel must prove that an employer denied access to nonemployee union agents while allowing access to other nonemployees for activities similar in nature to those in which the union agents sought to engage. Consistent with this standard, an employer may deny access to nonemployees seeking to engage in protest activities on its property while allowing nonemployee access for a wide range of charitable, civic, and commercial activities that are not similar in nature to protest activities. Additionally, an employer may ban nonemployee access for union organizational activities if it also bans comparable organizational activities by groups other than unions.
Sound familiar? It should (although the Board didn't recognize the connection). This is very similar to the definition of "discrimination" the NLRB used in Register-Guard, which basically adopted the Seventh Circuit's holding that "the concept of discrimination involves the unequal treatment of equals":
[I]n order to be unlawful, discrimination must be along Section 7 lines. In other words, unlawful discrimination consists of disparate treatment of activities or communications of a similar character because of their union or other Section 7-protected status. For example, an employer clearly would violate the Act if it permitted employees to use e-mail to solicit for one union but not another, or if it permitted solicitation by antiunion employees but not by prounion employees
Register-Guard was the decision where the Board said that employees lacked a right to use employers' email. Later, Purple Communications reversed that part of the decision, but (oddly to my mind), it didn't touch the definition of discrimination. At the time, I predicted that the definition would spread to other contexts. I was a few years too early, but that's what I view as happening in Kroger. Although, to be fair, the standards aren't identical, as the NLRB in Kroger does explicitly reject the Second Circuit's standard that defines discrimination entirely on whether Section 7 communications are treated worse than non-Section 7 communications. That said, Kroger and Register-Guard both emphasize grouping of communication of a "similar character."
Also of note is footnote 5, where the Board distinguishes handbilling for a food drive versus a union handbilling to boycott the store. According to the NLRB, they're different because their "purposes" are different. Although one can try to shoehorn that statement as just differentiating purely communicative speech versus "commercial" union speech that has traditionally had fewer First Amendment protections, it sounds an awful lot like unconstitutional subject-matter discrimination. That's particularly true given how robust the Supreme Court's recent First Amendment jurisprudence has been recently. This case could be a test whether that jurisprudence applies equally or only when used against unions.
And let's be clear about the practical implications. If an employer has half a brain (or a quarter of an attorney's brain), it can easily come up with a classification that is sure to exclude unions, while allowing a lot of other organizations. For instance, "we don't allow 'membership organizations' to solicit." The Board doesn't even seem to require that classification to be in place before litigation--it's enough for the employer to come up with the line-drawing post-hoc. It's also nonsense under the NLRA. These cases are under Section 8(a)(1), which does NOT require intent on the employer's part. The "discrimination" exception exists because it undermines the employer's argument that the reason its excluding the union is for valid business purposes. Thus, if they allow Girl Scouts and a host of other groups, we should be very wary when they all of sudden claim that union solicitors are a problem. In that case, it's pretty clear that the problem is that it's a union soliciting, not the actual solicitation. And that's not a valid reason under the NLRA.
Also, more generally, this is another weight on the side of employer property interests, which are increasingly inhibiting employees' NLRA rights. Not the first time for sure, but it's disconcerting how much the NLRB (and, to be fair, the Supreme Court) has raised property interests, which are largely the province of state common law, over the federal statutory rights of employees.
Susan Bisom-Rapp reminds us that the deadline for submitting a proposal to this year's Biagi Conference is Monday. Here's an excerpt from the 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: email@example.com. More details on the call and the conference are available here.
Wednesday, September 4, 2019
University of San Francisco Volume 54 Law Review is holding a Symposium on January 31, 2020 on “Access to Justice in the Contemporary Workplace.” We are seeking proposals for articles to be included in the issue and presentations to be made at the event. Priority will be given to presenters who will be submitting articles for publication. Dependent on availability, we will consider publishing articles even where the author cannot attend the Symposium. The Symposium will focus broadly on analyzing the policies, practices, and barriers that may restrict an individual’s access to the legal system in the field of labor and employment law. This invitation includes an inquiry into the role of the rule of law and confidence in the legal structures that provide impartiality in labor and employment law.
Specific panels or topics could include, but are not limited to the following: Protections or lack thereof for gig-economy workers; Barriers that prevent meaningful advancement in ending sexual harassment; The chilling effect of threats of retaliation; Unequal treatment and protections for low-wage and immigrant workers; Unique issues in the tech industry; Bans on class actions; The rise of mandatory arbitration; Lack of statutory protections for LGBTQ+ workers; The decline of traditional unions; and Concerns regarding continued respect for stare decisis and the weight of precedent.
If you would like to participate, submit a 500-word abstract summarizing your article or describing your proposed presentation by September 30, 2019. Offers will be sent shortly thereafter and no later than October 14, 2019. Selected Symposium articles will be included in our Spring 2020 issue that will be published in Summer 2020 or a future issue. In order to meet this deadline, completed first drafts of articles will be due by February 10, 2020 and preferably consist of 7,000 to 11,000 words. Limited funds are available to cover travel and hotel for symposium participants; however, we are not in the position to offer per diem stipends or honorarium.
All article submissions, Symposium participation inquiries, or questions should be directed to Sophia Terrassi, Symposium Editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Monday, September 2, 2019
There has been some recent reporting that the tragic events in Texas occurred after the alleged shooter had been terminated from employment. Unfortunately, workplace violence is all too common. We often place a strong emphasis on our employment and emotions can run high when individuals are fired or otherwise treated adversely in the workplace. A couple of years ago (after the horrific events in San Bernardino, Calif. and Roanoke, Va.) I had posted some suggestions for handling violence in the workplace and I am re-posting that post below in case it might prove useful now:
Every year this country sees almost two million incidents of workplace violence. Federal data reveals that over a 13-year period, almost 10,000 murders occurred in the workplace. These numbers are startling, particularly when put in the context of recent horrific workplace related violence....
These tragic events often lead to heated public discussion over gun laws and weapon accessibility. While dialogue over gun control dominates public debate, it only addresses part of the question. An often forgotten facet of this type of violence is the workplace component that is frequently involved. The [recent] incidents  emphasize the importance of this workplace connection.
Few things in our lives go more to the core of our identity than our jobs. When people are unsatisfied in the workplace, or feel threatened in their employment security, they may act out in aggressive ways. This is why employers must be more vigilant today than ever before. We need only to look at the “Five C’s” that span the entire period of employment for answers in preventing workplace violence:
Character Checks. Background checks are perhaps the most important opportunity employers will have to prevent workplace violence. Employers should carefully investigate the background of any prospective employee for potential aggressive characteristics. This is particularly important where these workers will be put in sensitive situations or in the homes of customers.
Counseling. Employers must make mental health counseling available to all workers when needed. Such employee assistance programs are critical to helping workers get through difficult emotional times. This type of counseling must be kept confidential to encourage workers to avail themselves of this avenue of assistance.
Communication. Employers must create an environment which promotes an open dialogue of how to respond to active shooters or other violent individuals. Similarly, employers should establish appropriate complaint mechanisms to allow workers to notify management of potential workplace issues.
Cautious Cutbacks. When the need to terminate a worker arises, employers must be particularly cautious in conveying the separation. Far too frequently employers are cavalier about the process, and fail to even acknowledge or recognize the devastating effect a termination can have on an individual’s life and family.
Community Involvement. An employer cannot operate in isolation and must become part of the local community. There are many times where an employer will have critical information concerning a worker’s violent propensities, but fail to share this with law enforcement personnel.
These straightforward reminders help create an important framework for employers to eradicate workplace violence, though the framework is obviously not exhaustive. The most important lesson here is that employers must be engaged in all aspects of an individual’s working life – assuring that the potential for violence is minimized before, during and after employment.
Workplace violence cannot be completely eliminated. And employers must often balance the privacy rights of individuals battling mental or other health-related problems with the potential risk of workplace danger. [Recent] tragic events serve as an important reminder that employers must try to do more to help prevent this type of horrific violence.
Please feel free to share any additional thoughts on what employers can do to help prevent workplace violence in the comments below.
-- Joe Seiner
Saturday, August 31, 2019
Last week I received an offer from a law review. As per usual, it provided me with about a week to respond. I immediately thanked the editor and went about other business. The offer was received at 11:27. At 12:59, it was revoked.
No, the journal hadn't discovered some problem with the piece in that hour and a half. When I went back to the original offer, I discovered that I had not (shame on me) read the whole message:
Please be advised that we can only accept one more article for publication in [the specified issue] We reserve the right to revoke our offer prior to its expiration if another author accepts our publication offer before you make your decision.
So I had fair warning that some hungrier academic might preempt me by accepting before I did. I had, it seems, only myself to blame in losing this particular race to publication.
I admit to, nevertheless, being a little irritated. The norm is to provide authors the specified time to consider the offer (read "expedite to a higher ranked journal"), and the norm was being discarded. But on reflection, it's hard to get too upset: the expedite game plays journals off against each other and this strategy tries to play authors off against each other.
Still, it will make things much more complicated going forward if broadly adopted. As for whether it will be, I have only two additional data points. First, a colleague got a similar message from another law journal this submission season (hers hasn't yet been revoked) and in October 2015 another blog reported a couple of instances of the same thing. Maybe it should be reassuring that the practice apparently hasn't become commonplace in the last four years! And it may be that the strategy is being deployed only in the August window where journals are scurrying to fill their last slots.
If you're worried about my placement, however, you can rest easy. In the interval between being accepted and rejected by that journal, I was fortunate enough to get another offer. That one gave me two weeks, and I breathed a sigh of relief.
Until I remembered a fundamental principle of contracts law: promises to keep offers open for a specified period of time are unenforceable without consideration; thus, such offers are always revocable!
Wednesday, August 28, 2019
Bill Herbert (CUNY - Hunter College) and Jacob Apkarian (CUNY - York College) have just posted on SSRN their empirical article You’ve Been with the Professors: An Examination of Higher Education Work Stoppage Data, Past and Present (forthcoming 23 EREPJ ___ (2019)). Here's the abstract:
This article analyzes work stoppage data in calendar years 2012-2018 involving academic and non-academic employees at higher education institutions. It contextualizes the recent data through a review of the history of unionization and strikes in the field of education along with faculty strike data for the period 1966-1994. The study contributes to the literature concerning unionization and collective bargaining in higher education and will be of value to those who study or are engaged in labor relations at colleges and universities.
We find that there was a total of 42 strikes and one lock-out involving faculty, graduate assistants, and non-academic employees in higher education during the seven-year period from 2012 to 2018. The largest number of strikes per annum was in 2018, which was more than double the number in 2017. Exactly one-half of all strikes during the seven-year period were by non-academic employees, one-third of the strikes by faculty, and one-sixth by graduate assistants. The states with the greatest number of strikes were Illinois, California, and Washington.
Faculty units affiliated solely with AFT participated in 29% of all faculty strikes during the period. An additional 13% of the faculty strikes involved units co-affiliated with AAUP and AFT. AFSCME and UAW played leading roles in strikes involving staff and graduate assistants during the period with AFSCME averaging one strike per year over the period.
There was a total of 14 faculty strikes with an average of 2.0 per year in the period 2012-2018, compared to a total of 172 faculty strikes with an average of 5.9 per year during the period 1966-1994. The average duration of faculty strikes during the 2012-2018 period was 2.9 days with a median of 3 days, as compared to the average strike duration of 13.9 days and median duration of 8.5 days for the period 1966-1994. Non-tenure-track faculty were involved in 93% of all faculty strikes in 2012-2018, seven strikes with tenure-track faculty and six without.
Tuesday, August 27, 2019
Thanks to Sara Slinn (Osgoode Hall) for alerting us that the The Relations Industrielles/Industrial Relations (RI/IR) Journal has issued a call for papers on Digitization and the Regulation of Work and Employment. Here's a brief description:
This special issue seeks to understand how digitization may be disrupting and reordering the regulation of work and employment. We are interested in proposals that contribute to our understanding of the social and economic impacts of digitization at various levels (workplace, firms, sector, regional, national and international), and how they lead to organizational and institutional experimentation.
Friday, August 23, 2019
Today, the NLRB issued another major reversal, this time with regard to employees’ access to their worksite. The case is Bexar Performing Arts Center Foundation, which involved symphony employees who tried to peacefully hand out leaflets on the sidewalk outside the performing arts center where they usually worked. The problem? Their employer leased space from a third-party property owner, who called the police to remove them from the sidewalk.
In Bexar, the Board overruled two of its cases--New York New York and Simon DeBartolo—which held that employees in these generally had access rights to public areas of the worksite if they regularly worked for the employer (the symphony in Bexar), even if they did not work exclusively at the property in question. The property owner (the performing arts center) could still exclude those employees if it showed that the employees’ activity significantly interfered with the use of the property or was otherwise justified by other legitimate business reasons. The Board stated its new rule as follows:
[W]e hold that a property owner may exclude from its property off-duty contractor employees seeking access to the property to engage in Section 7 activity unless (i) those employees work both regularly and exclusively on the property and (ii) the property owner fails to show that they have one or more reasonable nontrespassory alternative means to communicate their message. Further, we will consider contractor employees to work “regularly” on the owner’s property only if the contractor regularly conducts business or performs services there. In addition, we will consider contractor employees to work “exclusively” on the owner’s property if they perform all of their work for that contractor on the property, even if they also work a second job elsewhere for another employer.
There are several important aspects to this rule. First, because it’s using the Supreme Court’s definition of “alternate means” from Lechmere, what the Board is really saying is “virtually never.” If you’re not regularly immersed in labor law, let me assure you that this is not an exaggeration. The Court has made clear that “reasonable alternate means” means any means to contact employees, no matter how ineffective. By way of example, the Court expressly cited that off-shore oil rigs or remote lumber camps might qualify, although with the better communications that exist now I’m not so sure that would even do it anymore.
Although it relies heavily on Lechmere, it completely mangles the reasoning behind the decision. The Supreme Court's holding in that case that non-employees (typically union organizers) almost always lack the right to access the employer's property for NLRA-protected activity was based on the premise that those non-employees only have an "indirect" Section 7 right to communicate with employees (a holding often, and justly, criticized, but one that I'm accepting as current law.) But, as McFerran’s dissent here and the Board in New York New Yorkemphasized, the "non-employees" in Bexararen't in the same position as the non-employee union organizers in Lechmere. These are employees of the employer with whom there is a labor dispute. And the only way for them to access their workplace is to access the third-party's property. In other words, these employees have a "direct" Section 7 interest under Lechmere.
This decision will have a significant impact, which I don’t always say (many reporters have heard me utter something along the lines of “although the labor law community, including me, may be up in arms about X decision, I’m not sure it will have that widespread of an impact . . . ."). But this decision substantially limits employees’ ability to access their worksite for NLRA activity if their employer leases the worksite. In other words, such employees may have effectively no option to handbill, picket, or engaging in any other NLRA-protected purposes at work. Think, for a moment, how many workplaces this impacts. Every mall, shopping center, apartment building with commercial space, etc. (heck, the number of Starbucks alone that fit the bill boggles the mind). Then think about employees who work at multiple sites, like janitors. None of them will be able to access the workplace to leaflet or engage in other protected conduct unless the property owner agrees. And few will in the face of resistance from the employer/lease who is paying rent.
In addition to drastically minimizing employees’ NLRA rights, it doesn’t make much sense from even a property rights view. If you're a property owner--say a mall--who leases to businesses, you should expect your property to be used for valid businesses uses. And those uses should include employee activity that is protected but the NLRA. Otherwise, what's to stop union-phobic employers from ensuring that they only lease their worksites from third-parties who will do the employers' bidding by excluding all off-duty employees engaging in NLRA activity? Or an employer with multiple worksite could ensure that its employees work at least once at another site, thereby violating the “exclusively” requirement (like the symphony employees here, who sometimes perform elsewhere).
Finally, this is part of a larger trend of elevating property interests above all others. Not a new trend to be sure (the Lochner-era being the most notable), but one that has picked up speed in recent decades. It's troubling, not only because there's no reason why property rights--which derive entirely from state law--should trump federal statutory rights. But also because they invariably, and no doubt intentionally, favor wealthy property owners over employees and others who are not so financially fortunate.
If you’re interested in this topic, you can read more about the background of Lechmere and other cases in my articles, Communication Breakdown: Reviving the Role of Discourse in Regulating Employee Collective Action and Taking State Property Rights Out of Federal Labor Law, or a more modern take on the tension between NLRA rights and property rights in these pieces: Worker Collective Action in the Digital Age; The Silicon Bullet: Will the Internet Kill the NLRA?; and Amicus Curae Brief to the NLRB in Rio All-Suites Hotel & Casino. As you can tell, this topic hits home for me (I actually excluded several other pieces). And I'm still waiting for the shoe to drop in Rio All-Suites, which deals with employees' use of its employer's electronic communications systems.
Tuesday, August 20, 2019
I have it on good authority from an Uber driver in Miami that Uber drivers have been using social media to organize what I will characterize as a "slowdown". Here's how it works: periodically throughout the day, Uber drivers pre-arrange with each other to shut off their Uber apps. This creates an immediate shortage of drivers (supply) relative to passengers (demand), resulting in surge pricing. Immediately after the surge pricing kicks in, the drivers turn their apps back on, thus capitalizing on the higher fares.
I'm not sure whether this has a direct impact on Uber, since the surge pricing is passed on to consumers -- and Uber's profit may be even higher with surge pricing. But if drivers are targeting Uber only, but not (e.g.) Lyft, that will put Uber at a competitive disadvantage. Even if not, the surge pricing may make traditional taxis more competitive.
Regardless, there are obvious labor law implications. My initial reaction is that this would not be an impermissible slowdown under the NLRA, since the drivers are nonunion and Uber calls them independent contractors. Is it "protected, concerted activity" -- i.e., does the NLRA protected the concerted, otherwise-protected activity of independent contractors?
Reactions are welcome!
Thursday, August 15, 2019
Several discrimination claims against law firms have made the news recently, but this complaint filed against Jones Day on August 13 is a doozy. It involves a married woman and man (to each other) who were both discriminated against on the basis of sex in different ways, in part connected with the firm's parental leave policy. There are facts about intersectional sex and race discrimination as well. At the very least, it's a fact pattern made for a final exam. For an entertaining read in a nutshell, read this thread on Twitter by @gokpkd. For a more nuanced one, see Melissa Murray's (NYU). Jones Day has also responded.
Wednesday, August 14, 2019
Today marked a personal milestone for us at the Workplace Prod Blog, with our 5,000,000th page view. It's hard to fathom that many views over the years, not to mention a bit humbling. I personally want to thank Rick Bales & Paul Secunda for inviting me to co-edit the blog more years ago than I can remember, as well as all of my new bloggers: Charlie, Joe, Marcia, and Sachin. And, of course, all of our readers who quite literally has made this all possible. The blog has been instrumental in introducing me to many of you in the labor and employment law community, and for that I'll be forever grateful.
The Department of Labor's Office of Federal Compliance Programs announced today that it will be issuing a proposed rule tomorrow on discrimination by religious organizations. The OFCCP enforces antidiscrimination rules (pursuant to Executive Order 11246) against federal contractors and has more affirmative power, by, for example doing audits, than the EEOC.
The proposed rule will come as no surprise to those who have had a chance to keep up with things like the DOJ's memo on religious liberty, issued in late 2017, or the DOJ's positions on whether Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The proposed rule currently posted addresses a number of things related to religious organizations.
First, it makes clear that religious organizations can discriminate on the basis of religion and that religion is not just belief but also religious practices. So religious organizations can require employees to conform their behavior to the organization's religiously motivated rules. In defining religion, the proposed rule draws on Title VII and adopts definitions from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.
Second, it defines what counts as a "religious corporation, association, educational institution, or society." The key changes are to what counts as a religious corporation. The EEOC's guidance has long provided that for-profit entities cannot be religious organizations for purposes of Title VII, taking the definition from court decisions. The proposed rule removes that limitation, citing the Hobby Lobby case and suggesting that Hobby Lobby would be considered a religious corporation--despite the fact that the question in Hobby Lobby was whether corporations were persons for purposes of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Title VII does not use "person," so the logic does not necessarily apply. Now, a religious organization will be any entity including a for-profit corporation that:
- is organized for a religious purpose;
- holds itself out to the public as carrying out a religious purpose; and
- exercises religion consistent with and in furtherance of a religious purpose.
One limitation in the proposed rule is this sentence: "With that said, OFCCP does not see a scenario in which an entity’s single religiously motivated employment action, standing alone, would be sufficient to satisfy [the third] element of the definition, if that were the only religiously motivated action the entity could identify. "
The proposed rule states that this does not allow federal contractors to discriminate on bases other than religion, but then says "where a contractor that is entitled to the religious exemption claims that its challenged employment action was based on religion, OFCCP will find a violation of Executive Order 11246 only if it can prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a protected characteristic other than religion was a but-for cause of the adverse action," citing Nassar and Gross.
This certainly tees up conflicts with protection against sex discrimination versus religious beliefs of employers, particularly when it comes to pregnancy and sexual minorities.
Monday, August 12, 2019
Ann McGinley and Ruben Garcia at UNLV wish to remind you that registration for the 14th Annual Colloquium on Scholarship on Labor and Employment Law (COSELL) is still open, BUT IT IS CLOSING SOON (August 31).
The colloquium takes place from October 10-12 in Las Vegas. Remember to register and get your hotel rooms now before the prices go up! Here's the link to the website for registration and other information:
Friday, August 9, 2019
This morning, the NLRB released a notice or proposed rulemaking affecting union elections. (Thanks to Robert Iafolla at Bloomberg Law for sending them my way and providing a good description of them.) At the outset, I'll note that these proposals, while important, aren't as central as the rules that govern how the more typical union elections are run and challenged. On to the proposals . . . .
1. Blocking Charge Policy. You can read more about this policy in my article discussing the current elections rules. The short version is that the NLRB has long had a policy refusing to hold an election until any alleged, non-trivial unfair labor practice charges have been dealt with. The rationale is that unresolved ULPs can interfere with a free and fair election (for instance, imagine if the employer was firing union supporters--that would improperly influence an election). The blocking charge policy has the most traction in union decertification elections because unions have effectively used this policy to delay those elections (sort of the flip side of employers dragging out initial union certification elections). As the Board majority noted in its proposed rules today, I'm sympathetic to the concern about union abuse of blocking charges and have been open to amending that policy as part of broader, substantive election reforms, but I'm not a fan of where the Board seems to be going.
The Board has announced that it proposes to adopt the General Counsel's "vote-and-impound" procedure, in which the Board would still hold the election, impound the ballots, and wait until after the ULP charges have been resolved to determine whether to open them. If the Board was quick to throw out ballots and rerun the election if it found merit to ULP charges, this rule might be OK, but I don't see that happening (and the proposal does say that if the Regional Director finds no merit to the ULP allegations, the ballots will be counted immediately). Instead, what I envision happening is the Board will be willing to use impounded ballots even in the presence of ULPs or other behavior that likely affected the election. For instance, if it finds a ULP and remedies it, will the Board rerun the election? If not, then the original ballots will remain tainted. The notice of proposed rule making obviously doesn't get into the details, but until I see something otherwise, color me skeptical. I would prefer instead new rules that made it somewhat harder to use a blocking charge to delay an election and/or capping the amount of time that a stay would remain in effect.
2. Voluntary Recognition Bar. Again, we don't know for sure what the Board will end up doing, but this sounds like deja vu all over again. As a reminder, the voluntary recognition bar is the NLRB's policy that mirrors the statutory election bar, which prevents a union election within 12 months after a prior one. The purpose of the bar is both to avoid too many disruptions to the workplace (usually after a union loss) and (if the union won) to give the union some time to work with an often-resistant employer to produce results before facing a potential decertification vote. But, if the employer voluntarily recognizes a union, rather than going through an NLRB-run election, then things are more malleable. Traditionally, the Board barred an election for a "reasonable period" after voluntary recognition (usually about 6 months). The Bush Board reversed that in Dana Corp., by allowing a decert petition immediately after voluntary recognition, for up to 45 days; the Obama Board then shifted back to the original rule in Lamon Gasket.
In the proposed rulemaking, the Board states it intends to reinstate the Dana Corp. rule. More troubling, the Board also makes a point to note that some commentators believe they should eliminate the bar in its entirety, which is disturbing. As the Board is well aware, unions have increasingly sought voluntary recognition because of their belief that the NLRB election process remains stacked against them. Eliminating the voluntary recognition bar will make that avenue less appealing . . . although probably still better than the NLRB process for unions that want to avoid it. So, while I'm not fan of Dana Corp., it's much better than eliminating discretionary election bars altogether.
3. Construction Pre-Hire Agreements. Section 8(f) of the NLRA provides a unique avenue for union recognition in the construction industry. Because that industry often involves numerous, short-term projects, the typical union recognition process doesn't fit well. In short, Section 8(f) allows an employer and union to enter into a "pre-hire" agreement that involves recognizing the union, even if there isn't a showing of majority union support (this is why you often see certain construction employers considered either "union contractors" or "non-union contractors"). Those agreements, however, can not permit any election bars. The Board has fluctuated over the years on how a union can convert an 8(f) recognition status to a more traditional Section 9(a) one, with the accompanying election bars. Currently, Board policy allows, under certain conditions (including the union's claim that it has evidence of majority support), for a union contract to provide 9(a) status. The D.C. Circuit has rejected this policy, and the Board is indicating that it is going to follow suit--requiring an actual showing of majority support.
Member McFerran has a length dissent, which is worth a read and explains some of the criticisms I've raised in more detail. And, to reiterate my self-plug, check out my article on NLRB elections, NLRB Elections: Ambush or Anticlimax?, for more explanation of some of these topics and as a preview of what might be another set of election rule proposals.
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 (email@example.com), Prof. Kate Griffith (firstname.lastname@example.org), Prof. Shannon Gleeson (email@example.com), or Prof. Sarosh Kuruvilla (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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.