Justia columnist and Cardozo law professor Marci Hamilton argues that the effects of Mississippi’s recent passage of a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) should inform the U.S. Supreme Court as it presently considers two cases arising under the federal RFRA, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. Hamilton points out that the new Mississippi law has ignited major conflict between businesses that simply want to do business with willing customers and those who want to impose their beliefs on employees and customers. Hamilton cautions that if the Supreme Court makes the federal RFRA’s language to applicable to organizations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, it will surely cause national unrest.
Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf proposes a limiting principle to explain the NBA’s treatment of LA Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Dorf argues that if private speech can be the basis for employment decisions generally, then Sterling’s example could be highly problematic. If, however, Sterling is understood as having created a hostile work environment under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act, then the potentially broad and troubling employment implications of disciplining private speech are appropriately curtailed.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a charge of discrimination filed against the City of New York for an allegedly unlawful testing accommodation policy. Grossman describes the facts alleged in the charge: an NYPD police officer was denied the opportunity to reschedule a sergeant’s exam despite that she was scheduled to give birth on the same day as the exam. Grossman then discusses the applicable laws, and she argues that the discriminatory policy is a manifestation of the erroneous mindset that pregnancy is a condition not worthy of even minor accommodation.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the continuing gender inequality in the federal workforce. That inequality, in 2010, led the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to convene a working group to “identify the obstacles that remain in the federal workplace that hinder equal employment opportunities for women.” Grossman comments on what they found, and how far—or near we are from the sexist world that the movie 9 to 5 depicted.
Justia columnist, George Washington law professor, and economist Neil Buchanan comments on the compensation that college athletes receive, and notes that they would probably do worse under a wage-paying system. He also contends that the reason that people often dismiss the idea that college players are paid is that the payment comes in the form of athletic scholarships. The cynical view is that this payment is not real, with players being deprived of the education that schools pretend to offer them. However, Buchanan notes, it turns out that the reality is different than the cynics’ take on it, and much more nuanced.
Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Michael Dorf comments on the legal and other aspects of the incidents by which Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Richie Incognito bullied and racially harassed his teammate Jonathan Martin, to the point that Martin left the team. Dorf also notes that, interestingly, several U.S. Supreme Court cases are relevant to the controversy regarding Incognito’s behavior.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the U.S. Senate’s passage of the Employment Discrimination Act (ENDA) of 2013, which would prohibit employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. Although the measure is not predicted to survive the House, Grossman contends that its passage in the Senate is noteworthy and encouraging.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) on its 35th anniversary. Although the PDA was a key landmark, Grossman notes that pregnant workers today continue to face high levels of discrimination and to lack some basic legal protections that are necessary to enable some women to continue working throughout their pregnancies, indicating that additional legal reform is necessary. Moreover, she notes that instead of following the plain language of clause two of the PDA, requiring pregnant workers to be treated as well as other workers “similar in their ability to work,” lower courts are increasingly demanding evidence of a discriminatory intent lurking behind such policies before striking them down.
Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp discusses a case argued before the U.S. Supreme Court on the first day of its 2013-2014 Term. That case, Madigan v. Levin, raises the question whether the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) precludes age discrimination claims brought directly under the Equal Protection Clause. Kemp notes that the particular facts of the case and the tone of arguments at the Supreme Court suggest that the Court may not decide the case on the merits. However, he argues that the case does present important questions on the power of Congress to abrogate individuals’ right to sue for constitutional violations, and its duty to do so only when the statutory remedies are both adequate and broadly accessible.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and University of Pittsburgh law professor Deborah Brake together comment on the Supreme Court's recent decisions in two cases that involved employment discrimination. In one, the Court narrowed the definition of “supervisor” in harassment cases, which reduces the number of cases in which employers can be held vicariously liable for unlawful harassment. In the other case, the same 5-4 majority took a restrictive view of causation in workplace retaliation cases, which Grossman and Brake note will undermine protection for workers who complain about discrimination. As Justice Ginsburg observed in her strong dissents in both cases, and as Grossman and Brake also contend, the majority opinions are insensitive to the realities of working life, and are wrongly preoccupied with making it easy for employers to win discrimination cases at the summary judgment stage.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman critiques the Supreme Court majority opinion in Vance v. Ball State University. There, Grossman explains, the Court majority held that a harasser does not qualify as a supervisor unless he or she has the power to “take tangible employment actions against the victim”—also known informally as having the power to hire and fire. This ruling matters in important ways, Grossman explains, because the employer’s liability under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for workplace harassment committed by supervisors is much stronger than it is for harassment inflicted by co-workers. Accordingly, the ruling leaves some workers with less protection from harassment than they would have had, if the Court's minority had had its way. Grossman also covers Justice Ginsburg's dissent, which she finds very persuasive.
Justia columnist and U. Washington law professor Anita Ramasastry comments on a recent ruling from a New York-based federal district judge regarding the legal status of unpaid internships. In the wake of the ruling, which held in favor of a number of former unpaid interns who had performed duties for Fox Searchlight, interns from The New Yorker, and W Magazine now argue that based on the ruling, they, too, should have been paid for the work they did at these high-profile companies. Ramasastry notes that the ruling may well be a watershed for unpaid interns. She also emphasizes the Department of Labor’s criteria relating to when an unpaid internship is—or is not—legally legitimate.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman explains the specific provisions of, and the keen need for, the bill that Governor Cuomo of New York has recently proposed, which is entitled the Women's Equality Act (WEA). Pointing to two hypothetical babies, a boy and a girl, Cuomo notes that the girl's life will be marked with risks and forms of discrimination that the boy will never have to suffer. The bill, Cuomo contends, will help level the playing field for girls and women, via changes in the law in ten different areas, each of which Grossman comments upon.
Justia columnist and Cornell law professor Sherry Colb comments on a discrimination case in which the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center fired a Customer Service Representative, Sakile S. Chenzira, for refusing to get a seasonal flu vaccine, in contravention of hospital policy. Chenzira refused the vaccine because she is a vegan and the vaccine is produced in chicken eggs. After her firing, Chenzira went to federal district court, arguing that her firing violated her right to be free of religious discrimination. The court denied the hospital’s motion to dismiss the case, and decided to hear the evidence. Colb describes in detail what it means to be a vegan, and explains why, for some vegans, the decision whether or not to be vaccinated is a difficult one. She also discusses when, under federal law, a belief system counts as a religion, noting that veganism ought to qualify under that definition. Colb also offers a prediction as to the likely outcome of Ms. Chenzira’s case.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman discusses the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) on its twentieth anniversary. Grossman notes that after an eight-year fight over its provisions, the FMLA was left somewhat anemic when it was finally enacted into law. Grossman also explains specifically why the FMLA is disappointing to many workers: For instance, many U.S. workers are not eligible for FMLA leave; many of the eligible cannot afford to take leave; and the FMLA has done little to alter the disproportionate burden of caretaking that falls on women in most families. In addition, Grossman points out, the FMLA did not alter the U.S.’s disappointingly low ranking among industrialized countries when it comes to medical and caretaking leave benefits for workers. Grossman urges some much-needed fixes to the FMLA, advocating that the law should be changed to solve some serious problems with, and close some worrisome gaps in, leave benefits, which she details.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professsor Joanna Grossman, and Justia guest columnist and Stanford law professor Lawrence Friedman comment on a case that raised the issue whether workers' compensation covered an injury that was incurred during sex on a business trip, with the injury at issue involving a broken and dangerous light fixture. Grossman and Friedman explain why, though the Australian woman who suffered the light-fixture injury prevailed on her workers' compensation claim, and most American claimants injured during sex on a business trip likely would, too, other would-be claimants with sex-on-a-business-trip injuries have been left without any remedy from workers’ compensation.
Justia columnist and attorney David Kemp considers the ethics around health care providers going on strike. Invoking various philosophical viewpoints relating to the matter, Kemp notes that while the unjust treatment of any group of employees is intolerable, there is a unique set of factors present when discussing the labor conditions of health care providers. Kemp points out that both the patient and the individual employee are impacted by unjust or unfair working conditions, but argues that because the health-care provider’s first duty is to care for the patient, the strike may not be an ideal negotiation device. Kemp concludes that although there are strong arguments on both sides, the risk of harm to patients ultimately outweighs the need for health-care workers to strike in a majority of circumstances.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman takes strong issue with a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision holding that a male dentist did not violate a law banning sex discrimination in employment when he fired his very competent dental assistant simply because he was attracted to her. Grossman argues that the Iowa courts should, in this case, have recognized that the dentist perpetrated what is called “sex-plus discrimination,” which joins sex discrimination with another factor, such as an attraction to a particular person of that sex. Thus, Grossman explains, it is not a factor in the dentist's favor, legally, that he had hired other female assistants, and did not harass them. When women are treated worse than men at work because of their gender, Grossman concludes, discrimination law must apply, regardless of how many women are harassed or how selective or attraction-based the harasser may be.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on the legal definition of “supervisor” in the context of the law addressing harassment in the workplace. The topic is especially timely because the Supreme Court just recently held oral argument in Vance v. Ball State University, which focuses on this very issue. Grossman begins by covering workplace harassment basics, and then goes on to consider the scope of employers’ affirmative defense to a workplace harassment claim—which has proven to be a highly contested issue. She then focuses on Vance itself, discussing both the facts of that case, and the split among the federal circuits about who qualifies as a “supervisor.” Grossman ultimately comes down in favor of the EEOC’s definition of “supervisor,” arguing that it is clearly correct. She also comments on some of the Justices’ apparent positions on the matter, as likely betrayed by their respective comments at oral argument.
Justia columnist and Hofstra law professor Joanna Grossman comments on a flagrant case of sexual harassment in a grocery store, which eventually led to litigation that came before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. The case, as Grossman explains, arose from the store owner’s fiance’s habit of touching sexually, and otherwise sexually harassing, the store’s employees, who were mostly teenage girls. The girls complained, but nothing was done. Ultimately, the store was found liable for sexual harassment. Grossman explains the steps necessary to win such a case, and discusses the question of the scope of the remedy that was imposed upon the store in this case. She also notes that in such cases, both legal remedies (money damages) and equitable remedies (court orders to do or refrain from doing something) are appropriate.