When Disabilities Compete

April 18, 2012

Gentlemen, start your engines.  The city of Indianapolis is facing a lawsuit arising from competing disability claims.  In one corner, a person using a service dog to help them with their disability (while the typical scenario is the seeing-eye dog, apparently this is a paprika-sniffing dog).  In the other, a person with a dog allergy.  Paprika

The Americans with Disabilities Act (along, likely, with the Indiana state law equivalent), in a nutshell, requires employers to not discriminate against employees in the terms and conditions of their employment on the basis of a disability, so long as the employee can perform the essention functions of their job with or without reasonable accommodation.  Here is where it gets sticky.  Let’s first assume both employees in question are disabled within the meaning of the statute, which they likely are as they suffer from physical impairments (exposure to specific allergens) that substantially limit a major life activity (e.g. anaphylaxis preventing breathing in severe reactions).  Using a service dog or preventing dogs in the workplace are both likely reasonable accommodations.  Problem is, these are mutually exclusive accommodations.

Of course, there is an escape clause:  employers are not required to make an accommodation, even if reasonable, if it otherwise would impose an undue hardship.  Here, if the dog-allergy employee (DAE) is valuable, the employer could state that it would be an undue hardship to permit dogs as it would cause the loss of services of the DAE.  It is an affirmative defense that the employer would have to prove, though it may be conflated with the reasonableness of the paprika-allergy employee’s (PAE’s) request.  Also, employers are not required to provide the most reasonable accommodations, or the best reasonable accommodations, but rather one of the list of possible reasonable accommodations.

In the choice between DAE and PAE, the employer is free to choose DAE.  However, the inquiry does not end there.  The city apparently offered her only her job w/o dog or unpaid leave, neither of which are reasonable.  What about a transfer of position or location that could accommodate both?  Cities are usually sufficiently spread out to permit such an accommodation, so long as there is no conflict with civil service laws or collective bargaining agreements.  So, PAE may yet have a case; in the meantime, she should be eligible for unemployment benefits.

Also, who knew?  Paprika is everywhere!


First Amendment trumps Equal Opportunity Employment

January 11, 2012

Today, the Supreme Court in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC  issued a unanimous ruling on the First Amendment.  While this blog regularly celebrates the Freedom of Speech clause, the decision focuses primarily on the Free Exercise Clause and, to a lesser extent, the Establishment Clause.

In a nutshell:

  1. Church had 2 types of teacher–lay and ministerial.
  2. Ministerial teacher develops disability and takes leave of absense; replaced by lay teacher.
  3. Church rules normally prioritize ministerial teachers, but when this teacher tries to get her job back, she is denied.
  4. She becomes insubordinate and complains of an ADA violation.
  5. She is terminated.
  6. Teacher sues the church for retaliation against her for making an ADA claim.
  7. Supreme Court says church wins.

Assuming there was blatant retaliation, the church still wins.  Why?  Because if the government were to tell a church they couldn’t fire a particular minister, that would prevent a church from freely deciding who gets to spread the gospel and who doesn’t.  To its extreme, though excepted specifically in Title VII, if the government had the power to dictate who a church could fire, it could prevent the Pope from defrocking an American Bishop who pronounces the Shahada and converts to Islam.  Basically, the 1st Amendment lets a religion freely decide who gets to be a minister, even if the reasons for hiring or firing are otherwise abhorrent to society.  If you don’t like it, you are free to change religions.  Or declare the person who did the firing a heretic and stone them.  Either way.


The Mark of Cain

November 3, 2011

Looks like Herman Cain is having a three way and not in the awesome sense.  A third woman has reportedly come forward with an allegation that Mr. Cain acted inappropriately toward her.  While I’m sure someday Mark might take a pro-sexual harassment case to the Supreme Court, arguing for the 1st Amendment right to be saucy, for now it is considered unlawful.

A side note to political candidates:  if you have a skeleton or three in your closet, reveal it yourself.  It will come out and you want to control the message.

Sexual harassment is a fascinating area of the law.  Sometimes, and rarely, it is blatant quid pro quo, the old casting couch.  Most times, it is something said that offended the listener, with some sexual or gender based content, that is deemed to have gone too far.  It’s like pornography, Rule 34 aside, you generally know it when you see it.  The hard fought cases are the ones where it is less clear.  According to the article:

she said Cain told her that he had confided to colleagues how attractive she was and invited her to his corporate apartment outside work.

Maybe that implied he wanted to sleep with her.  Maybe he was paying her a compliment and the invitation was platonic or business related.  President Obama is an attractive man and I’d welcome him to dinner at my house.  It doesn’t mean I want to become the First Lady by proxy.  As to the complaint Mr. Cain “settled” or reached an “agreement” on (synonyms to me, different to him), he states that it was about a comparison he made of a female coworker to the height of his wife.  If that was a pickup line, it is the worst ever; what woman gets turned on by a man who compares her to his wife?  I’m pretty sure that violates Ashley Madison’s own standards.  But, she may have taken it as such, and maybe that is what he intended.  There may be more to it, but he isn’t talking and she is bound by a confidentiality agreement.  Given both of these, and whatever the third is, you can see why these cases take a lot of lawyering.

As to the two that settled, it sounds like a year’s severance was given for one, and the other got something confidential.  A year’s severance is a pretty nice package; it’s not nuisance.  Confidentiality, on the other hand, does not imply a large settlement; some companies demand it even for nuisance suits.  They don’t want to set any form of precedent.

Some commenters have suggested she breach the confidentiality clause.  That is a huge no-no.  She’d likely have to repay the money, and the statute of limitations has run on filing a claim.  Plus, she’d probably owe attorneys’ fees.  And we’ve all seen how much it sucks to be hit with attorneys’ fees.  Others have suggested Mr. Cain is violating a non-disparagement clause.  My guess is: no.  Like confidentiality clauses, these are typically one sided.  An employee might get a neutral reference clause, but it usually isn’t as broad as the non-disparagement clause given to the employer.

My advice to Mr. Cain:  don’t blame Gov. Perry or Romney.  Air your dirty laundry now.  And watch what you say in the future.  I don’t want to hear any claim that “is” is ambiguous.

 


Cum dilectione hominum et odio vitiorum

October 26, 2011

By Jay Wolman

As the newest Satyriconista, with a practice of civil litigation and employment law in Boston, I thought I’d begin my first post with something high-brow.  Everything sounds better in Latin.  This was St. Augustine’s way of saying “Hate the player, not the game”.  Fast forward 1500 years and the message remains relevant.

David Madden, the now former mayor of Weymouth, Massachusetts, a small town about a half hour south of Boston, is the player.  The public sector pension system is the game.  He is getting a lot of flack for manipulating the system to his benefit.  Unlike most private sector pensions (union pensions excluded), public sector pension benefits in many jurisdictions, including Massachusetts, are not determined solely by how much the worker contributes to the system (defined contribution), but rather include benefits based on status or job classification (defined benefit).  [Yes, pensions are far more complicated than that, but nuance does not matter for this discussion.]  It seems that Mayor Madden would make an extra $30k per year by retiring as Fire Chief rather than Mayor.  So, Mayor Madden did some nifty maneuvering with the help of his pals:  He takes leave from the position of Mayor at the end of his second term, appointing his buddy, the Town Solicitor (i.e. the top lawyer) as interim Mayor.  The incumbent Fire Chief takes a voluntary demotion and the Solicitor (now Mayor) appoints Mayor Madden as Fire Chief.  Two days later, without showing up to work, Fire Chief Madden retires and puts in for the higher pension.  And the Town approves it (the State is fighting it, but has lost in Court so far).

Now, not every Mayor can get away with this–Mr. Madden actually was the Fire Chief before becoming Mayor.  He technically took a leave of absence, meaning he had this in the works for eight years.  And his buddies go along with it.  Sure, it looks bad, but this is the system that was set up and no laws appear to have been broken.  I actually feel bad for Mayor Madden; he has to pay legal fees to defend what the law allowed him to do (although I am a lawyer, it is a personal pet peeve that “loser pays” is not the American Rule.)  If my fellow Massachusetts residents don’t like what he did, they shouldn’t take it out against Mayor Madden, they should change the rules.  Hard to do when the legislators also game the system, but not impossible.

Here’s a thought for my first post as a Satyriconista:  eliminate pensions.  I’m not saying we renege on current promises, but I’ve wondered why we even have this complicated mess. (I know, they are the result of WWII wage freezes.)  As we are no longer at war with the Axis powers, I don’t know anyone who really thinks “Hey, boss, I know I’m doing all this hard work for you now, but I don’t want you to pay me for all of it now.  I think it would be great if you held on to a portion so you could give it to me in thirty years.  I trust you to handle it more than I trust myself.  And I know you’ll pay every penny.

 


Dominatrix Lawyer Spanks Former Boss

October 21, 2011

Former New York state prosecutor Alisha Smith, who helped secure a $5 billion settlement from Bank of America, was unceremoniously suspended from her job because she spent her spare time as a dominatrix.

She was suspended from her job because the New York Post questioned whether she was paid for her nocturnal activities. The prosecutor’s office has a policy that prohibits outside employment without prior approval if the prosecutor earns more than $1,000. (source)

The New York Post reports:

Famous in the S&M world for her skillful spandex-clad spankings, Smith, while not denying her freaky ways, says she did not make money trolling the dungeons while working for the state’s top law-enforcement official, a job she’s held since 2002. (source)

Nice of the New York Post to have a positive story about Ms. Smith, since its sloppy reporting on her private life is why she got suspended in the first place.

She appeared at a press conference with Gloria Allred by her side to quit her job. (source) Working for $78,000 a year at a job where your boss doesn’t give you a chance to explain when the New York Post, of all places, writes crap about you — yeah, that’s grounds to say “I don’t get paid enough for this shit.”

Lets keep score:

    She kicks the shit out of Bank of America and brings $5 billion into the public coffers.

    The New York Post writes a sloppy piece full of muck and innuendo about a her private life.

    The prosecutor’s office lacks a spine and suspends her, without so much as giving her a chance to respond to the story.

    And now all of us suffer, because a seemingly good prosecutor is now making the Gloria Allred circuit instead of kicking the crap out of criminals.


Stripper lacks class (status, that is)

October 20, 2011

She take my money, well I’m in need
Yeah she’s a triflin’ friend indeed
Oh she’s a gold digger way over time
That digs on me

An exotic dancer by the stage name “Ms. Behaved” sought to be a class representative in a class action against Fantasy Topless in Colton, California. Beachemin v. Tom L. Theaters, Inc. No. SACV 11-0394-DOC (C.D. Cal. Oct. 6, 2011). Beachemin brought suit against Fantasy Topless in an increasingly-common class action claim against strip clubs — alleging that the club misclassified the dancers as “independent contractors” as opposed to employees. The claim further alleged that as employees, the club failed to pay the dancers minimum wage and forced them to share tips with the management.

Fantasy Topless succeeded in knocking out Beachemin because she was not a proper member of the class she purported to represent.

It is well-settled that Plaintiff must be a member of the class for which she seeks class certification, in order to satisfy both the typicality and adequacy prongs of Federal Rule 23 class certification requirements. “[A] class
representative must be part of the class and ‘possess the same interest and suffer the same injury’ as the class members.” (Order at 5)

Ms. Beachemin defined the purported class as follows:

[a]ll individuals, who at any time from the date four years prior to the date the Complaint was originally filed continuing through the present, worked as an exotic dancer at Fantasy Topless in Colton, California, but was designated as an independent contractor and therefore, not paid any minimum wages. (Order at 5-6).

Unfortunately for Ms. Beachemin, the court found that she wasn’t exactly a member of the class that she purported to represent. The Defense showed that Beachemin was never actually hired at the club, she never signed a “Dancer Contract” with the club (as all dancers were required to do), she never had a dancer license from the City of Colton, as all dancers are required to do. See Order at 6-7. The evidence showed that she only tried out to be a dancer, and only performed one dance for approximately three minutes. On the other hand, Beachemin testified that she worked at the club for two days, for a total of less than eight hours. The court was not persuaded and denied the Plaintiff’s motion for class certification.

Despite the Court’s cold reception to Ms. Beachemin’s claim to represent the class, the Court did not seem hostile to the claims themselves.

Plaintiff has accordingly failed to meet her burden of proving that she is an adequate class representative and that she possesses claims typical of the class. There is no indication that Plaintiff ever signed an independent contractor agreement, Plaintiff was never paid by Defendants, and Plaintiff was not forced to share her few dollars in tips with Defendants or any other Fantasy Topless employee. As such, she could not have been misclassified as an independent contractor, like the remainder of the Purported Class, and she suffered no injury from the Defendants’ tip-sharing policy, unlike the remainder of the Purported Class. This Court does not wish to unduly hamper the potential success of the rest of the Purported Class by approving Plaintiff as class representative when she appears not to fall within the her own definition of the Purported Class. The Court expresses no judgment on the likelihood of obtaining class certification on the basis of the above-described claims with a different member of the Purported Class serving as class representative. (Order at 8)

I ain’t sayin’ she a gold digga. But she does sound like someone looking for an easy payday. The judge saw through it, but once the lawyers find a dancer who was a proper class representative, they may find greater fortune. While most strip clubs traditionally classify their dancers as independent contractors, the employee vs. independent contractor analysis is trending against the clubs. See Clincy v. Galardi South Enterprises, Inc., No. 1:09-CV-2082-RWS (N.D. Ga. Sept. 7, 2011); Thompson v. Linda and A, Inc., 779 F. Supp. 2d 139 (D.D.C. 2011).

Strip club owners need to make sure to cover their asses. Just like the protagonist in Golddigger sings “we want prenup,” dance club owners need to have their relationships papered — and papered right. And, if it costs a little more to classify a dancer as an employee vs. an “independent contractor,” they might just need to bite that bullet. The decisions are heavily trending in that direction, and the consequences can be quite expensive.


Advice to Law Students looking for a job — don’t be a goddamned crybaby

December 22, 2010

Popehat has a bad-ass post on an “incident” at Syracuse University School of Law. The short version is this: Syracuse Law student Len Audaer published a blog satirizing his class, the administration, and public figures.

From Popehat’s story.

Somebody complained. Syracuse decided to appoint a “prosecutor” to investigate the blog and determine whether to bring formal charges against Audaer under the Syracuse discipline system. All of that — the fact that someone complained about satire, and that the school didn’t immediately reject the complaint — is appalling enough.

But Syracuse, and specially appointed prosecutor Syracuse law professor Gregory Germain, are angry about the criticism and are doubling down. As is often the case, the attempted cover-up is worse than the initial conduct.

Professor Germain has filed a motion with the Syracuse disciplinary body demanding a gag order against Audaer and his defense team. He wants Syracuse to issue an order forbidding Audaer from disclosing the contents of his own blog, or anything he gets from the university about the proceedings against him, to any third party unless the third parties agree in writing (1) not to disclose the names of any of the people identified in those blog posts or documents without their consent, and (2) to publish the entirety of documents, not just quotes from them, “in order to prevent misleading selective posting of information.”

In other words, Professor Germain thinks that Audaer should be prohibited from sending FIRE, or me, or the Chronicle of Higher Education, or CNN, an unredacted copy of this blog post without the written permission of Ellen DeGeneres. Professor Germain also thinks that Audaer should be prohibited from sending FIRE, or me, or anyone else one of his own blog posts, or any document from the proceedings against him, unless we agree to Professor Germain’s preferred method of writing about it. Professor Germain explicitly demands censorship of documents as a method of getting the type of media coverage of the proceedings that he wants. Of course, no respectable reporter — and no self-respecting blogger, or American — would agree to present materials only in the manner that a censor demanded. Moreover, given an internet in which it is trivially easy for Syracuse and its supporters to host and publish the raw documents themselves, the demand for written guarantees of full publication as a method of achieving “fair” coverage is transparently dishonest and/or stupid. The gag order is deliberately calculated to prevent Audaer from distributing his blog posts and the documentation of his persecution at all.

Remember what the “misconduct” is — a satirical blog.

This profession is full of uptight effete fucking pussies with sticks up their asses. You know why? Part of it is because the profession seems to attract them. But, the bigger part of it is that law schools cultivate uptight stick in the ass pussydom. Of course, just like a good TSA agent, or other low-rung pussy, Professor Germain whines that he is “just doing his job,” and he just wants the individuals who whined to be able to maintain their anonymity.

The students, faculty and staff who were targeted in the sucolitis blog did not consent to have their good names used in the blog, and do not wish to be the subject of attacks on the internet. One of the students has expressed to the Prosecutor a concern for her physical safety. Most wish to find jobs in the legal profession, and feel that bringing further public attention through the publication of their names could damage their
employment opportunities, and would cause further humiliation and embarrassment.

Again, why write my own words when Popehat knocks the shit out of it:

Leave aside, for the moment, the ignorant and authoritarian proposition that people have some sort of right not to have their names used on the internet, and not to be “attacked” on the internet. Focus on this instead: Professor German suggests that the people satirized in the blog fear that having that satire spread further as a result of their own complaints about it would be unfair, because potential employers might see it and their feelings might be further hurt.

I interview, and hire, people at a law firm. I cannot imagine a situation in which I would decline to hire someone because they had been the target of satire. That’s because I’m not a fucking idiot. Perhaps the subjects of Audaer’s blog aspire to be hired by fucking idiots. It sure looks like they are going to the right school, then.

Syracuse’s excuse for a disciplinary system apparently protects the anonymity of accusers, and supports efforts to prevent the publication of their identity. That’s common with systems that have, as their true aim, the uncritical acceptance of accusations and the swift arrival at a predetermined conclusion of guilt. See, if you allow the identity of an accuser to become public, then all sorts of inconvenient things happen. They might suffer consequences for making false accusations. People might read about the case and come out of the woodwork and say “Vance Victim couldn’t have been assaulted by the defendant on Saturday night; I saw him passed out over at Delta house that night,” or “Vance Victim is the same guy who threatened to accuse me of assault twice last year”, or “Vance Victim is a person with a reputation for being a liar and a cad.” In short, That’s why protection of accuser anonymity is repellent and inimical to modern systems of justice.

But Professor Germain does have the kernel of a point about privacy. It’s just not the point he thinks he has. It’s irrational to think that employers will be put off because a humor blog satirized you. However, it’s entirely rational to fear that, if employers find out that you ran to the administration to complain about being satirized, they might not want to hire you. I would happily hire people of every color, religion, and sexual preference. I would hire Republicans and Democrats and Independents and Greens. But I would never, in a million years, hire someone who complained to his or her school administration about being the subject of satire. People who run to the authorities to complain about being the subject of satire are weaklings, crybabies, losers, and nasty censorious authoritarians. I view them as likely to be of sub-optimal intelligence, insufficient fortitude, and poor morals. Those are not the qualities of a reliable employee or a good lawyer. They are not people I want to hire or be friends with. They are people I want to ridicule and shun.

Precisely.

Now I don’t hire very often. When I do, I have a very strict “no fucking pussies” screening process. And, if you get past me, you are sure as shit not getting past my partner, Jessica, who is less tolerant of pussies than I am.

I will tell you one thing for certain: I won’t even interview a Syracuse Law graduate who doesn’t publicly speak out against this travesty, and I would encourage all other lawyers and law firms to take the same stance.

To follow this case more:

Len Audaer’s site on the case. (here)

FIRE’s file on the case. (here)

And if you’re looking for an end-of-the-year charity, donate to FIRE here.


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