A new Massachusetts law that went into effect last year allows neighbors and other unrelated complainants to seek restraining orders against each other, a legal remedy formerly confined mostly to use between family members. But there’s been a surge of filings seeking the new “harassment prevention orders,” and according to the clerk of the Boston municipal court, the law has wound up empowering “every kook in the world” to “file a harassment order against their neighbor or landlord or someone who just annoys them.” Among cases: “One man took his neighbor to Malden District Court for allegedly blowing leaves on his property, and a woman in Boston Municipal Court insisted that actor Chuck Norris used high frequency radio transmissions to harass her at home.” [Boston Globe]
Scott Greenfield thinks some legal academics may stand in need of a civil liberties refresher course.
I’m interviewed by Cato’s Caleb Brown (appx. 11 minutes). I discuss the roots in legal academia of developments ranging from modern tort law (thank you, William Prosser) to sexual harassment law (thank you, Catharine MacKinnon) and quite a few others besides.
According to London Mayor Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, the recent case of a man who is charging a 68-year-old female colleague with unconsented rump-slapping shows that Britain’s employment tribunal system leaves much to be desired:
This could turn out to be a ground-breaking case in the advancement of workers’ rights against the unfeeling boss class. But I sincerely doubt it. It sounds to me like a perfect indication of the levels of barminess now being attained by our system of employment tribunals. The hearing continues, it says at the bottom of the reports, and my first thought is how mad, how incredible it is that this poor man’s grievance – whatever it really is – has come to court.
The hearing continues, while across the country thousands of similar hearings drag their weary length before the matchstick-eyelid tribunals of Britain. Millions of man-hours are wasted, as business people are obliged to give evidence rather than getting on with their jobs. Huge fees are racked up by lawyers and “expert witnesses”, who are called on to pronounce on the exact meaning of an insult, and on all the unverifiable aches and pains and stresses that may constitute a disability.
The total cost of the system has been put at £1 billion for British business, and it is rising the whole time. …
Last month Prime Minister David Cameron proposed relaxing — though only slightly — the tribunals’ grip over firing, hiring, claims of harassment and other workplace matters.
“Third-party” harassment claims pose a legal headache for employers. [HR Capitalist]
Nocturnal ramblings of a less-than-conscious nature during a business trip to Africa were misportrayed by the company as sexual harassment or something else improper, argued the mining exec. A jury awarded him €10 million, by far a record for an Irish libel case. [Telegraph, Eichler/Atlantic Wire]
William Saletan investigates a curious genre of harassment case [Slate; more at Atlantic Wire]
Over dissents from two justices, the New Jersey Supreme Court has declined to disbar an attorney who made “repeated, demeaning and offensive suggestions to his clients” in “an effort to barter his professional services for sexual favors.” The punishment instead: suspension for a year and required sensitivity training. Solangel Maldonado at Concurring Opinions thinks the court was too lenient, arguing that an employer charged with similar conduct toward an employee would have faced extensive liability under sexual harassment law.
Daniel Schwartz doesn’t think much of this private venture.
P.S. A moving target, it seems.
A lab technician in Bolton, Lancashire, U.K. kills himself after an offhand joke at his workplace is denounced as insensitive [Telegraph, Mail]
Tony Judt reflects on many bemused years in a history department, and commenters have their say [NY Review of Books Blog via Amy Alkon]
A new book on the Paula Jones/Bill Clinton legal mess [Janet Maslin, New York Times; my views back when]