- “May employer fire employees for defending themselves (or others) against violent customers?” Dissenting Judge Lee has better view in Utah case [Eugene Volokh]
- “You have to ignore many variables to think women are paid less than men. California is happy to try.” [Sarah Ketterer, WSJ]
- U.S. Department of Labor has agreements with eleven countries to teach immigrant workers about U.S. labor laws “prior to and after their arrival” [Sean Higgins, Washington Examiner]
- “Why is Harrisburg paying a police officer who hasn’t shown up for work in 25 years?” [PennLive] Cf. Former Nashville cop says he “didn’t really want to” go on disability pension 27 years ago, “but it was either that or get fired” [Nashville City Paper back in 2010]
- “A White House forum for your whiny employees? Yup, this is a real thing, and you should pay attention.” [Jon Hyman]
- Minneapolis charity canvassers: “The Wobblies just won a big independent contractor case at the NLRB” [Politico “Morning Shift”, Jon Hyman]
- On widely reported decline in labor share of U.S. income, mind this little-reported asterisk [David Henderson, Timothy Taylor]
The great thing about discrimination-in-public-accommodations law is all the social harmony: barber near Pittsburgh fined $750 by state of Pennsylvania for declining to cut women’s hair [Scott Shackford, Reason]
We’ve often covered the outrageous results of California’s Unruh Act, a lawyer-enriching, endlessly abusable enactment that awards damages without actual injury, generates surprising new grounds for litigation, and tilts the playing field of litigation toward plaintiffs with one-way fee shift entitlements and other goodies. Now, whether or not with dollar signs twinkling in their eyes, some busybodies have invoked it to go after a women-in-tech conference over alleged sex discrimination, and a whole new generation of commentators have discovered that in areas like the Unruh Act, “the legal system allows meritless claims to extort compliance” and that the “threat of a lawsuit is usually enough to shut a company down, even if the company stands a good chance of winning in court, simply for one reason: it costs less to settle than it does to fight in court.” Ken at Popehat does not offer a warm outpouring of sympathy:
Here’s the thing: if you only wake up to how broken the system is when it’s abused by one of your ideological enemies, you’re a vapid partisan hack. The legal system — including, but not “only” or “especially” civil rights laws — is a tool of extortion, deceit, and thuggery. I’ve seen nothing in my 21 years as a lawyer to make me think that civil rights plaintiffs are any more likely than other plaintiffs to abuse the system. But some laws lend themselves to abuse — like laws that are deliberately broad, deliberately flexible, and that award attorney fees only to prevailing plaintiffs, removing all deterrents against frivolous suits and piling on incentives to cave to extortion. The result is a system that’s profitable for lawyers, mediocre for individual plaintiffs, and a constant burden on potential defendants in a way that utterly fails to distinguish between wrongdoers and the innocent.
If you’re only irritated by this when a group of Wrong People target a group of Right People, you’re not to be taken seriously.
Sam Brunson, a Loyola (Chicago) professor specializing in tax law, searched IRS private letter rulings and sums up the results at the Mormon website By Common Consent (via Paul Caron/TaxProf, who assembles other links). For some academics’ views on whether the Bob Jones U. precedent (exemption denied to educational institution on grounds of race discrimination) will or should be pushed further into other areas, see Inside Higher Education and Caroline Corbin, SSRN (sex discrimination).
More on the Bob Jones U. case: Regulation magazine, Jan./Feb. 1982, more via Steven Hayward. More on the parsonage (housing) allowance, one bit of the tax code that does favor religious entities over otherwise comparable nonprofits: Ronald Hiner and Darlene Pulliam Smith/Journal of Accountancy, Erwin Chemerinsky/Duke (anti), Jonathan Whitehead and Becket Fund (pro). Journalists stirring the pot recently: Felix Salmon, Fusion; Mark Oppenheimer, Time.
Get me rewrite! The New York Times’s initial story on the departure of interim chief executive Ellen Pao from social media community Reddit lacked egregious bias, so the paper went back to insert some. (More: Twitchy, citing my Twitter contribution.) Amid widespread mockery of the second version’s opinionated tone, the paper then published yet a third version pulling back from some of its friskier social justice pronouncements. Pao, as readers may recall, was the plaintiff in an earlier Silicon Valley suit over alleged gender discrimination and retaliation, a suit that failed before a jury but drew much favorable coverage along the way in the NYT and elsewhere.
Laws prescribing maternal and child care leave and benefits often backfire on their intended beneficiaries, reducing employer willingness to hire workers expected to take the benefits. That’s not exactly news to those familiar with the economic way of thinking; what’s noteworthy is that it’s something being reported in the New York Times, which cites a law in Spain that entitles parents to ask for reduced hours and has led to a reduced willingness to employ mothers, and a child-care mandate in Chile that has been followed by a decline in starting wages for women, as well as much noncompliance. “A broader analysis of 22 countries found that women were more likely to work when these types of policies are in place, but their jobs more likely to be ‘dead-end’ positions and less likely to be managerial posts.” America’s own Family and Medical Leave Act, often thought to be less burdensome because leave is unpaid, has not been exempt from the logic: “Women are slightly more likely to stay employed, but receive fewer promotions because of the law, according to research cited by the New York Times.” The Times says the “three American states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — that offer paid family leave finance it through employee payroll taxes,” which tends to make it a little more explicit that the cost of the benefits is coming largely out of compensation packages. [Nicole Kaeding, Cato; Claire Cain Miller, “The Upshot,” New York Times]
Fearful of allegations of harassment or other impropriety, some male bosses on Capitol Hill have a policy against taking 1-on-1 closed-door meetings with female staffers, which of course itself probably makes it harder for women to advance and may be illegal. [Sarah Mimms, National Journal] Possibly there is legal safety to be had in not taking one-on-one meetings — or evening events, or travel — with staffers of any gender. Or, like up-to-date cops, maybe they could wear body cameras.
Note also: this 2013 Overlawyered post about a lawsuit charging that an “anti-fraternization” policy at a Texas law firm impeded mentorships and advancement for women, and this 2000 post (scroll to Nov. 1) quoting a New Jersey lawyer: “I have not seen a female client unescorted after-hours since this incident and probably never will again.”
P.S. Catherine Rampell at the Washington Post takes as usual a line at variance with the one presented here (via Amy Alkon: “Feminism Built That!” with reader comments) Note how Rampell presents absurd (A) and (B) rationales for the no-closed-door practice without for a moment considering a third rationale, namely (C) the possibility that different interpretations or understandings of the same words or events will generate career-ending disputes and allegations. Because that never happens, right?
A San Francisco jury has found no improper gender discrimination or retaliation by Kleiner Perkins and returned a defense verdict in Ellen Pao’s high-profile lawsuit [Mashable, Roger Parloff/Fortune (noting judge’s evidentiary rulings favorable to Pao)] Pao’s “lawyers also missed out on a payday that could have reached into the millions of dollars.” In particular, “had Pao won on any of her claims, under California law her legal team, led by longtime San Francisco employment lawyers Alan Exelrod and Therese Lawless, could have sought all its fees from Kleiner.” [Reuters] One-way fee-shifting rules like those in discrimination law, especially with the further “win on any claim, collect all legal fees including those spent pursuing losing claims” refinement, diverge sharply from the principles of two-way loser pays followed in other advanced nations, but have the result (and the intent) of strongly incentivizing speculative litigation. The only real way to go further would be to order defendants to pay both sides’ fees even when the defendants win outright, as Kleiner did; but as of yet even California law does not go that far.
P.S. Apparently even a lost case counts as valuable promotion for the California plaintiff’s employment bar [Margaret Cronin Fisk, Bloomberg, auto-plays]
“Complaints of discrimination to the [Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights] have soared from 6,364 in fiscal 2009 to a record of 9,989 in the most recent fiscal year.” [Lyndsey Layton, Washington Post] Most notable sentence concerning that surging caseload: “Two individuals were responsible for filing more than 1,700 of those allegations of [education] sex discrimination.”
Related: how OCR acquires and uses financial leverage over academia [Hans Bader, CEI via Amy Alkon (“a bigger threat to innocent students is the massive financial risk colleges face if they do not swiftly expel accused students … Moreover, even when no court would award damages, OCR will. It has recently given itself the power to award monetary damages against colleges, even in situations where the Supreme Court’s Davis decision says damages would be inappropriate under the Constitution’s spending clause.”)]
- Loosen constraints on local and state deviation from the NLRA labor law model? Idea gathering force on right also draws some interest from left [Ben Sachs, On Labor, on James Sherk/Andrew Kloster proposal for right to work laws at city/county level]
- Justice Alito dissents from Supreme Court’s denial of certiorari in Kalamazoo “employee buyer’s regret” case where asked-for transfer was later construed as retaliation [Jon Hyman]
- NLRB’s franchise power grab could prove costly to small business [Diana Furchtgott-Roth, Connor Wolf]
- A very different country: Supreme Court of Canada constitutionalizes a right of public employees to strike [On Labor]
- Average full-time California municipal employee got 2013 compensation package of nearly $121,000 [Steven Greenhut]
- Perfect, now let’s mandate sick day banking nationwide: “Montgomery [County] fire department has history of sick-day abuse among workers due to retire” [Washington Post]
- Yet more unilateralism: Obama administration tightens regs on federal contractor sex discrimination [Roger Clegg]