Posts Tagged ‘sued if you do’

Rachel Maines on the evolution of asbestos guilt

In the past forty years some 8,000 businesses and other entities have been named as defendants in American asbestos litigation. The story has often been told (among other places, in my book The Rule of Lawyers) of how this litigation spread in widening concentric rings to ever more peripheral defendants. The first major targets were companies that had been deeply involved with mining, processing and distributing asbestos; after these companies went bankrupt, the second ring included manufacturers of construction materials, heating and electrical products, and other goods that had included asbestos for the insulation or flameproofing properties for which it was long almost ubiquitous. By the time many of those companies were at length pulled into insolvency, the litigation had spread further to a much wider circle of defendants that had not themselves done any manufacturing involving asbestos, but had used such materials in factories, offices, schools, power plants, and so forth.

I’ve also discussed (in this 2007 Reason piece) some of the ways in which government itself promoted the injurious use of asbestos in industrial settings, above all wartime shipbuilding. But I didn’t get into another dimension of the issue, which Rachel Maines (visiting scientist at the Cornell School of Electrical and Computer Engineering) develops in a compelling article on “The Asbestos Litigation Master Narrative: Building Codes, Engineering Standards, and ‘Retroactive Inculpation.'” [via TortsProf, 2012, and very belatedly being linked here]. Maines:

As Cardozo Law School professor Lester Brickman correctly observes, most asbestos claims “were the result of defendant’s retroactive inculpation for acts committed decades earlier that were not wrongful at the time.” I concur with Brickman in this but go beyond him in arguing here that the vast majority of current asbestos claims result, in fact, from past efforts to enable compliance by property owners and building contractors with building codes and engineering standards at the Federal, state, and local levels that specified and approved asbestos in code-compliant assemblies. In many cases, the use of asbestos was required by law; no asbestos-free assemblies were approved in, for example, cathodic wrap for underground steel gas pipe, hot-air register insulating paper, and electrical insulation for conductors in switchboards. There is still no equivalent-performance substitute for asbestos in high-temperature gaskets and some types of high-performance motor vehicle brakes….

In effect, the tort law system that has supported asbestos litigation since 1973 drove much older and well-established building law, and the engineering standards incorporated into it, into a legal shadow from which it has yet to emerge, penalizing the makers and owners of products manufactured in compliance with construction regulations as negligent and characterizing all products that contained asbestos as “defective” and “unreasonably dangerous.” Historians will recognize this as an economically consequential case of the fallacy of presentism: the imposition of modern values on the past. In 1987, Federal judge Christine Cook Nettesheim accurately characterized the initial 1973 asbestos case, Borel v. Fibreboard, as “an icon of hindsight analysis.”

Read the whole thing, which has much other interesting material about the triumph of the “master narrative” of asbestos litigation promoted by plaintiff’s lawyers and their allies.

L.A. eateries adopt surcharge for employee health, get charged with price fixing

Trying, they said, to be responsible employers, a group of Los Angeles restaurants banded together and adopted a 3 percent surcharge on bills to help secure healthcare coverage for their employees. Now San Francisco attorney Daniel Sterrett — who does not deny that the surcharge is going toward the announced purpose of employee healthcare — has filed an intended class-action lawsuit saying the owners have violated California law against price-fixing. [CBS Los Angeles, ABA Journal]

“Petco won’t sell goldfish to Persians on spring equinox, lawsuit says”

Discrimination in public accommodations claim: California plaintiff Sam Mojabi alleges in a lawsuit that Petco has a “systematic” practice of suspending sales of goldfish around the time of the spring equinox. Following the circulation of reports that some families celebrate the Middle Eastern spring-equinox new year’s holiday Nowruz, influenced by Zoroastrian traditions, with a display of live goldfish, some store personnel sought to prevent the sale of the fish to Persian/Iranian buyers for fear the animals would not be cared for well after the holiday. [ABA Journal] Ten years ago Britain’s then-Labour government backed off a proposed ban on the awarding of goldfish in a plastic bag as a fairground prize, and more recently an elderly shopkeeper was “given an electronic tag and curfew for selling a goldfish to a 14 year-old” in a sting operation despite a law limiting sales to over-16s.

Supreme Court rules for Abercrombie hijab claimant

I’ve got a new post up at Cato about the Supreme Court’s decision in EEOC v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores Inc. The Court’s 8-1 ruling on fairly narrow grounds in favor of the headscarf-wearing claimant isn’t very surprising, for reasons I explain in the piece. The ruling could expose employers to more liability, particularly of the sued-if-you-do, sued-in-you-don’t variety, since it encourages employers to pry into employees’ religious views or adopt stereotyped views about what their religious scruples should be presumed to be. Still, eight Justices were content to resolve the dispute on relatively dry statutory interpretation grounds, with only Justice Clarence Thomas interested in interrogating the law at a more fundamental level. (Why, he wonders, is equal treatment based on non-religious considerations now considered “intentional discrimination” based on religion?)

P.S. More coverage: Daniel Fisher, Daniel Schwartz, Philip Miles. (More: Marci Hamilton.) And when might a National Review author favor limiting private employers’ liberty? When it’s a religious discrimination case.

Now you know: rent two not one units for employee lodging

For a seasonal posting in Park City, Utah, Ruby Tuesday invited only female associates to apply as servers, citing a wish not to require males and females to room together in the company-provided housing it had lined up (and no doubt swayed at least in part by legal risks to which it would be exposed by doing so). Expensive lesson: in a settlement with the EEOC, it will pay $100,000 to two male servers who say they wanted a summer assignment at the resort. [Daily Times]

“Why Some Male Members of Congress Won’t Be Alone with Female Staffers”

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?

“LAPD officers awarded $4 million for post-shooting discrimination”

“A jury has awarded a total of $4 million to two Los Angeles police officers who sued the department alleging discrimination and retaliation after the shooting of an unarmed autistic man five years ago….They alleged that as Latinos their restrictions [to desk duty] were discrimination after the shooting of Steven Eugene Washington, who was black. Chief Charlie Beck denied that race was involved in the restrictions, saying the men were on desk duty because of the department’s potential liability.” [Southern California Public Radio]

Texas caterer nailed for “citizenship discrimination”

Missed this one from the fall: a Texas catering business will pay a fine to the U.S. government for having engaged in “citizenship discrimination.” “Culinaire International unlawfully discriminated against employees based on their citizenship status, the Justice Department claimed, because it required non-citizen employees to provide extra proof of their right to work in the United States. Culinaire has agreed to pay the United States $20,460 in civil penalties, receive training in anti-discrimination rules of the Immigration and Nationality Act, revise its work eligibility verification process, and create a $40,000 back pay fund for ‘potential economic victims.'” Employers face stringent penalties if they ask for too few documents, but that doesn’t mean they’re free to ask for any more than the right number. [Rachel Stoltzfoos, Daily Caller; Bill Watson (“Trying too hard to follow bad laws? That’s illegal”)] Several related cases, from fifteen years ago, here.

September 2 roundup

  • Police have traced the crime wave to a single micro-neighborhood in the California capital [Sacramento Bee]
  • “Adam Carolla Settles with the Patent Trolls” [Daniel Nazer/EFF, Reason, related eight days earlier and previously] eBay takes on Landmark in the E.D. of Texas [Popehat]
  • Frank Furedi on law and the decline in childrens’ freedom to roam [U.K. Independent]
  • On “ban the box” laws re: asking about job applicants’ criminal records, it’s sued if you do, sued if you don’t [Coyote]
  • Fake law firm websites in U.K. sometimes parasitize the real ones [Martha Neil, ABA Journal]
  • What C. Steven Bradford of the blog Business Law Prof reads to keep up (and thanks for including us on list);
  • As applications to renounce U.S. citizenship mount, many related to FATCA, our government hikes fee for doing so by 422% [Robert Wood, Forbes]