In an effort to reduce possible exposure to harassment claims, employers have occasionally adopted “anti-fraternization” policies that prohibit some types of contact between employees, as by prohibiting male and female employees from being alone together behind closed doors. It has long been predicted that such policies might themselves generate worker discontent and result in litigation. Now a woman is suing Dallas-based law firm Scheef & Stone LLP alleging, among other things, that its former anti-fraternization rules kept female employees from developing mentor relationships and resulted in their being marginalized in the workplace. [Courthouse News via Becket Adams, The Blaze]
In Connecticut, disability vs. disability: “A cab driver who claims he suffers from cynophobia (a fear of dogs) and who refused to pick up a blind customer with a service dog has filed a federal lawsuit against his employer for discrimination on account of his disability after he was fired.” [Daniel Schwartz]
Parsippany, N.J. hired a new town clerk last year, but her tenure does not seem to have proved a long or happy one: four office employees soon filed complaints against her, “charging her with making racial, sexual and religious statements that left them feeling uncomfortable in the workplace,” and she filed counter-complaints. “All of the grievances were dismissed by township administration, and both sides filed suit against the town.” Now the town has paid $200,000 to resolve the former town clerk’s claims, which she has not elaborated publicly on advice of counsel, while the status of the office workers’ $4 million claim is not clear. [Parsippany Patch via NJLRA]
“There’s no doubt delivering food is a risky job — it routinely ranks on the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s most-dangerous jobs list — and after last week’s much-publicized robbery of a Chinese food deliveryman, some restaurants might be inclined to avoid delivery to high-crime areas. But in doing so, restaurants might open themselves up to civil litigation regulating anti-discrimination practices, essentially creating a catch-22 for the businesses, legal experts said.” [Harrisburg Patriot-News]
As we have seen in earlier coverage, automakers will get sued over some kinds of accident if they decide to use laminated glass, and sued over others if they decide to use nonlaminated glass. Now Ted at Point of Law has details of another case, this one against Ford, in which the South Carolina Supreme Court held that NHTSA regulations resolved the issue at hand and should not be second-guessed by tort litigation. Unfortunately, as Ted notes, the trial bar and its allies in the Obama administration are doing their best to weaken the preemption defense, which would open up maximum scope for sued-if-you-do, sued-if-you-don’t litigation of this sort.
Australia: “A man who held the nation to ransom with a letter-bomb campaign has won compensation linked to the failed workplace love affair that sparked the terror reign.” [Herald-Sun] In other Antipodean workplace news, a man currently jailed on child porn charges has won an unfair dismissal case against his former employer, food company Nestle, notwithstanding “allegations that he had routinely harassed women in the workplace, and even attempted sabotage” by placing a sexual drawing into a box of the company’s products. [Herald-Sun]
Springfield, Mass.: The parents’ suit charges that the chain wrongfully sent Corey Lind out to deliver pizza to dangerous and unknown addresses; he was ambushed and murdered in 2007. Noteworthy angle:
According to the suit, prior to 2000 Domino’s had a policy of not making or of limiting deliveries to certain areas.
As a result of discrimination claims against the company, the federal Department of Justice investigated the policy. The result was an agreement between the government and Domino’s establishing procedures Domino’s could use to limit or stop deliveries to certain areas based on safety.
The suit said that Domino’s required all stores to implement a Limited Delivery Service Policy which, among other things, would evaluate each store’s delivery and service area and provide for the safety of delivery workers.
Sued-if-you-do, sued-if-you-don’t dept.: “United Parcel Service tentatively settled a 10-year-old lawsuit Tuesday by agreeing to allow some deaf and hard-of-hearing employees to compete for jobs driving small delivery vans after special testing and training. …UPS argued that deaf drivers were more likely to get into accidents because they couldn’t hear sirens, screeching tires or other danger signals.” [Egelko/SF Chronicle] We covered the litigation in 2006.
There is a horrifying tale on Consumerist about a family that missed a flight to visit their dying mother in the hospital because a ticket agent refused to help them because it was time for her break. What the story doesn’t tell you, and what none of the commenters seem to realize, is that it’s the trial lawyers that put United Airlines in that situation.
Oregon labor laws California labor laws require workers to be permitted to take breaks; plaintiffs’ attorneys have made a multi-million-dollar cottage industry out of class action lawsuits against employers where customer service was permitted to take priority and workers occasionally didn’t take their breaks. (In California, the penalty for failing to provide a ten-minute break is an hour of pay.) To avoid this, the employer has to enforce the break period stringently, because they can potentially be held liable even if the employee voluntarily avoids the break.
Before you click the link, guess: who wins the $200,000? Was your guess right? Were other guesses just as plausible? And where does race fit in?
More: Coyote (“Here is a real journalistic triumph — the story of a multi-party conflict in which I immediately dislike absolutely everyone in the story on all sides of the conflict, up to and including the jury and the third parties quoted.”) And Scott Greenfield.
Yes, he’s back in court: Dr. John A. King is now suing, for $50 million, the lawyer he hired to sue the three law firms that represented him previously. “King has an extensive history of suing hospitals who terminated his privileges, medical boards who took away his licenses and lawyers he hired to represent him.” Putnam General Hospital, where he previously practiced, and HCA have paid out around $100 million to settle claims against King. [Charleston Sunday Gazette-Mail].
The Supreme Court rejected (h/t Beck/Herrmann) tobacco companies’ argument that the FTC’s use of the Cambridge Filter Method standard of measuring tar and nicotine impliedly preempted lawsuits against the tobacco companies for advertising their cigarettes using data from the Cambridge Filter Method standard of measuring tar and nicotine. The fact that the federal government disavowed preemption lends another data point in support of Professor Catherine Sharkey’s argument that the Court tends to defer to the Solicitor General’s position on preemption disputes. Justice Thomas’s dissent, which would undo the unworkable Cipollone plurality, appears to me to be the stronger argument, but it didn’t carry the Kennedy Five.
The fact pattern is the subject of numerous multi-billion dollar lawsuits against tobacco companies alleging that their sales of light cigarettes are fraudulent. The light-cigarette consumer fraud litigation still suffers from constitutional flaws relating to due process in aggregate litigation, but these remain to be resolved.
Perhaps a candidate for the “Damned if you do, damned if you don’t” files? From Gov. Sarah Palin’s ethics disclosure form to the Attorney General of Alaska concerning allegations that she improperly sought the removal of Alaska state trooper Mike Wooten, an estranged brother-in-law who’d made threats against her family:
It was a matter of public importance that some Alaska State Troopers seemed to feel themselves above the law. Beyond the governor’s own personal experience, the state was sued for troopers’ violations of constitutional rights, occasionally losing jury trials that would cost the taxpayers substantial money. And, of course, such abuses of power by troopers are exactly the kind of corruption that the governor has long opposed. On occasion, Governor Palin would let Monegan know that she felt this was a problem within the Department of Public Safety; Monegan has told the press that at least once the Governor included mention of Wooten as a prime example of someone who was a problem within the department. Monegan himself told the Washington Post about an e-mail Governor Palin sent him after he informed the governor about one such jury trial loss.
(courtesy Anchorage Daily News, PDF — see p. 9, paragraph 45)(background: WaPo, CNN). More: Beldar.
This is the silliest claim I’ve seen in a long while. The shooting victim’s family filed a claim against the school their son attended because it allegedly failed to enforce the dress code. The “feminine-dressing” boy was thusly singled out for abuse. (“Family of shooting victim files claim against Huenume School District”, VenturaCountyStar, Aug. 14).
Update: I revised the title for accuracy.
We hear frequently that the medical profession doesn’t do enough to police its own. Cases like that of Lawrence Poliner might explain why. In 1997, in response to complaints by nurses at Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, and the allegation by a doctor that Poliner had performed an angioplasty on the wrong artery, the hospital asked Poliner to stop work while they investigated. These limited privileges lasted 29 days, followed by a unanimous decision to suspend, a five-month suspension from echocardiography privileges, and then reinstated Poliner five months later subject to conditions that he consult with other cardiologists.
For this, Poliner sued for defamation and under federal antitrust law, alleging that other cardiologists were trying to dominate the market and prevent his competition. The five-month suspension had federal immunity under the Health Care Quality Improvement Act, 42 U.S.C. § 11101 et seq. (just one of many federal tort reforms that promote safety), but the trial court held that the 29-day limited-privileges created a cause of action that should go to a jury. Poliner lost $10,000 in income over that time “but was awarded more than $90 million in defamation damages, nearly all for mental anguish and injury to career. The jury also awarded $110 million in punitive damages”–despite the fact that Poliner would have to prove damages were caused by the allegedly unprivileged temporary limitation rather than by the five-month suspension. We covered the initial $366 million verdict in 2004, the outraged medical blogosphere reaction, and the remittitur to a still ludicrous $22.5 million in 2006.
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Yesterday the New York Times reported on the longstanding problem of patient assaults on medical personnel, particularly in psychiatric care: citing Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers, it said “half of all nonfatal injuries resulting from workplace assaults occur in health care and social service settings”. (David Tuller, “Nurses Step Up Efforts to Protect Against Attacks”, Jul. 8). So it’s worth noting what happened to Northfield City Hospital in Northfield, Minnesota when a man showed up at the emergency room at 2 a.m., ranting and yelling in an increasingly agitated manner. Hospital staff finally called the police, who arrived on the scene at 7 a.m., assessed the situation and tasered the man. (He was uninjured otherwise and was subdued without losing consciousness.) “Now federal and state health officials have cited the Northfield hospital for violating the patient’s rights,” a development that has outraged hospital officials in the state. The state health department says it believes that staff at the facility, a small one with fewer than 100 beds, “needs more training in deescalation techniques”. The hospital has hired two security guards and is negotiating other steps with the state (Maura Lerner, “Hospital calls cops and feels the sting”, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Jun. 15). A commenter at KevinMD asserts:
A few years ago, Medicare tried to prohibit physicians from discharging a patient for any reason, up to and including physical attacks on physicians and staff.
Just as the doctors were required to hire translators at the doctor’s expense, they would be required to hire security at the doctor’s expense.
They backed off then, when they physicians called them on it. Not surprised they would try again.