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The Excuse Factory

If done by anyone other than unionists, this would by now be a trending national story:

The Teamsters picketers were already mad. By the time Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi’s car pulled up to the Steel & Rye restaurant in the picturesque New England town of Milton just outside Boston, one of them ran up to her car and screamed, “We’re gonna bash that pretty face in, you f*cking wh*re!”

“She was scared,” said a Top Chef crewmember who witnessed the incident.

Bravo had incurred the wrath of Charlestown-based Teamsters Local 25 by using its own production assistants as drivers, reports the Boston Herald:

The picketers lobbed sexist, racist and homophobic slurs at the rest of the cast and crew for most of the day, the website reported, and when production wrapped, the “Top Chef” crew found that tires were slashed on 14 of their cars. Milton police confirmed that the union members were “threatening, heckling and harassing” but said no arrests were made.

The Herald quotes a spokeswoman for Local 25, Melissa Hurley, sounding completely unapologetic: “As far as we’re concerned, nothing happened.” Or to put it differently: Teamsters Will Be Teamsters.

More, including the violent history that makes this incident anything but “isolated,” from the Boston Globe. I’ve posted on the curious exemption of unions from the law of harassment, stalking, hostile environment, etc. here, here (more on Philadelphia Quaker meetinghouse arson), and in various other posts, as well as in my book The Excuse Factory.

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  • “Off-clock work: Flintstone laws in a Buck Rogers world” [Robin Shea] “NY Times offers unpaid internships after reporting on their questionable legality” [Poynter]
  • Walker labor reforms in Wisconsin get results [Christian Schneider: City Journal, NY Post] “Watch the Walker recall election” [John Steele Gordon, Commentary]
  • No prize for spotting fallacy: complaints that too many Europeans are collecting state disability payments construed as “demonizing disabled people” [Debbie Jolly, ENIL]
  • “What could be worse than a self-righteous TSA agent? Answer: A TSA agents’ union advocate.” [Ken, Popehat]
  • “Why Mitt Romney likes firing people” [Suzanne Lucas]
  • Free speech and union dues: Tim Sandefur on the oral argument in Knox v. SEIU [PLF Liberty Blog] More: Jack Mann, CEI.
  • My book on employment and labor law, The Excuse Factory, is alas still not available in online formats but you might find a bargain on a hardcover [Free Press/Simon & Schuster]

Update: Adam Liptak covers this case today in the New York Times and generously quotes me:

Walter Olson, a fellow at the Cato Institute, the libertarian group, and the author of “Schools for Misrule: Legal Academia and an Overlawyered America,” said there was nothing unusual about the number of Republicans on Iowa’s law faculty.

“What would count as freakish would be to find two dozen registered Republicans on a big law faculty,” Mr. Olson said. “Law schools are always setting up committees and task forces to promote diversity on their faculty, which can serve to conceal an absence of diversity in how people actually think.”…

Mr. Olson said he had mixed feelings about the Eighth Circuit’s decision, saying it may have identified an instance of a real problem while allowing it to be aired in the wrong forum.

“I have serious misgivings about asking the courts to fix this through lawsuits,” Mr. Olson said. “It threatens to intrude on collegiality, empower some with sharp elbows to sue their way into faculty jobs, invite judges into making subjective calls of their own which may reflect their assumptions and biases, all while costing a lot of money and grief.”

“At the same time,” he added, “there’s a karma factor here. Law faculties at Iowa and elsewhere have been enthusiastic advocates of wider liability for other employers that get sued. They’re not really going to ask for an exemption for themselves, are they?”

(& Althouse, Leef/Phi Beta Cons, Horwitz, Instapundit, State Bar of Michigan, Bainbridge, Elie Mystal/Above the Law, Kent Scheidegger/Crime and Consequences, Andrew Kloster/FIRE and earlier, Federalist Society blog, earlier)

[Original post:]

“A woman who alleges she was denied a job at the University of Iowa College of Law because of her conservative politics can proceed with a discrimination lawsuit against the school’s former dean, a federal appeals court ruled [last month].” [WSJ Law Blog, Ryan Koopmans/On Brief: Iowa Appellate Blog, Risch/PrawfsBlawg, Ilya Somin/Volokh (arguing "that ideological discrimination in faculty hiring by state universities doesn't violate the Constitution")] The court found it significant that of approximately fifty professors who vote on faculty hiring matters at the school, per the lawsuit’s allegations, “46 of them are registered as Democrats and only one, hired 20 years ago, is a Republican.” (Who was the one?)

In Schools for Misrule last year, I made the case that prominent law schools suffer from an egregious ideological imbalance, to the point where their own declared mission suffers in a number of ways. Beyond that, I agree that there is a particular logic in asking government-run institutions, such as the University of Iowa, to be open to a plurality of legitimate viewpoints. Even so — as readers who remember an earlier book of mine, The Excuse Factory, will have guessed — I have severe doubts that lawsuits by disappointed job applicants will really do much to improve fairness in the workplace and counteract arbitrariness in hiring decisions. Such lawsuits seem equally likely to provide a legal weapon to contentious applicants whether or not their talents are clearly superior, invite outside arbiters to apply subjective standards of their own, and take a great toll in collegiality, time, expense and emotional wear and tear, all while encouraging defensive employment practices that help no one. Still, this is not the view of law faculties at places like Iowa, which have tended to cheer on the expansion of employer liability year after year with great enthusiasm. So it may be rather hard for them to mount a convincing complaint when they are made to drink from the cup they have prepared for the rest of society.

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A chart from the Chicago Tribune editorial opinion section on the stages needed to remove an inadequate Chicago educator.

Meanwhile, some Andrew Sullivan readers point out that contrasts between the public and private sectors can be overdone, since it can be legally troublesome for private managers, too, to fire poorly performing workers. I wrote a whole book tackling related themes some years back.

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American legal concepts crossing the Atlantic yet again: “A council suing its former managing director for £1m for allegedly lying on her job application is at risk of being accused of disability discrimination, an expert has warned.” Cheltenham Borough Council claims its former executive gave false answers on a medical history to conceal a history of depression, but an employment lawyer says employers should not assume they have a right to discipline workers for lying about their medical history during the application process.

Readers of my book on employment law, The Excuse Factory, may recall the somewhat similar case with which I started off Chapter 1. Incidentally, those who are curious what became of the Boston police officer cited in that account may be interested in following this link.

I was on Marcus Lush’s Radio Live talk show out of Auckland this morning, discussing American employment law. My book The Excuse Factory: How Employment Law Is Paralyzing the American Workplace is available on Amazon.

Lt. David Lenotti says the fire department of Stamford, Connecticut improperly denied him extra time on its test for promotion to captain even though he had a diagnosis of learning disability. A state human rights investigator has backed Lenotti’s complaint, which is scheduled for a Jan. 23 hearing, but the Stamford authorities beg to differ:

The city has never granted anyone extra time on the lieutenant’s or captain’s exams, said Felicia Wirzbicki, human resources generalist. … The reasoning is that lieutenants and captains are in charge at emergency scenes and have to make split-second decisions, Wirzbicki and other city officials said. Those decisions often are based on floor plans, hazardous material reports and similar documents, they said. Speed is an “essential function of the job,” the city argued. … “You don’t get extra time at a fire scene,” Wirzbicki said.

None of which seems to cut much ice with disabled-rights advocates:

“You’re supposed to give accommodations, period,” said Suzanne Kitchen, a clinical instructor and consultant for the Job Accommodation Network, a federally funded non-profit that provides employers with advice on disability rights. “No is never the right answer.”

That last sound bite is actually quite false as a legal matter; in fact Ms. Kitchen herself is described elsewhere in the article as correctly noting that accommodations may sometimes be refused under the law. But it does have quite a ring to it, though, doesn’t it? (Zach Lowe, “State official: Disability rights apply on fire captain test”, Norwalk Advocate, Jan. 15). Jeff Hall at Created Things comments (Jan. 16).

All of which is very much business as usual in today’s employment discrimination law. Long before the disabled-rights suits came along, fire departments had came under intense attack by feminist litigators seeking to invalidate testing of applicants’ physical strength, agility and so forth, particularly when timed tests were involved. I wrote about this history at some length in The Excuse Factory, a few of the highlights figuring in this 1997 magazine piece. An excerpt:

[In Brunet v. Columbus] Judge Kinneary also disallowed the city’s practice of awarding credit for speed in accomplishing the dummy rescue or other simulated tasks such as hoisting equipment to upper floors (men tended to finish the tasks more quickly than women). Why? Well, Kinneary wrote, again accepting the arguments of plaintiffs’ lawyers, testimony had been given that “sometimes firefighters work all-out, and sometimes they pace themselves; it depends on the task at hand.” In other words, they hurry only sometimes, and other times save their energy because they expect to need it later. From this the judge concluded that all applicants who made it through the tasks at all deserved equal ranking. The case for preferring recruits who could work quickly was merely, he said, “anecdotal.” Yes, you read that right. It seems people have picked up this anecdotal idea that firefighters should do their job fast, maybe because they’ve heard anecdotally that fires left undoused tend to spread. Many press accounts adopted the same high-minded agnosticism about exactly what it takes to fight fires. City officials defending tests say “speed is critical” in combating blazes, reported the New York Times, in the best tradition of we-print-all-viewpoints journalism. “Opponents argue that it is not.”

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My new column in the Times Online is up. First paragraph:

So now Britain has its own law banning employers from considering workers’ age in most job situations. If your experience follows ours in America, the results will include a range of unintended consequences, some of which will worsen the plight of the workers the law was meant to help.

(Walter Olson, “If the US experience is anything to go by, be sceptical of Britain’s new age-bias laws”, Times Online (U.K.), Oct. 18). I treated this subject at length in my 1997 book The Excuse Factory and did a USA Today opinion piece back then exploring some of the ways the law backfires against older workers. The new British law has been getting some attention in the States, in part because of the news item about the company that has banned office birthday cards as potentially ageist (Oct. 13) and the one about the recruiting agency (Oct. 17) that is barring use of any of a list of words including vibrant, dynamic, gravitas, ambitious, and hungry to describe potential employees.

In Finland…

by Walter Olson on June 14, 2006

…they do things very differently than we do in the U.S. when it comes to civil litigation. (But then every other country does things very differently than we do.) Ilkka Kokkarinen (Sixteen Volts) says kind things about The Excuse Factory — thanks (Jun. 9).

Anne Brunsdale, RIP

by Walter Olson on February 10, 2006

Anne Brunsdale, who died recently at age 82 following a long illness, was beloved by a large circle of friends in Washington, D.C., in her native Upper Midwest, and around the country. At the American Enterprise Institute in Washington she founded and edited the magazine Regulation (where she hired me in 1980 to work with her as an associate editor; I left to join the Manhattan Institute four years later). Her career culminated in a presidential appointment to a seat on the International Trade Commission, where she rendered distinguished service for a decade, including some years as chairwoman.

I won’t use words like “mentor” and “role model” to describe Anne’s influence on me, if only because I can imagine her penciling them through with a notation in the margin, “jargon“. I will say that no one in my professional life ever taught me more about how to write, or work with others, or behave as an adult, or see past the political enmities of the day. When I dedicated my book about legal conflict in the workplace, The Excuse Factory, to Anne, it was the inevitable tribute of memory to the perfect boss. If you’d like to learn more about her life and work, Claudia Anderson, long a close friend of hers, has written a very fine appreciation in the new Weekly Standard.

“‘What I’m coming to understand is that, short of an actual conviction or revocation of a license, none of that information gets shared,’ said Dr. William Cors, chief medical officer at Somerset Medical Center in Somerville, N.J., where Mr. [Charles] Cullen last worked and where, prosecutors say, he may have killed 12 to 15 patients. ‘If anything good comes from this, it would be to reform the system where we’re prevented from telling one another what we know out of fear, quite frankly, of being sued.’ … Ms. Schantz, at St. Luke’s, said, ‘There is no record that anyone called here, ever, for any recommendation on him.’ And if someone had called? She said she was not sure what the hospital would have said. Hospitals are loath to say anything negative, she acknowledged, adding, ‘We’re a litigious society.’” (Richard P?rez-Pe?a, “Hospitals Didn’t Share Records of a Nurse Accused in Killings”, New York Times, Dec. 17). For more on reference liability, see Aug. 7; discussion of pilot and teacher cases from The Excuse Factory (link now dead). See also Mar. 23, 2000. More: Jan. 29, Mar. 3, Mar. 30.

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Speaking of our editor’s books, we notice that Amazon.com has recently posted some 49 sample pages’ worth of our editor’s 1997 book on employment law, The Excuse Factory (Free Press), on its page for the book. This means that some portions of the book can now be read in online form for the first time, which we hope will serve as an inducement for many of you to want to buy a copy of the whole thing. The book is still highly relevant for anyone wishing to make sense of the legal mess we’ve made of hiring and firing in this country.

U.K. roundup” (perennial litigant), Jun. 12-15, 2003.

‘Resumé spam saddles employers’“, Jun. 3, 2003.

Fair Labor Standards Act, overtime and employee classification suits, 2003:Schools roundup“, Apr. 9.  2001:Wal-Mart- as-’cult’-suit: it is about the money“, Jun. 14.  2000:Goodbye to gaming volunteers?“, Sept. 12 (& update Oct. 3); “Why rush that software project, anyway?” (California overtime law), March 29; “And so now everybody’s happy” (temps fired in wake of Microsoft decision), Feb. 17 (& see letters, Dec. 20); “Strippers in court” (challenge to independent contractor status), Jan. 28; “Microsoft temps can sue for stock options“, Jan. 11. 1999:Don’t call us professionals!“, Oct. 1-3; “Click here to sue!” (AOL volunteers who want to be recategorized as employees), Sept. 7; “Do as we say (I)” (overtime suit filed against Justice Department on behalf of its own lawyers), Aug. 30; “Click here to sue!” (Seattle law firm offers easy way to sign up for labor law class actions), Aug. 19.

It ain’t heavy to him, he’s my brother“, May 1-2, 2003; “Firehouse blues” (too-short firefighter), Feb. 20-21, 2002; “Non-pregnant rescuers, please“, Sept. 13, 2001; “Litigators vs. standardized tests, II: who needs sharp cops?“, Feb. 9-11, 2001; “Slow down, it’s just a fire” (Canadian high court strikes down firefighter speed test), Sept. 17-19, 1999; “Perps got away, but equity was served” (Lanning v. SEPTA: challenge to running test given to prospective transit cops), Sept. 15, 1999 (& Oct. 5-7, 2001, Oct. 25-27, 2002).

U.K.: ‘Killer wrongly sacked for axe attack’“, Apr. 7-8, 2003.

Maybe crime pays dept.” (annual roundup of weird employment and labor law cases), Apr. 1, 2003.

Their own petard, 2003:Wellstone campaign didn’t buy worker’s comp for its employees“, Feb. 6-9. 2002:‘Civil Rights Agency Retaliated Against Worker, EEOC Rules’“, Jun. 14-16; “‘Disability rights attorney accused of having inaccessible office’“, Apr. 25. 2001:EEOC sued for age bias“, Mar. 6.  2000:White House pastry chef harassment suit“, Sept. 18.  1999:Do as we say (I)” (overtime suit filed against Justice Department on behalf of its own lawyers), Aug. 30 (more).

Race-bias cases gone wrong“, Jan. 24-26, 2003.

Vt. high court: ALL-CAPS DISCLAIMER on front page of employee handbook not unambiguous enough“, Jan. 17-19, 2003.

Ninth Circuit panel sniffs collusion in bias settlement fees“, Dec. 16-17, 2002.

Public employee entrenchment, 2002:Munched zoo animals, gets six months severance” (Germany), Nov. 8-10; “Convicted, but still on their teaching jobs“, Jul. 10-11; “School told to rehire cocaine abuser“, Mar. 20-21.  2001:‘Poor work tolerated, employees say’“, Nov. 15.  2000:Reprimand ‘very serious’ for teacher” (had given 11-year-old girl money to buy marijuana), June 27; “‘Foreman who slept on job wins reinstatement’“, June 7; “From the labor arbitration front” (disallowed firing of Ct. town employee who pleaded no contest to larceny), March 28;  “Not to be dismissed” (unfireable workers, Canada and U.K.), Feb. 25. 1999:Better than reading a lunchtime novel” (IRS employee sues; fired for accessing taxpayers’ personal returns 476 times), Oct. 25; “Undislodgeable educators” (teacher peer review undermined by tenure legalities), Aug. 18.

‘Nannies to sue for racial bias’” (U.K.), Oct. 30-31, 2002.

Looking back on EEOC v. Sears” (sex discrimination, statistics and history), Oct. 28-29, 2002.

Appearance and authenticity, 2002:‘Demand for more ugly people on TV’” (Norway: higher “ugly quotas” sought), Oct. 21. 2001:Facial-jewelry discrimination charged“, Jul. 2; “Pregnant actress complains at being denied virgin role“, Jun. 21; “‘Fired transsexual dancers out for justice’“, Mar. 23-25.  2000:Appearance-blind hiring?“, Dec. 26-29; “Latest female Santa case“, Dec. 13-14 (and see Dec. 18-19); “Wal-Mart wins female Santa case“, Oct. 12; “Next: gender-blind stage casting?” (theme restaurant’s hiring of males as “riverboat tough” food servers), Mar. 24-26.

U.K.: ‘Dr. Botch’ sues hospital for wrongful dismissal“, Oct. 18-20, 2002; “Let them sue us!” (hospitals get sued if they withdraw privileges from questionable doctors), Mar. 23, 2000.

‘Inundations of electronic resumes pose problems for employers’“, Oct. 16-17, 2002.

Latest sacked-Santa suit“, Oct. 9-10, 2002 (& Dec. 13-14 and Oct. 12, 2000)

Right to break workplace rules and then return“, Sept. 16-17, 2002.

Personal responsibility roundup” (workers’ comp told to compensate worker for his suicide attempt), Sept. 12, 2002; “‘Court upholds workers compensation for drunk, injured worker’“, April 6-8, 2001.

National origin, language on the job, 2002:Hiring apple pickers = racketeering“, Sept. 9-10; “‘Surgeon halts operation over foreign nurses’ poor English’“, Jul. 25; “No ‘flood’ of Muslim or Arab discrimination complaints“, Jun. 17-18; “Must-know-Spanish rules defended“, May 28-29; “High court nixes back pay for illegal aliens“, Apr. 3-4.  2001:Sued if you do dept.: language in the workplace“, Dec. 19 (& Nov. 17, 1999); “Competitor can file RICO suit over hiring of illegal aliens“, Dec. 13-14; “Opponents of profiling, still in the driver’s seat“, Nov. 2-4; “Employee’s right to jubilate over Sept. 11 attack“, Oct. 9 (& letters, Oct. 22). 2000: Christian Science Monitor on accent discrimination, see Dec. 18-19; “Green cards gather moss” (immigration delays), Feb. 4; “Back pay obtained for illegal aliens“, Jan. 10 (& Oct. 28, 1999).  1999:52 green-card pickup” (rules against asking for too much documentation of citizenship in hiring), Oct. 29; “Say what?” (accent), Reason, November 1997.

Ambulance driver who broke for doughnuts entitled to sue“, Nov. 2-4, 2001 (& Jun. 28-30, 2002).

Not worth the hassle?” (Home Depot tries to avoid federal contractor status), Jun. 17-18, 2002.

Advertisement for ‘friendly’ employee deemed discriminatory“, Jun. 10, 2002.

Catharine MacKinnon, call your office“, May 16, 2002.

Soap star: ABC wrote my character out of the show” (“medical leave” for drug rehab), Apr. 10, 2002.

Will EU silence the pipes?” (occupational noise regulation), Mar. 8-10, 2002; “Britain’s delicate soldiery“, Dec. 22-25, 2000.

Retaliation:Inability to get along with co-workers” (employer’s counterclaim as retaliation), Mar. 8-10, 2002; “Latest lose-on-substance, win-on-retaliation case“, Oct. 16, 2001; “Latest lose-on-substance, win-on-retaliation employment claim“, Jan. 25, 2000; “Employment-law retaliation: real frogs from ‘totally bogus’ gardens“, Sept. 29, 1999.

Aerobics studio mustn’t favor the svelte“, Feb. 27-28, 2002 (& update May 10-12).

Jarring discord” (Audubon String Quartet), June 5, 2000 (& June 14, 2001, Nov. 13, 2001, May 10-12, 2002).

European workplace notes“, Feb. 25-26, 2002.

‘The Enron mythos’” (employee compensation, 401(k)), Feb. 15-17, 2002.

Sept. 11 and court awards” (price, payouts of employment liability insurance soar), Jan. 14-15, 2002; “‘Workers win more lawsuits, awards’“, March 29, 2001.

‘UK women can demand to know men’s salaries’“, Dec. 28, 2001-Jan. 1, 2002.

Menace of office-park geese“, Dec. 13-14, 2001.

‘Halliburton shares plunge on verdict’” (law-firm whistleblowing), Dec. 10, 2001.

An ill wind” (layoffs mean prosperity for employment lawyers), Dec. 4, 2001.

Rejecting an Apple windfall” (race discrimination suit), Nov. 30-Dec. 2, 2001.

Sued if you do dept.: co-worker’s claim of rape“, Nov. 7-8, 2001.

In the mean time, let them breathe spores” (OSHA and anthrax), Nov. 6, 2001.

Judge may revive ‘Millionaire’ ADA case” (Echabazal v. Chevron: employer’s right to turn away workers who would be injured by job), Nov. 5, 2001.

‘Attorney Ordered To Pay Fees for “Rambo” Tactics’“, Oct. 5-7, 2001; “Even the chance of loser-pays helps keep ‘em honest” (pilots’ union bid for back pay), August 12, 1999.

Employment class actions: EEOC to the rescue“, Sept. 10, 2001.

Not discriminatory to kick sleeping worker’s chair” (includes item on U.K. employee privacy), Sept. 3, 2001.

Firefighter’s demand: back pay for time facing criminal rap“, Aug. 29-30, 2001.

Negligent to lack employee spouse-abuse policy?“, Aug. 29-30, 2001.

N.J. court declares transsexuals protected class“, July 30, 2001; “‘Fired transsexual dancers out for justice’“, March 23-25, 2001; “Columnist-fest” (transgender employee sues over no-skirt order), May 31, 2000.

Age discrimination law:Research for lawyers, courtesy of their targets“, July 6-8, 2001; “EEOC sued for age bias“, March 6, 2001; “‘Toronto Torch’ age-bias suit” (stripper), May 23, 2000; “Take the settlement, sue anyway“, March 13; “‘Tenure Gridlock: When Professors Choose Not To Retire’“, March 3-5; “‘The case for age discrimination’“, Jan. 20, 2000; “Age-bias law expands” (Calif., N.J. developments), Aug. 12, 1999.

Court says tipsy topless dancer can sue club“, Jul. 3-4, 2001.

‘Hearsay harassment’ not actionable“, Jun. 12, 2001.

Dispatches from abroad” (U.K. policeman claims snoring resulted from inhalation of cannabis), May 28, 2001.

Six-hour police standoff no grounds for loss of job, says employee“, May 21, 2001.

Letter to the editor” (arbitration agreements), Apr. 16, 2001.

Comparable worth in Maine” (state enacts “pay equity”), April 20-22, 2001; “Comparable worth: it’s back“, May 17, 2000.

’2000′s Ten Wackiest Employment Lawsuits’“, Apr. 13-15, 2001.

‘Kava tea drinker alleges bias in FedEx firing’“, Mar. 19-20, 2001.

Ergonomics:Narrow escape from ergonomic regs“, March 9-11, 2001; “‘Cop’s claim: gun belt too heavy’“, Feb. 23-25, 2001; “Born to regulate“, June 28, 2000; “Go ahead and comment — if it’ll do much good” (OSHA ergonomics regulations), March 17-19, 2000; “Repetitive motion injury Hall of Fame” (phone sex operator), Nov. 22, 1999.

Forbidden paint zone” (New York City schools’ 10-foot rule), Feb. 27, 2001.

Employees not tenured in California“, Feb. 7-8, 2001.

Digital serfs?“, Jan. 26-28, 2001.

‘Firms mum on troubled workers’“, Jan. 22-23, 2001.

Police-record discrimination:Coming soon to a school near you” (applicant with police record OK’d since no convictions), Jan. 17, 2001; “‘Killer’s suit alleges job discrimination’“, Jan. 15, 2001; “You were negligent to hire me” (undisclosed rape-related conviction), May 30, 2000; “Hire that felon, or else”  (Wisc. law protects felons from job discrimination), Jan. 7, 2000 (& earlier commentary: Sept. 24, 1999).

Stressed out in New Hampshire” (stress from legitimate workplace criticism triggers workers’ comp), Jan. 4, 2000; “Stress of listening to clients’ problems” (masseuse wins benefits), June 21, 2000; “Weekend reading” (workplace psychological injury claims), July 31-August 1, 1999.

Damages, big numbers:Big numbers” (Kroger Co. hit for $55 million after workplace accident), April 16, 2001; “Property taxes triple after wrongful-termination suit“, Dec. 20, 2000; “‘Stock Options: A Gold Mine for Racial-Discrimination Suits?’“, Dec. 11-12; “How to succeed in business?” (Christian Curry case), Nov. 20; “Wonder Bread hierarchy too white, suit charges“, July 10 (updates Aug. 4: jury awards $132 M damages and Oct. 10: judge cuts award by $97 M); “Penalty for co.’s schedule inflexibility: 30 years’ front pay” (ADA), June 16-18; “Record employment verdict thrown out” (Lane v. Hughes Aircraft), March 9, 2000; “From our mail sack: memoir of a morsel” (Calif. employer’s story), Nov. 24-25, 1999; “The stuffed-grape-leaf standard” (litigator says $300K isn’t that much money), August 14-15, 1999.

Promising areas for suits” (broken interview promises, third party suits to sidestep workers’ comp limits), Dec. 7, 2000.

‘Company Is Told to Stay and Face New Union’“, Nov. 24-26, 2000; NLRB lurches left”, Oct. 11, 2000.

Obese soldiers class action“, Nov. 10-12, 2000.

New unfairness for old” (Employment Non-Discrimination Act), Oct. 26, 2000.

Prospect of injury no reason not to hire” (ADA), July 5, 2000; and see disabled-rights page.

Judge tells EEOC to pay employer’s fees“, Oct. 5, 2000.

When sued, be sure to respond” (Wal-Mart transsexual employee), Jul. 21-23, 2000 (update Sept. 6-7: judge grants retrial after default judgment).

EEOC: offbeat beliefs may be protected against workplace bias“, Sept. 5, 2000.

Losing your legislative battles?  Just sue instead” (contraception coverage by employer health plans), July 26-27, 2000.

Coke:‘Coca-Cola settles race suit’“, Nov. 17-19, 2000; “Class-action lawyers to Coke clients: you’re fired“, Jul. 21-23; “‘Coke plaintiff eavesdrops on lawyers; case unravels’“, Jul. 19-20; “‘Ad deal links Coke, lawyer in suit’” (Willie Gary, suing Coke on behalf of clients, enters into a lucrative ad deal with it), May 11, 2000.

Chutzpah is. . .” (marital-status discrimination case by boss’s ex-son-in-law), Jul. 18, 2000.

Welcome readers” (CNNfn article advising workers thinking of suing employers; cites this site), Jun. 19, 2000; “Favorite bookmark” (head of Employment Policy Foundation likes this site), May 23, 2000.

Look for the Kiwi label” (sweatshops), Jun. 9-11, 2000.

Another Mr. Civility nominee” (associate at law firm asks for bonus, is fired), June 2-4, 2000; “Smudged plumage” (Angelos’s Orioles won’t hire Cuban defectors), May 24, 2000.

Funny hats and creative drawing“, May 1, 2000.

Employer-based health coverage in retreat?“, Mar. 31-April 2, 2000.

OSHA and at-home workers:OSHA & telecommuters: the long view“, April 7-9, 2000; “Update: OSHA in full retreat on home office issue“, Jan. 29-30; “OSHA at-home worker directive“, Jan. 8-9; “OSHA backs off on home-office regulation“, Jan. 6; “Beyond parody: ‘OSHA Covers At-Home Workers’“, Jan. 5, 2000.

Feds’ mission: target Silicon Valley for race complaints“, Feb. 29, 2000.

Judgment reversed in Seinfeld case“, Feb. 26-27, 2000.

Private job bias lawsuits tripled in 1990s“, Jan. 19, 2000; “Employee lawsuits increasing” (Society for Human Resource Management survey), August 25, 1999.

Warn and be sued” (industrial psychologist found liable for warning co-workers of patient’s violent fantasies), Jan. 12, 2000; “Indications of turbulence” (pilot whose mental fitness for duty was challenged wins partial back pay), Dec. 1, 1999.

Christmas lawyer humor” (“Restructuring at the North Pole” parody), Dec. 23-26, 1999.

Truth in recruitment?” (N.J. jury verdict), Dec. 17-18, 1999.

From the quote file” (Legal Times: U.S. Supreme Court as nation’s chief human resources manager), Dec. 15, 1999.

Under surveillance at work?Hold your e-tongue” (employee emails), Nov. 9, 1999; “EEOC encourages anonymous harassment complaints“, Sept. 3; “Please — there are terminals present” (email censorship and harassment law), July 30; “‘Destroy privacy expectations: lawyer’” (advice managers are getting), July 26, 1999.

Bring a long book” (New York takes average of seven years to adjudicate discrimination complaints), Nov. 4, 1999.

Perkiness a prerequisite?” (bias suit says employer wanted workers to look like “Doris Day or the boy next door”), Nov. 2, 1999.

New Jersey court system faces employment complaint“, Oct. 21, 1999.

Blackboard jungle” (Ann Arbor, Mich. substitute teachers’ suit gets $30 million), Sept. 14, 1999.

Labor Day: ‘Overworked America?’“, Sept. 7, 1999.

Big numbers” (Kroger worker $55 million award not blocked by workers’ comp), April 16, 2001; “Block PATH to lawsuits” (claims against NY-NJ commuter line under Federal Employer’s Liability Act), Sept. 1, 1999.

Ohio high court says forget tort reform; should unionists be cheering?” (unions exempted from exposure to many injury suits), August 17, 1999.

You made me defame myself” (workplace defamation law doctrine of “self-compelled publication”), August 10, 1999.

All have lost, and all must have damages” (suit against employer by insurance agent who sold allegedly deceptive policies), August 3, 1999.


Other writings by Overlawyered.com‘s editor: The Excuse Factory: What Happened When America Unleashed the Lawsuit (Free Press, 1997); writings on disabled rights/ADA; on harassment and sex discrimination law; on other branches of discrimination law.


Multiple complaints and filing mills, 2003:Disabled-access suit could stop Super Bowl“, Jan. 7-8.  2002:‘Disability rights attorney accused of having inaccessible office’” (the one who sued Eastwood), Apr. 25; “Florida’s ADA filing mills grind away“, Mar. 29-31.  2001:ADA’s busiest complaint-filer“, July 20-22.  2000:Eastwood trial begins“, Sept. 21 (& Oct. 2: jury declines to award damages); “On the Hill: Clint Eastwood vs. ADA filing mills“, May 18-21; “Mass ADA complaints“, Mar. 7; “Bill introduced to curb opportunistic ADA filings“, Feb. 15 (& Sept. 5, 2001: Sen. Inouye co-sponsors); “Florida ADA complaint binge“, Jan. 26-27. 

Maybe crime pays dept.” (hemorrhoids not a protected disability), Apr. 1, 2003.


Sports, 2003:Disabled-access suit could stop Super Bowl“, Jan. 7-8.  2001:By reader acclaim: football’s substance-abuse policy challenged“, Nov. 19-20; “‘A disabling verdict for organized sports’“, June 1-3 (Casey Martin case; & see June 22-24, May 30, 2001; Sept. 29-Oct. 1, April 10, 2000). 2000:‘NCAA Can Be Sued Under ADA, Federal District Judge Rules’“, Nov. 28; “Wheelchair marathon suit“, Oct. 23.  1999: Update: ADA youth soccer case“, Nov. 13-14; “After Casey Martin, the deluge“, Nov. 5-7; “ADA protection for boozing student athletes“, Sept. 29. 

‘Court waives deadline as ‘reasonable accommodation’ for disabled litigator’“, Dec. 24-26, 2002.

Website accessibility:‘Judge: Disabilities act doesn’t cover Web“, Oct. 22, 2002; “Website accessibility law hits the U.K.” (Scotland), May 7, 2001; “Olympics website’s accessibility complaint“, Aug. 16-17, 2000; “Disabled accessibility for campaign websites: the gotcha game“, July 19-20; “Welcome readers” (Intellectual Capital), June 19; “ADA & the web: sounding the alarm“, May 24; “Access excess“, May 2; “ADA & freedom of expression on the Web“, Feb. 10-11; editor’s testimony before House Judiciary Committee, Feb. 9, 2000; “Accessible websites no snap“, Dec. 21, 1999; “AOL sued for failure to accommodate blind users“, Nov. 5, 1999. 

A belt too far“, Oct. 29, 2001; “‘Sorry, Slimbo, you’re in my seats’“, June 7, 2001 (& updates Dec. 15-16, 2001, Oct. 25-27, 2002); “Obese fliers“, Dec. 20, 2000. 

Safety, 2002:Australia: ‘Blind, disabled should be able to fly’“, Sept. 30; “‘St- st – st- st- stop’“, Apr. 22; “Right to yell ‘fire’“, Apr. 5-7; “Entitled to jobs that kill?” (Echabazal v. Chevron), March 1-3 (&  Jun. 19-20, 2002, Apr. 22, 2002, Nov. 5, 2001). 2001:EEOC approves evacuation questions for disabled“, Nov. 16-18; “A belt too far“, Oct. 29; “‘Colorblind Traffic-Light Installer Gets Fired, Sues County’“, June 28.  2000:Coffee-spill suits meet ADA“, Aug. 10; “Prospect of injury no reason not to hire“, Jul. 5; “Disabled vs. disabled” (strobe alarms pit deaf against epileptic), May 17; “Ability to remain conscious not obligatory for train dispatcher, EEOC says“, March 21; “Warn and be sued“, Jan. 12. 1999:Indications of turbulence” (pilot’s mental state), Dec. 1; “Death by mainstreaming” (retarded boy’s fatal fall from amusement park ride), Aug. 31 (& Oct. 29, 2001); & seeKingdom of the One-Eyed,” Reason, Jul. 1998. 

Right to break workplace rules and then return“, Sept. 16-17, 2002; “Soap star: ABC wrote my character out of the show” (“medical leave” for drug rehab), Apr. 10; “Parole board’s consideration of drug history could violate ADA“, Mar. 11, 2002; “ADA requires renting to addiction facility“, Dec. 21, 2000. 

Structures:‘ADA Goes to the Movies’“, Jan. 30, 2003; “‘Disabled entitled to same sight lines in theaters’“, Sept. 5, 2002; “There’ll always be a California” (Santa Monica accessibility law for private homes), Dec. 4, 2001 (& similar ordinances in Ill. and Ariz.: Feb. 6-7, Mar. 6, 2002)(& letter to the editor, Apr. 11); “Crowded drugstores illegal?“, Jun. 29-Jul. 1, 2001 (& letter to the editor, July 6); “Do as we say, cont’d” (Mass.), Mar. 20, 2000; “‘Dune’ as we say” (ADA on Nantucket), Jul. 17-18, 1999.

Testing under siege, 2002:Hence, loath?asterisk“, Jul. 22-23. 2001:Update“, Aug. 20-21 (bar exam) (& letters, Oct. 22); “Litigators vs. standardized tests, I: the right to conceal“, Feb. 9-11.  2000:Court okays suit against ‘flagging’ of test conditions“, May 10; “Disabled test-accommodation roundup“, Feb. 16; “Disabled accommodation in testing“, Jan. 12; “Lawsuits over failing grades” (“exam phobia” claim), Jan. 4. 1999:Disabled accommodation vs. testing fairness“, Sept. 21, 1999; and see special education

Disabled lap dancing just the start“, Jul. 19-21, 2002; “By reader acclaim: quadriplegic sues strip club over wheelchair access“, Jul. 16-17, 2002; “Blind customers want to touch club lapdancers“, Sept. 27-28, 2000. 

Paper currency should accommodate blind, suit argues“, Jul. 15, 2002.

Supreme Court clarifies ADA“, Jun. 19-20, 2002.

Media, performance accessibility, 2002:11th Circuit reinstates ‘Millionaire’ lawsuit” (suit against “Millionaire” TV show over telephone-based screening), Jun. 21-23 (& Mar. 24-26, June 12, June 19, Nov. 7, 2000; Nov. 5, 2001).  2001:‘Panel backs deaf patron’s claim against club’” (interpreter demand at comedy club), Mar. 9-11. 2000:Seats in all parts” (theaters), Dec. 29, 2000-Jan. 2, 2001; “Movie caption trial begins” (assistive devices aid concert bootleggers), Aug. 1; “Complaint: recreated slave ship not handicap accessible“, Jul. 21-23; “Preferred seating” (theaters), Apr. 25-26; “Newest disabled right: audio TV captioning“, Mar. 22; “‘Deaf group files suit against movie theaters’” (closed captioning demand), Feb. 19-21; “The fine print” (sue Boston Globe for reducing type size?), Feb. 17; and see website accessibility

Flowers, perfume in airline cabins not OK?” (Canada), May 17-19, 2002.

Right to yell ‘fire’“, Apr. 5-7, 2002; “Compulsive grooming as protected disability“, March 16-18, 2001; “More Tourette’s discrimination suits“, March 12, 2001; “A thin-wall problem” (condo owner with Tourette’s vs. association), Aug. 21-22, 2000; “Update: Tourette’s bagger case“, Jul. 26-27, 2000; “Customer offense” (supermarket bagger with Tourette’s), Jun. 9-11, 2000.

‘O’Connor Criticizes Disabilities Law As Too Vague’“, Mar. 22-24, 2002.

Inability to get along with co-workers“, Mar. 8-10, 2002. 

Minimum GPA for study abroad said unfair to disabled“, Jan. 9-10, 2002.

Mass., Ill., NYC tobacco fees” (law firm sued by attorney with cancer), Jan. 2-3, 2002.

Segway, the super-wheelchair and the FDA“, Dec. 12, 2001.

Special ed: see schools page.

U.K.:European workplace notes” (harassment of dyslexic), Feb. 25-26, 2002; “Website accessibility law hits the U.K.” (Scotland), May 7, 2001; “Britain’s delicate soldiery” (UK military pressed to put disabled recruits on front lines), Dec. 22-25, 2000 (& Sept. 29-Oct. 1); “European roundup” (British hiring of disabled police), Oct. 16-17; “Blind customers want to touch club lapdancers“, Sept. 27-28; From the U.K.: watch your language” (job bureau restricts use of words like “hardworking”, “enthusiastic”), June 13, 2000. 

Meet the ‘wrongful-birth’ bar“, Aug. 22-23, 2001 (more on wrongful birth/life: Dec. 11, 2001; Nov. 22-23, Sept. 8-10; June 8, May 9, Jan. 8-9, 2000).

‘Businesses bracing for flood of lawsuits after state court ruling’” (Calif. law may apply retroactively), Aug. 1, 2001. 

N.J. court declares transsexuals protected class“, July 30, 2001. 

Six-hour police standoff no grounds for loss of job, says employee“, May 21, 2001; “‘Killer’s suit alleges job discrimination’“, Jan. 15, 2001; “‘Belligerent’ Worker Is Covered by ADA, Says Federal Court“, Dec. 18-19, 2000; “Accommodating theft” (N.J. lawyer discipline), Nov. 11, 1999; “‘Judge who slept on job faces new allegations’“, Oct. 4, 1999. 

’2000′s Ten Wackiest Employment Lawsuits’” (reverse-bias claim by worker with no mental disability), April 13-15, 2001. 

Put out that match” (ADA invoked against agricultural burning), Feb. 28-March 1, 2001. 

Anorexia as disability“, Jan. 26-28, 2001. 

Sidewalk toilets nixed again” (Boston), Oct. 5, 2000. 

Disabled rights roundup” (sign interpreters at doctor’s offices), Sept. 29-Oct. 1; 

Welcome Toronto Star readers” (Ontario considers ADA-like law), Sept. 27-28, 2000.

Movie caption trial begins” (Steve Chapman on ADA anniversary), Aug. 1, 2000; “‘How the ADA handicaps me’” (backfire effect in job interviews; ten year anniversary of ADA), Jul. 28-30; “ADA’s unintended consequences” (workplace losses for disabled), July 11, 2000. 

Penalty for co.’s schedule inflexibility: 30 years’ front pay” (ADA case), June 16-18, 2000; “What ADA was written for“, March 15, 2000. 

From our mail sack: ADA enforcement vignettes“, May 31, 2000.  See also letter to editor, December 1, 2000

‘ADA’s good intentions have unintended consequences’” (John Elvin, Insight), March 3-5, 2000. 

Latest excuse syndromes“, Jan. 13-14, 2000; “Down repressed-memory lane II: distracted when she signed“, Dec. 29-30, 1999; “Mow’ better ADA claims” (disability exemption from cutting one’s lawn?), July 26, 1999. 

Blind newsdealer charged with selling cigarettes to underage buyer“, Sept. 16, 1999. 

Weekend reading” (“disability studies” in academia), Aug. 21-22, 1999. 

Be sensitive to Fluffy, or else” (obligation to accept emotional-support dog into store), July 9, 1999.


Articles by Overlawyered.com editor Walter Olson:

Supreme Court Rescues ADA From Its Zealots,” Wall Street Journal, Jun. 18 (online subscribers only).

Access Excess“, Reason, May 2000.

?Under the ADA, We May All Be Disabled?, ?Rule of Law?, Wall Street Journal, May 17, 1999. 

Standard Accommodations” (rise of universal disability), Reason, Feb. 1999. 

Kingdom of the One-Eyed,” Reason, July 1998. 

Still Crazy” (Casey Martin case; ADA in the courts), Reason, May 1998. 

Disabilities Law Protects Bad Doctors,” New York Times, November 28, 1997.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of a good beer,” excerpt from The Excuse Factory, Washington Monthly, September, 1997. 

“Time to Get Off the Tenure Track”, New York Times, July 8, 1997. 

Disabling America“, National Review, May 5, 1997.


Other resources:

U.S. Department of Justice ADA home page
U.S. Access Board home page
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations (1630: ADA implementation; 1640: coordination of ADA with Section 504; 1641 government contractors). 
Text of ADA (Cornell LII) 

Online ADA Handbook
NBER: ADA employment effects study (Daron Acemoglu, Joshua Angrist) 
Boston Univ.: Pike Institute on Law & Disability
ABA Commission on Mental and Physical Disability Law

Disability Debate” (Reason Online, “Breaking Issues”) 
A good law gone bad” (Trevor Armbrister, Reader’s Digest) 
Handicapping Freedom” (Ed Hudgins, Regulation mag/Cato Institute) 
ADA: Time for Amendments” (Robert O’Quinn, Cato Institute, Aug. 9, 1991)

‘Prosecutor had ordeal as defendant’“, May 14, 2003. 

Sex abuse charges, 2003:‘Sex, God and Greed’“, May 28; “‘No Crueler Tyrannies’” (Dorothy Rabinowitz), May 8 (& Apr. 17, 2001). 2002:‘Reno owes the public answers’“, May 7; “Updates” (rape shield laws), Jan. 9-10 (& more on Jovanovic case: Dec. 23-26, 1999).  2001:Sued if you do dept.: co-worker’s claim of rape“, Nov. 7-8; “‘Teen sex offenders face years of stigma’“, Nov. 5; “‘Crying wolf’“, Oct. 30;  “‘Proposed Law Would Consider Alcohol as Date-Rape Drug’” (Wisc.), Oct. 3-4. 2000:Federal commerce power genuinely limited, Supreme Court rules” (strikes down VAWA’s lawsuit provision), May 16 (and see Wendy Kaminer, Feb. 24); “Updating Jane Austen“, Apr. 28-30; “Court rejects ‘telephone sex slave’ charge“, Apr. 24; “Philadelphia: feminist groups to be consulted on whether to classify incidents as rape“, Mar. 27 (and see Cathy Young, April 6); 1999:Okay, we admit it: we admire these lawyers” (Wenatchee defenders), Sept. 4-6; “Personal hell“, Jul. 31-Aug. 1. 

Employers liable for not filtering raunchy spam?“, Apr. 10-13, 2003.

Watch those emails:Employers liable for not filtering raunchy spam?“, Apr. 10-13, 2003; “Why we lose workplace privacy“, Aug. 9, 2001; “Watch those fwds” (Dow Chemical fires employees for email use), Aug. 21-22, 2000; “Oops: D.A.’s and judge’s fwding of sex pics deemed ‘unfortunate event’“, April 11; “Harassment-law roundup” (email-shredding software), Feb. 19-21; “Emails that ended 20 Times careers“, Feb. 8-9, 2000; “Please — there are terminals present” (Bloomberg censors its terminals), July 30, 1999. 

After failed workplace romance, a $1.3 million bill“, Feb. 6-9, 2003.

Incoherence of sexual harassment law“, Oct. 15, 2002.

Sued either way:Investigate, but gently“, Sept. 25-26, 2002; “‘Ex-Teach’s Suit: Kids Abused Me’“, Jun. 26-27, 2002; “Sued if you do dept.: co-worker’s claim of rape“, Nov. 7-8, 2001; “EEOC: unfiltered computers ‘harass’ librarians“, Jun. 4, 2001; “Customer offense” (supermarket bagger with Tourette’s), Jun. 9-11, 2000; “Columnist-fest” (Mona Charen on Mar. 10-12 story, below), Apr. 6; “Accused of harassment; wins $2 million from employer“, Mar. 10-12 (& update Jun. 2, 2003: award reversed); “‘Judgment reversed in Seinfeld case’“, Feb. 26-27, 2000; “Employment-law retaliation: real frogs from ‘totally bogus’ gardens“, Sept. 29, 1999

Banish those desk photos of spouse at beach“, Aug. 29-Sept. 2, 2002. 

Clipboard-throwing manager = $30 million clipping for grocery chain“, Apr. 19-21, 2002 (& update Jul. 26-28: damages cut to $8 million); “‘$3 million awarded in harassment’” (Illinois police department), Dec. 19, 2001; “Fieger’s firecrackers frequently fizzle” ($20 million harassment verdict against Chrysler), May 31, 2001; “The stuffed-grape-leaf standard” (feminist litigator asserts that $300K isn’t that much money), August 14-15, 1999. 

‘Surgeon halts operation over foreign nurses’ poor English’” (U.K.: he’s then threatened with disciplinary action for racism), Jul. 25, 2002. 

Catharine MacKinnon, call your office“, May 16, 2002. 

An eggshell psyche at U.Va. Law“, Apr. 8-9, 2002. 

Jail for schoolyard taunts?“, Feb. 27-28, 2002; “‘Boy faces jail for slapping girl’s bottom’“, Jan. 5-7, 2001; “Annals of zero tolerance” (six-year-old’s “sexual harassment”), May 22, 2000. 

European workplace notes” (UK: harassment of dyslexic), Feb. 25-26, 2002. 

Firehouse blues” (girly mags, Alaska), Feb. 20-21, 2002. 

‘Woman Wins Verdict, but no Money, Against Seagal’“, Jan. 4-6, 2002. 

Office dating, “love contracts”:Love contracts“, Dec. 10, 2001; “Ask the experts (if that’ll help)“, Oct. 19, 2000; “Ministry of love-discouragement“, May 3; “‘Love contracts’ spreading to U.K.“, Dec. 31, 1999-Jan. 2, 2000; “Weekend reading: evergreens” (“love contract” for office romances), Dec. 3-5, 1999. 

Employee’s right to jubilate over Sept. 11 attack“, Oct. 9, 2001. 

‘Lawsuit demands AOL stop anti-Islamic chat’“, Sept. 3, 2001. 

‘We often turn irresponsibility into legal actions against others’” (Robyn Blumner on U. of South Fla. art student harassment case), Aug. 13-14, 2001. 

Chandra, Monica, and sex-harass law“, July 27-29, 2001. 

Spoof memo draws EEOC probe“, June 26, 2001. 

‘Hearsay harassment’ not actionable“, June 12, 2001. 

EEOC: unfiltered computers ‘harass’ librarians“, June 4, 2001 (& see “Columnist-fest” (Wendy McElroy), June 22-24. 

Mistletoe dangerous even when absent“, April 18, 2001. 

’2000′s Ten Wackiest Employment Lawsuits’” (too much sex talk in sex shop), April 13-15, 2001. 

Appeals panel: schools’ harassment rule unconstitutional“, Feb. 27, 2001; “Weekend reading” (Supreme Court’s invention of Title IX harassment law), August 21-22, 1999. 

Business climate:Why we lose workplace privacy“, Aug. 9, 2001; “Ask the experts (if that’ll help)“, Oct. 19, 2000; “The scarlet %+#?*^)&!” (companies cut clients loose for profane language), March 7, 2000; ‘Personally agree with’ harassment policy — or you’re out the door“, Sept. 22, 1999; “EEOC encourages anonymous harassment complaints“, Sept. 3, 1999.

Hate speech, hate crime laws: see free speech and media law page. 

Columnist-fest” (Sarah McCarthy on Paula Jones case), Nov. 14, 2000. 

Don’t meet with her alone“, Nov. 1, 2000. 

Ask the experts (if that’ll help)“, Oct. 19, 2000. 

White House pastry chef harassment suit“, Sept. 18, 2000. 

Harassment law roundup” (Confederate flags on employee cars, Jeffrey Rosen book, Avis v. Aguilar, do-as-we-say case), Sept. 11, 2000. 

Embarrassing Lawsuit Hall of Fame” (Mass. agency finds flatulence not harassing), Aug. 14, 2000. 

From the U.K.: watch your language” (college, job bureau restrict use of “lady”, “hardworking”), June 13, 2000. 

Victim of the century?” (principal collects disability benefits for sexual compulsion), June 2-4, 2000; “Doctor sues insurer, claims sex addiction“, Oct. 13, 1999. 

What the French think of American harassment law“, May 25, 2000. 

The four rules of sexual harassment controversies” (Claudia Kennedy case; female-on-male touching case; spanking initiation), May 15, 2000. 

Comment of the day“, May 5-7, 2000; “Recommended reading” (Roland White in London Times on chill to office banter), Jan. 25, 2000. 

Harassment-law roundup” (bathroom graffiti; Boston bar owner’s insensitive decorations; pin-ups and porn in police station), May 4, 2000. 

Book feature: ‘The Kinder, Gentler Military’“, April 3, 2000. 

The shame of the ACLU” (Aguilar v. Avis: ACLU intervenes on anti- free-speech side), Sept. 7, 1999; “Speech police go after opinion articles, editorial cartoons“, August 28-29, 1999. 

Harassment-law roundup” (Internet startups vulnerable), May 4, 2000; “Dot-coms as perfect defendants“, Jan. 17; “Harassment-law roundup” (Juno case), Feb. 19-21, 2000. 

Oops! Didn’t mean nothing by that, ma’am” (“Hello, good looking” directed at harassment trainer), Dec. 21, 1999. 

Suppression of conversation vs. improvement of conversation“, Nov. 12, 1999 (excerpts from Joan Kennedy Taylor book); “Risks of harm“, Nov. 13-14, 1999; “Harassment-law roundup” (Taylor book discussed), Feb. 19-21, 2000. 

Courts actually begin to define ‘harassment’; activists in shock“, August 6, 1999. 

Please — there are terminals present” (South Park on sexual harassment), July 30, 1999.
——————————————————————————–

Articles by Overlawyered.com editor Walter Olson:

Title IX’s Invisible Ink” (Supreme Court invents right to sue schools over student-on-student harassment), Reason, August/September 1999. 

A Legacy of Dirty Laundry” (brief contribution to symposium on harassment law), The Women’s Quarterly, Winter 1999. 

Have the Harassment Rules Changed?“, Wall Street Journal, April 6, 1998 (judge’s dismissal of Paula Jones lawsuit). 

Punch the Clock, Sue the Boss“, New York Times, March 20, 1998. 

Shut Up, They Explained” (“zero-tolerance”), Reason, June 1997. 

The Long Arm of Harassment Law“, New York Times, July 7, 1996. 

?When Sensitivity Training Is the Law? (Connecticut law requires training of managers), Wall Street Journal, January 20, 1993. 

In addition, The Excuse Factory (1997) includes two chapters on harassment law, namely chapter 4 (“Fear of Flirting”) and chapter 14 (“Workplace Cleansing”).  Neither is online. 


Other resources:

Websites

Freedom of Speech vs. Workplace Harassment Law” (highly informative site maintained by Prof. Eugene Volokh, UCLA Law School) 

Organizations

Books

The shelf of books critical of the overreach of harassment law got at least three important additions in 1999.  Daphne Patai of the University of Massachusetts, known already as a co-author of Professing Feminism: Cautionary Tales From the Strange World of Women’s Studies, published Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism.  Cathy Young, columnist for the Detroit News, published Ceasefire: Why Women and Men Must Join Forces to Achieve True Equality.  And Joan Kennedy Taylor, associated with the Cato Institute, published What to Do When You Don’t Want to Call the Cops: Or a Non-Adversarial Approach to Sexual Harassment.  (Also see our editor’s 1997 contribution, The Excuse Factory.)


May 31 – From our mail sack: ADA enforcement vignettes. Reader Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity tells us that every month or so he visits the Department of Justice to pore over the new batch of publicly released enforcement letters from the department’s Civil Rights Division. Although the letters are made available by the Department in such a way that parties in the disputes are not individually identifiable, they do provide insight into current enforcement priorities and trends. A few highlights that Roger passes on from letters issued by DoJ regarding the enforcement of the Americans with Disabilities Act:

“The Civil Rights Division’s Disability Rights Section has in the last month or so sent a lot of letters to doctors’ offices on behalf of hearing-impaired patients complaining that the doctors don’t have interpreters (a couple of the offices didn’t understand why the doctor and patient couldn’t just write notes to each other) [see also Sept. 29-Oct. 1].

* “A dance studio got a DOJ letter when it refused to continue giving lessons to a student who was prompting complaints from other students’ parents because accommodating her took up so much class time.

“Other interesting issues prompting DOJ letters:

* “A cruise ship that refused to let a blind person on board for a trip unless he had a medical note stating he could safely travel alone;

* “An HIV-positive student who demanded an air-conditioned classroom;

* “A blind person who wasn’t allowed into a doctor’s office because in the past other patients had had an allergic reaction to his guide dog; and

* “A truly tragic case — a man with a ‘manual disability’ who could not pull the trigger on a gun.”

May 31 – Jumped ahead, by court order. A Delaware court has found that Christiana Care Health Services breached its contract with Ahmad Bali, MD, when it demoted him from third-year to second-year resident. Rather than simply allot monetary damages to Dr. Bali for the trouble and expense of having been held back needlessly at the second-year stage, the court took the more unusual step of ordering the hospital to accord him fourth-year residency status as if he’d completed the third-year program. The result is to put him in the same place he’d be if not for the hospital’s earlier breach, which is certainly one kind of fairness for which the law sometimes strives. But what if third-year residency isn’t simply a re-run of second-year, but involves the acquisition of distinctive skills? (Miles J. Zaremski, “Delaware court reinstates terminated resident”, American Medical News, March 20).

May 31 – Columnist-fest. More opinions worth considering:

* Paul Campos weighs in on the “pink-skirt” case, in which a transgendered employee of a Boulder, Colo. bagel shop is suing because its owner wouldn’t let him wear that girlish item of apparel on the job (“The strange land of identity politics”, Rocky Mountain News, May 16; Matt Sebastian, “Bagel shop wouldn’t let him wear pink dress [sic], so he sues”, Scripps Howard News Service, May 11).

* Big American companies whose German operations were seized by the Nazi regime and run with forced labor are now coming under legal pressure to pay “reparations”. “If we Jews care about justice and retribution, we should not take this money,” argues Sam Schulman of Jewish World Review. “It is tainted — tainted with innocence. And taking money from the innocent blurs the line between innocence and guilt.” (“Some Reparations Money is Better Left on the Table”, Jewish World Review, May 18). An earlier Schulman column examines the drift of the campaigns against the Swiss and the Austrians away from the aim of individualized justice for expropriated families and toward the expiation of inherited national guilt by way of large transfer payments. (“David Irving’s Mirror for the Jews”, May 2).

* Rachelle Cohen of the Boston Herald can’t help wondering: does Massachusetts really need to spend tax money setting up a state-sponsored law school? (“Must taxpayers pay to create more lawyers?”, May 24).

May 30 – You were negligent to hire me. “A former Escondido school district administrator who resigned two years ago after revelations of a 1963 rape-related conviction won a $255,000 jury verdict yesterday against Superintendent Nicolas Retana and the district.” Thirty-four years previously, at age 17, William Zamora had been convicted in New Mexico of assault with intent to rape, serving two years in prison and later being pardoned by the governor. When he applied for an $88,000/year administrative job in 1997 with the district near San Diego, he failed to disclose his long-ago conviction on his employment application, later saying he thought the pardon had wiped his record clean. But an FBI fingerprint check turned it up, and Zamora resigned at once: a California law passed the previous year forbade school districts to hire persons with felony sex convictions. He then proceeded to sue the district and supervisor, contending that if they “had done their jobs properly… they would have waited until the crime check came back before hiring him,” and charging that his privacy had been invaded when Retana conversed with an Albuquerque school board member about the conviction. Last week a jury awarded him $15,000 on the negligent hiring claim and $240,000 on the invasion of privacy claim. “Superior Court Judge Lisa Guy-Schall kept jurors from hearing the details of Zamora’s conviction, in which he pleaded guilty. She said she didn’t want to preside over a mini-trial of events that happened 37 years ago.” (Onell R. Soto, “Ex-administrator wins $255,000 verdict against Escondido schools chief, district”, San Diego Union-Tribune, May 24; and earlier Union-Tribune coverage, May 17, May 21, 1999; May 20, 1999).

May 30 – Illegal to talk about drugs? The so-called Methamphetamine Anti-Proliferation Act, which has been moving rapidly through Congress with relatively little public outcry, would make it a felony punishable by ten years in prison “to teach or demonstrate to any person the manufacture of a controlled substance, or to distribute to any person, by any means, information pertaining to, in whole or in part, the manufacture or use of a controlled substance,” knowing or intending that a recipient will use the information in violation of the law. The aim is to shut down the publishing of books, magazines and websites that furnish information on drug manufacture or use, such as High Times magazine and Lycaeum.org. The prohibition on “distribut[ing]” such information “to any person, by any means” could make it unlawful even to post a weblink to offshore sites of this nature. Another provision of the bill would make it a crime to “directly or indirectly advertise for sale” drugs or drug paraphernalia — and whatever the peculiar phrase “indirectly advertise” may mean in practice, it’s probably not good news for the First Amendment. A Washington Post editorial calls the provisions “overly broad” and “so vague as to threaten legitimate speech”: “The mere dissemination of information, especially without specific intent to further crime, seems within the bounds of free speech protections.”

SOURCES: “The Anti-Meth Bill” (editorial), Washington Post, May 26; Amy Worden, “House Bill Would Ban Drug Instructions”, APBNews, May 10; Declan McCullagh, “Bill criminalizes drug links”, Wired News, May 9; Jake Halpern, “Intentional Foul”, The New Republic, April 10; “Senate panel considers ban on Internet drug recipes”, AP/Freedom Forum, July 29, 1999; Debbi Gardiner and Declan McCullagh, “Reefer Madness Hits Congress”, Wired News, Aug. 6, 1999; J. T. Tuccille, “Shall make no law”, About.com Civil Liberties, Aug. 15, 1999; Phillip Taylor, “Marijuana activists denounce proposed ban of drug recipes”, Freedom Forum, Jan. 6.

May 30 – Won’t pay for set repairs. Orkin, the pest control company, is declining to compensate two consumers who’ve requested that it pay for fixing their TV sets after they attacked unusually convincing simulations of cockroaches that ran across the screen in its ads. The company says a Tampa, Fla., woman tried to kill the insect by throwing a motorcycle helmet at her set, while another man damaged his set by throwing a shoe at it. (“‘I felt really stupid’: Orkin cockroach commmercial has some viewers fooled “, AP/Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 6).

May 30 – Welcome San Jose Mercury News visitors. At Silicon Valley’s hometown paper, columnist John Murrell (“Minister of Information”) proposes this among sites “for your weekend Web wandering pleasure … your darkest visions of out-of-control litigiousness will be confirmed”. (May 26 entry). The weblog at uJoda.com (“From My Desktop”), where you can pick up Macintosh icons and graphics, reports that its author “found a great site called overlawyered.com, though not eye candy, it is rich in content” (May 6 entry). The pro-Second Amendment Fulton Armory featured us as their site of the week a couple of weeks ago, and we’ve also been linked recently by the Australian Public Law page maintained by the law faculty at the Northern Territory University, down under (“Not much to do with public law but we couldn’t help ourselves,” they explain re including us); by the Smith Center for Private Enterprise, a free-market think tank at Cal State, Hayward; by ClaimsPages.com, which offers a vast array of insurance-oriented links; and by the website of attorney Jule R. Herbert, Jr. of Alabama’s Gulf Coast, among many others.

May 26-29 – “Dame Edna’s Gladioli Toss Lands in Court”. “Dame Edna Everage”, the character created by Australian comedian Barry Humphries (website, B’way show), makes a custom of ending her show by flinging gladioli to the crowd, but now a man has hired a Melbourne law firm to undertake legal action, saying a stem of one of the large flowers struck him in the eye. 49-year-old singing teacher Gary May is “seeking unspecified damages for pain and suffering, loss of income and medical expenses.” (Reuters/Excite, May 25, lnk now dead). Last year (see Dec. 7) NBC’s “Tonight Show with Jay Leno” was sued by an audience member who says he was injured by one of the free t-shirts propelled into the crowd.

May 26-29 – “Skydivers don’t sue”. Lively Usenet discussion last month and this among skydiving enthusiasts (rec.skydiving) over recent lawsuits in the sport. In one, Canadian skydiving acrobat Gerry Dyck is suing teammate Robert Laidlaw over a 1991 accident during an eight-man stunt jump near Calgary in which Dyck was knocked unconscious and severely hurt on landing. (Jeffrey Jones, “Canadian skydiver sues teammate for mid-air crash”, San Jose Mercury News, April 24, no longer online). The other followed the death of James E. Martin, Jr., a Hemet, Calif. dentist and veteran of more than 5,000 jumps who perished when a line snagged on his parachute, his fifth time out on that gear. Now his widow’s suing the gear maker, Fliteline Systems of Lake Elsinore, Calif.; vice president Mick Cottle of Fliteline, the first defendant named in the suit, says Martin was a “close friend”. “Few lawsuits over sky diving deaths ever reach judgment,” reports the Riverside Press-Enterprise. And “most makers of sky-diving gear do not carry liability insurance, which reduces the likelihood of plaintiffs gaining a settlement.” About 32 sky-diving deaths occur annually in the U.S., of which about five lead to lawsuits, according to one frequent expert witness in the field; he estimates that plaintiffs have won only 1 or 2 percent of cases he’s seen, though it’s unclear whether he’s including settlements in that estimate. (Guy McCarthy, “Lawsuit blames gear in sky diver’s death”, Riverside Press-Enterprise, May 8, link now dead; Remarq saved thread; Deja.com archive, recent search on “lawsuit” — hundreds of posts in all)

May 26-29 – Insurers fret over online privacy suits. The wave of lawsuits against Yahoo!, DoubleClick and others for privacy sins has insurance companies “concerned they will have to pay for potentially massive torts they didn’t anticipate” in liability policies they’ve written for the dot-com sector. “‘If it’s not the next really big issue, it’s one of the next big issues where we can expect a lot of litigation,’ said Thomas R. Cornwell, VP of the technology insurance group” for insurer Chubb. “Plaintiff’s attorneys are honing their skills and preparing for a boom in such lawsuits,” reports the magazine Business Insurance in its May 22 lead story. “‘Just as the Internet itself is a growth area, Internet law is being recognized as a growth area within the legal profession,’ said David Sobel, general counsel for the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington. The nonprofit organization supports plaintiff lawsuits on Internet privacy.” “My guess is that now that the blood is in the water there will be a lot of plaintiffs’ attorneys sniffing it up,” said one lawyer who’s sued Yahoo. (Roberto Ceniceros, “Internet privacy liability growing”, Business Insurance, May 22, fee-based archives). Expect the cost of securing liability insurance for an Internet launch to rise accordingly.

May 26-29 – Suits by household pets? “Somewhere out there — maybe in a Boston zoo or a Fresno research lab — a Bonzo or Fido is biding his time, deceptively peeling a banana or playing dead, quietly getting ready to sue his master,” writes Claire Cooper of the Sacramento Bee. As animal-rights courses proliferate at law schools, activists are quietly looking for test cases in which to assert the singular new notion of standing for nonhuman creatures — with themselves as the designated legal representatives, needless to say. (“Pets suing their masters? Stay tuned, advocates say”, May 13). In March the Seattle Times profiled the Great Apes Legal Project, which views the non-human primate kingdom as plausible rights-bearing clients. This provoked a letter from reader David Storm of Everett, who said the article was “very interesting, but the goal doesn’t go far enough. In addition, we should declare the apes to be lawyers, which would simultaneously improve our legal system.” (Alex Tizon, “Cadre of lawyers working to win rights for apes”, Seattle Times, March 19; letters, March 21). See also Roger Bryant Banks, “Animal Dogma”, SpinTech (online), May 12, on the question: if Chimp v. Zoo is a good case, why not also Chimp v. Chimp, following incidents of violence or harassment?

May 26-29 – EPA’s high courtroom loss rate. Most federal agencies win most of the time when their regulatory decisionmaking is challenged in federal court, but the Environmental Protection Agency in recent years has been a glaring exception, losing a large share of the cases it has defended, including high-profile battles over electric car mandates, gasoline reformulation, and Clean Water Act permit-granting, among many others. Why does it fare so badly? Jonathan Adler of the Competitive Enterprise Institute thinks one reason is that agency policymakers adopt extreme legal positions, partly due to unclear authorizing statutes, partly due to zealousness among political appointees at the top. “Environmental Performance at the Bench: The EPA’s Record in Federal Court”, Reason Public Policy Institute, Policy Study #269; “EPA in Need of Adult Supervision”, CEI Update, March 1; Adler’s home page. Ben Lieberman, also of CEI, calls attention to one of the more unusual confrontations the EPA has gotten into of late: its crackdown on coal-burning utilities has led it into a showdown with the government-owned Tennessee Valley Authority, which means it’s the feds versus the feds. (“EPA’s tug at TVA’s power”, May 19, no longer online).

May 26-29 – Ready to handle your legal needs. Stephen Glass, who resigned in disgrace from The New Republic just over two years ago after being caught making up stories, is graduating this month from Georgetown Law School. The Pop View has posted this summary of the episode for anyone who’s forgotten (via Romenesko’s Media News).

May 25 – Conference on excessive legal fees. In Washington today from 10 to 4 Eastern, the Manhattan Institute, Federalist Society, Hudson Institute and Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. team up to host a conference on ideas for “protecting unsophisticated consumers, class action members, and taxpayers/citizens” from overreaching legal fees (schedule and confirmed speakers at Federalist Society site; live broadcast at U.S. Chamber site requires RealPlayer).

May 25 – Thomas the Tank Engine, derailed. “Children’s online privacy”: the sort of sweetness-and-light notion practically no one’s willing to criticize in principle. Yet regulation is regulation, and seldom lacking in real-world bite. Declan McCullagh at Wired News reports that the popular children’s TV show Thomas the Tank Engine has had to discontinue sending regular email bulletins to legions of young fans because obtaining parental consent individually would be too cumbersome. The show’s website cites the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act, which took effect last month. Other online publishers are also unilaterally cutting off subscribers under the age of 12, to their distress. (“COPPA Lets Steam Out of Thomas”, May 13; Lynn Burke, “Kid’s Privacy an Act, or Action?”, April 20).

May 25 – “Taking cash into custody”. Local law enforcement agencies systematically dodge the constraints of state forfeiture law to help themselves to proceeds after seizing cash and property in traffic stops and drug busts, according to this Kansas City Star investigation. And though Congress’s enactment of federal-level forfeiture law reform was much trumpeted earlier this year (see April 13, Jan. 31), it’s likely to leave many of the abuses unchecked. (Karen Dillon, Kansas City Star, series May 19-20).

May 25 – What the French think of American harassment law. Pretty much what you’d expect: “Fifteen years after the first harassment trials, puritanism in the office is total,” marvels the New York correspondent of a French paper named Liaisons Sociales. “A suggestive calendar in a man’s locker? Prohibited. Below-the-belt jokes? Totally excluded. Comments about physique? Illegal. The result is that behavior in the workplace has been profoundly changed. The doors of offices are always open. The secretaries are always present during tete-a-tete meetings, in case they need to be witnesses in litigation.” A few feminist French lawyers would like to emulate the American way of doing things but lament that in their country litigation is frowned on, damages are set at a token level, and, as one complains, “current French law makes no mention of things like improper jokes”. (Vivienne Walt, “Curbing Workplace Sexism Evolving Slowly in France,” New York Times, May 24 (reg)). Plus: chief exec of leading British fashion chain canned after inappropriate conduct (Fraser Nelson and Tim Fraser, “Pat on the bottom costs boss £1m job” Sunday Times (London), May 10).

May 25 – His wayward clients. In March, in 275 pages of court filings, Allstate, Geico and other insurers filed a lawsuit charging what they called “the most extensive fraud upon the New York no-fault system that has ever been uncovered,” suing 47 doctors, chiropractors and businessmen all told. But the complaint did not name as a defendant a lawyer who’s given legal advice or assistance to just about every one of those 47 defendants; he’s a former chairman of the State Bar Association’s health committee who rents office space in a politically connected law firm. Among his specialties is to assist chiropractors and others in getting around a New York rule that no one can own a medical practice other than a licensed doctor. The complaint says a Milford, Conn. physician who holds a license to practice medicine in New York had served as the front guy for no fewer than 29 medical practices in the state. (Glenn Thrush, “Black Belt Lawyer Robert B orsody Evades $57 Million Fraud Lawsuit”, New York Observer, March 20).

May 24 – Musical chairs disapproved. “The traditional children’s party game of musical chairs has been accused of breeding violence,” reports the BBC. A booklet produced under the auspices of the British education ministry by a group called the Forum on Children and Violence argues that the diversion rewards the “strongest and fastest” children and suggests that nursery schools consider an alternative game such as “musical statues”. The education spokeswoman for the opposition Tories, Theresa May, called the advice “political correctness gone mad”. (“Musical chairs ‘too violent’”, BBC News, May 23).

May 24 – After the great power-line panic. Eleven years ago reporter Paul Brodeur penned a series of articles for The New Yorker charging that electric power-line fields were causing childhood cancers and other ailments, later published as a book entitled Currents of Death. Trial lawyers promptly went on the warpath, and the resulting binge of scare publicity terrified countless parents. Hundreds of millions in litigation costs later, the suits have mostly fizzled. But have any lessons been learned? Forbes reprints an excerpt from Robert L. Park’s much-discussed new book, “Voodoo Science” (Oxford U. Press). (“Voodoo Science and the Power-Line Panic”, May 15). Among groups that stoked the panic were Trial Lawyers for Public Justice: see, e.g., “Names in the News: Kilovolt Cancer”, Multinational Monitor, March 1992 (second item, quoting TLPJ’s Michael Koskoff).

May 24 – Smudged plumage. The Baltimore Orioles, owned by trial lawyer zillionaire/political kingmaker Peter Angelos, say that in order not to threaten the “goodwill” arising from their exhibition performance against the Cuban national team last year (see Dec. 9, Oct. 19 commentaries), they’ll refuse to hire any baseball player who defects from Cuba. Roger Clegg of the Center for Equal Opportunity calls this stand “morally indefensible — telling those fleeing a totalitarian regime that they are unwelcome and unemployable” — and wonders how well it accords with the federal laws banning employment discrimination on the basis of national origin and lawful-immigrant status. Maybe the team could beat such charges by arguing that it has nothing against Cuban émigrés based on their national origin as such — it might hire them, after all, if they were loyal Castroites playing with Fidel’s approval. (“Peter Angelos in foul territory”, National Review Online, May 18; “Orioles Avoid Cuban Players Who Have Defected”, Reuters/Yahoo, May 17, link now dead).

May 24 – ADA & the web: sounding the alarm. “It’s simply a matter of (Internet) time before pitched battles over accommodations in the virtual world rival their physical counterparts,” writes MIT’s Michael Schrage (“Brave New Work: E-Commodating the Disabled in the Workplace”, Fortune, May 15; quotes our editor). The National Federation of the Blind’s recent lawsuit against AOL is “a 500-pound gorilla that party-goers can’t ignore,” according to a metaphor-happy lawyer with Morrison & Foerster. “…If the court rules that AOL is a public accommodation, it could require anyone engaging in e-commerce to make their Web site …accessible to people with disabilities.” (Ritchenya A. Shepherd, “Net Rights for the Disabled?”, National Law Journal, Nov. 15, 1999). “In a few years, if regulatory history is repeated, any Web site that doesn’t provide government-sanctioned equal access for the handicapped could be declared illegal,” warns an Internet Week columnist (Bill Frezza, “The ADA Stalks The Internet: Is Your Web Page Illegal?”, Feb. 28). Coming soon, we hope: a few highlights from the mail we’ve been inundated with on this topic, much of which we haven’t even had a chance to answer yet (thanks for your patience, correspondents!).

May 24 – Bargain price on The Excuse Factory. Usually we urge you to buy books through our online bookstore, but right now Laissez Faire Books is offering an unbeatable discount on our editor’s book about law and what it’s doing to the American workplace, The Excuse Factory, just $12.25 while they last (hardcover, too). And it makes a good occasion to check out the rest of the LFB catalogue. (Order direct from them.)

May 23 – Steering the evidence. The FBI is probing charges of evidence- and witness-tampering in a liability case that led a San Antonio judge last week to impose sanctions on plaintiff’s attorneys Robert Kugle, Andrew Toscano and Robert “Trey” Wilson. Bridgett and Juan Fabila had sued DaimlerChrysler, demanding $2 billion, over a 1996 accident in Mexico which killed several family members in their Dodge Neon. Their lawyers alleged that the car’s steering column decoupler was defective. But someone anonymously sent DaimlerChrysler evidence of misconduct by its adversaries, and eventually the carmaker succeeded in laying before 224th District Judge David Peeples evidence of the following:

* The steering decoupler was broken by the time the carmaker was allowed to see it, but photographs taken shortly after the accident showed it intact. The plaintiff’s lawyers denied for two years having any knowledge of such photos, and then, when they came to light, moved unilaterally to drop the suit, then argued (unsuccessfully) that the judge had no authority to impose sanctions on them because his jurisdiction ended with the suit. Close inspection of the steering decoupler revealed the minute scrapings of wrench marks and other signs of deliberate tampering.

* One of the attorneys’ investigators “tried to bribe two Mexican highway patrol officers in an attempt to change their testimony and threatened the family of a Red Cross official who said Fabila told him the accident had occurred because her husband fell asleep behind the wheel.”

* The “investigator who took the first set of photographs claim[ed] Wilson told him in March that his firm was ‘running a bluff, but we had our hand called.’” The lawyers said later that their real demand was for $75 million, of which they would get 40 percent as their share, according to the San Antonio paper’s Rick Casey.

Senior partner Robert Kugle of the Kugle Law Firm counter-accused the car company of itself bribing witnesses and tampering with evidence, while Wilson and investigator Stephen Garza “both asserted their Fifth Amendment right not to testify”. After an inquiry, Judge Peeples dismissed the Fabila family’s suit with prejudice, ordered attorneys Kugle, Toscano and Wilson to pay $920,000 in legal expenses that DaimlerChrysler had incurred — it’s not quite impossible for a defendant to recover its legal costs in an American courtroom — and said he planned to report his findings to the state bar and to county prosecutors for possible action. The FBI has seized the vehicle pursuant to further investigation, according to Casey. Kugle continues to declare his innocence of wrongdoing and says he intends to appeal; the other two attorneys were not available to reporters for comment. Ken Glucksman, associate general counsel of DaimlerChrysler, said the case was “the most flagrant example of misconduct I’ve seen in more than 20 years as a lawyer” and said he hoped the attorneys were disbarred. Update: final ruling by judge sets stage for appeal (June 26). Further update (Mar. 17, 2003).

SOURCES: Adolfo Pesquera, “Sanctions issued in tampering case”, San Antonio Express-News, May 18; San Antonio Express-News coverage by Rick Casey, various dates; “Judge Dismisses $2 Bln Suit vs. Daimler”, Reuters/FindLaw, May 18; “DaimlerChrysler wins $920,489 in fines against three Texas attorneys”, AP/Detroit Free Press, May 18; Dina ElBoghdady, “DaimlerChrysler fights baseless suits”, Detroit News, May 19; “Lawyers who sued DC fined”, Detroit Free Press, May 19, link now dead.

May 23 – “Toronto Torch” age-bias suit. Shirley Zegil, 52, has filed a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, saying she was improperly discharged by a Brantford strip club because of her age. “They told me I was too old and fat,” said Zegil, who has been disrobing for audiences for more than two decades and performs under the nicknames “The Contessa” and “Toronto Torch”. But she still has plenty of loyal fans among older clubgoers: “A girl is never too old to strip,” she says. (Dale Brazao, “Stripper, 52, a winner in my court of appeal”, Toronto Star, May 22, no longer online).

May 23 – Favorite bookmark. Edward E. Potter is president of the Employment Policy Foundation, which plays a prominent role in debates on workplace issues in the nation’s capital. Yesterday the Cincinnati Enquirer asked him to list his favorite bookmarks, and this site made it onto the short list. Thanks! (“Weighing future of work force” (interview), May 22).

May 23 – “Lawyers’ tobacco-suit fees invite revolt”. Arbitrators’ award of $265 million to Ohio tobacco lawyers was the final straw for editors of USA Today, which came out editorially yesterday in favor of limiting attorneys’ tobacco swag. Fee hauls have mounted to $10.4 billion, including $3.4 billion for lawyers representing Florida, $3.3 billion (Texas), $1.4 billion (Mississippi), and $575 million (Louisiana), the latter of which works out, according to a dissenting arbitrator, to $6,700 an hour. The paper calls the “mega-paydays” a “sorry legacy” of the tobacco deal and notes that lawyers “who represented many states are being paid repeatedly for piggyback efforts.” (May 22).

May 23 – “Harvard reenacts Jesus trial”. Among dramatis personae in simulated trial of founder of Christianity: divinity prof Harvey Cox as Pontius Pilate and, as defense lawyer for the man of Galilee, none other than Alan Dershowitz, who “said the role fulfilled a lifelong dream. ‘Jesus is the one client I’ve always wished I could have represented,’ said the law professor whose clients have included O.J. Simpson, Claus von Bulow and Leona Helmsley”. Arguing that crucifixion was too severe a penalty for defying Roman authorities, Dershowitz “came up with a novel substitute punishment. ‘I think it would be appropriate to tie him in litigation and appeals for years,” he said. ‘That way he would spend his life with lawyers, whom he hated.’” (Richard Higgins, Boston Globe/Omaha World Herald, May 13).

May 22 – Texas tobacco fees. “Every three months, like clockwork, another $25 million arrives for the five Texas tobacco lawyers.” The five are fighting tooth and nail to avoid being put under oath by Texas Attorney General John Cornyn, a Republican, about how they came by that money, specifically, “longtime allegations that his predecessor, Dan Morales, solicited large sums of money from lawyers he considered hiring” for the state’s tobacco case. (Wayne Slater, “Trial lawyers give heavily to Democrats”, Dallas Morning News, May 14; Clay Robison, “Cornyn moves in on anti-tobacco lawyers”, Houston Chronicle, April 27; Susan Borreson, “Motions Flying Again Over Tobacco Lawyers’ Fees”, Texas Lawyer, July 26, 1999; “Lawyers Challenge AG’s Subpoenas”, Nov. 17, 1999).

So far, according to the Dallas Morning News report, the five have taken in more than $400 million of the billions they expect eventually from the tobacco settlement, and have recycled a goodly chunk of that change into political donations — more than $2.2 million in unrestricted soft money to the Democrats already in this election cycle, with further sums expected. Walter Umphrey, along with members of his Beaumont firm, “has put at least $350,000 into Democratic coffers. ‘The only hope of the Democratic Party is that the trial lawyers nationwide dig down deep and the labor unions do the same thing,’ he said. In addition to Mr. Umphrey and his firm, John Eddie Williams and members of his Houston firm have given $720,000; Harold Nix of Daingerfield, $420,000; Wayne Reaud of Beaumont, $250,000; and John O’Quinn of Houston, $100,000.”

May 22 – Not child’s father, must pay anyway. “Told by his girlfriend that she was pregnant, Bill Neal of Glasgow Village presumed he was the father and agreed to pay child support.” Eight years and $8,000 in payments later, Neal was curious why the child didn’t take after his looks, arranged for a DNA test to be done, and discovered the boy was someone else’s. So far the courts have ruled that he has to keep paying anyway because he didn’t contest the matter earlier. The legal system is big on finality on the matter of paternity, as men have learned to their misfortune in similar cases lately in Ohio, Texas and Pennsylvania. (Tim Bryant, “Man must pay support even though he is not boy’s father”, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 17, no longer online). Plus: John Tierney on “throwaway dads” (“An Imbalance in the Battle Over Custody”, New York Times, April 29 (requires registration)).

May 22 – “Jury Awards Apparent Record $220,000 for Broken Finger”. It happened in Atlanta after 41-year-old dental hygienist Linda K. Powers took a spin on the dance floor with Mike D. Lastufka but came to grief when Lastufka “tried a shag-style spin move”; her thumb wound up broken and she sued him. The previously reported Georgia record for a broken finger or thumb was $20,000 to a tennis instructor hurt in an auto accident. (Trisha Renaud, Fulton County Daily Report, Jan. 28).

May 22 – Annals of zero tolerance. In Canton, Ohio, a six-year-old boy has been suspended from school for sexual harassment after he jumped from the tub where he was being given a bath and waved out the window to a school bus that was picking up his sister (Lori Monsewicz, “Boy, 6, jumps from tub into sex harassment trouble”, Canton Repository, May 11). In the latest “finger-gun” incident, the principal of a Boston elementary school visited a class of second-graders to admonish several of them for making the thumb-as-trigger gesture during a supervised play-acting session; the youngsters were not subjected to discipline, however. (Ed Hayward, “School gives hands-on lesson after kids pull ‘finger guns’”, Boston Herald, March 28). And the American Bar Association Journal — who says its views don’t coincide with ours occasionally? — points out that “a child is three times more likely to be struck by lightning than to be killed violently at school” and recounts many noteworthy cases: “A second-grader who accidentally grabbed her mother’s lunch bag containing a steak knife was disciplined despite turning the bag over to her teacher as soon as she realized her mistake. A middle-schooler who shared her asthma inhaler on the school bus with a classmate experiencing a wheezing attack was suspended for drug trafficking.” “Kids are not going to respect teachers and administrators who cannot appreciate the difference between a plastic knife and a switchblade,” says Virginia lawyer Diane Fener. (Margaret Graham Tebo, “Zero tolerance, zero sense”, ABA Journal, April).

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