Author Archives: Francis P. Rojas

About Francis P. Rojas

Francis Rojas practices in the areas of civil rights, employment, labor law, and contracts. Francis Rojas graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in 2008 and has a B.A. in Psychology (Forensics) and Sociology (Crime and Community) from Augsburg College. While in law school, Francis Rojas interned with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Francis Rojas also participated in William Mitchell Civil Advocacy Clinic and the Tax Planning Clinic. Francis Rojas was born in Bogotá, Colombia and is fluent in Spanish.

SCOTUS considers whether union neutrality agreements violate Labor Law

The U.S. Supreme Court considered whether “neutrality agreements” between unions and employers violate federal labor law.  Neutrality agreements are contracts between labor unions and employers under which the employers agree to support a union’s attempt to organize its workforce.

In Unite Here Local 355 v. Muhall, the Supreme Court will decide whether these agreements are a “thing of value.”  This definition matters because under Labor Law the exchange of things of value between a labor union and an employer are a felony.  Further, it is a crime for a union to request, demand, receive or accept or agree to receive or accept, any payment, loan, or delivery of any money or other thing of value prohibited by the statute.

Under the agreements, businesses help labor unions in organization efforts in exchange for labor peace, the New York Times reports. The Washington Post offers some examples: An employer might grant access to employee lists or agree to remain neutral in exchange for union concessions, such as giving up the right to strike.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals held that it was a “thing of value” because it includes tangibles and intangibles.  In other words, while the employer and the union can agree on the ground rules, the assistance in this case would constitute payment.

The assistance the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals referred to was as follows.  The casino (employer) agreed to allow union access to worker information and casino grounds, and to allow a unionization vote by cards collected from workers, rather than a secret ballot. The union agreed to refrain from picketing or striking during the union drive.

It is important to note that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals failed to take into consideration whether there was monetary value.

What is mind boggling is the fact that neutrality agreements are not only common, but they help avoid conflict and encourages the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.  The preamble of the National Labor Relations Act supports labor peace and the encouragement of the practice and procedure of collective bargaining.

The outcome of this contentious and heavily litigated case remains unknown.  The Supreme Court, specifically Justice Roberts, focused on the card-check portion of the neutrality agreement.  Justice Kagan focused on how the benefits bargained by the union benefit employees and unions.

via SCOTUS considers whether union neutrality agreements are improper ‘thing of value’.

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Filed under Appellate, civil rights, courts, discrimination, employment, federal, labor, legal decision, NLRB, union

Filibuster Changes

I heard about this vote a while back and it will be interesting to see how it plays out.  You hear about this all the time.  The majority party (regardless of whether they are Democrat or Republican) wants to change filibuster rules.

This year the number of bills passed has been the lowest since Congress was formed.  NBC calls it “Do-Nothing” Congress. USA Today describes the 2011-12 period as the “least productive year on record” and 2013 as being on track as the “least productive single year in modern history.”

The question is then, do we need filibuster reform?  The answer is yes.  To what extent?  This is heavily contested.

The Senate approved the most fundamental alteration of its rules by ending the minority’s party ability to filibuster most presidential nominees in response to the partisan gridlock that has plagued Congress.  (NY Times article).

Under the change, the Senate will be able to cut off debate on executive and judicial branch nominees with a simple majority rather than rounding up a supermajority of 60 votes.  This does not apply to all nominees, such as Supreme Court nominees.

via In Landmark Vote, Senate Limits Use of the Filibuster – NYTimes.com.

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Vets discharged under Don’t Ask Don’t Tell

The ABA is supporting legislation to allow veterans who were discharged under the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell to request a change in their military records.

“Restore Honor to Service Members Act,” H.R. 2839, will ensure that veterans who were discharged solely because of their sexual orientation and did not receive an “honorable” characterization of service can have the opportunity to request their characterization be upgraded. In addition, those who did receive an honorable discharge would be able to remove any reference to sexual orientation from their records by requesting a review.

This bill was introduced on July 25, 2013 and was referred to committee.  Since July 25, 2013 there has been no movement.  The ABA President’s letter, dated November 21, urges the subcommittee to take action.

via Vets discharged under Dont Ask, Dont Tell should be allowed to seek change in records, ABA says.

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Filed under civil rights, discrimination, employment, federal, Pending Legislation

Follow up: Rulings Against Sheriff Arpaio

A while back images where shown of Sheriff Arpaio, from Arizona, having 220 immigrants march in a line with shackles.  (One story here).  This story, among others, prompted lawsuits against Arpaio. The first case granted an injunction against Arpaio and the Sheriff’s Office.  The second case ruled that the Human Smuggling Act (which allowed the arrest and prosecution of immigrants).

It is interesting to point out that these decisions came before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision (Oct. 8, 2013), discussed here, which held Arizona S.B. 1070 was void and preempted.

In Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres v. Arpaio, No. CV-07-02513-PHX-GMS (D. Ariz. Oct. 2, 2013), U.S. District Court Judge Snow granted an injunction and listed reforms in which Arpaio and the Maricopa Sheriff’s Office must comply with.  This list includes, for example:

  • Supervisors shall provide effective supervision necessary to direct and guide Deputies.  Some of these include, for example: Respond to certain arrests; confirm the accuracy and completeness of Deputies’ daily reports;and hold Deputies accountable.
  • Supervisors enforcing Immigration-Related laws will directly supervise law enforcement activities.
  • Appointment of a federal independent monitor;
  • Hiring a Community Liaison Officer who is a sworn Deputy fluent in English and Spanish; and
  • Video recorder in every patrol car to record every traffic stop.

In We are America v. Maricopa County Bd. of Supervisors, No. CIV 06-2816-PHX-RCB (Sept. 27, 2013), U.S. District Court Judge Broomfield enjoined Arizona’s Maricopa Migrant Conspiracy Policy.

Sheriff Arpaio created this policy based on the Human Smuggling Act, Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-2319 which allowed for the arrest and prosecution of immigrants for “conspiring to transport themselves within Maricopa County.”

District Court Judge, like the reasoning of the 9th Circuit a few days later, ruled that the statute was preempted by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), 8 U.S.C. 1101 et seq.

The court also certified the class, which included “all individuals who pay taxes to Maricopa County and object to the use of county tax revenues to stop, detain, arrest, incarcerate, prosecute or penalize individuals for conspiring to transport themselves, and themselves only, in violation of Ariz. Rev. Stat. 13-2319 [Human Smuggling Act].”

via Courthouse News Service.

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Rule 68 does not moot case

In Emily Diaz v. First Am. Home Buyers Protection Corp., No. 11-57239 (9th Cir. Oct. 4, 2013), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an offer of judgment (Rule 68) did not make a plaintiff’s case moot.  This is an important case because it provides guidance when considering when to file summary judgment when a Rule 68 offer has been made.

Rule 68 is when a party offers opposing party a judgment for full satisfaction that the opposing party could recover at trial.  In this case, First American offered $7,019.32 plus costs.  Diaz, the plaintiff, declined this offer.  Thereby the issue was whether offering the money made the lawsuit moot.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the First American’s offer, even if it fully satisfied the plaintiff’s claim, did not make the case moot.  When reaching this conclusion the 9th Circuit cited Kagan’s dissent in Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S.Ct. 1523, 1528-29 (2013).

‘[A] case becomes moot only when it is impossible for a court to grant any effectual relief whatever to the prevailing party.’ By those measures, an unaccepted offer of judgment cannot moot a case.   When a plaintiff rejects such an offer – however good the terms – her interest in the lawsuit remains just what it was before. And so too does the court’s ability to grant her relief. An unaccepted settlement offer – like any unaccepted contract offer – is a legal nullity, with no operative effect.”

Id. at 1536 (citation omitted).

via Courthouse News Service.

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Follow up on Arizona S.B. 1070

You might remember the very controversial legislation against unauthorized aliens in Arizona.  Arizona Governor Jan Brewer was launched into the spotlight when she signed this bill.  The ruling of the 9th Circuit is important because it points to the exclusive control of the federal government of immigration.

In Valle Del Sol v. Whiting., No. 12-17152 (9th Cir. Oct. 8, 2013), the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that S.B. 1070 was void because it is vague and incomprehensible to a person of ordinary intelligence; and (2) it is preempted by federal law.

Setting aside the vagueness and incomprehensible nature of the law, the Court explained preemption.  The 9th Circuit focused on three main arguments: (1) federal government’s exclusive control over immigration policy; and (2) how Arizona’s law conflicted with federal’s laws.

The 9th Circuit first commented on why the federal government has this control.

Federal control over immigration policy is integral to the federal government’s ability to manage foreign relations:

“Immigration policy can affect trade, investment, tourism, and diplomatic relations for the entire Nation, as well as the perceptions and expectations of aliens in this country who seek the full protection of its laws.  Perceived mistreatment of aliens in the United States may lead to harmful reciprocal treatment of American citizens abroad.

It is fundamental that foreign countries concerned about the status, safety, and security of their nationals in the United States must be able to confer and communicate on this subject with one national sovereign, not the 50 separate States.”

Then, the Court explained why the federal government has exclusive control over immigration and not the states. The Court stated:

Congress did not, however, grant states the authority to prosecute [section] 1324 violations, but instead vested that power exclusively in the federal authorities.  Thus, “the inference from these enactments is that the role of the states is limited to arrest for violations of federal law.”

(citations omitted).

Lastly, the 9th Circuit pointed to the conflict of laws of Arizona and federal statutes as follows:

  1. First, Arizona’s statute provided “additional and different state penalties.”
  2. Second, Arizona “conferred upon its prosecutors the ability to prosecute those who transport or harbor unauthorized aliens in a manner unaligned with federal immigration priorities.”
  3. Third, Arizona “criminaliz[ed] conduct not covered by the federal harboring provision.” Arizona also “criminalizes encouraging or inducing an alien to come to or reside in Arizona.”

 

As a side note, if you are interested in standing and organizational standing, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals discussed the standard and explained how plaintiffs had standing.

via Courthouse News Service.

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Filed under civil rights, courts, federal, immigration, legal decision

Government Shut Down and the NLRB

When the shut down occurred, the NLRB closed its doors.  What is interesting is that the NLRB’s website is also down.

There are several notes that need to be pointed down.  Even though the NLRB is shut down, unfair labor practice charges’ statute of limitations of 6 months keeps running.  The statute of limitations is the time that a person/organization/company has to enforce their rights.  After that period, they may lose their right to do so.

The federal register provides:

Extensions for time of filing cannot apply to the 6-month period provided by Section 10(b) of the Act for filing charges, 29 U.S.C. 169(b), or to Applications for awards of fees and other expenses under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. 504.

….

(emphasis added).

The federal register also cautions persons to file the charge via fax and to serve the charges themselves.  The federal register states:

Notwithstanding the foregoing, persons wishing to file a charge pursuant to Section 10(b) of the Act, and for whom the 6-month period of Section 10(b) may expire during the interruption in the Board’s normal operations, are cautioned that the operation of Section 10(b) during an interruption in the Board’s normal operation is uncertain.

Consequently, it would be prudent to file the charge during the interruption in the Board’s operations by faxing a copy of the charge to the appropriate Regional Office.

…..

Moreover, persons filing a charge are reminded that it is their responsibility… to serve a copy of the charge upon the person against whom the charge is made.  While Regional Directors ordinarily serve a copy of the charge on a person against whom the charge is made as a matter of courtesy, they do not assume responsibility for such service, and it is unlikely that the Agency will be able to serve the charges during any period of shutdown due to a lapse in appropriated funds.

(emphasis added).

In summary, you must do as follows:

  1. Serve the unfair labor practice charge and the applications of fees and other expenses via fax.
  2. Serve the papers to the person against whom the charge is made.

Regarding other issues, the federal register explains that they are postponed.  These include hearings in front of Administrative Law Judges, pre and post election hearings, and filing or serving of documents (including briefs and appeals).

via NLRB |.

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Filed under federal, labor, Minnesota, NLRB, Pending Legislation, rules, union

Discrimination for being “unmanly”

The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (en banc) ruled that an iron worker who was subjected to gay slurs and simulated sex because he failed to conform to the employer’s male stereotypes was discriminated against under Title VII.

In EEOC v. Boh Bros. Constr. Co., No. 11-30770 (5th Cir. Sept. 27, 2013), the  court reviewed the jury’s findings and awarded damages.  The Fifth Circuit found that taking the case as a whole, a jury could have found that the employee was harassed because he did not fall under the “manly-man stereotype.”

This case arose when a worker, Kerry Woods, was subjected to sex harassment.  Woods was often sexual derogatory terms regarding Woods’ sexuality.  In addition, the superintendent also exposed himself when Woods was going to the bathroom, and made sexual innuendo comments to Woods.  When these actions were brought to the employer, the superintendent told the general superintendent that he didn’t care for Woods because he was “different” and “didn’t fit in.”

After trial the jury found that this verbal and physical harassment occurred daily.  The jury awarded Woods $200,000 in compensatory damages and $250,000 in punitive damages.

via Harassed for being unmanly? En banc court sees Title VII violation; dissent sees clean-talk enforcer.

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Filed under Appellate, civil rights, discrimination, District Court, employment, federal, legal decision

Home Health Care Rule and FLSA

Starting January 1, 2015 home care aides are not exempt from Wage and Overtime laws.  The Department of Labor released a press release discussing this wage and hour change as well as unveiling a new web portal with interactive tools.  The web portal for Home Care can be accessed here.

In the DOL’s press release, DOL stated,

This change will result in nearly two million direct care workers – such as home health aides, personal care aides and certified nursing assistants – receiving the same basic protections already provided to most U.S. workers.

The DOL also explained that this wage and hour new rule did not apply to companionship workers.  The DOL stated,

The final rule also clarifies that direct care workers who perform medically-related services for which training is typically a prerequisite are not companionship workers and therefore are entitled to the minimum wage and overtime.

And, in accordance with Congress’ initial intent, individual workers who are employed only by the person receiving services or that person’s family or household and engaged primarily in fellowship and protection (providing company, visiting or engaging in hobbies) and care incidental to those activities, will still be considered exempt from the FLSA’s minimum wage and overtime protections.

The final rule can be accessed here.

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Clicking ‘like’ is protected by First Amendment, 4th Circuit says

The ABA Journal has an interesting case regarding Facebook and its “likes.”  If you use Facebook, it is very likely that you have “liked” a page, a comment, a photo, etc.  The 4th Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that a “like” is protected under the First Amendment.

In Bland v. Roberts, No. 12-1671  (4th Cir. Sept. 23 2013), six plaintiffs allege that because their support for the Sheriff’s opponent, the Sheriff retaliated by choosing not the reappoint them. One of the plaintiffs had “liked” the opponent’s Facebook page.

The First Amendment application for a public employee is interesting. In order for a public employee to enjoy First Amendment protection and show that the employer violated the First Amendment, the employee has to show 3 items.

  • (1) the employee was speaking as a citizen upon a matter of public concern rather than an employee about a matter of personal interest;
  • (2) the employee’s interest in speaking upon the matter of public concern outweighed the government’s interest in providing effective and efficient services to the public; and
  • (3) the employee’s speech was a substantial factor in the employer’s termination decision

Furthermore, the degree of the protection depends on whether the political affiliation or political allegiance is an appropriate requirement for the effective performance of the public office.  Here, the three deputies were trained as jailers and had never made an arrest.  In other words, their political support for the Sheriff’s opponent may not a requirement for their performance of their duties.  This speech includes a “like” on Facebook.  The 4th Circuit remanded the case for further proceedings.

via Clicking ‘like’ is protected by First Amendment, 4th Circuit says.

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Filed under civil rights, discrimination, employment, federal