Category Archives: legal decision

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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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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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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Military Survivor Benefits for Same-Sex Spouse

In Copper-Harris v. United States, Case No. 2:12-00887 (Aug. 29, 2013), the Central District of California District Court recently ruled that the military could not deny survivor benefits to a same-sex spouse.  This case is interesting because it brings up a very interesting conflict of laws.

California recognizes same-sex marriages and recently the Supreme Court reversed DOMA.  You can see my prior post discussing the DOMA decision here.

Meanwhile, the Veteran’s Benefits statute, Title 38, defines a survivor spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who was the spouse of a veteran.” 38 U.S.C. 101(3).

The federal District Court in California, without referencing DOMA or what would be the appropriate standard of review, sided with the same-sex surviving spouse.  Using a rational basis review, the military would have to show that their action was rationally related to the purpose of the statute.  The questions can be summed up as follows:

  1. Is the survivor benefit exclusion of same-sex spouses rationally related to the goal of gender equality and expansion of the availability of veteran’s benefits?
  2. Is the survivor benefit exclusion of same-sex spouses rationally related to caring for and providing for veteran families?

The court said no.  Relying on expert testimony, the court noted that “veteran’s benefits are essential to ensuring that servicemembers perform to their ‘maximum potential,’ and other purposes justifying veterans benefits including readiness, recruiting, cohesion, and retention.”  Further, the court concluded that excluding same-sex spouses were not rationally related to the promotion of gender equality.

The court, based on the stated purpose of the Veterans Benefits statute, held that there was no rational basis for prohibiting same-sex survivors to receive the survivor benefits.

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Fair Labor Standard Act and Individual Liability

In Torres et al. v. Gristedes Operating Corp. et al., Case No. 11-4035 (July 9, 2013), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a mayoral candidate, a supermarket owner, and an executive can be individually liable for settlement payments arising of a Fair Labor Standard Act class action.

In this case, the parties settled the class action.  A class action is a discrimination case brought by a few plaintiffs on behalf of many employees.  All of the members who agreed to be part of the class (the individuals who were discriminated against) receive their part of the settlement.  In order for a fair disbursement, the Judge must adopt the settlement.

Under the settlement, the defendants agreed to pay $3.5 million to the class.  However, the defendants defaulted on the payments.  The judge’s order allowed the class to enforce the settlement.  Defendants, who sought to change the settlement, stated that they were not bound by the settlement because they were not “employers.”

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  The Court noted that the defendants exercised “operational control” that affected the class’ employment.  For example, based of their decisions, the employees’ wages were affected.  Because defendants were employers, defendants were bound by the settlement.  Based on this decision, defendants now have to pay the owed money.

via Labor Employment Law Blog: Second Circuit Imposes Individual Liability on New York Mayoral Candidate for Fair Labor Standards Act Settlement.

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Government Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants

Mostly everyone has a cell phone.  A lot of smartphones have GPS capabilities.  This can be handy when you are looking for directions and you are lost.  However, what about being tracked?  For instance, unless you change your privacy settings, your photos will keep track of where you took the picture and what time.

The question the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals decided is whether the government needs a warrant to track you.  In In re: Application of the U.S.A. for Historical Cell Site Data (July 30, 2013 5th Cir. Ct.), the court ruled that obtaining cell-location information without a warrant  did not violate the Fourth Amendment.

When we think of the Fourth Amendment we remember that a search and seizure may require a warrant.  If there is no expectation of privacy, i.e. in a garbage bag we got rid of, then the government wouldn’t need a warrant.  However, if we have an expectation of privacy, i.e. to enter your house, then the government must have a warrant.

An expectation of privacy usually is the crux of a search and seizure case.  Here, the ACLU argued that people have a reasonable expectation of privacy when they are being tracked for a long period of time and the data gathered is collected in great detail.

In this case, this argument was not discussed by the court.

Why would this not be discussed?  The Fourth Amendment deals with government actions.  In other words,  the seizure or search has to be collected by the government.  In a similar case, the Supreme Court had decided that the government must obtain a warrant if it wants to install a GPS tracking device.  See United States v. Jones (2012).

However, this case was found to be different.  The reason for this is because the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found that the information was collected by a third-party, i.e. the cell phone carrier.  The court explained,

Where a third party collects information in the first instance for its own purposes, the Government claims that it can obtain this information later with a [section] 2703(d) order, just as it can subpoena other records of a private entity.  We agree.

Id. (citations omitted).

Here, the government was not installing a GPS tracking device.  The Government was accessing a business record owned by carriers.  The court stated:

… cell site information is clearly a business record.  The cell service provider collects and stores historical cell site data for its own business purposes, perhaps to monitor or optimize service on its network or to accurately bill its customers for the segments of its network that they use.   The Government does not require service providers to record this information or store it.  The providers control what they record and how long these records are retained.

Consequently, the court found that the Government did not need a warrant.

via Cops Can Track Cellphones Without Warrants, Appeals Court Rules | Threat Level | Wired.com.

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Targeting Union Employees For Layoffs Violates The First Amendment

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals brings an interesting labor decision.  In State Employee Bargaining Coalitation v. Roland, ___F.3d___( 2d Cir. May 31, 2013), the court found that targeting Union employees for layoffs violates the First Amendment (freedom of association).

In this case, the employer employed around 50,000 people.  75% of these employees were members of the Union, and 25% were not.  In December 2002, the employer fired only Union employees.  No non-Union employees were fired.

It is important to note that an employer can manage the size of their work force.  However, the employer cannot target a protected group (here, employees who associated themselves with the Union).  The reason for this is because by targeting a protected group, the effect is to inhibit employees from their freedom to associate.

Under the Constitution, in order for the employer to not violate the Constitution it must show that they used the less restrictive means to accomplish their interest and must be narrowly tailored to achieve their goals.

The following are the pivotal facts of this case.  The employer’s interest was to manage their economical situation.  However, the laying off those Union employees had a minimal effect on their budget.  In fact, these Union-only lay offs were not included in the Balanced Budget Plan.  Further, the facts showed that because both Union and non-Union employees had the same health care and pension benefits there was no reason why only the Union employees were targeted.

via Adjunct Law Prof Blog: Targeting Union Employees For Layoffs Violates The First Amendment.

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Court orders reporter to testify in leak case re: Sterling

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a 188-page decision that there is no journalist protection of sources.  The decision can be viewed here.

In this case, ex-CIA officer Sterling worked for the CIA from 1993 to Jan. 2002.  During his tenure, he provided classified information to a NT Times reporter Risen.  In 2001, Risen published two articles based on classified information provided to him by Sterling.  After Sterling’s employment was terminated, Sterling attempted to publish a book but was denied ultimately because it contained classified information.

Afterwards, and while Sterling was pursuing legal action against the CIA, Sterling again gave Risen classified information.  NY Times Reporter met with senior administration officials to discuss the impact of the story.  The recommendation was to not publish, which the NY Times agreed to.  Nevertheless, NY Times reporter Risen published his book, “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration,” which disclosed classified information.

As a result, the Attorney General sought to compel Risen’s testimony about the identity of his source.  Risen motioned to quash the subpoena on the basis that he was protected under the First Amendment or/and the federal common-law reporter’s privilege.

 

The Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.  The court held that Risen did not have a reporter’s privilege.  The Circuit Court of Appeals relied heavily on Supreme Court cases.

In Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665 (1972), the Supreme Court in no uncertain terms rejected the existence of a reporters’ privilege.   In Univ. of Pa. v. EEOC, 493 U.S. 182, 201 (1990), the Supreme Court explained that the “First Amendment does not invalidate every burdening of the press that may result from the enforcement of civil or criminal statutes of general applicability.”  In Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., 501 U.S. 663, 669 (1991), the Supreme Court again stated that the First Amendment does not “relieve a newspaper reporter of the obligation shared by all citizens to a grand jury subpoena and answer questions relevant to a criminal investigation, even though the reporter might be required to reveal a confidential source.”

Pointedly, the Circuit Court of Appeals refused to apply a “balance test” approach when deciding whether a reporter can be compelled to testify in criminal proceedings.  The court noted that in civil matters, the court recognized a reporter’s privilege which could be overcome if the 3-part test was met.

The Circuit Court of Appeals noted why this line is so important.  In criminal cases, there is a fundamental and comprehensive need for every man’s evidence.  For this reason, any shield to information has to be narrowly construed.  In a civil matter, however, the need for information does not share the same urgency or significance.

For these reasons, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered NY Times reporter Risen to testify in the criminal trial of former CIA official Sterling charged with providing the reporter with classified information.  In so doing, the Court of Appeals held that the First Amendment does not protect reporters who receive unauthorized leaks from being forced to testify against the people suspected of leaking to them.

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July 22, 2013 · 13:45