Monthly Archive: October 2013

Oct 29

Around the Web – Halloween Edition

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

If your costume and your recipe for witches brew are all ready for Thursday, you might think you’re all set for Halloween! Although this mostly secular (and highly commercialized) holiday may seem like an excuse to eat candy all day, some employers have discovered the pitfalls of celebrating this holiday in the workplace. There have been Title VII cases brought on behalf of employee’s whose religion does not permit them to celebrate this holiday. This case involves the Title VII claim of a Jehovah’s Witness who was asked to participate in a Halloween carnival despite her religious beliefs. Some Christian sects do not celebrate Halloween in protest of the holiday’s pagan roots.

The importance of sensitivity to religious observance is a hot topic lately. This article from the Wall Street Journal highlights the importance of sensitivity to religion in the workplace and the rise of religious discrimination claims. Read the article here.

A key point for employers and managers is to remember that if someone does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, do not make them. Here’s a refresher of EEOC guidelines on religious discrimination.

If you do celebrate, submit your costume to the Above the Law costume contest and check out FindLaw’s tips for a spooktacular Halloween!

Halloween bonus: A scary story… a messy office could earn you fines from the Department of Labor, just ask Rebecca Minkoff.

Happy Halloween!

Oct 26

15th Annual Worker’s Rights Conference

On October 25th and 26th, I had the privilege of attending the Peggy Browning Fund’s 15th Annual National Law Students Worker’s Rights Conference in Linthicum Heights, Maryland.  The event brought together law students across the country interested in the future of workers’ rights. The conference gave a greater understanding of the issues facing American workers, and was an opportunity to network with fellow students, and top practitioners in the field.

On Friday evening, conference attendees were treated to a showing of Trash Dance.  The film explored an artist’s organization of sanitation workers in Austin, Texas for a performance piece.  After the film, students offered opinions about the film’s metaphors for worker organization.

On Saturday morning, AFL-CIO General Counsel and former NLRB Member Craig Becker delivered the conference’s keynote address.  Mr. Becker reflected on his own experiences when speaking about unions’ future challenges.  He also offered insights into labor cases on the Supreme Court’s current docket and organized labor’s reception of the Affordable Care Act.

Students then participated in workshops that covered various salient issues. I attended three different workshops, all led by prominent figures in organized labor. Dennis Walsh, Regional Director of Region 4 of the NLRB, discussed the NLRA’s nuances in “Introduction to Basic Labor Law”. Fred Feinstein, former General Counsel to the NLRB, detailed how anti-union consultants grew from cottage industry to well-oiled machine in “Future of Worker Mobilization”. Baldwin Robertson, partner of Woodley & McGillivary, summarized issues facing state and municipal union members in “Public Sector Labor Law”.

In the plenary session on Saturday afternoon, panelists Leon Dayan, Jessica Robinson, and Peggy Shorey summarized new assaults on collective bargaining rights in the states, including new right-to-work initiatives and movements to end dues check-offs.  In closing remarks, Dennis Walsh, Marley Weiss and Joe Lurie thanked all conference organizers for their hard work in putting together the engaging and educational programming. It was my pleasure to represent St. John’s University School of Law at the conference.  The Peggy Browning Fund’s programs contribute greatly to the labor law community, and I was fortunate to be a part of this year’s conference.

Panelists (L to R): Peggy Shorey, Leon Dayan, Jessica Robinson, and Matthew Ginsburg.

Panelists (L to R): Peggy Shorey, Leon Dayan, Jessica Robinson, and Matthew Ginsburg.

Oct 10

Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Inc.: Unpaid Interns Are Not Employees

Unpaid interns are filling the court system. Many wage and hour cases have been heard by courts (more are upcoming) but very recently a more disturbing trend has emerged. A federal district court in New York ruled last week that unpaid interns are not “employees” and thus are not able to recover for sexual harassment under New York City’s Human Rights Laws (NYCHRL).

In the case of Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Inc., the Southern District of New York threw out the hostile work environment discrimination claims of Lehuan Wang, a broadcast journalism intern from Syracuse University. Ms. Wang alleged that her supervisor engaged in inappropriate conversations, including inviting her to his hotel room where he touched her and tried to kiss her. Ms. Wang also alleged that she had been discussing permanent employment with the supervisor, and after this incident, the supervisor was no longer interested in hiring her. Ms. Wang is a Chinese citizen and would have required Phoenix to sponsor her work visa.

Though the plaintiff argued she qualified as an employee under the NYCHRL even though she was unpaid, the court disagreed. The court found that the NYCHRL does not extend its protections to unpaid interns. The Court stated that an employment relationship is an essential condition of this claim and because Ms. Wang was not compensated this relationship did not exist. Despite this unfavorable ruling, Ms. Wang was able to maintain her failure to hire complaint under city and state Human Rights Laws.

This case is an interesting example of the predicament employer’s (and employee’s) may face because of an unpaid internship. Although the court did not extend the definition of “employee” under the NYCHRL, employers and employees alike should be aware of the recent ruling. A link to the full decision in Wang v. Phoenix Satellite Television US, Inc. is available here.

Oct 09

LERA Event Recap – “The Affordable Care Act on Collective Bargaining”

The Labor and Employment Relations Association sponsored a reception and panel discussion on “The Affordable Care Act on Collective Bargaining.” Many distinguished panelists participated, including: Jeff Stein, Alyson Mathews, and Frank Moss.

The discussion began with an analysis of the main characteristics of the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”); first, universal coverage; second, the requirements on insurance companies covering everyone and third, the government subsidies given to those who cannot afford coverage. The panel also discussed the penalties employers will receive when they does not provide their employees adequate coverage. Jeff Stein addressed a potential issue that may arise, if people who are covered by insurance companies are also trying to receive subsidies.

Other issues that may arise when the ACA comes into effect will involve collective bargaining agreements. The question of who to cover remains unanswered because of eligibility. Children are not eligible under the Act and spouses do not have to be offered care. Another potential issue arises with part time employees who work thirty hours a week. Employers are concerned with increased costs from the Act while unions are concerned that the Act does not provide sufficient compensation.

Alyson Matthews noted that, “the regulations implementing the Affordable Care Act change on an almost daily basis, which makes it difficult for employers and unions to develop collective bargaining strategies. The law will likely result in a lot of creative solutions as employers and unions navigate the impact of it on the overall collective bargaining framework.”

As each panelist expressed his or her predictions on the long-term effects of the ACA, it became clear that much of the Act’s effect on employer, union, and employee relationships remains answered. This event was an excellent exploration of the possible ramifications of the Affordable Care Act and it was educational for students and practitioners alike.

Oct 03

With Courage We Shall Fight – Distinguished Speaker Series at St. John’s

Ralph S. Berger and Albert S. Berger sign copies of their book, With Courage We Shall Fight, a memoir of their parent's lives as Jewish  Resistance Fighters

Ralph S. Berger and Albert S. Berger sign copies of their book, With Courage We Shall Fight, a memoir of their parent’s lives as Jewish Resistance Fighters

On October 2, 2013, the Distinguished Speaker Series at St. John’s welcomed Ralph S. Berger and Albert S. Berger, editors of the book With Courage We Shall Fight, a primary source about the incredible survival story and fight against the Nazis by their parents, Murray “Motke” and Frances “Fruma” Berger. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Law Students Association (and co-sponsored by: The Catholic Law Students Association, The Center for Labor & Employment Law, The Journal OF Civil Rights and Economic Devlopment and the Student Bar Association).

The brothers lectured on the incredible story of their parents, Motke and Fruma, before, during and after World War II. Motke and Fruma met as members of the “Bielski Brigade” a group of Jewish resistance fighters who saved over 1200 Jews from Nazi concentration camps. The Bielski Brigade was depicted in the movie “Defiance” with Daniel Craig. With Courage We shall Fight is a memoir written in prose and poetry which tells the story of Motke and Fruma and those that they met during their time with the Partisans.

As Ralph Berger said, their parent’s mission was to pass on the story of those who had died during the war, because the only way to remember them would be to share their story with others. The stories told by the brothers left the audience with chills. The title of the book came from a line of Fruma’s poems. Another of Fruma’s poems, “The Little Orphan” was read during the presentation by Josephine McGrath ’15.

Hearing the brothers speak about their parents and their experiences was a powerful history lesson and way to make sure that their bravery will never be forgotten. Ralph Berger recounted the story of a woman who came up to the brothers at a Bar Mitzvah, years after the war in California. She had recognized Murray Berger’s sons and told them that their father had carried her and her son out of ghetto during the war. The impact that the Partisans had would never be forgotten by those they had saved; and the brothers learned part of their father’s history that they had never heard before. Those in attendance were privileged to hear about the Partisans and this important chapter in history.

The book is a primary account of the Holocaust and the Jewish Partisan’s fight for vengeance against the Nazis. Copies of With Courage Shall We Fight are available from the publisher, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, and from Amazon.com. All proceeds are donated to support Holocaust education.

Thank you to all who joined us for this great event!

Samantha Kimmel '15 speaks with Ralph S. Berger

Samantha Kimmel ’15 speaks with Ralph S. Berger