Tag Archive: education

Mar 30

Title VII at 50 Symposium – THIS WEEK!

The Center for Labor and Employment and the Labor Relations and Employment Law Society would like to invite any interested students or colleagues to the Title VII at 50 Symposium Conference, which takes place this week on April 4 and 5, 2014.

This program is presented in conjunction with the St. John’s Law Review, the Journal for Civil Rights and Economic Development and the St. John’s Journal of International and Comparative Law, the NYU Center for Labor and Employment Law, The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, and the St. John’s Center of International and Comparative Law.

This two-day symposium commemorates Title VII and featuring panelists and speakers who will assess the past, present and future of Title VII. Please see the attached program for the events schedule and speakers.

This is an amazing learning and networking opportunity for those interested in labor or employment law, and we encourage any interested party to attend. Please feel free to distribute the program and this email to any groups you are a member of. Scholarships and prizes will be awarded at this event.

The conference is free of charge and open to all, but please RSVP to Paula Edwards at (718) 990-6653 or clel@stjohns.edu.

We hope to see you in attendance at one or both days of the conference.

More Information: http://www.stjohns.edu/about/events/school-law-title-vii-50-two-day-symposium
Program – Title VII at 50 Symposium – 3-27-14

Mar 14

Workers sue McDonald’s for wage theft

McDonald'sYesterday, McDonald’s workers filed seven class-action lawsuits in New York, California and Michigan Thursday. The suits allege that McDonald’s has forced employees to work off the clock, not paid them overtime and struck hours off their time cards, and those discrepancies resulted in wage theft.

The suits varied by state. In New York, worker’s claimed that their wage was driven below the federal minimum wage because of unreimbursed expenses. In California, the workers alleges meal and break violations. In Michigan, workers claimed they would only start getting paid only when customers walked into the restaurants, even if they had been at work for hours.
All of these claims violate the federal Federal Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and In all of these cases, the relationship between the franchises and the corporate parent company will be examined.

The suit comes in the midst of a long public relations campaign by fast-food workers demanding higher wages.The workers are represented by Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll, which specializes in representing plaintiffs in class actions. This case will surely be a fascinating case to watch unfold. Click over to the New York Times for more on the beginnings of this case.

Mar 03

Events and Photo’s – Distinguished Speaker Series

On February 19, 2014, the Center for Labor and Employment Law hosted a Distinguished Speaker Series event- A Conversation with Harry I. Johnson, III, member of the National Labor Relations Board. This
event was held in the Mattone Family Atrium, where Mr. Johnson was joined by students, alumni and friends to tell about his experience and perspective on his role at the National Labor Relations Board. Mr. Johnson was introduced by alumni and former co-presidents of the LRELS, Sean Conroy ’95 and Michael Masri ’95. Students at the event felt that this was one of the best events and most engaging speaker series that they have attended in law school. Mr. Johnson spoke about recent decisions including cases on social media and employee handbook, and the tremendous workload of cases for the agency. Law student Josephine McGrath ’15 said, “the content and presentation of the speech was fascinating and gave an inside view of the challenges that the NLRB navigates.” Dinner at Alberto’s followed the event and the students in attendance were able to speak with Mr. Johnson and other alumni guests.

The next morning, Mr. Johnson addressed Professor Gregory’s labor law class, which started with the presentation of Professor Gregory’s labor law book. Mr. Johnson taught the class before returning to his busy schedule in Washington DC. Overall, this visit was a great learning opportunity and an amazing chance for students to get an inside view of the workings of the NLRB. Thank you to Mr. Johnson and Mr. Conroy for visiting us and we hope to have you back soon!

Click through the photo gallery to view photos from the event.

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Dec 27

Title VII at 50 Symposium – Save the Date

2014 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, landmark legislation that fundamentally altered the landscape of employment relations by prohibiting discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin. It is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which also barred discrimination in public accommodations, public facilities and voting. By its enactment, notions of equality were more deeply embedded in United States public law.

On April 4-5, 2014, the St. John’s Law Review, the Journal for Civil Rights and Economic Development and the St. John’s Journal of International and Comparative Law, in conjunction with NYU Center for Labor and Employment Law, The Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development, the St. John’s Center for Labor and Employment Law, and the St. John’s Center of International and Comparative Law, will host a two-day symposium commemorating this important milestone, which will feature panelists and speakers who will assess the past, present and future of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.The symposium invites scholars and practitioners to participate in a multi-disciplinary evaluation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

If you would like information about attending this event, please fill out the form below! We will keep your information and contact you with more information in the near future!

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.

Jan 13

University Employees May Be Fired for Speech that Contradicts University Policies

On December 17, 2012 the Sixth Circuit held that the speech of a high-level Human Resources official, who wrote publically against the very policies that her government employer charged her with creating, promoting, and enforcing, is not considered protected speech under the First Amendment.[i]

The case involved Plaintiff-Appellant Crystal Dixon, the interim Associate Vice President for Human Resources for two merged campuses: the University of Toledo (the “University”) and the Medical College of Ohio (the “College”). Dixon’s controversial speech was prompted by an editorial in the Toledo Free Press entitled, “Gay rights and wrongs” that implicitly compared the civil-rights movement with the gay-rights movement.[ii] The article also discussed the disparity between the University employees who received domestic-partner healthcare benefits and College employees who did not.[iii]

In response, Dixon wrote an op-ed column entitled “Gay rights and wrongs: another perspective.” Dixon rejected the comparison between the gay-rights movement and the civil-rights movement, stating “I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a Black woman….[yet] thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle.”[iv] With regard to the disparate treatment of University and College employees, Dixon wrote that while the University was working to address the issue, the claim that homosexual employees were being denied benefits “avoids the fact that ALL employees across the two campuses regardless of their sexual orientation, have different benefit plans.”[v] As a result of her editorial, Dixon was terminated because her speech was considered in direct contradiction to University policies and procedures and placed her ability to lead at risk.[vi]

After the Northern District of Ohio granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants Lloyd Jacobs, University President, and William Logie, Vice President for Human Resources and Campus Safety, Dixon appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.[vii]

The Sixth Circuit’s decision focused on Dixon’s First Amendment retaliation claim. Using the burden-shifting framework, the Court analyzed whether the speech was protected. In order to find that Dixon’s speech was protected Dixon needed to show that: (1) her speech was a matter of public concern; (2) her speech was not made pursuant to her official duties as Associate Vice President of Human Resources; and (3) her free speech interests outweighed the efficiency interests of the government as employer pursuant to the Pickering balancing test.[viii] However, if the presumption set forth in Rose v. Stephens applies then the Pickering balance test is presumed to favor the government as a matter of law.[ix] The Rose presumption applies when a discharged employee (1) holds a confidential or policymaking position, and (2) has spoken on a matter related to political or policy views.

The court ruled that the Rose presumption applied. Examining the inherent duties of the position, rather than Dixon’s actual tasks, the court determined that the first prong of Rose requiring Dixon to hold a confidential or policymaking position was satisfied. The court found that Dixon had “appointing authority” and was responsible for “recommending, implementing, and overseeing human resource policies and procedures that support the university’s strategic direction,” “representing the University in relevant employee relations actions” before federal and state agencies, and “answering grievances, issuing disciplinary and corrective action, serving on various task forces, supervising approximately forty employees, overseeing benefits administration, setting compensation, and making presentations at town-hall meetings.”[x] The court also determined that the second prong of speaking on a political or policy issue was satisfied because Dixon’s public statement “directly contradict[ed] several…substantive policies instituted by the University” regarding promoting diversity and providing a safe environment for the LGBT community.[xi] Therefore, the court affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment.

The Sixth Circuit’s ruling has considerable implications for University officials. The first element of Rose requires the discharged employee to hold a confidential or policymaking position. However, universities are generally large institutions with thousands of students. This requires many university officials to have discretionary authority. Each department of a university could have one or more people in charge of implementing policies and overseeing employees. Therefore, in a university setting, a significant number of employees may find that they fall under the first prong of Rose as a result of their job responsibilities, despite the fact that this prong is intended to be limited to specific categories of individuals.

Additionally, the second prong of Rose requires the discharged employee to have spoken on a matter related to political or policy views. Yet,higher education institutions usually have written policies on numerous issues that in some way relate directly or indirectly to the school. Depending on the size of the university and the breadth of its policies, policymaking employees could have their right to free speech unreasonably restricted, especially since the Sixth Circuit’s decision implies that the second prong of Rose will apply whenever a policymaking employee speaks on an issue that contradicts a university policy. This is certainly a concern for university employees who are scholars, like professors, since a restriction on their ability to write freely could also damage the idea of universities as research institutions. Therefore, the Sixth Circuit’s overly broad ruling may encompass situations it was not intended to address.



[i] Dixon v. Univ. of Toledo, No. 12-3218, 2012 WL 6554693, *1 (6th Cir. Dec. 17, 2012).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Id.

[iv] Id. at *2.

[v] Id.

[vi] Id. at *3.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id. at *4.

[ix] Id. at *5.

[x] Id. at *6.

[xi] Id. at *7.

Sep 23

Reflections on the Chicago Teachers’ Strike

This past Wednesday, an overwhelming majority of delegates for the Chicago Teachers Union (“CTU”) voted to end the union’s ten-day strike.[1] The strike was the CTU’s first in over twenty-five years,[2] and many spectators believe it has fundamentally changed the national conversations about education policy and labor alike.

The negotiations that have paved the way for a new contract between the city and the CTU led both parties to make concessions. The teachers did not receive as substantial a raise as they had hoped, but they successfully resisted several significant changes that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel sought to impose, including a new teacher evaluation program, and they instituted a new recall policy for top teachers who are laid off as a result of school closings.[3] Mayor Emanuel counted his efforts toward implementing a longer school day among his successes during the negotiations.[4] Although the CTU President, Karen Lewis, has expressed some dissatisfaction with the substance of the new agreement, she regards the strike as successful and anticipates that the delegates will approve it during the coming weeks.[5]

As the Chicago teachers’ strike drew to a close, many questions remained unanswered. Some continued wondering whether the essential questions underlying the dispute, like the propriety of tying teacher evaluations to students’ standardized test scores or the specter of increasing competition from charter schools, were adequately resolved. Because both the city and the union made concessions in the new contract, others queried who “won.”[6] One facet of the strike that especially captured the popular imagination is assessing what impact this strike will have during these crucial weeks leading up to the presidential election,[7] especially in view of President Obama’s conspicuous silence during a dispute that has special salience for the President.

Because the Chicago public school system is the third-largest in the country,[8] onlookers have viewed this strike as something of a referendum on the troubled state of public education and the continuing role of public sector labor unions.[9] In light of the ongoing fight between Wisconsin public employees and Governor Scott Walker, it is perhaps not an exaggeration to say, as Nathan Saunders, president of the Washington Teachers Union did, that the strike in Chicago was an “epic battle.”[10] Labor leaders like Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, have applauded the teachers, emphasizing that they have the right to reframe the conversation about education policy because of their unique perspective on what kinds of change are necessary to improve education.[11] It seems likely that the CTU will galvanize teachers’ unions across the country in speaking out on behalf of their needs and the best interests of students as the debate about education policy grows ever fiercer.

 


[1] Monica Davey & Steven Yaccino, Teachers End Chicago Strike on Second Try, N.Y. Times, Sept. 18, 2012, at A1.

[2] See id.

[3] Ellen Jean Hirst & Jennifer Delgado, It’s Back to School Again for Chicago Students, Chi. Tribune, Sept. 19, 2012, available at http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-09-19/news/chi-todays-assignment-seal-deal-with-chicago-teachers-20120918_1_chicago-teachers-union-chicago-students-first-day.

[4] Davey & Yaccino, supra note 1.

[5] Id.

[6] Valerie Strauss, Who Won the Chicago Teachers Strike?, Wash. Post, Sept. 19, 2012, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/post/who-won-the-chicago-teachers-strike/2012/09/18/974b5efa-020b-11e2-b257-e1c2b3548a4a_blog.html.

[7] See Lyndsey Layton, Peter Wallsten, & Bill Turque, Chicago Teachers Strike Places Obama at Odds with Key Part of Political Base, Wash. Post, Sept. 11, 2012, available at http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/chicago-teachers-strike-places-obama-at-odds-with-key-part-of-political-base/2012/09/11/df89a776-fc2a-11e1-b153-218509a954e1_story.html.

[8] Davey & Yaccino, supra note 1.

[9] Monica Davey & Steven Greenhouse, School Days Resume in Chicago as the Lessons from a Strike Are Assessed, N.Y. Times, Sept. 19, 2012, at A19.

[10] Layton, Wallsten & Turque, supra note 7.

[11] See id.