Archive for the 'Court' Category

Failure to Hire Due to Religious Attire

When 17-year-old Samantha Elauf applied for a job at Abercrombie and Fitch in 2008, she was not hired even though she received a high score during the interview process. The assistant manager who conducted the interview thought she was qualified, but the manager was concerned that Elauf’s hijab would be in violation of the company’s “Look Policy.” The policy did not permit caps to be worn. After communicating with her district manager about the issue, the assistant manager agreed to lower Elauf’s score because Elauf wore a hijab.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed a lawsuit on behalf of Elauf as a result of being denied a position at the retail store in Tulsa, Oklahoma. A district court ruled in her favor, granting the Muslim teen damages in the amount of twenty thousand dollars. However, the decision was reversed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that an employer is free from liability for neglecting to “accommodate a religious practice” if a potential employee had not requested the accommodation. Samantha Elauf, Majda Elauf, P. David Lopez

However, the Supreme Court sided with Ms. Elauf in an 8-1 decision, with Justice Thomas the lone dissent. Justice Antonin Scalia spoke on behalf of the high Court when he said “an employer may not make an applicant’s religious practice, confirmed or otherwise, a factor in employment decisions.”

Moreover, during oral arguments, Justice Samuel Alito stated that the managers at Abercrombie could have questioned her as to whether she would wear the head scarf while at work for religious reasons. But they did not ask her this question. Instead, they made the assumption that she wore the scarf as part of her religious practice, and refused to hire her for that reason.

Dress Codes Cannot Violate Civil Rights

While it is acceptable for an employer to have a dress code, it is unconstitutional for an employer to discriminate against someone because of religious practice. For instance, if an employer terminates, or refuses to hire, someone because of their religious practice, and does not even attempt to accommodate them, then that counts as discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Given Abercrombie’s reputation for exclusivity in its hiring and marketing practices, it is unsurprising that the store refused to hire someone because of her religious practice of wearing a hijab. Nevertheless, the managers should have realized that such a denial was a form of discrimination, and in violation of the law.

However, the company seems to be leaning towards becoming more inclusive, especially in light of a prior class-action discrimination lawsuit, which alleged that Abercrombie discriminated against minorities, including African-Americans, Latinos, and Asian-Americans, in its hiring practices and its marketing. In fact, just this past April, the company stated that it would be more “inclusive and diverse” in its hiring methods, and adopt a “more individualistic” dress code.

Amtrak Crash Leads to Multiple Lawsuits

Amtrak Crash Leads to Multiple Lawsuits

The Amtrak crash just outside of Philadelphia on May 12 killed eight passengers and injured 200 others. The incident is considered one of the worst train crashes in American history. Traveling more than twice the speed limit at 106 mph, the train derailed at 9:21 p.m.

So far, two crew members and four passengers have filed lawsuits against Amtrak. The four passengers filed a federal lawsuit, requesting Amtrak pay for medical bills and lost wages. One of the passengers has undergone several surgeries to halt her arm from being amputated. Another crew member described a brain injury that occurred due to the crash.

One of the crew members, Emilio Fonseca, was operating the train at the time of the crash. He filed a civil complaint against the company, arguing he suffered “serious and permanent personal injuries” and should receive compensation under the Federal Employer’s Liability Act.          Amtrak Accident

In order to avoid bankruptcy, in 1997 Congress set a $200 million limit to compensation Amtrak can be held liable for. The mental and physical injuries of passengers and crew members were significant, but the limit will lessen compensation that can be rewarded to each victim of the accident.

The Federal Employers Liability Act

The FELA is a federal law that is specific to railroad workers. The act was created in 1908 to protect railroad workers by compensating them for injuries sustained while on the job. Workers are rewarded compensation only if they can prove the railroad company was at least partly responsible for injuries suffered.

FELA is similar to workers compensation, but FELA is a fault based system. Workers must prove the injury was caused by negligence of a railroad employee, its agent or contractor, or from a faulty piece of equipment. Also in contrast to worker compensation plaintiffs, railroad workers may sue in a state or federal court for damages if proof of liability of the railroad company exists.

Investigators are still trying to determine the cause of the Amtrack accident. Time will tell whether the train’s engineer, Brandon Bostian, a mechanical issue, or an outside source will be held responsible for the crash.

Wrongful Death Lawsuits Against Celebrities

Criminal cases against celebrities always get a lot of media attention—especially since celebrities seem to invariably escape criminal liability. However, many of these same celebrities who avoid criminal charges end up losing to cases brought in civil court.

Robert BlakeThere’s a reason for this: civil court has a lower standard of evidence. Where criminal cases must be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt,” civic cases often only require a “preponderance of the evidence.” Even the civil standard of “clear and convincing evidence” is less of a burden than the criminal standard.

For example, the actor Robert Blake was acquitted in criminal court on a charge for the murder of his wife. However, in a civil case for wrongful death brought by his wife’s children, he was found liable and was required by pay $15 million.

This is similar to the case of O.J. Simpson, who was famously acquitted for the murders of Nicole Brown and Ronald Goldman but was found responsible in the 1996 wrongful death lawsuit brought by their families. The families were awarded $33.5 million in compensatory and punitive damages. (To date Simpson has paid less than one percent of the damages.)

The recent murder case of football player Aaron Hernandez is unique in that Mr. Hernandez was found guilty in criminal court. Following his recent conviction, he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for the first degree murder of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd.

Hernandez is currently facing additional charges for a double homicide in 2012. The families of the victims in this case filed wrongful death lawsuits against Hernandez in 2014. Each lawsuit demanding $6 million.

Judge Directs Couple to Get Married after Woman Attempts to Light Her Boyfriend on Fire

Courts have handed a number of creative sentences over the last few years. Judges have ordered criminal defendants to wear signs outside the store they shoplifted from and buy flowers for their estranged wives. In western Pennsylvania, Quenesia Catasphany plead guilty to reckless endangerment. Last October, Ms. Catasphany had doused her boyfriend, Andrew White, with lighter fluid. Judge Joseph Williams III gave Ms. Catasphany an unusual option: Judge Williams could work out a lesser sentence if Ms. Catasphany and her boyfriend/victim got married.

pennsylvania judgeThe reasoning behind Judge William’s proposal was rather simple. Catasphany was pregnant and would give birth to their fourth child two days later. Catasphany had accused her then boyfriend of having an affair and threatened to set White on fire. In the judge’s eyes, Catasphany lacked stability in her life. So in the hearing on March 23, Judge Williams proposed the two of them get married. If they did, Judge Williams stated they “might be able to work this out better.”

Later that day, Catasphany and White got married. Judge Williams personally married the couple himself. Catasphany told local media that she was very grateful for the opportunity to better their relationship and she appreciated the judge speaking on her behalf.

Married by Duress or Happy Ever After?

Catasphany seems to be happy with the end result, but there’s no word on whether her new husband is happy with the arrangement. Getting doused with lighter fluid and then having a judge arrange the victim’s marriage to the attacker doesn’t sound like a very romantic engagement. If one of the new spouses becomes unhappy, could Catasphany or White use their unusual marital circumstances as a way to untie the knot?

Theoretically, Catasphany and White could claim Judge Williams had coerced them into getting married. Marriage by duress would mean that the parties didn’t consent to being married and the marriage could be annulled.

This sounds good in theory, but courts interpret duress very narrowly. Catasphany was forced to make a choice between marriage and getting a higher sentence, but it was still her choice. Likewise, White could have declined the judge’s proposal and refused to marry the woman who threw lighter fluid at him.

In all the prior creative sentencing, the judge’s alternative sentence did not continue indefinitely. Using state power to convince people to get married is potentially a life sentence, a sentence longer than any jail time the judge could hand down for this particular crime. It’s also a continual relationship between a potential domestically violent relationship. Given the nature and length of this “sentence,” Catasphany and White each should have consulted an attorney before making a life-impacting decision.

Judge Williams proposal was reasonable, but expecting the couple to make a decision within three days meant that Catasphany and White couldn’t possibly foresee all the problems this alternative sentence might cause them in the future. Best of luck to the newlyweds.

How Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act Will Backfire

I’m glad Governor Mike Pence signed Indiana’s Religious Freedom Act (RFA). The law is intended to allow businesses to discriminate against homosexuals. However, the RFA’s text is so broad the RFA could backfire on the conservatives passing the act.

Religious Objections-ProtestThe RFA actually doesn’t mention homosexuality or sexual orientation anywhere in its text. Instead, the RFA states that governments cannot impose any law that would substantially burden a person’s religious exercise without a compelling government interest. In English, the government cannot force a person to obey a law if that law would place a heavy burden on that person’s religious practice unless the government can show it has a very good reason for enforcing that law. Note that the RFA counts businesses as people.

Businesses that want to discriminate against homosexuals may do so if: 1) The business has a religious belief against homosexuals, 2) The government cannot give a very good reason for why it wants to force that business to violate its religious beliefs, and 3) The government cannot show that the violation of the business’s religious beliefs is the least restrict means of enforcing the law. The real twist is that the RFA can be invoked as a defense against a private lawsuit.

For example, a florist operates her flower shop as a sole proprietor. The florist refuses to sell flowers to two men who are getting married because the florist believes the Bible prohibits same-sex marriage. The couple sues the florist for discrimination. The florist can invoke the RFA and argue that the court cannot force her to serve the couple because it would be a violation of her religious beliefs.

The RFA Will Backfire Enormously

The RFA is written broadly so that a court wouldn’t void a law based on discrimination against homosexuals. Although the RFA avoids that problem, writing the law broadly means that other people can use the law for unintended purposes. After the Supreme Court ruled Hobby Lobby was exempt from Obamacare, Satanists attempted to exempt abortions from informed consent laws based on their religious beliefs. The same idea could be used to twist the RFA so that the conservatives who passed the RFA will come to despise the very law they enacted.

The ideas are endless. A restaurant could refuse to serve gun owners because the restaurant’s religious pacifism prevents it from serving gun owners. High school and university libraries could refuse to handout creationist textbooks because such textbooks violate the librarian’s belief in evolution (evolution is not based on religion, but creationists don’t recognize the distinction). Abortion clinics could serve women and ignore all criminal statutes against abortion by asserting the clinic has a religious belief that fetuses aren’t people.

Many people are currently protesting the enactment of the Religious Freedom Act. Governor Pence and state legislators probably won’t overturn the RFA, even if the law would cost the state millions of dollars from large organizations boycotting Indiana. However, the best way to protest the RFA is to use it in a way Governor Pence and other Republicans won’t expect the law to be used.

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