Archive for the 'Government' Category

Decriminalization of Marijuana in Delaware

The governor of Delaware, Jake Markell, recently signed a bill that decriminalizes possession and private use of miniature quantities of marijuana. The maximum amount of marijuana you can legally possess and use is one ounce. However, police can still seize the drugs.

According to the statute, the penalty for using marijuana publicly will be reduced to a fine of $100. Previously, possession of marijuana was a misdemeanor for which you could face up to six months in jail, and be fined up to $1,150. However, simple possession of marijuana is still a criminal offense for anyone who is under age 18. In addition, if you are caught using marijuana in a moving vehicle, in a public place, or within 10 feet of property that is open to the public, you will be charged with a misdemeanor.

Governor Markell signed the bill into law on Thursday, June 19th, and the law becomes effective six months from then. The bill passed the Senate and the House of Representatives, both of which are controlled by Democrats, and was opposed by Republicans, who claim that the bill sends the wrong message to youth.   Marijuana

A lobbying group called the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws has said that 18 states, including Delaware, have enacted laws decriminalizing personal use and possession of marijuana in small quantities. There are 23 states, including Delaware and the District of Columbia, that permit the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Ballot measures legalizing marijuana for recreational adult use were approved by voters in Washington, D.C., Colorado, Oregon, Washington state, and Alaska. Nevertheless, marijuana is still an illegal narcotic under federal law.

The Dark Side of Marijuana Legalization

Despite the growing popularity of marijuana, I am inclined to agree that legalizing the drug sends the wrong message to young people, who are very impressionable, and will be more likely use, and even abuse, the drug. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, marijuana can have adverse effects on the brain, such as impaired memory, altered senses,  altered sense of time, mood changes, and impaired body movement. Marijuana can also make it harder to think clearly and solve problems.

Marijuana also has long-term adverse effects on the development of the brain, especially when people start using the drug during their teenage years. Use of the drug can diminish thinking, memory, and learning functions, as well as impact the ways in which the brain forms connections between the areas needed for these functions. The effects of marijuana on these abilities may be lengthy or could even be permanent.

Other health effects of marijuana include lung irritation, which can lead to breathing problems; increased heart rate, which can give rise to heart attacks; and child developmental problems during and after pregnancy. Use of marijuana on a long-term basis can cause mental illness, including temporary hallucinations, temporary paranoia, and aggravated symptoms in patients who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Thus, with the exception of medical marijuana, I think that legalization of the drug can only lead to an increasing lack of awareness concerning its ill effects, and a rise in the use among young people. There may also be an increase in the number of people who suffer from the above-mentioned health problems.

Wells Fargo Bank Commits Fraud Against Its Customers

Wells Fargo Bank is facing a lawsuit from the city of Los Angeles, which alleges that the bank participated in unfair business practices by persuading its employees to engage “in unfair, unlawful, and fraudulent conduct.” According to the lawsuit, Wells Fargo workers were under a great deal of pressure to meet sales goals, and thus, were in the habit of opening accounts for their current customers without first obtaining their permission.

The city of Los Angeles refers to Wells Fargo as a “fee-generating machine” because of its efforts to compel its employees to meet unrealistic sales goals. According to the city, “Wells Fargo places unrelenting pressure on its bankers to open several accounts for each customer. “ “Wells Fargo’s bankers are thus naturally and predictably forced to use alternative means to meet quotas.”

As a result of the workers’ actions, customers were subjected to more fees and a diminished ability to obtain credit anyplace else. For example, their credit reports were affected, thereby having an adverse impact on their capacity to obtain a car loan or mortgage. Customers also felt compelled to get identity theft protection because Wells Fargo accounts were being opened in their names without the customers’ consent. wells-fargo-robbery

The city is therefore attempting to secure a court order from the Los Angeles Superior Court that would mandate that the bank act in compliance with the law. It is also seeking to have Wells Fargo penalized with a fine of $2,500 per violation in accordance with California’s unfair competition statute and restitution.

In addition, the city alleges in its lawsuit that Wells Fargo workers were dishonest with customers when they told them that they had to open more accounts in order to get a checking account. Moreover, workers incorrectly informed customers that there were no fees associated with the accounts, and pressured customers into buying extra products, such as life insurance.

Furthermore, the city claims that Wells Fargo was in violation of state and federal law when it misappropriated customers’ private information, and neglected to inform customers that their private information had been misused. In response, representatives from Wells Fargo said that they have disciplined a few employees who have misappropriated customers’ personal information in order to open accounts without their permission.

Ken Wallman, a business owner, was one customer whose private information was misused by Wells Fargo workers. Wallman told Los Angeles Times in an interview that he opened a checking account with Wells Fargo, but eventually he had a dozen additional accounts because the bank opened additional accounts without first obtaining his approval. When Wallman tried to close the accounts, Wells Fargo refused and, instead, charged him extra fees.

Unfair Competition Law

Under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), there are five definitions of unfair competition outlined in §17200. They are as follows:

  1. An illegal business act or practice;
  2. A business act or practice that is unfair;
  3. A business act or practice that is fraudulent;
  4. Advertising that is unfair, deceptive, untrue, or misleading; or
  5. Any act forbidden by §§17500-17577.5.

Under §17203, the court can order injunctions to prevent the unfair competition as well as order other equitable defenses. Victims of unfair competition can obtain relief through the court, which can order that money or property be returned to them. In the event that an injunction is issued in accordance with §17200, those who intentionally engage in unfair competition could be penalized up to $6,000 per day. And when a lawsuit is filed by a government agency, such as the city of Los Angeles, civil penalties of up to $2,500 per violation are permitted.

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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.

Deaf Teen Sues Girl Scouts Regarding No Sign Language Interpreter

A federal appeals court recently ruled that a deaf teenager has the right to file suit against the Girl Scouts for neglecting to offer a sign language interpreter. This right exists under the federal Rehabilitation Act. A federal district judge initially ruled that the statute has no application to an organization that is based on private membership. However, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the statute does not exempt such organizations.

Megan Runnion is 15-years-old, and was an active member of the Girl Scouts of Greater Chicago and Northwest Indiana for several years. She became a member of the Girl Scouts while she was in kindergarten, at which time her mother asked that an interct-met-aj-girl-scout-runnion.jpg-20120801preter be made available at Scouting events, and the Girl Scouts complied with her request. Her participation was possible because a sign language interpreter was provided by the organization.

However, Megan and her mother were later informed that the “council does not pay for these services.” And then the Girl Scouts ceased providing interpreters, at which point the teen’s mother complained. The organization then dissolved the entire troop. The mother was later told by the leaders that the reason the troop was disbanded was that the cost of an interpreter placed an excessive amount of limitations on the activities of the Girl Scouts.

Megan’s mother then filed suit against the Girl Scouts, alleging that the organization violated the Rehabilitation Act, which states that a program that is the recipient of federal funding shall not exclude a disabled individual because of his or her disability.

Getting Her Day In Court

The proposed amended complaint claims that the Girl Scouts are a private organization that is mainly concerned with the provision of services outlined in §794(b)(3)(A)(ii), which includes “education, health care, housing, social services, or parks and recreation.” The judge ruled that although private membership organizations are exempt from similar statutes, the Rehabilitation Act holds no such exemption for private entities.

According to the complaint, there were many examples in which the Girl Scouts described its organization and its programs as educational. It is important to note that the appeal does not comment on whether the Girl Scouts is required to provide sign language interpreters, under the Rehabilitation Act. The appeal deals with the issue of whether the teen’s allegations are sufficient in that the Girls Scouts activities, from which she was barred, are included in the Rehabilitation Act because the organization receives federal funding. Since the appeals court determined that the Girl Scouts falls within the realm of the Rehabilitation Act, the teen’s case can go forward.

As stated by one of the attorneys representing the girl and her family, “people aren’t supposed to pay for their accommodations.” Under federal law, nonprofits and businesses that serve the general public are required to provide accommodations for people with disabilities, including those who are hearing-impaired. However, organizations may not have to adhere to this requirement if they can show that the accommodation would cause the organization to be “unduly burdened.” According to the Chicago Hearing Society, the average cost of hiring an interpreter in the Chicago area is within the range of $55 and $60 per hour, and during evenings and weekends, the cost may be even be greater.

It seems only just that since the girl’s mother requested an interpreter, and the Girl Scouts agreed to provide one, the organization should uphold its promise, and continue to supply this much-needed service. A hearing-impaired teen should not be deprived of the opportunity to be with her friends in Girl Scouts, and the educational benefits that are often associated with that organization.

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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.