Archive for the 'Laws' CategoryPage 2 of 85

Whole Foods Loses the Fight to Stop Employee’s NLRA Right to Record

As an employee, protecting your rights is incredibly important. However, even with full knowledge of the rights you possess it can be tricky to identify situations where rights are violated and gather the evidence to prove your case when you look to enforce those rights. Communicating with others and recording situations where your rights may have been violated can be critical in making a case or even just determining whether your rights have been violated in the first place. Thankfully, your right to record in the workplace was just given a major boost in a recent ruling against Whole Foods by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).

The NLRB is the federal agency in charge of enforcing labor laws related to unions, collective bargaining, and unfair labor practices-primarily as set forth in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Just a few weeks ago, the Second Circuit upheld a decision of the NLRB deciding that Whole Foods had violated the NLRA through a policy barring recording conversations, phone calls or meetings in the workplace without manager approval.

With this case upheld on appeal, let’s take a look at the rights the NLRA grants you, the case itself, and what the case means for you as an employee or an employer.

Your NLRA Rights

The NLRA itself provides you a fairly broad suite of rights related to your ability to organize and bargain collectively. Under the act you have the right to (or not to) self-organize, form, join, or assist labor organizations, bargain collectively through representatives of your own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection. This basically means you have the right to choose whether or not to join with other employees in bargaining for employment terms. You also have the right to take the steps necessary to coordinate that group bargaining.

In order to protect these rights, the NLRA also makes it an unfair labor practice for an employer to “interfere with, restrain, or coerce employees in the exercise” of any of the rights discussed above.

The Case Against Whole Foods

Whole Foods had two policies on the books that got them into the legal trouble which led to this case. First, a policy forbidding any audio or visual recording of company meetings-with any recording device-without prior approval of a manager. The second policy applied a similar recording ban on any conversation held during business hours. These policies applied to any topic of conversation and all areas of every Whole Foods store.

The stated goal behind these policies was to encourage “open communication” and “spontaneous and honest dialogue.”  Whole Foods argued that, regardless of the policy, they strove to foster a culture where employees were free to speak up though open door policies and “town hall meetings.” They argued that recording meetings would damage the anonymity behind complaints and weaken employee rights.

However, the NLRB and the Second Circuit weren’t buying it. The test to see if rights have been violated isn’t whether an employer provides sufficient avenues for an employee to speak out, but rather whether the policy could inhibit an employee’s NLRA rights.

Whole FoodsWhen Does a Policy Violate the NLRA?

A policy inhibits rights where it would “reasonably tend to chill employees in the exercise or their” NLRA rights. This means that policies which tend to make it harder to exercise your rights are not ok. This can happen where a policy explicitly restricts you from doing something the NLRA guarantees. However, a policy also violates the NLRA when: 1) an employee would reasonably consider in to prohibit them from asserting NLRA rights; 2) the rule was made in response to union activity, or 3) the rule, despite how it is written, has been used to restrict employees’ NLRA rights. Where a rule is ambiguous, but could be interpreted to violate NLRA rights, it still violates the NLRA. This unacceptable overbreadth exists when an employee would reasonably interpret the policy to prevent exercise of NLRA rights. It is this rule against overbroad policies that worked against Whole Foods.

Ruling Against Whole Foods

The policies are a blanket ban on all recording. However, photography and video recording in the workplace have historically been guaranteed when it is done to document a potential violation of rights under the NLRA unless there is a particularly compelling reason for the employer to ban them such as the heightened privacy interests of patients within a hospital. The NLRA has even been interpreted to guarantee an employee’s ability to post these photographs and recordings on social media.

Despite Whole Foods stated purpose of maintaining open communication, the policies as written prevented employees from exercising these rights. Thus, the policies violated the NLRA by inappropriately curtailing protected employee actions.

However, the ruling didn’t hold Whole Foods’ feet to the fire too much. It only really required them to retract the policies, or at least reword them to provide exceptions for NLRA protected recording.

What Does This Mean For Employers and Employees?

One thing to keep in mind is that this is not the only time in recent memory that the Second Circuit has backed the NLRB in expanding the definitions of employee rights under the NLRA. It was just May of this year that they ruled that an employee had the right under the NLRA to post quite unflattering things about his manager in a social media post because the post also discussed an ongoing union election. This could be seen as a trend towards expanding the spheres in which an employee enjoys NLRA protection.

For employees, this ruling means that you enjoy greater NLRA protections on your right to organize and record the behavior of your employer. This is incredibly important because proving a violation of your NLRA rights will often require this sort of recorded evidence.

As an employer, this ruling can act as guidance for crafting policies on recording that avoid the mistakes of Whole Foods. Recording restrictions haven’t been banned altogether, rather recording restrictions without clearly defined exemptions for NLRA rights have. The lesson here is to make sure that your policies include these exemptions in order to avoid trouble with the NLRB.

So is this the beginning of a trend where NLRA rights catch up with tech? It’s simply too early to say. However, the trend is encouraging. Recording devices are more broadly available than ever before. It’s a safe wager that a large portion of those reading have one in their pocket or purse as we speak. With recording rights protected, it’ll be easier than ever before to gather the evidence necessary to protect your rights-and that’s encouraging.

Obstruction of Justice: What Does it Mean for President Trump?

Irony hits even the most powerful among us. After spending months trying to persuade Director Comey to tell the public that he wasn’t personally under investigation, Donald Trump wakes up on his birthday to find that he is being investigated by Special Counsel Mueller for obstruction of justice. Since obstruction is the same crime that undid President Nixon and almost brought down President Clinton, Mr. Trump finds himself in hostile legal waters. What exactly is obstruction of justice? Is there another evidence for the investigation that Special Counsel Mueller is committing? And is there enough evidence for impeachment?

Obstruction of JusticeWhat Is Obstruction of Justice?

Congress has defined obstruction of justice under Title 18 Section 1519 of the U.S. Code as:

“Whoever knowingly alters, destroys, mutilates, conceals, covers up, falsified, or makes a false entry in any record, document, or tangible object with the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence the investigation or proper administration of any matter within the jurisdiction of any department or agency of the United States or any case filed under Title 11, or in relation to or contemplation of any such matter or case, shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.”

To obtain a conviction, prosecutors must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant committed the act and that the defendant intended to commit the act. For instance, if a defendant killed someone with a car but didn’t intend to, then the defendant can’t be guilty of murder since one element, intent, is missing. Similarly, a defendant who intended to kill someone with his car, but didn’t actually kill the person, cannot be guilty of murder because the act of murder was not committed (although attempted murder or assault would be easier to prove in that instance).

To be sure, the key here would be intent. Since we are dealing with the Presidency here, many of the actions Trump could take to obstruct the investigation would usually be legal. Normally, a President has the power to decide which types of cases the Justice Department should prosecute or fire an FBI Director. Therefore, any investigation regarding obstruction would need to focus on intent. Checking abuse of power is not about whether the power was used, but whether the power was used for improper goals. If Trump fired Director Comey because he truly believed that was best for the nation, then it would not be obstruction. On the other hand, if Trump fired Directory Comey because he didn’t want to see Flynn imprisoned, then it would be obstruction unless the President could explain why preventing Flynn from being prosecuted was in the best interests of the nation.

Establishing intent is always a challenge for prosecutors, as intent deals with what a defendant is thinking rather than what a defendant is doing. Obviously, if there is a “smoking gun” like the Nixon tapes, then proving intent would be a lot easier. However, the law doesn’t always require a smoking gun. If the facts and circumstances of a case suggest a pattern and practice of corrupt intent, that may be enough to tip the balance. Republicans would be wise to avoid examining specific verbiage such as “I hope you can let this go” and focus on the overall picture forming – whether the President has a pattern of removing people who ask too many questions about the Russian investigation and the Trump campaign.

Is There Enough Evidence For An Investigation?

The standard for a criminal conviction is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” However, if we’re asking whether there is enough evidence for an investigation to ensure we’re not just perpetuating “a witch hunt,” the standard would likely be probable cause. For example, a police officer only needs probable cause to pull a car over. Only after the officer arrests the driver and the prosecutor charges the driver with a DUI will the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard be applied.

With all the talking points about “fake news,” it’s important to create a base line of facts that reasonable people can agree on. After determining which facts are 100% true, we can determine whether they warrant an investigation. So far, the agreed upon timeline appears to be:

This is a long chain of events, so let’s parse through it. Prosecutors, i.e. Mueller and his team, would be looking to fit these events with the two elements for obstruction, the act of impending the investigation, and the intent to do so. In this list, terminating Comey, the tweet about releasing tapes should Comey “leak to the press,” and threatening to terminate Mueller might be considered acts of obstruction. Removing the leading investigators could derail the investigation, although White House Spokeswoman Sanders claims the investigation would continue even after Comey left.

The White House would argue that these actions, terminating an FBI Director and considering the termination of a Special Counselor, are completely legal actions. However, while the actions might normally be legitimate, case law does state that if otherwise legal actions are done for corrupt reasons, then those otherwise legal actions would themselves become illegal. For example, if a prosecutor brings charges against a political opponent and a court later finds that the prosecutor acted based on politics, not law, then the action would become illegitimate, even though it is normally a prosecutor’s job to bring charges.

This idea can also be found in employment law; an employer can fire an employee for any reason, except for illegal ones, such as racial discrimination. Looking through the justifications that the White House gave for firing James Comey, it is very likely that the President gave a bunch of pretexts to mask the fact that he terminated the FBI Director for not dropping the investigation into Michael Flynn.

Of course, it is also possible that Trump had other motivations for firing Comey. Perhaps all Trump wanted was for Comey to announce that the President was not personally under investigation. Or maybe Trump really wanted Comey to say he was “loyal” and not just “honest.” We don’t really know, but if there is a potential for improper and illegal intentions, then its worthy of investigation. If the investigation cannot eliminate these foolish-but-not-illegal intentions, then the investigation will likely be a bust. But if the investigation has evidence to show that the illegal intention was the actual cause of these terminations, then the case would move to Congress to consider impeachment.

ICE Faces Criticism for “Sensitive Locations Policy”

Out in New Jersey, the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court Stuart Rabner has come out hard against the exception in the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) Sensitive Locations Policy. In a letter asking for an end to the practice, the high ranking judge criticizes ICE’s practice of waiting in courthouses for undocumented immigrants who are victims of a crime, defendants in a case, or simply there to testify in proceedings. He argues that the practice not only denies access to the courts to people who are undocumented by making them fear arrest and deportation, it also torpedoes the legal process by guaranteeing a lack of cooperation in ongoing cases where somebody might get grabbed by ICE on the way out of testifying against a criminal.

He’s not criticizing the practice for no reason. Just in the last couple months ICE agents have arrested several undocumented immigrants in courthouses. Just recently they have arrested a woman  seeking a protection order  to keep her safe from an abusive spouse. Another man was arrested as he left a proceeding, otherwise free to go after a civil case.

ICE agents have responded to Rabner with a resounding no. As written, the Sensitive Locations Policy places no restrictions on arrests made at courthouses. Even if it did, the actual protections of the policy are far from absolute even where they do apply.

ICEICE’s Sensitive Locations Policy

The Sensitive Locations Policy is very much what it sounds like-a policy of ICE limiting enforcement actions at sensitive locations. These locations include schools (either at the school or when a parent is picking up or dropping off a child), medical treatment facilities, places of worship, ceremonies like weddings and funerals, or during public demonstrations such as a march or rally for a cause. You’ll notice courthouses are nowhere on that list.

Courthouses not only don’t make the cut in this policy as written, they are explicitly not included. Even if they were, the policy isn’t a blanket ban on arrests in sensitive locations but rather more of a strong suggestion. First, it only limits enforcement actions. This includes actual apprehensions, arrests, searches, or surveillance. However, it doesn’t include them entering a sensitive location to get records or documents to later use against undocumented immigrants, serving subpoenas or notice of proceedings, and other more administrative actions.

Although it suggests that arrests at sensitive locations be avoided, the policy doesn’t stop ICE from making arrests.  Agents just need permission from a supervisor before proceeding. Even without permission, they can make an arrest-so long as they do so as discreetly as possible-where there are circumstances related to national security, terrorism,  public safety, or destruction of evidence.

The policy is in place to ensure that everybody is free to utilize crucial services without fear of repercussion. Education, health care, worship-all incredibly important. Doesn’t it seem odd that legal services aren’t on that list? Don’t we want everybody to enjoy the protections of the law and help others when they witness crimes? The protection of our laws-both for undocumented immigrants and citizens whose cases they might testify in-are a similarly crucial service to education of health care. However, the sad truth is that even were courthouses included in the policy the protections might still not be enough.

Sensitive Locations Policy Not as Strong a Protection as it Was

To say that the attitude towards immigration has changed after the Obama administration passed the torch to President Trump. Besides Trump’s failed immigration ban orders, he has also issued an executive order which drastically changes the approach of ICE agents.

Under the Obama administration, ICE agents were told to prioritize targeting gang members and violent criminals for deportation. For the most part, they were not going after anybody else. Trump’s order substantially expands those ICE is meant to target. Under Trump the agency is to target, in no particular order, undocumented immigrants who “have been convicted of any criminal offense; have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved; have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense; have engaged in fraud or willful misrepresentation in connection with any official matter or application before a governmental agency; have abused any program related to receipt of public benefits; are subject to a final order of removal, but who have not complied with their legal obligation to depart the United States; or in the judgment of an immigration officer, otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security.” If that sounds extremely broad, that’s because it is. Gone are the days of prioritization, every illegal immigrant is equally targeted.

What Trump’s order notably does not do is change the Sensitive Locations Policy, he has given ICE agents much wider leeway in how they act. This has led to much less strict consideration of the policy than in previous years. Just in the last few months ICE agents have raided a pre-school in San Francisco (apparently mistakenly), arrested a California man right after he dropped off his daughter at school and while he drove his other daughter to her classes. In Virginia, two men were arrested as they left the homeless shelter offered by their church.

Judge Rabner has a good point, access to the courts is crucial for our justice system to operate properly. However, as it stands it looks like the protection the Sensitive Location Policy would offer to undocumented immigrants seeking the protection of the law would be middling at best.

On This Day: Loving v. Virginia Paves the Way to Our Future

On June 12th, 1967 the United States Supreme Court unanimously declared that the State of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law, a law that prevents mixed race marriage, was unconstitutional. For Richard and Mildred Loving, and so many others, the Court declared that the law violated their right for Due Process and Equal Protection under the 14th Amendment.

To this day, many legal scholars and writers view this landmark decision as a turning point for civil rights in America. But what happened? What made the Court go against years of “tradition”? What happened to Richard and Mildred Loving, and why does this case affect us today?

Loving v. VirginiaThe Facts Behind Loving v. Virginia

In 1958, while asleep in their bed, Mildred and Richard Loving were raided by the police and then charged with violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924. Their marriage certificate was framed on the wall, but ignored by Virginia officials as they considered their marriage to be invalid within Virginia. Since they were violating the law, they pled guilty, and were offered a suspended sentence so long as they leave Virginia for at least 25 years.

Before they brought their case to the Supreme Court, interracial marriage was not viewed favorably. At the time, over 15 states had active laws against interracial marriage. In fact, interracial marriage was considered a felony and you can even sue successfully for an annulment if your spouse is determined to be of mixed-race. Every case that brought forward the question of whether the law can ban interracial marriage always found in favor of upholding the ban. The legal system only focused on whether an interracial marriage law equally applied and controlled whites and non-whites. So if there was an interracial couple, the legal system only wanted to make sure that the white person was also equally punished as the non-white person. If the white person was let off more leniently, then, and only then, would the Court think the law is unconstitutional.

The reality is that most of the nation moved past banning interracial marriage. But just 12 years earlier, in 1954, did public schools even begin to de-segregate their student population. It was such a slow march to equality, and it wasn’t until Richard and Mildred Loving entered the picture did civil rights leaders realize they had a chance to strike down laws that ban interracial marriage.

The Warren Court and Their Place in the Civil Rights Movement

When their case came before Justice Earl Warren and the other Justices of the United States Supreme Court, the Court once again shocked the nation by declaring Virginia’s interracial ban to be unconstitutional. Warren was famously quoted as saying that:

Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival… To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes…is to surely deprive all State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law… Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.

They added that there was “no legitimate overriding purpose” to the law, except to maintain White Supremacy. As the Court could find no other reason for the law, except to limit the freedom of all citizens (including white citizens) they overturned Virginia’s decision and effectively made all interracial marriage bans unenforceable.

How the Story Ends, for the Lovings and for Us

While Richard and Mildred Loving were a legally married couple and their rights restored to them, Richard died in 1975 when a drunk driver struck his car. Mildred survived the crash, and lived until 2008 when she passed away at the age of 68.

Even though they may not have gotten to spend their golden years together, their stance against interracial marriage bans have helped so many other Americans. Many legal scholars and writers think that Loving v. Virginia is what paved the way for same-sex marriage, determined in the case Obergefell v. Hodges in 2015. The opinion of Justice Kennedy invokes the same language, emotion, and determination as the decision in Loving.

Many studies show that interracial marriages are at an all-time high in the U.S. with 1 in 6 married couples considered to be a mixed-race couple. The number of mixed-race children are also rising, giving the way to a future that is not divided by color or ethnicity.

While it is not an officially recognized holiday, Americans across the nation celebrate Loving Day on June 12th to remember how far our nation has come and to be hopeful for a bright future. Every American, even those who are not in a mixed-race relationship and/or not of mixed-race, can be grateful for Richard and Mildred Loving’s courage to stand up against those who tried to infringe and regulate their liberty.

On this day in history, the United States of America made a great step towards liberty and equality for all.

Being Transgender is Covered by ADA, PA Court Decides

When we think of disabilities, being transgender-hopefully-is not something that comes to mind. This is for a simple reason, gender identity is state of being rather than a disorder. However, out in Pennsylvania, Judge Joseph Leeson was recently saddled with the unenviable position of parsing how gender identity should be handled under the Americans With Disabilities (ADA)—the act which provides federal protection against discrimination based on a disability.

This ruling is the first of its type and had some serious hurdles to overcome to include gender identity as a disability under the ADA. When the ADA was first passed gender identity was specifically excluded from being classified as a disability. It wasn’t in particularly good company, other specific exclusions include kleptomania, pyromania, and pedophilia. The unfortunate truth is that the exclusion was a bit of a product of the times when the ADA was passed. At the time, congress specifically railed against the inclusion of so-called “immoral” medical conditions. Thus, gender identity was unfairly lumped in to ADA exceptions. However, the exception remains as part of the law. Truthfully, despite it’s unfortunate conception, being transgender is not a disorder or disability in and of itself. Including it under the ADA seems out of place for that reason. However, like most things in law, the question before Judge Leeson was one of definition. In order to understand the Judge’s ruling, ultimately including gender dysphoria as a disability, let’s look at how a disability is defined and the ruling itself.

What is a Disability Under The ADA?

In 2008, the ADA updated their definitions of what exactly constitutes a disability.  The ADA now defines disability as a person who has one of three things: a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, a history or record of such an impairment, or is perceived by others as having such an impairment.  The changes also broadened the interpretation of “substantially limits” to require less, forbad the consideration of mitigating measures that could be taken in the analysis of a disability, expanded the definition of “major life activities,” and provided a non-exhaustive list of such activities which included caring for oneself, performing manual tasks, seeing, hearing, eating, sleeping, walking, standing, lifting, bending, speaking, breathing, learning, reading, concentrating, thinking, communicating and working.

transgenderUnderstanding Judge Leeson’s Ruling

So does gender identity constitute a disability? Absolutely not. However, Judge Leeson’s ruling recognized a clear distinction between gender identity and gender dysphoria-the distress created by the differences between a transgender person’s gender and the gender they were assigned at birth. Let’s take a look at the facts of the case to figure out how he got there.

The case involves one Kate Lynn Blatt suing Cabela’s Retail, her former employer, for firing her based on her diagnosed gender dysphoria. Ms. Blatt was not allowed to dress and act as woman while working for Cabela’s. This became a point of contention between her and her employer. Under the ADA, an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee. However, Cabela’s refused to let Ms. Blatt dress as a woman and allegedly eventually fired her over it. This led to Ms. Blatt’s ADA retaliation claim. A retaliation claim requires her to show that she engaged in protected activity under the ADA and that adverse employment action was taken against her based on this action.

The ruling in question was on a motion to dismiss the case entirely. Thus, Judge Leeson needed only to find that the facts and law were sufficient to show that Ms. Blatt had a plausible claim under the ADA. The facts were there, Blatt had diagnosed gender dysphoria and it is at least plausible she was fired over her desire to dress as a woman-a very reasonable accommodation to require. The question came down to whether gender dysphoria was a disability under the ADA.

The ADA specifically excludes gender identity. However, Blatt argued that her gender dysphoria substantially limited major life activities for her including how she interacted with other and social and occupational functioning. Ms. Blatt further argued that the outright exclusion of gender identity from the ADA was either not meant to be interpreted as a blanket ban on any element of gender identity or the existence of such a ban violated her equal protection rights.

Judge Leeson agreed to a certain extent. Where the constitutionality of a law is called into question, judges are advised to look for an interpretation of the statute that reads in a constitutional manner. The Judge found this middle ground-the distinction between gender identity and gender dysphoria-a condition clearly associated in the medical community with stress and other disabling impairments. He determined that if the exclusion of gender identity disorders in the ADA excludes gender dysphoria it would undermine the statute itself. Instead, he chose to construe the exclusion of gender identity very narrowly and preserve the intent of the statute.

In a motion to dismiss, this was enough. If gender dysphoria can be a disability then Blatt had given enough facts to get past this initial threshold.

What Does This Ruling Mean?

Gender identity disorders, as opposed to gender identity itself, has had an unfortunate position in the ADA since the law was first passed. This ruling is a huge step for the transgender community. These protections are something that have been unfairly placed out of reach for decades.

However, it is important to recognize what this ruling is and what this ruling is not. First and foremost, it is a ruling on a motion to dismiss. While the analysis of the law from this judge will not change as the lawsuit progresses, a big victory for the LGBT community, this ruling may well be appealed and the lower standard of these type of motions mean that Ms. Blatt is far from a guaranteed victory. Also important to keep in mind, Judge Leeseon’s analysis allows the ruling to bypass a larger issue. By reinterpreting the law in a way that avoids potential constitutional issues, Leeson made it unnecessary to decide whether the exclusion for gender identity disorders violates Blatt’s equal protection rights. This ruling is a big step, but it must be recognized as a step and not a leap. The full implications of this ruling, and whether it will stand up in the long term, still remain to be seen.