Author Archive for Roxanne Minott

Federal Judge Rules that Trauma Can Cause Disability

 A federal judge recently ruled that students who witness traumatic events while growing up in poor, violent neighborhoods could be described as disabled. The plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit against the Compton Unified School District (CUSD) contend that students who have been exposed to trauma deserve the same protections and services that schools are required to provide to traditionally disabled students.

The plaintiffs believe that approximately 25 percent of the 22,000 students in the CUSD have been exposed to a minimum of two or more serious traumatic events. Nevertheless, the judge wrote that the experience of trauma does not mean that the child will suffer disabilities that were caused by trauma, and will be denied the opportunity to have an education.  Compton Lawsuit

In his ruling, Judge Fitzgerald is making a significant distinction. He’s not disputing whether exposure to traumatic events can cause a student to become disabled. He’s stating that there is no guarantee that such exposure causes disability.

Additionally, the court denied a request to compel the CUSD to provide more compulsory trauma training for staff. The district offers some training, but plaintiffs contend that it is inadequate. This type of request usually involves a difficult legal battle. Plaintiffs are seeking a mandatory injunction, which is an order for someone to begin performing an action as opposed to an order for someone to cease engaging in an action.

The city of Compton, which is situated just south of Los Angeles, has had a reputation for violence for many years. In 2014, the murder rate in Compton was over five times the national average. Some students who attend schools in Compton say that they have suffered trauma as a result of having lived in Compton, and that the schools they attend have not given them the help that they need.

Not All Traumatized Students Are Disabled

According to the complaint, the students are dealing with physical and sexual abuse. Some have parents who have addiction problems; others are homeless, and many are living with a never-ending fear of violence. Such exposure to violence can adversely affect a student’s ability to learn, says Susan Ko of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. The suit contends that trauma is a disability, and that under federal law, schools are required to help students who are traumatized, and not expel them.

However, the district’s attorney, David Huff, argues that the lawsuit defines disability too broadly, and sends an incorrect message to students living in other violent areas. The message would be that they are handicapped under federal law.

I don’t think that children who are exposed to trauma should be labeled as disabled because of the message the label sends to them. Children in other neighborhoods marked by trauma would also begin to think of themselves as disabled, and such exposure to trauma does not make one physically or mentally disabled. There are also children who do not grow up in violent neighborhoods, but who experience violence and trauma in their own homes on a daily basis. Still, I believe that there could be more trauma training for staff, and programs in place to help students who experience trauma.

Northwest Christian University Professor Sues For Pregnancy Discrimination

A professor who previously worked for Northwest Christian University in Oregon has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the school for terminating her employment because she became pregnant and is unmarried. The institution claims that her behavior was in violation of its values.

Coty Richardson had taught exercise science at the school for four years, and she adored the small classes, the values of the school, and its compassionate environment. However, when she informed her supervisor that she had become pregnant, she initially believed that she would be provided with the option of giving a take-home exam at the end of the semester, which coincided with the time at which she was due to deliver a baby boy.  Coty

Instead, her supervisor stated that since she was pregnant, it would become apparent as she would soon be showing. She said that he presented her with two options. One was to end the relationship with the father of the child, and the other was to get married quickly. She did not agree to either choice. As Richardson stated in an interview with www.npr.org, she was working in a professional environment, and her employer had no right to interfere with, and place demands on, her private life. As a result of her refusal to comply with his request, she was terminated. She then filed a lawsuit against the institution, alleging that she was discriminated against due to her gender, pregnancy and marital status.

Richardon’s attorney, Jason Rittereiser, said that the school has engaged in marital discrimination because had his client been married, she would not be faced with the same restriction. He went on to say that religious employers possess much leeway concerning the employment of clergy or ministers. However, with respect to the employment of someone whose role is irrelevant to a ministerial function, the employer must act in accordance with employment laws.

Douglas Laycock, a law professor at the University of Virginia, believes the school had accused Richardson of acting in violation of its principal values by having relations outside of marriage. According to Laycock, in the church’s view, she is subverting its calling. He also said that in Oregon, there is no religious freedom act, and that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a federal statute, cannot be applied in the school’s defense because the case focuses on state law.

Richardson said that as a result of her termination, she and her family have been under a great deal of stress, and she is currently unable to afford health insurance. If you think that you have been the victim of discrimination in the workplace based on gender, pregnancy or marital status, you should consult an employment lawyer.

Sirius XM Radio Settles Unpaid Internship Lawsuit

Sirius XM Radio has entered into a settlement agreement to pay up to $1.3 million to its interns who claim that the company was in violation of U.S. labor laws by not compensating its interns. The plaintiffs had performed work on a number of Sirius projects, including the Howard Stern Show, and stated that they had worked up to 40 hours a week without pay. They allege that this violates the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) as well as the minimum wage law in New York State.

The principal test that courts apply in this type of case is whether internships were created mainly to provide an education to young people in a certain field. This is in contrast to the use of unpaid workers for the same duties carried out by employees. According to federal court papers filed on Monday, August 3rd, Sirius still thinks that it was not in violation of any laws by having an unpaid intern program. However, in an effort to avoid expensive litigation, the company has agreed to make payments to over 1,800 previous interns.

The settlement, which was presented by Sirius, and is pending approval by a judge, was announced one month following rulings made by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Previous cases with similar decisions include those against Fox Searchlight Pictures Inc. and The Hearst Corp., in which the appeals court also determined that the legality of unpaid internships is dependent on whether they are relevant to the education of interns.  Paid internsihps

After the Fox case was filed in 2013, many other comparable lawsuits followed, including claims against Warner Music Group Corp., which entered into an agreement in June to pay hundreds of interns over $4.2 million. Prior to that, there were even more substantial settlements by Comcast Corp’s NBCUniversal, Condé Nast, and Viacom Inc.

In the complaint against Sirius, an intern for the Howard Stern Show named Melissa Tierney claimed that for a period of four months, she ran errands, placed orders, collected breakfast orders and carried out other menial tasks for Stern’s crew without pay. Her complaint cited the FLSA, which is explained by the Labor Department using a six-point test to decide whether an internship can be legally unpaid. According to the Department of Labor Wage & Hour Division, if the following six factors are present, then there is no employment relationship under the FLSA, and the Act’s minimum wage and overtime provisions are inapplicable to interns. The six factors are:

  1. The internship resembles training that would be provided in an educational environment;
  2. The internship experience is intended to be for the intern’s advantage;
  3. The intern does not take the place of the usual employees, but is closely managed by current staff;
  4. The employer that gives the training does not benefit from the work performed by the intern; in fact, its operations may be hindered;
  5. The intern is not guaranteed a job at the end of the internship; and
  6. There is an understanding that the intern is not to receive compensation for any work performed during the internship.

Given the fact that many of these factors were not present during the plaintiffs’ internship, the court ruled in favor of the interns. It appears that several large media companies are exploiting interns’ desire to work for them by requiring them to work really hard and to work long hours without pay. Some interns have said that they were even promised a job at the conclusion of the internship, but were never offered a position. In light of the recent settlements, hopefully, large media companies will think twice before taking advantage of interns.

Legal Basis for Prosecution of Killing of Cecil the Lion

Much to the chagrin of animal lovers the world over, the 13-year-old Zimbabwean lion named Cecil is now dead. William Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, has admitted to killing Cecil. In June of 2015, Palmer lured Cecil out of his sanctuary and then shot Cecil with an arrow. 40 hours later, the dentist killed Cecil with a rifle. Afterward, Palmer decapitated and skinned Cecil.

Palmer stated through his publicist that he believed the hunt was legal, and that he “deeply regrets” killing Cecil. Although he has not faced charges in Zimbabwe, a government minister described him as a “foreign poacher” and stated that he should be extradited. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said that it was contacted by Palmer’s representative, and that it is conducting an investigation.

According to a source connected to the investigation, the agency is seeking potential violations of the Lacey Act, a 115-year-old U.S. law that was enacted to prevent unlawful animal trafficking. The purpose of the law has since been extended, and it currently forbids one to import, export, sell, acquire, or purchase animals that are protected by the laws of the U.S. or foreign countries.    Cecil-the-Lion

However, legal experts claim that the case could prove challenging to prosecute. The Lacey Act has seldom, if ever, been used against hunters who do not bring animal parts back into the U.S. There is, thus, a weak link between the hunt in Zimbabwe and the U.S. According to Zimbabwe’s national parks authority, the local police have confiscated Cecil’s remains, including his skin and head. Since Cecil’s parts are still in Zimbabwean, it will be difficult to charge Palmer under the Lacey Act and other anti-poaching laws.

Alternative Charges

The Fish and Wildlife Service is attempting to discover whether Palmer was engaged in a conspiracy to import animal parts into the U.S. In order to charge him with conspiracy, the government will likely be looking at transfers of funds, telephone calls, and other types of communication as evidence of his plan to import animal parts into the U.S. Two officials at the Justice Department stated that the case is unprecedented in that there are no known cases against American hunters who did not import animal parts.

In 2014, conspiracy charges were brought against a safari group called Out of Africa, which was engaged in the sale of illicit hunts of rhinoceros in South Africa, while maintaining an office in Alabama. Currently, the U.S. is in the midst of extraditing two defendants named Dawie and Janneman Groenwald, who are from South Africa. They face 17 counts of charges, one of which is for conspiracy, and six of which are for illicit wildlife trafficking in transgression of the Lacey Act.

In regard to the hunt that killed Cecil, charges have already been filed in Zimbabwe against Theo Bronkhurst, who has been indicted for neglecting to supervise, control, and implement measures to avoid an illicit hunt. He entered a plea of not guilty. The owner of the game park, Honest Ndlovu, who has also been implicated for the role he played in assisting Palmer, has not yet been charged. Park officials stated that he would initially testify for the state, and face charges at a later date.

Regardless of whether or not Palmer violated the Lacey Act, there should be consequences under the law for having killed Cecil the Lion. Otherwise, there may be more needless, illegal killings of rare animals by hunters.

New Law Proposes Overtime Pay For Salaried Workers

Approximately five million salaried workers may benefit from new overtime rules that are to take effect in 2016. Those who would become eligible for overtime pay of time-and-a-half include workers earning up to $50,440 per year.

Under current law, which has been in effect since 2004, salaried workers whose earnings exceed $23,660 annually, or $455 weekly, are exempt from overtime pay if they have managerial responsibilities. Thus, current law incentivizes employers to label salaried workers as “managers” so that the employer doesn’t have to pay those workers overtime.  Overtime for Workers

Under the proposed legislation, the threshold at which several salaried employees would stop receiving overtime pay would more than double. The new law would automatically amend the suggested salary threshold on the basis of inflation or the rate at which wages increase. The legislation is reminiscent of a time when many more salaried workers were eligible for overtime pay. According to the Economic Policy Institute, in 1975, approximately 62% of salaried workers could receive overtime pay. By contrast, in 2014, only 8% of salaried workers were eligible.

Many workers in managerial positions are pleased with the proposed overtime rules, which means that they would be compensated for the 80 or 90 hours that they work during any given week. However, business groups are against any change to overtime rules because they claim that such an alteration would cause an increase in companies’ expenses, adversely affect customer service, and make it difficult for workers to move to a higher position.

According to Neil Trautwein, a vice president at the National Retail Federation, managers’ hours may be reduced so that they would not be paid overtime, and they would be unable to work additional hours or help out when the need arises. They would also have fewer chances to stand out from the other employees. In addition, the National Retail Federation believes that in response to the new overtime rules, companies will implement certain measures in an effort to lower their costs. Among these are:   compensation to several lower-paid white collar workers on an hourly basis; reducing their pay; and decreasing their hours or benefits.

Nevertheless, in limiting the hours that managers work in order to reduce overtime pay, more workers may need to be hired. Thus, the proposed rules will likely increase job creation, and give workers the impression that they are being compensated fairly, and no longer left with the feeling of being overworked and underpaid.