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Twitter Regrets Throwing Frat-Themed Employee Party

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

Twitter threw a summer soiree to rival all soirees Tuesday. The microblogging site hosted a college-frat-party themed happy hour for its San Francisco employees complete with beer pong, a keg, those iconic red Solo cups synonymous with underage drinking, and a proud banner that read “TW?TT?R ?R?T H?VS?.”

News of the party spread like wildfire after a female employee posted a picture to a women in technology group on Facebook. Fraternities and greek culture have become synonymous with sexism in the tech industry, which often referred to as the brogrammer culture that caters to white males and often excludes — or is hostile toward — women and people of color.

View image on Twitter

Twitter has since apologized for the party as spokesman Jim Prosser told Fusion, “This social event organized by one team was in poor taste at best, and not reflective of the culture we are building here at Twitter. We’ve had discussions internally with the organizing team, and they recognize that this theme was ill-chosen.”

The “ill-chosen” party theme marks the latest in a series of missteps regarding the company’s handling of gender-based issues — most notably a gender discrimination lawsuit. Former software engineer Tina Huang claimed Twitter’s promotion process was biased toward advancing male employees over female employees up for the same job. Women make up less than a third of all Twitter employees — only 10 percent in tech jobs — and hold 21 percent of management positions, according to the company’s 2014 diversity report.

Twitter has been at the center of the industry’s perceived ineptitude when dealing with issues of diversity internally and when it comes to implementing policies for issues that predominantly affect marginalized communities. The company has made strides to improve its policies and image by making it easier for users to promote rape and death threats, and other instances of online harassment.

But the company continues to struggle with internal diversity efforts, namely its hunt for a new CEO. After Dick Costolo stepped down in June, Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey took over as interim CEO while the company searches for a permanent, full-time replacement. (Dorsey is also the CEO for Square, an online payment system.)

So far, the preliminary candidate pool doesn’t reflect users call for more diversity. The early list of hopefuls don’t include any women or people of color. Twitter has only one female board executive, Marjorie Scardino, who was hired in 2013.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on July 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Lauren C. Williams. Lauren C. Williams is the tech reporter for ThinkProgress with an affinity for consumer privacy, cybersecurity, tech culture and the intersection of civil liberties and tech policy. Before joining the ThinkProgress team, she wrote about health care policy and regulation for B2B publications, and had a brief stint at The Seattle Times. Lauren is a native Washingtonian and holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s of science in dietetics from the University of Delaware.

Vocational Education Should Be For Everyone

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Casey_200x200The term “vocational education,” which means preparing students for a certain trade, such as auto repair or beauty school, initially began in 1917 to reduce unemployment and improve wages, and in the 1940s and 1950s, vocational education expanded to other subjects beyond agriculture and industrial work such as science, math and foreign language education.

At some point, however, vocational education earned a reputation as something reserved for “those students,” experts say. From 1982 to 1994, there was a decline in enrollment in vocational education for most groups of students, but the portion of black, non-Hispanic students and Asian/Pacific Islander students stayed about the same while the percentage of students with disabilities increased, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Since 1990, students enrolled in vocational education has declined from an average 4.2 credits to 3.6 credits in 2009, according to NCES data analyzed by the National Education Association. Meanwhile, enrollment in academic credits increased from 23.5 to 26.9 during the same period.

Hillary Clinton said it is necessary to change attitudes about how we see vocational education and that it is critical to support and develop the nation’s community colleges “and get back to really respecting vocational and technical work.” She also supported the idea of apprentice work, saying at a campaign event in South Carolina last month that there should be a tax credit for businesses that hire and train apprentices.

Vocational education is changing, but many still see it as something only low-income, mostly minority students are pushed into and an option that upper class students and white students wouldn’t be encouraged to take. As academics and authors on national education trends point out, when our society devalues anything that isn’t academic prep work and a pathway to a four-year university, it’s easy to see why people are suspicious of vocational education, which encourages students to gain practical, hands-on skills in a certain industry, versus learning about economic theories in a lecture format.

In many cases, there is good reason for that suspicion. Anthony Greene, assistant professor with the African American studies program at the College of Charleston found that racial-ethnic minority students are disproportionately placed into lower-level academic courses, and subsequently enroll in vocational courses. Even within vocational education, students of color, especially women of color, aren’t tracked into professions that earn as much money over time. Greene wrote a 2014 paper on racial trends in vocational education in the International Journal of Educational Studies.

“Think for a second on the ‘workers’ at colleges and universities across the country. In the vast majority of cases, women, particularly black and Latino, often are regulated to cook and cleaning staffs. Latino men are often regulated to grounds keeping, but white males tend to be in maintenance and heating and lighting and electrical,” Greene said. “Each one of these jobs come with a level of prestige accompanied by a variation of pay. I argue that these pathways in occupations begin in high school vocational programs.”

Jose Vilson, a middle school math educator in the Inwood/Washington Heights neighborhood and author of This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and the Future of Education, said he says similar patterns at his school.

“Usually the language is kind of coded like, ‘This kid isn’t really into academics,’ or ‘This kid doesn’t come to class a lot,’ or ‘Based on the way they volunteer, they seem to be very good with their hands,” Vilson said. “Who are we to say they aren’t good with academics? Maybe we haven’t given them the proper environment for them to succeed in an academic setting, and this isn’t just from white teachers. This comes from people who look like the kid.”

Vilson doesn’t oppose vocational training but would rather see more of an effort from educators to make sure they are encouraging students to follow their actual interests and make an informed choice on whether or not they want to take vocational education classes. Part of the problem, Vilson said, is that the professions we associate with vocational training, such as becoming an electrician or a plumber, are often devalued even though they make good money and are perfectly legitimate career options.

“I find there’s another element there too, in terms of what do we see as a professional job. You look at a plumber, for example, and they could be making money hand over fist, and people can denigrate the plumbing profession and make it into something that isn’t a profession in of itself. There just needs to be a certain set of skills that every American is entitled to,” Vilson said. “For the last 13 years, there has been a decline in having those types of skills in academic courses, like home economics and workshop. My focus is always going to be on students and allowing them to make a choice.”

Vocational training may typically lead people to envision beauty school and carpentry, but vocational programs are expanding to new subjects, and some programs, such as Denver Public Schools’ vocational education program, are much more modern. The district offers an engineering and energy pathway, biomedicine, engineering, and advanced manufacturing, said Laurent Trent, manager of strategic partnerships at Denver Public Schools at the school’s office of college and career readiness.

“Often, a student doesn’t realize they’re in a career and technical education class until they get in it and really like it and say, ‘Oh I’m going to take the next one.’ They don’t hold a lot of the stigma that their parents and other adults hold,” Trent said. “So, business partners and parents — in the best-case scenario, they don’t know — and in the worst, they do know and they associate it with vocational education of decades past, so we definitely wanted to signal that this is a new day.”

They’re also trying to reenvision some of the more traditional kinds of vocations, such as automotive work, to be more compatible with the modern workforce, Trent said.

“We’re thinking about that now, to take more old school programs and reimagine them into career pathways, so we’re thinking about how you take traditional construction and woodworking classes and change the structure so it aligns with a high-demand advanced manufacturing pathway. Certainly many of our investments are in other areas. Auto – for instance – does auto have a place in the engineering pathway? We’re still thinking through how that works,” she said.

To decide which programs reflect relevant growing industries, the school partners with the Office of Economic Development in Denver, to analyze data on which fields are developing rapidly. The school also received a “Youth CareerConnect” grant. Students are also doing job shadows and getting connected with mentors in their fields. Trent said the district is currently working with three universities on a preferential admissions agreement for students in the vocational education classes.

Philip Zelikow, co-author of America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age, and White Burkett Miller Professor of History at the University of Virginia, said the best way to provide vocational education would be to integrate elements of vocational education into the rest of the academic curricula. He pointed to Camden County High School where you learn the theory in order to use the skills, such as learning how to investigate a crime scene and using instruments and writing up reports for actual hands-on skills.

“You unite theory and practice, which is actually a very interesting way to learn the theory and makes it much more accessible.” Zelikow said.

He argued that a child choosing one vocation early on in their high school career may be too rigid, since students often change their minds sometime in high school, if not college.

“They say, ‘We don’t expect these kids to get these academic subjects,’ and in effect, they’re tracking them since they’re 15. They’ve ended up spending their whole high school career to prepare to be an aircraft repairperson, but that may be too rigid and confining,” Zelikow said. “One of the advantages of the mainstreaming approach is that it builds up soft skills, basic literacy and numeracy, and the context in which you build up that literacy and numeracy isn’t all that important.”

When you separate vocational education from academic work, you emphasize class differences, Zelikow said, instead of helping all students build skills they will need in the future.

“You reinforce the problem of two Americas with this kind of educational system, which is duplicating the kind of class educational system you would have encountered in America in the 1850s, where a small number of students of a particular class would go to certain schools and everyone else was assumed to be good for nothing but farmwork,” Zelikow said. “In the period between 1880 and 1940, there was the universal high school movement and radical changes in college. These changes now look anachronistic, but they were a major overhaul of the system. It’s time for another overhaul.”

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on July 21, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Casey Quinlan. Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.

What Is the Federal Reserve Doing?

Friday, June 26th, 2015

William Spriggs

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics issued its numbers for inflation and for real wage movements. The numbers reflected the weak numbers of the first quarter for economic growth: Zero inflation and zero real wage growth in the past three months. The economy is showing signs that it is fragile. It can be spoofed by international developments that raise the value of the dollar and slow U.S. export growth, or by bad weather—events, the Federal Reserve cannot control or easily predict.

So what is the Federal Reserve doing? At its June Open Market Committee Meeting, where Federal Reserve policy is set, the Fed stayed put on interest rates.  Yet, it gave indications that it was considering giving in to the stampede for the Fed to act sometime this year to raise interest rates in a deliberate move to slow the economy. A policy to slow the economy is based on beliefs, not on the hard data before us on wages or inflation. This is regrettable.

The deeper reality is that the Fed took unprecedented moves to build up huge reserves of U.S. Treasuries. What is really going on is more that the speculators on Wall Street are nervous. They are afraid that somehow, from some unknown source, inflationary pressures will rapidly appear and the Fed will quickly unwind its position with, for some of them, disastrous consequences on bets they have placed on bond prices. They would prefer the certainty of having the Fed start to unwind its position now, slowly divesting itself of its bond reserves and easing the economy to higher interest rates. This has nothing to do with the economy, and everything to do with Wall Street speculation. Unfortunately, the press plays sycophant to these speculators, who are constantly quoted as giving “economic” advice when they state with certainty the need for the Fed to raise interest rates.

Sources of global instability abound. The discussions over the Greek debt, the Eurozone bankers and the International Monetary Fund are far from a workable solution. In the meantime, the Swiss Franc is rising uncontrollably in response to that uncertainty. Iraq, Syria, Yemen and the ongoing conflict with ISL make the Mideast equally unpredictable. And, if snows were the issue in the first quarter, the California drought, the Texas floods and Midwest tornadoes so far this quarter should not make anyone confident that the current hurricane season is going to be a sleeper. Further incidents in Charleston and now Charlotte with violent attacks on African American churches and the constant stream of discontent with the ongoing and unresolved issue of police misconduct make the domestic situation equally volatile.  With so many uncontrollable and unpredictable risk factors that could slow the economy, the fears of Wall Street speculators should and must take a back seat.

These risks are not all unrelated. A more robust U.S. economy will help the world economy and help reduce some risks associated with weak economic performance; especially in the Eurozone. And a more robust U.S. economy will hopefully speed job growth to reduce the economic tensions that overlay the raw social tensions domestically.

The Fed must expand its view of measures of full-employment. The Wall Street gamblers base their assumptions on full employment from a time gone by. For instance, economists today still persist in viewing the high African American unemployment rate as a “structural” issue, since African American workers are assumed to be so low-skilled they cannot find jobs in a modern economy. So, they ignore the warning signs that job growth is frail when the African American unemployment stalls, as it has, at around 10%.

In May, the unemployment rate for adult African American workers (those older than 25) with associate degrees was 5.6%, which was higher or about the same as the unemployment rate for white, Asian and Hispanic high school graduates. Those numbers are inconsistent with full employment. They indicate a market where employers are very free to pick and choose which workers they want. A faster growing economy will force employers to be less choosy.

The slow economy cascaded higher educated workers down into jobs that require less education. If the economy does not speed up, that misallocation of productive capacity could become permanent, as employers may continue to seek only college graduates to serve coffee. This costs us in loss productivity growth.  It is another sign of a labor market that is not at full employment.

Locking in high African American unemployment and college degree requirements for entry-level jobs is not in the economy’s interest. And covering Wall Street bets isn’t either.

This blog was originally posted on AFL-CIO blog on June 26, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is William E. Spriggs. William E. Spriggs is the Chief Economist for AFL-CIO. His is also a Professor at Howard University. Follow Spriggs on Twitter: @WSpriggs.

The Right To Birth Control Just Won Its Most Significant Victory To Date In A Post-Hobby Lobby Case

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2015

Ian Millhiser Judge Jerry Smith is a deeply conservative judge. He once voted to allow a man to be executed despite the fact that the man’s lawyer slept through much of his trial. He’s a reliable vote against abortion rights. And he once described feminists as a “gaggle of outcasts, misfits and rejects.”

So when Judge Smith writes an opinion protecting women’s access to birth control, even when their employer objects to contraception on religious grounds, that’s a very big deal.

East Texas Baptist University v. Burwell is a consolidated batch of cases, handed down on Monday, involving religious employers who object to some or all forms of birth control. These employers are entitled to an accommodation exempting them from federal rules requiring them to offer birth control coverage to their employees. Most of them may invoke this accommodation simply by filling out a form or otherwise informing the federal government of their objection and naming the company that administers their employer health plan. At this point, the government works separately with that company to ensure that the religious employer’s workers receive contraception coverage through a separate health plan.

Several lawsuits are working their way through the federal courts which raise the same legal argument at issue here. In essence, the employers claim that filling out the form that exempts them from having to provide birth control makes them complicit in their employee’s eventual decision to use contraception, and so the government cannot require them to fill out this form. So far, every single federal appeals court to consider this question has sided with the Obama administration and against religious employers who object to this accommodation.

Few judges on any court, however, are as conservative as Judge Jerry Smith, a Reagan appointee to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit whose law clerks frequently go on to clerk for the most conservative members of the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, Smith makes short work of the claim that the fill-out-a-form accommodation burdens religious liberty.

The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) provides that the federal government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” except in limited circumstances. Applying this language, Smith writes in a unanimous opinion for a three-judge panel that “[t]he plaintiffs must show that the challenged regulations substantially burden their religious exercise, but they have not done so.”

The crux of Smith’s analysis is that the plaintiffs in these cases object to birth control, but nothing in the law requires these plaintiffs to do anything whatsoever involving birth control. Rather, their only obligation, if they do not wish to cover birth control, is to fill out a form or send a brief letter to the federal government — and neither of those things are contraception.

“Although the plaintiffs have identified several acts that offend their religious beliefs, the acts they are required to perform do not include providing or facilitating access to contraceptives,” Smith explains. “Instead, the acts that violate their faith are those of third parties.” Specifically, the plaintiffs object to the federal government working with an insurance administrator to provide contraception to certain workers. But the law does not “entitle them to block third parties from engaging in conduct with which they disagree.”

Indeed, Smith writes, if the plaintiffs in these cases were to prevail, it could lead to absurd challenges to basic government functions. “Perhaps an applicant for Social Security disability benefits disapproves of working on Sundays and is unwilling to assist others in doing so,” Smith explains. “He could challenge a requirement that he use a form to apply because the Social Security Administration might process it on a Sunday. Or maybe a pacifist refuses to complete a form to indicate his beliefs because that information would enable the Selective Service to locate eligible draftees more quickly. The possibilities are endless, but we doubt Congress, in enacting RFRA, intended for them to be.”

Smith’s opinion, in other words, should offer a fair amount of comfort to women whose employers seek to cut off their access to birth control coverage. Though there are signs that at least some of the justices would like for the plaintiffs in cases like East Texas Baptist to prevail, the fact that a judge as conservative as Jerry Smith rejected their legal arguments suggests that a majority of the Supreme Court will not embrace these lawsuits.

This blog was originally posted on Think Progress on June 22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Ian Millhiser. Ian Millhiser is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Slate, the Guardian, the American Prospect, the Yale Law and Policy Review and the Duke Law Journal. Ian’s first book is Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

Democrats Propose Most Ambitious Minimum Wage Bill Yet

Monday, May 4th, 2015

Bryce CovertSen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Robert Scott (D-VA) are introducing a minimum wage bill on Thursday that would raise the federal floor from its current level of $7.25 an hour to $12 an hour by 2020, eliminate the lower tipped minimum wage that currently stands at $2.13 an hour, and automatically increase it as median wages rise.

Much of that plan is brand new. Previously, Democrats had set their sights on a minimum wage increase to $10.10 an hour, indexed to inflation thereafter, and only raised the tipped minimum wage to 70 percent of the regular minimum wage.

Sen. Murray said she took inspiration from the state she represents in deciding to get rid of the lower tipped wage. “Tipped workers are most exposed to the ups and downs of the economy. The unpredictability of wages makes it even more difficult to make ends meet, on top of trying to scrape by on low wages. So eliminating the tipped wage is long overdue,” she told ThinkProgress in emailed statements. “Washington state has led the way in this, and we’ve seen that it works for restaurants, businesses, and workers.”

Murray also told ThinkProgress that Washington inspired her to target a higher wage level. “There has been great work done in Washington state and across the country to increase wages even further to help the families and businesses in those communities, and I support those efforts,” she said. Washington has long had the highest wage in the country, which is currently $9.47.

A $10.10 wage would have brought it in line with about where it would have been if it had kept up with inflation since its peak in 1968. But this was, according to economist David Cooper with the Economic Policy Institute who has worked with lawmakers on crafting the $12 wage bill, “the lowest possible threshold for where you could be aiming.” He added, “What you’re saying is that low-wage workers should have seen no material improvement in their standard of living over the last 50 years.” That’s despite the fact that there has been significant economic growth, driven in part by rapidly increasing worker productivity.

Even though the Republican-led Congress is unlikely to take such a bill up, Democrats have recently decided they need to take the debate around the minimum wage further. The new benchmark, Cooper said, is to “return the minimum wage to where the distance between the lower paid worker and typical worker is no greater than it was back then.” If lawmakers use a ratio of the minimum wage to the median wage for all workers, which was 52 percent back in 1968, then a $12 wage by 2020 makes a lot of sense, as it would bring the minimum up to 54 percent of the median wage, which today stands at just over $17 an hour. “It’s essentially returning the minimum wage to the same value it had in 1968 in relative terms,” he said.

Real-life experiments beyond Washington state also help give a higher wage level credibility. The majority of states have now raised their minimum wages above $7.25, and evidence shows that critics of a higher wage who worry about job losses may not have a reason to fear an increase. Last year, job growth wasactually stronger in states that raised their wages than in those that didn’t, and economics have generally found that minimum wage increases have little impact on job growth. Even fears that Seattle’s increase to $15 an hour were making businesses close were overblown. “Places are pushing minimum wages into territory that we haven’t done before, and the sky hasn’t fallen,” Cooper noted.

Democrats may also have been pushed into a higher wage by low-wage workers who organized and staged repeated strikes demanding a $15 minimum wage in the fast food, retail, home care, and adjunct professor industries. “I think the Fight for 15 [movement] started to recalibrate people’s thinking in terms of what the minimum wage could be,” Cooper said. “From a political standpoint and also from a national awareness standpoint, the Fight for 15 just did a fantastic job highlighting how low pay is in a lot of these industries.”

That kind of national movement has paved the way for lawmakers to reach higher. “I think the Fight for 15 has created space for Democrats, for any politician, to come out in favor of a minimum wage in the $12 range and look reasonable,” he noted. While Congress isn’t looking at a federal $15 minimum wage at this point, some cities and states have taken up the call. Seattle and San Francisco have passed wage hikes to that level, and many other cities and even some states are considering doing the same.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 30, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

Malpractice Lawsuit Alleges Flawed Defense Strategy in SOX Whistleblower Case

Monday, May 4th, 2015

jason zuckermanPlayboy has sued Sheppard Mullin for malpractice and is seeking $7.6M in damages for losing a Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower case at trial “in spectacular fashion.” The complaint alleges that Sheppard did not properly evaluate, or inform Playboy of, the true damage exposure and missed several opportunities to settle the case for a fraction of the policy limits of Playboy’s employment practices liability insurance policy. The SOX whistleblower case was brought by Catherine Zulfer, a former accounting executive who alleged that Playboy terminated her employment for raising concerns to Playboy’s Chief Financial Officer and Chief Compliance Officer about accruing discretionary executive bonuses without Board approval.

The complaint alleges a flawed approach to potential settlement that, in my experience, is fairly typical in employment litigation.

  • About two weeks before trial, Sheppard predicted a 75% chance of defeating Zulfer’s SOX whistleblower claim.
  • At trial, the jury returned a verdict of $6,000,000 in compensatory damages and a finding of malice, oppression or fraud after deliberating only 1 hour and 45 minutes.
  • Playboy’s insurance policy afforded $5,000,000 of coverage above a $500,000 self-insured retention.
  • In August 2013, Zulfer offered to settle for $1M and Sheppard failed to put any pressure on the insurer or on Playboy to settle.
  • Following depositions in November 2013 that were damaging to Playboy, Zulfer’s attorney reiterated the demand of $1M with a willingness to negotiate downward. Sheppard again neither informed Playboy of the increased exposure in excess of policy limits nor advised Playboy to insist that its insurer accept a demand within policy limits.

Sheppard had the misfortune to lose in “spectacular fashion” largely because Zulfer was represented byDavid DeRubertis, a preeminent trial lawyer who has obtained large verdicts in several employment cases.  But the approach to potential settlement Playboy alleges is typical of what I see in hard-fought whistleblower cases.  The playbook usually consists of offering only nuisance value pre-litigation, digging up dirt about the whistleblower that is wholly irrelevant to the merits of the case, making misleading accusations about the whistleblower’s job performance, using discovery to harass the whistleblower, trying to focus the case on the after-acquired evidence defense, and withholding damaging documents until the whistleblower prevails on a motion to compel. The super-charged version of this playbook includes bringing SLAPP suits against the whistleblower and threatening to file a frivolous Rule 11 motion.

While in my experience these tactics often backfire and do not benefit the employer, such tactics generate hefty fees for defense counsel. As big firm attorneys are under increasing pressure to meet high billable-hour requirements, there is little incentive to perform a realistic case assessment or to lean on a client to settle. And in whistleblower cases, the employer often resents the whistleblower and is far more inclined to vigorously defend the claims than to make a good faith effort to settle.

While this malpractice case against Sheppard was probably widely read in the employment bar, the typical defense playbook is unlikely to change. In-house counsel, however, would be well advised to assess employment cases through the perspective or eyes of the jury

rather than rely solely on outside counsel assuring the company that the whistleblower will never win at trial.

 Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Jason Zuckerman is Principal at Zuckerman Law (www.zuckermanlaw.com)  and represents whistleblowers nationwide.  He is the author of the Whistleblower Protection Law Blog (www.whistleblower-protection-law.com).

Florida Passes Law That Bans Discriminating Against Pregnant Women In Public

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

Bryce CovertLast week, the Florida legislature passed a bill banning discrimination against pregnant women at work as well as in public places like restaurants or hotels.

The bill amends the state’s Civil Rights Act by adding pregnancy to race, sex, and physical disability as protected classes. It got unanimous support in the state senate and near-unanimous passage in the House. It now heads to Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) desk, whose office didn’t return a request for comment on whether he would sign it.

Lawmakers introduced it to codify a ruling from the state’s Supreme Court last year in favor of plaintiff Peggy Delva, a front desk manager at a condominium building who sued her employer for barring her from covering other workers’ shifts after she became pregnant and firing her when she returned from leave. The court ruled that she was discriminated against on account of her pregnancy and that violated Florida’s law against sex discrimination, overturning lower courts who ruled against her.

Federal law, including the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, is also supposed to protect pregnant women, but they still experience widespread discrimination. An estimated quarter million womenevery year are denied their requests for employers to give them accommodations at work so that they can stay on their jobs throughout their pregnancies, so they end up pushed onto unpaid leave or suffering health complications such as miscarriages if they stay. The United States Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Peggy Young, who had sued UPS for refusing to give her light duty after she became pregnant, forcing her onto unpaid leave without benefits.

A number of women in a variety of industries have also sued their employers for firing them just after they disclosed their pregnancies.

At the same time, however, more and more women are choosing to work while pregnant. Today, two-thirds of first-time mothers work while pregnant, up from less than half in 1960. Of those who do, 80 percent keep working into their last month, compared to just a third in the ’60s. But past court cases show that employers often vilify or stereotype pregnant women, such as relying on the idea that they’ll just end up leaving after they have their babies, to justify firing them.

Some states have taken further action to protect pregnant employees, passing Pregnant Worker Fairness Acts to require employers to give them accommodations to stay on the job. A similar law has been introduced at the federal level but hasn’t moved forward.

Florida’s law should also protect women who say they have been barred from entering bars because they might appear to be pregnant.

This article originally appeared in thinkprogress.org on April 27, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

$357 Billion: The Clock Ticks

Wednesday, April 29th, 2015

ericJust a moment to pause and update everyone: going back to 1968, workers have lost more than $357 billion because of the robbery due to the stagnant minimum wage.

Did you ever wonder what the minimum wage would be worth if it kept its value going back to 1968? Well, it would over $20-an-hour. And thanks to our friends at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, we can watch the loss tick by literally every second, counting the dollars lost by workers since 1968 because of the sinking value of the minimum wage.

This clock shows how “many dollars America’s minimum wage workers have lost since July 24, 2009 if the minimum wage had instead been raised to its 1968 level and then kept pace with inflation since then,” CEPR says (and if you’re reading this after it was posted, the clock will keep ticking and likely be above $358 billion…and more):

And every minutes, hour, day that goes by, the robbery continues.

This article originally appeared in workinglife.org on April  22, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author:  Jonathan Tasini on any given day, I think like a political-union organizer or a writer — or both. I’ve done the traditional press routine including The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Business Week, Playboy Magazine, The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times. One day, back when blogs were just starting out, I created Working Life. I used to write every day but sometimes there just isn’t something new to say so I cut back to weekdays, with an occasional weekend post when it moves me. I’ve also written four books: It’s Not Raining, We’re Being Peed On: The Scam of the Deficit Crisis (2010 and, then, the updated 2nd edition in 2013); The Audacity of Greed: Free Markets, Corporate Thieves and The Looting of America (2009); They Get Cake, We Eat Crumbs: The Real Story Behind Today’s Unfair Economy, an average reader’s guide to the economy (1997); and The Edifice Complex: Rebuilding the American Labor Movement to Face the Global Economy, a critique and prescriptive analysis of the labor movement (1995).

The Words of Dead Workers

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015

Leo GerardTo give voice to 35 workers killed on the job over the past 35 years at a massive refinery in Texas City, hundreds of surviving family members, co-workers and friends gathered there last month to erect white crosses marked with their names.

They conducted the ceremony on the 10th anniversary of an explosion that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170, including townspeople.

Marathon Petroleum Corp., which bought the refinery from BP two years ago, did its best to shut the mourners up. Marathon uprooted the crosses and tossed them in a box like trash within hours of the commemoration.

For years during contract negotiations, the United Steelworkers (USW) union has pressed ungodly profitable oil companies to improve safety. This fell mostly on deaf ears. On Feb. 1, USW refinery workers began loudly voicing this demand by striking over unfair labor practices (ULP). Ultimately 7,000 struck 15 refineries. Within six weeks, all but five oil corporations settled.  Marathon is a hold out. It wants to cut safety personnel. It does not want to hear about dead workers.

Yet the (ULP) strike is about dead workers. Over the past five years, at refineries nationwide that employ USW members, 27 workers have died – incinerated, gassed or crushed to death. And the peril of refineries spills into communities. In Texas City at the refinery owned by BP in 2005, flying glass from windows shattered in the explosion injured townspeople. In the first six weeks of this year, explosions occurred at three refineries, closing streets, raining eye-irritating white ash on neighborhoods and forcing residents to shelter indoors for hours.

As the USW strike over unfair labor practices drags on in Texas City at what is now called the Marathon Petroleum Corp. Galveston Bay Refinery, USW members feel Marathon’s demands for reduced safety measures indicate the corporation refuses to hear the cautionary tales of the facility’s deadly past. Brandi Sanders, treasurer for the local union there and a 10-year veteran maintenance worker, told me that it is as if Marathon believes the 2005 explosion and the 20 other deaths since 1980 don’t exist because they didn’t occur on Marathon’s watch.

“But the union does not want to go back. We lived through those experiences. And we learned from that history. And we should not be forced to repeat it,” Sanders said.

That was the reason for the candlelight ceremony on March 23. To make those deaths real for Marathon managers who did not experience them in the visceral way that co-workers and families and neighbors did.

The mourners marked each of the 35 crosses with the name of a worker killed at the nation’s fifth largest refinery since 1980, which is the year of the last nationwide strike at refineries. A bagpiper played “Amazing Grace” as the participants, holding candles aloft in the dark, marched two blocks from the local union hall to the refinery. They wanted to place the crosses on the site where the workers had lost their lives.

But police officers blocked their path. Marathon had called the cops. Marathon refused to acknowledge the tragic anniversary, even with a moment of silence at the refinery as BP had done annually. And it wouldn’t allow a commemoration by anyone else on its property either.

The officers permitted the mourners to erect the white markers in a median strip along the highway, as often is done by family and friends of car crash victims. The ceremony participants called out each name, tolled a bell and placed the marker. Tears flowed.

Just a few hours later, picketers saw managers leave the plant, descend on the memorial in the darkness and rip each of the 35 crosses out of the ground.

Larry Burchfield, a member of the USW’s National Oil Bargaining Policy Committee and a machinist at the refinery for 20 years while it was owned first by Amoco, then BP and now Marathon, told me that disrespect Marathon showed for the dead is the same disregard Marathon shows for the living.

If Marathon valued the lives of workers, the corporation wouldn’t try to save a couple of bucks by eliminating the safety measures put in place to preserve workers’ lives after the 2005 explosion, Burchfield said. “Marathon’s safety policies are called life critical policies,” he told me, “But your life is not so critical when it is going to affect Marathon’s bottom line.”

Marathon’s “it wasn’t me; it was BP” reasoning for downgrading safety just doesn’t cut it. Don Holmstrom, director of the Western Regional Office of the U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB),explained why in an interview with the Galveston County Daily News for a story on the anniversary of the 2005 blast.

“I think it is sad to report that not enough appears to have been learned, and the problem persists. It is not a BP problem. Although the incident occurred at (BP’s) Texas City refinery, there is an industry problem,” said Holmstrom, who was the CSB’s lead investigator into the 2005 blast.

Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) Assistant Administrator Jordan Barab said of recent refinery explosions, “each repeated a lesson that the industry should have already learned.”

Marathon is no outlier, operating in perfect safety. Numerous problems have occurred at the plant since Marathon took over. An explosion and fire at the refinery on Feb. 21 last year critically injured Oscar Garcia, who was employed by a company Marathon contracted to perform work on the site. Garcia has sued Marathon for negligence. The refinery released more than 128,000 pounds of silica and alumina oxide into surrounding communities in two incidents this year. Several fires have occurred since the strike began, including two within 24 hours witnessed by picketing workers.

After the BP explosion, the CSB and others recommended refineries refrain from placing personnel in temporary facilities near volatile units, especially during shut downs and startups. Many of those killed in the BP explosion were in temporary trailers during a unit start up. Despite that, within the past year, Marathon erected three lunch tents during a repair cycle on the same ground where bodies and debris had been haled away after the 2005 blast.

Not one of the 1,100 USW members who work for Marathon has crossed the picket line. They’ve gone without pay for nearly three months because they know what’s at stake: their lives.

In another attempt to help Marathon hear that, workers replanted the 35 white crosses in a long line in front of the union hall. They managed to get them back from Marathon through the police department.

Today, on Workers’ Memorial Day, which commemorates those who have lost their lives on the job, the USW members will place a solar spotlight in front of each cross, to highlight the lives sacrificed when safety was compromised. Hopefully, that will open the eyes of Marathon managers who deliberately closed their ears to the words of dead workers.

This article originally appeared in ourfuture.org on April 28, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the author: Leo W. Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Get Ready for DC Labor and Film Fests

Saturday, April 25th, 2015

The second annual DC LaborFest begins Friday, May 1, and runs the entire month and includes the 15th annual DC Labor FilmFest, as well as labor arts, including music, theater, poetry, books, art and history. The DC LaborFest features one of the most well-established film festivals in the world dedicated to showcasing labor art and screening films featuring workers and workers’ issues.

The DC LaborFest includes more than 50 labor arts events from the labor films to concerts, walking and biking history tours, conferences and happy hours. Click here to download a detailed schedule of events andhere for LaborFest updates.

You also can click here for trailers of a dozen of the films that will be screened as part of the DC Labor FilmFest.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on April 25, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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