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The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania Unanimously Strikes Down Lifetime Employment Ban for Those with Prior Criminal Convictions

Friday, January 29th, 2016

Levan, TadOn December 30, 2015, the unanimous Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, sitting en banc, declared the lifetime employment ban contained in The Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA) to be facially unconstitutional and enjoined Pennsylvania from further enforcement of the law (See Peake v. Commonwealth).  OAPSA is a Pennsylvania law that, among other things, prohibits anyone who has ever been convicted of any disqualifying crime at any time in his or her life from ever holding any job at any covered residential health care facility.  In essence, the Act imposes a lifetime employment ban, forever disqualifying individuals from work due to often long-past actions for which the offender’s debt to society has since been repaid.  Even if the owner or operator of a covered facility, based upon his or her years of experience in the industry, believes that an applicant or employee with a prior conviction is the best qualified for the job, the criminal history of the applicant or employee is the only factor the employer may consider and employment is barred.  Employers have no discretion to make individualized hiring decisions.

Writing for the 7-0 Commonwealth Court, Judge Leavitt ruled that the ban “is unconstitutional on its face” because “it goes beyond the necessities of the case and is not substantially related to the Act’s stated objective of protecting older adults.”  The Court also found that OAPSA’s employment ban unconstitutionally imposes an irrebuttable presumption of unfitness for employment that is not universally true and that reasonable alternative means exist for ascertaining an individual’s fitness.  The Court therefore granted the Petition for Summary Relief, declared OAPSA’s employment ban unconstitutional on its face, and enjoined the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from future enforcement of the law.

Barring all individuals with prior criminal convictions from employment is antithetical to any concerns for rehabilitation and reintegration with society.  An individual who has successfully completed his or her punishment after a criminal act should not be further stigmatized by being unable to get a job.  Not surprisingly, recidivism rates are substantially lower for individuals with steady employment opportunities; thus, public safety is actually harmed by statutory employment bars like OAPSA or hiring practices that automatically exclude individuals with criminal records.  Allowing those with prior criminal convictions to reenter the work force also saves public tax dollars by avoiding the high costs of corrections and other social service benefits to which an unemployed individual may be entitled.  To successfully reintegrate an individual with a record back into society is the very epitome of a win-win situation.

In addition to making for bad public policy, lifetime employment bans such as that in OAPSA are based on a faulty premise: namely, that a past criminal act is indicative of an increased risk of future criminal behavior.  Rigorous social science studies have now confirmed that after a limited number of years – four to seven years for a single conviction and no more than ten years for multiple convictions – an individual with a prior criminal conviction is no more likely to commit a criminal offense than any member of the general public.  Lifetime employment bans like OAPSA, which are based on an irrebuttable presumption of “once a criminal, always a criminal,” simply are not supported by social science results.

A more thoughtful and balanced approach is required:  Yes, under certain circumstances, a prior conviction may be relevant to the fitness of a specific candidate or employee for the requirements of a specific job; but those determinations must be made on a individualized basis with due consideration of all relevant factors, including the nature and severity of the prior criminal conduct, the time elapsed since the conviction, the efforts at rehabilitation and reintegration the individual has made in the interim, and the specific job requirements of the position for which he or she would be hired.  The decision whether to hire an individual with a past criminal conviction is not amenable to a one-size-fits-all solution.  And a lifetime ban, which completely precludes an employer from hiring an individual with a record (often from decades past), even if the employer thinks that he or she is well-qualified for the position, is irrational and counterproductive.

It’s time to bring some common sense back to this issue: Individuals with a prior criminal conviction already have plenty of barriers to overcome in becoming reemployed.  Their reintegration into society should not be made impossible through misguided efforts that are premised upon faulty assumptions and actually result in increased safety risks.

A version of this article was originally published on the LeVan Law Group website.  Printed with Permission.

Peter H. (“Tad”) LeVan, the lead attorney working pro bono on Peake and it predecessor case, Nixon v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, is a seasoned trial and appellate attorney who has tried a number of high-stakes cases against national banks, Wall Street financial institutions and a Madoff investment firm, securing settlements on behalf of injured plan participants that have exceeded $700 million

One Union Summer Later, Three Found Their Calling as Organizers

Monday, January 25th, 2016
Tarah Taylor, Patricia Recinos, Shaine Griffin, Lynda Berg

MFullSizeRendereet Tarah Taylor, Lynda Berg and Shaine Griffin from the class of Union Summer 2014. These superstar summeristas are working alongside nurses, and one another, as union organizers with California Nurses Association/National Nurses United in the fight for working people. Now the three of them work together in Southern California, and Shaine and Tarah are even roommates.

Organizing Origins

Taylor found out about Union Summer 30 minutes before applications were due. Though she just squeezed in, Taylor had the fire of an organizer burning inside of her. She already had stood up to Sprint for herself and co-workers over a convoluted practice of docking some workers’ regular pay to pay other workers’ overtime. She started a petition that went viral and lost a job she loved over it. As an organizer, she knows personally what is at stake for working people when they stand up and why they are stronger together.

Griffin worked on the Retail Action Project as a Union Summer intern in Manhattan and saw firsthand the issues of wages, scheduling and overt racist policies that retail workers faced. “Union Summer was awesome and eye-opening. On the campaign, it was disturbing to see how groups of people were being systematically devalued,” Griffin said.

Away from the city and, seemingly, in the middle of nowhere, Berg’s team was on more challenging terrain. “It’s a space in which, historically, workers have been mistreated, literally, all the way back to slavery,” Berg said, describing how tough, but necessary, the work is in organizing migrant farm workers in North Carolina.

So, What Does It Take?

If you know Union Summer graduates, you know they are the fiercest social justice and labor activists around. The work of organizing attracts people with incredible grit, passion and resourcefulness. Though she continues to glean knowledge from senior organizers, Griffin said, “You can’t teach organizing, you fly or you flounder.”

A Life’s Calling

Taylor gained valuable insight working with the teachers who put their hearts and souls into their profession and always stood up for their students when fighting to improve conditions for themselves. She finds that nurses feel a similar duty to their patients and their will to improve working conditions is simultaneously tied to improving patient care.

On working with nurses, Taylor said, “What drives my passion is the intimate bonds that I have formed with the individual nurses. They invite you into their lives, you become friends, and it’s really cool when you see them grow and test their own power within the system.”

Berg echoes the sentiment, “I’ll have a really incredible conversation with a nurse and it affirms that this is what I am supposed to do: ultimately, it’s a drive you have.”

These three summeristas have made a commitment beyond organizing workplaces to that of creating social change that reverberates through an entire community. As they are inspired by the nurses’ stories, their commitment inspires us to care about nurses and how their stories are tied into the struggles and victories of all working people.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Sonia Huq is the Organizing Field Communications Assistant at the AFL-CIO.  She grew up in a Bangladeshi-American family in Boca Raton, Florida where she first learned a model of service based on serving a connected immigrant cultural community. After graduating from the University of Florida, Sonia served in the AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps and later worked for Manavi, the first South Asian women’s rights organization in the United States. She then earned her Master’s in Public Policy from the George Washington University and was awarded a Women’s Policy Inc. fellowship for women in public policy to work as a legislative fellow in the office of Representative Debbie Wasserman (FL-23). Sonia is passionate about working towards a more just society and hopes to highlight social justice issues and movements through her writing.

Unions Must Address Racism

Friday, January 15th, 2016

 

Unions must mobilize to defeat racism because it destroys solidarity and brutalizes union members, the demographics of working people are changing rapidly and morality demands action. But mobilizing all of labor to join the fight against racism will not be easy: Race fractures the labor movement itself. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said of Ferguson, Mo., “our brother killed our sister’s son,” and, in doing so, he spoke to the tragic facts and also to the internecine racial fault lines that shatter worker solidarity.

For unions to recover, they must both fight the injustices done to people of color and simultaneously emphasize the common interests that all working people share. César Chávez knew this when he built a farm worker coalition across race lines, uniting Filipinos and Mexicans in California’s fields. Martin Luther King Jr. embodied this in joining the sanitation workers’ strike in Memphis and in organizing the Poor People’s Campaign in Washington. Seeking to build a bridge between labor and the civil rights movement, King said to the AFL-CIO in 1961, “Our needs are identical with labor’s needs, decent wages, fair working conditions, livable housing, old age security, health and welfare measures, conditions in which families can grow, have education for their children and respect in the community.”

Fostering a shared commitment to challenging racial and economic injustice depends on everyone recognizing that racism is more than prejudice by one individual against another. It has been, and remains, a way to structure society, the economy and government. Consider slavery—the Southern way of life was built to rationalize this barbarism, the economy depended on it, and government was designed to protect it. Though not to the same extent today, racism nevertheless continues to play this structuring role.

This is most evident in our politics, especially when viewed from the perspective of the past half-century. Fifty years ago, the civil rights movement transformed the place of African Americans and other non-whites in society, ending formal segregation laws as well as racist restrictions on immigration. In turn, however, these changes contributed to rising anxiety among some made nervous by racial change, and politicians quickly sought to harness and then to foment this seething sense of insecurity.

The Republican Party, in particular, though eventually many Democrats, too, began to campaign by scaring voters. They did so by dog whistling: Using coded terms like “inner city crime” and “silent majority” that on the surface did not mention race, but that just underneath coursed with racial power, telling a story of decent whites under threat from dangerous minorities. Today, nobody better symbolizes this toxic politics than Donald Trump.

Yet for all its ugliness, this was strategy, not bigotry. Keeping minorities in their place was never the main point. Instead, the goal was to win elections and also to satisfy the demands of the billionaires funding political campaigns. This required stoking resentment, not only against nonwhites, but also against an activist government, which was painted as coddling minorities with welfare while refusing to control them through lax criminal laws and weak border enforcement. In effect, powerful elites used the politics of fear and division to hijack government for their own benefit. Pandering to racial anxiety and enflaming hatred against government, they distracted voters from recognizing the threat posed by increasing concentrations of wealth and power.

Today, the richest 0.1% of Americans holds 22% of the country’s wealth—the same share held by the bottom 90% of the population. These are levels of wealth inequality not seen in a century. As we slowly emerge from the Great Recession, we find ourselves confronting levels of poverty and economic hardship we thought we had left long in the past, with pensions gone, home equity erased, jobs scarce and little promise for our children. Once again, robber barons rule a rigged system, with government and the marketplace in their pockets. In their greed, they are stifling shared economic prosperity, limiting the mobility of current and future generations and endangering our democracy.

It’s time to stop segregating the race problem as one that harms only minorities. A deeper conception of how racism structures politics, government and the economy connects minority concerns to the issues faced by all workers. This approach makes clear that when racism triumphs, all workers lose.

Dog-whistle politicians constantly warn the racially anxious that liberal government and unions care more about coddling minorities than about protecting hardworking whites. This drumbeat makes it risky for labor to mobilize around nonwhite concerns because it can make conservative accusations ring true to many white workers.

But the solution cannot be to avoid race and to exclusively address class interests. To talk solely about economics leaves racial demagoguery unchallenged, allowing it to continue dividing workers. It also leaves workers of color alienated and angry that the labor movement is ignoring the gross injustices they confront.

The only way forward is to connect race to class, and class to race—by building an inclusive social movement that silences dog-whistle politics and demands that government put people irsft.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on January 12, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Haney López is an author and professor at the University of California, Berkeley.

American Workers See Progress On Paid Sick Leave, No Thanks To Congress

Wednesday, January 6th, 2016

LauraClawsonPaid sick leave is high on the list of policies that are popular with the public but won’t become federal law as long as Republicans control Congress. But, like the minimum wage, cities and states and employers and the president can expand paid leave to many workers, and in 2015, some did. That’s good news for workers who won’t have to choose between going to work sick and going without pay they can’t afford to lose—and with half of food workers going to work sick because they don’t have paid leave, we’re talking about not just a lot of workers but many more customers who stand to be infected by people working sick.

Paid sick days have gained a lot of ground in the last few years, and continued to do so in 2015. Oregon became the fourth state to require paid sick leave for most workers, following Connecticut, California, and Massachusetts.

The cities of Tacoma, Washington, and Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, also passed paid sick leave laws. New Jersey cities continued their incredible momentum on this issue, with BloomfieldElizabeth, and New Brunswick becoming the ninth, tenth, and eleventh New Jersey municipalities with paid sick leave laws. Montgomery County, Maryland, meanwhile, is the first county to pass a sick leave law. At the federal level, President Obama ordered paid sick leave for federal contract workers starting in 2017.

Despite all that progress, though, Republicans remain determined to keep workers going to work sick. In Michigan, for instance, Republicans passed a state law to block cities and towns from passing either paid sick leave or minimum wage increases. And their party’s presidential candidates? Ha ha ha.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.org on December 31, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

Hundreds gathered in DCA yesterday, but it wasn’t for what you think.

Wednesday, October 28th, 2015

seiuYesterday I joined my brothers and sisters around the world at Ronald Reagan national airport in the demand for higher wages, better trainings and working conditions for airport workers. I got involved with the union and Fight for 15 because I saw the imbalance of power that is hurting people.

As a cabin cleaner at San Francisco International Airport, I am proud to say that because we have a union, we have some of the highest working standards in the country, but I know there are many more who don’t and need our support. Folks like Ababuti Ogalla, a wheelchair assistant at Boston Logan Airport. Like many, he is an immigrant who came to America to build a decent life for his family.

“I started working at Boston Logan in 2011, but I quickly realized that with two kids and a wife to support, my pay doesn’t even cover my rent and bills. That’s not the America I believed in. Now I work two jobs, barely have any time to spend with my family, and still struggle to make ends meet.”

Ababuti is right. That’s not the America any of us believe in. We continue to fight because we know we can raise the minimum wage and support the ones we love with dignity and respect.

Too many airport workers are paid minimum wage or less and that’s not right. We take pride in our jobs and play a key role in helping more than 393 million passengers yearly enjoy a safe and secure travel experience. But without health insurance or sick days, we risk losing our jobs every time we are sick or have a family emergency. It doesn’t make sense; America spends billions annually on airport security, yet the very people charged with implementing security measures are paid poverty wages.

The rally at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was just one of a series of events this week. We hosted our first ever National Airport Worker Convention, where we developed a national strategy to win $15 and union rights for all airport workers. We then took to Congress to urge our representatives to seek a federal solution to the problems faced by contracted out workers at our nation’s airports. Many pledged their support to our fight, knowing that both, $15 and union rights, will ensure better standards for workers and passengers.

By marching, protesting, and striking at airports across the U.S., already 45,000 airport workers have won wage increases and critical improvements including healthcare and paid sick leave. But there is still so much more to do. And despite all of us coming from different parts of the country and world — the United States, Europe and Australia – we all left the convention committed to one fight and one collective voice.

I am excited to see the positive changes we’re going to bring to airport workers.

This article was originally printed on SEIU in October, 2015.  Reprinted with permission.

Illegally fired for exercising your rights at work? You should be able to sue

Saturday, September 19th, 2015

Laura ClawsonThe new bill to strengthen penalties against employers who illegally fire workers for collective action that Sen. Patty Murray and Rep. Bobby Scott introduced in Congress on Wednesday would do more than just deter those illegal firings, argue the Century Foundation’s Richard Kahlenberg and Moshe Marvit: it would reframe union rights as civil rights.

The WAGE Act would give workers the same remedies as employees whose civil rights are violated:  the ability not just to get their jobs and back pay, which is the rule now, but to win punitive damages, to engage in legal discovery that gives lawyers access to an employer’s internal files, and win attorneys’ fees when workers prevail. Employees also can get a preliminary injunction to get their jobs back right away.

By giving workers a fresh way to think about becoming part of a union – as a civil right, rather than just joining a special interest – the idea has a chance to re-awaken a conversation that has languished in American politics. The decimation of the American labor movement has been catastrophic for the middle class, keeping wages down and weakening the voice of middle-class citizens in the political process.

As Kahlenberg and Marvit suggest, “the time may be right” for this idea to come up in the presidential campaign:

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have attacked inequality and offered good proposals, such as increasing the minimum wage, which will help move the poor into the working class. But only a strong organized labor movement – and new, alternative forms of worker representation — can help move large numbers of people from the working class to the middle class.  The WAGE Act is a simple, concrete proposal for change that would help both traditional unions and new, emerging organizations that represent workers. The presidential candidates should make it a central plank in their campaigns.

What a good idea. Ball’s in your court, Secretary Clinton, Sen. Sanders …

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on September 17, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.

U.S. Supreme Court To Decide Whether Class Action Defendants Can Bribe Their Way Out Of Legal Trouble

Thursday, September 3rd, 2015

TLeslie Bruecknerhe U.S. Supreme Court is poised to decide an issue of huge importance to everyone who cares about access to justice. The question, in Campbell-Ewald v. Gomez, is whether corporate defendants in class actions are entitled to bribe class representatives to abandon the rest of the potential class members.

Yes, you read that right. According to the corporation who was sued, it should be allowed to cancel out a class action against it simply by offering to settle the named plaintiff’s individual claims. Under the defendant’s view of the law, corporations accused of ripping off millions of people could avoid accountability by repeatedly picking off the few named plaintiffs who are willing to step forward. Campbell-Ewald has even gone so far as to argue that class representatives are bound by such offers, accepted or not, even if it effectively denies all other class members the ability to obtain any relief at all.

The craziest part about the theory they’ve put forth is that it turns the whole notion of adequacy of representation 180 degrees. As we explained in an amici brief we just filed with the Court (along with the AARP), one of the most basic rules of class actions is that class representatives are supposed to represent the others impacted by the wrongdoing. Not only is this required by Rule 23 (the federal class action rule), it’s also required by the U.S. Constitution (due process, anyone?). This means not just that the class representatives are supposed to be competent, they are also supposed to be loyal to the rest of the class members. And that means the class representatives are not supposed to file potential class actions just to make money for themselves, they are supposed to be standing up for everyone in the class.

But if Campbell-Ewald’s lawyers are to be believed, the basic ethical and constitutional premises of class actions were just flipped. They say that corporate defendants in class actions have the right to bribe class representatives to abandon everyone else. And in their view, even if a class representative wants to do the right thing and reject an individual payday so they can stand for the entire class, Rule 68 strips away that possibility, and the court must dismiss the whole case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

If the Supreme Court agrees with Campbell-Ewald, it could spell disaster for the ability of injury victims to obtain any compensation whatsoever via class action suits. Class actions make it economically possible for injured consumers, civil rights plaintiffs, and low-wage workers to pursue claims for relatively small damage amounts for wrongs that would otherwise go unremedied. A Supreme Court ruling that would allow defendants to shut down class actions simply by “picking off” named plaintiffs could wipe countless cases – and countless consumers and others who would benefit from those cases – off the litigation map.

Hopefully, the Court will see this tactic for what it is: a form of bribery that turns the very idea of class representation on its head.

This blog was originally posted on Public Justice on September 02, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Leslie Brueckner.  In 2011, Leslie became the director of Public Justice’s new Food Safety & Health Project. In addition to her litigation work, Ms. Brueckner has taught appellate advocacy at American University Law School and Georgetown University School of Law. She is a senior attorney at Public Justice.

Changes to Overtime Rules Getting Closer: Act Now!

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

erik idoniRecently, the Department of Labor proposed a rule to bring overtime up-to-date. If the proposal goes into effect, an additional 5 million white-collar workers are expected to benefit from overtime. The Department of Labor wants to hear your voice on this proposal and until this Friday, September 4, 2015, they are taking comments on the proposed rule.

Whether a worker receives overtime or not is determined by a three-part test. Under this test, the employee does not receive overtime when:

  1. they are paid a fixed salary;
  2. their salary is at least $455 a week (which equates to $23,660 a year); and
  3. their job primarily involves executive, administrative, or professional duties.

Furthermore, there are exemptions for highly compensated employees who regularly perform executive, administrative, or professional duties and make at least $100,000 a year, including at least $455 a week via salary or fees.

The Department of Labor’s proposal would focus on the salary aspect of the three-part test. Instead of a stagnant number, the salary standard would be set at the 40th percentile of weekly earnings for full-time salaried workers, which is expected to be about $970 a week, $50,440 a year, in 2016. For highly compensated employees, the standard would be set at the 90th percentile, expected to be $122,148 annually.

This proposal would be a drastic change, but a necessary one. The salary threshold has only been updated twice in the last 40 years. As a result, only 8% of full-time salaried workers fall under the threshold. This is a stark contrast from 1975 when 62% of full-time salaried workers fell below the threshold. Under the Department of Labor’s proposal, of the five million new workers expected to qualify for overtime, 53% of them would have college degrees and 56% would be women.

These days, the few that do fall under the salary threshold for overtime likely fall under another threshold, the poverty line. The poverty line for a family of four is $24,008 a year, or $348 more than the overtime threshold. This means that, a worker making $460 a week could work 50 hours every week, receive no overtime pay, and be below the poverty line.

The Department of Labor’s proposal can still change and they want to hear from you on a wide variety of issues. The agency wants your opinion on the proposal to use the 40th and 90th percentiles, or switch to using changes in inflation to determine the salary threshold. They want to know whether the three-part test is working. First and foremost, they want to know what overtime pay would mean to you and your family.

Make your voice heard and make it clear that this is an important issue that has been ignored for far too long. Share your ideas on the proposal here and your story here. You only have until Friday, but please, don’t make the comments too long they would have to work overtime to read them all, and chances are they don’t get paid for that.

 

About the Author: The author’s name is Erik Idoni. Erik Idoni is a student at the George Mason University School of Law and an intern at Workplace Fairness.

How Much Money Does a Family Need to Get by Where You Live?

Tuesday, September 1st, 2015

Laura ClawsonWe talk a fair amount about what people earn. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour, or $15,080 for a year of full-time work. Workers are organizing to demand $15 an hour, or $31,200 a year. The median household income is around $52,000. To be in the top one percent of households, you need $385,195 in income. But we need to put those numbers in the context of what people need.

That minimum wage? It’s not enough to pay rent on an average one- or two-bedroom apartment in any state. But the median household income falls short of living costs in many places, as a new report from the Economic Policy Institute shows.

  • The basic family budget for a two-parent, two-child family ranges from $49,114 (Morristown, Tenn.) to $106,493 (Washington, D.C.). In the median family budget area for this family type, Des Moines, Iowa, a two-parent, two-child family needs $63,741 to secure an adequate but modest living standard. This is well above the 2014 poverty threshold of $24,008 for this family type.
  • For a two-parent, two-child household, housing ranges from 10.2 percent of a family’s budget in Binghamton, N.Y., to 25.6 percent in San Francisco. Housing for this family type is most expensive in San Francisco ($1,956 per month), and is least expensive in Franklin, Poinsett, and Grant counties in Arkansas ($561 per month).
  • Across regions and family types, child care costs account for the greatest variability in family budgets. Monthly child care costs for a two-parent, one-child household range from $344 in rural South Carolina to $1,472 in Washington, D.C. In the latter, monthly child care costs for a two-parent, three-child household are $2,784—nearly 90 percent higher than for a two-parent, one-child household.
  • Among two-parent, two-child families, child care costs exceed rent in 500 out of 618 family budget areas.

Household income is often higher in the more expensive places to live, of course. In the Washington, DC, metro area in 2013, it was $90,149. But that means that more than half of families fell short of what was needed to support a basic but stable lifestyle; the EPI calculated its budgets using rents at the 40th percentile and the second-least-expensive food plan the USDA outlines, to give a sense of what type of budget we’re talking about. What that means is that many, many families in this country are cutting basic corners because their incomes don’t keep up with the cost of living—and no wonder, since the cost of living keeps rising while incomes stagnate.

Check out the EPI’s family budget calculator to see basic living costs for families in your area.

This blog was originally posted on Daily Kos on August 29, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Laura Clawson. Laura has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006  and Labor editor since 2011.

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.

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