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Posts Tagged ‘Ian Millhiser’

Former Sports Broadcaster Thinks He Shouldn’t Have Been Fired Over Anti-Gay Statements

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Ian Millhiser Craig James is a former professional football player and longtime sports broadcaster who, in 2012, took time off from his broadcasting career to mount an unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate. During that campaign, according to a lawsuit James filed Monday, he opposed equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and called upon “Christians” to “stand up” against the advance of marriage equality. Though he briefly worked as a broadcaster for Fox Sports following his campaign, James says he was fired shortly after Fox uncovered his past anti-gay statements.

James now works for the Family Research Council, an anti-gay organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a “hate group.”

The crux of James’s lawsuit are claims that Fox “discriminated against James because of his religionin violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.” Yet his complaint (which, admittedly, is only available to the public in a redacted form) cites no actual evidence that Fox’s decision to fire James was motivated by the fact that James identifies as a Christian. Nor does it claim that Fox Sports treated other employees who held similar anti-gay views differently because those employees are not Christian. Rather, James says that “Fox Sports informed James that his short off-the-cuff statement about his beliefs regarding marriage . . . was the sole reason Fox Sports terminated him,” and he does not appear to disagree with Fox’s alleged claim that they were motivated solely by their own opposition to James’s anti-gay statements.

Instead, James attempts a two-bumper bank shot to convert this anti-anti-gay firing into a kind of religious discrimination. James, his lawsuit emphasizes, holds anti-gay beliefs that are motivated byhis religious beliefs, and this, he claims, is enough to protect his job even if Fox would be allowed to fire an employee who made similar statements that were driven by a secular belief.

In other contexts, the Supreme Court has rejected attempts to use cries of religious discrimination to excuse acts of bigotry. Four years after Congress banned whites-only restaurants, for example, the owner of a South Carolina barbecue chain put up a sign protesting that “[t]he law makes us serve n***ers, but any money we get from them goes to the Ku Klux Klan.” He also claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “contravenes the will of God,” and that he should be exempted from having to follow it because of his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court disagreed, in Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, labeling the restaurant owner’s claim “patently frivolous.”

James’s case, however, was filed in Texas court, where the conservative Texas Supreme Court may see things differently than the justices of another era. It also arises under a different area of the law than Piggie Park. James sued under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, which, among other things, prohibits discrimination “because of or on the basis of any aspect of religious observance, practice, or belief, unless an employer demonstrates that the employer is unable reasonably to accommodate the religious observance or practice of an employee or applicantwithout undue hardship to the conduct of the employer’s business.”

There is surprisingly little Texas case law interpreting this particular provision. Nevertheless, Texas civil rights law explicitly tracks “the policies of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its subsequent amendments,” so federal court decisions examining similar cases should inform the Texas judges confronted by James’s case. At least one federal appeals court case, however, suggests that employers are not required to accommodate the anti-gay views of their employees, even if those views are motivated by religion.

In Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered an employee who posted Bible verses that, among other things, said that men who have sex with men should be “put to death.” Admittedly, this is a more egregious case than theJames case, as James was not fired for saying that gay or bisexual men should be executed (when he was later asked about executing gay people, he responded tepidly). Nevertheless, the court inPeterson offered a sweeping dismissal of the idea that an employer is required to accommodate statements that could cause lesbian, gay or bisexual employees to feel unwelcome. It is an undue hardship, the court explained, to inhibit an employer’s “efforts to attract and retain a qualified, diverse workforce, which the company reasonably views as vital to its commercial success.”

James was an unusually visible employee who made his anti-gay statements in an unusually public forum. And James admits that Fox Sports was motivated by similar fears to the ones that concerned the employer in Peterson. He quotes a Fox spokesperson, who reportedly said that James was fired because “[w]e just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department” and concluded that “[h]e couldn’t say those things here.”

Nevertheless, the Texas judicial system is unusually conservative, so there is no guarantee that it will not give people like James a special right to make offensive statements about LGBT people with impunity.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on August 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

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.

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.

Joan Would Have Lost Her Sexual Harassment Suit Against McCann Erickson

Wednesday, May 6th, 2015

millhiser_ian_bioThe following contains spoilers from Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men. The big reveal in Sunday night’s episode of Mad Men was that Sterling Cooper, a company where racist jokes are frequently thrown about and where the company’s only female partner literally earned that partnership because she was prostituted out to a client, is actually a progressive employer by the standards of its era. The episode is the first after Sterling Cooper is absorbed into the advertising behemoth McCann Erickson, and it begins with an African American secretary telling her casually racist boss that she won’t be going over to McCann with him because “advertising is not a very comfortable place for everyone.” Yet the highlight of the episode is Joan’s sexual harassment at the hands of a senior member of her new firm, and her eventual decision to take a buyout worth only half of her partnership stake in the now defunct Sterling Cooper rather than take McCann to court. (Joan, of course, is the partner who agreed to an indecent proposal from a client). In response to Joan’s fictional experience with sex discrimination, the real-life American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) urged Joan to contact them in a tweet announcing that “sexual harassment has no place at work!” Yet the sad truth is that, had Joan actually pursued a lawsuit against McCann in 1970, the year when the final half-season of Mad Men takes place, she would have almost certainly lost.

Sunday’s episode focuses on Joan’s increasingly terrible interactions with three male colleagues. Early in the episode, Joan is matched with Dennis, an account executive who botches a call with a client and then dismisses Joan’s feedback (“Who told you you got to get pissed off!”) when she calls him out on his incompetence. Fearful that Dennis will destroy the client relationships that are her only capital within the firm, she approaches Ferg, a more senior colleague, seeking help.

Though Ferg initially presents himself as a lifesaver — he takes Dennis off Joan’s business and promises that she will report directly to him – he soon makes it clear that his real interest in Joan is sexual. Ferg suggests that the two of them travel together to Atlanta to meet the client Dennis upset and tell her that he’s “not expecting anything more than a good time.” Once Joan goes over Ferg’s head, she’s informed that Ferg is a high-status player at McCann and that she needs to fall in line. At first, Joan threatens to bring in the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), Betty Friedan and the ACLU to press her sexual harassment claim, but she ultimately takes what amounts to a settlement offer consisting of only half of what McCann owes her for her stake in Sterling Cooper.

Had Joan sued McCann, she would have relied on a legal theory that wasn’t even in its infancy in 1970. The ban on sexual harassment in the workplace flows from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which forbids employment discrimination because of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.” Six years after the law’s passage, however, the courts had only barely begun to grapple with how sex discrimination actually manifests in the workplace, and the term “sexual harassment” didn’t even exist yet.

According to the National Organization for Women, “Cornell University activists coined the term sexual harassment in 1975,” five years after Joan’s fictional harassment took place. The first successful sexual harassment suit was decided in 1976, and that was only the decision of a single federal district judge. The EEOC did not issue guidelines targeting sexual harassment as a kind of sex discrimination until 1980. And the Supreme Court did not recognize Title VII’s prohibition on sexual harassment until its 1986 decision in Meritor Savings Bank v. Vinson.

Had Joan filed suit against McCann, her lawsuit would have preceded all of these legal developments. For that reason, despite her threat to get the ACLU involved, it is unlikely that top-notch civil rights lawyers would have wanted to use her case as the vehicle to try to blaze a new legal trail. When lawyers bring a “test case” seeking to create new law, they typically choose their plaintiff or plaintiffs very carefully, selecting someone with an especially compelling case who is likely to win the sympathy of judges or justices. Bad facts make bad law, and a lawyer who offers a novel legal theory on behalf of a client who experienced subtle or uncertain harassment is likely to not only lose their case, they are likely to create a bad precedent that will harm future plaintiffs.

Here, for example, are the allegations in Vinson, the first Supreme Court case to recognize that sexual harassment suits are viable:

Respondent testified that during her probationary period as a teller-trainee, Taylor treated her in a fatherly way and made no sexual advances. Shortly thereafter, however, he invited her out to dinner and, during the course of the meal, suggested that they go to a motel to have sexual relations. At first she refused, but out of what she described as fear of losing her job she eventually agreed. According to respondent, Taylor thereafter made repeated demands upon her for sexual favors, usually at the branch, both during and after business hours; she estimated that over the next several years she had intercourse with him some 40 or 50 times. In addition, respondent testified that Taylor fondled her in front of other employees, followed her into the women’s restroom when she went there alone, exposed himself to her, and even forcibly raped her on several occasions.

Though Vinson recognized that this egregious level of harassment-becoming-assault violates the law, it set a very high bar for future sexual harassment plaintiffs. “For sexual harassment to be actionable,” Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the Court, “it must be sufficiently severe or pervasive ‘to alter the conditions of [the victim’s] employment and create an abusive working environment.’” The Court also cited favorably to a racial harassment case establishing that the “‘mere utterance of an ethnic or racial epithet which engenders offensive feelings in an employee’ would not affect the conditions of employment to sufficiently significant degree to violate Title VII.”

Ferg’s advances, though clearly inappropriate, did not even approach the egregious level of discrimination that allegedly occurred in Vinson. He began his conversation with Joan by excusing Dennis’s sexism, but ultimately promised to give Joan the professional “respect you desire.” And he propositioned Joan more through innuendo than through the direct demands that allegedly occurred in Vinson. There’s little doubt what kind of “good time” Ferg was looking for, but it would be difficult for Joan to prove that this one incident constituted the kind of “severe or pervasive” harassment Vinson demands.

That’s not to dismiss the reality of Ferg’s harassment of Joan, or to suggest that the working conditions that she faced were anything less than disgusting. But sexual harassment claims are notoriously difficult to win, and even our modern, more developed sexual harassment law is inadequate to combat the kind of harassment women like Joan continue to face in the workplace.

Had Joan filed suit against McCann, she would have been a true pioneer, bringing a novel legal case years before the term “sexual harassment” even existed. She also would have almost certainly lost her case in a legal system that was not the least bit prepared to hear it.

This blog was originally posted on Thinkprogress.org on May 4, 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.

 

Wisconsin Legislature Votes To Repeal Employment Discrimination Law

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

Ian Millhiser Wisconsin prohibits employers from discriminating “on the basis of age, race, creed, color, disability, marital status, sex, national origin, ancestry, arrest record, conviction record, military service, use or nonuse of lawful products off the employer’s premises during nonworking hours, or declining to attend a meeting or to participate in any communication about religious matters or political matters,” and it ensures that this law has teeth by allowing victims of discrimination to hold their employers accountable in state court. That’s about to change, however, as the Wisconsin legislature recently voted to strip the state’s workers of their ability to actually enforce this law — leaving anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) as the only obstacle to the law’s total repeal:

The Equal Pay Enforcement Act was meant to deter employers from discriminating by giving workers more avenues to press charges. Among other provisions, it allows individuals to plead their cases in the less costly, more accessible state circuit court system, rather than just in federal court.

In November, the state Senate approved (SB 202) rolling back this provision. On Wednesday, the Assembly did the same. Both were party-line votes. The legislation is now in the hands of Gov. Scott Walker (R). His office did not return a request for comment on whether the governor would sign it. . . .

Women earn 77 cents for every dollar that men make. In Wisconsin, it’s 75 cents, according to [the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health], which also estimates that families in the state “lose more than $4,000 per year due to unequal pay.”

Walker, of course, has no power to repeal federal law, so he cannot strip Wisconsin workers of their right to be free from race, gender and other forms of discrimination that are banned by national civil rights laws. Nevertheless, Wisconsin law provides additional protections, such as safeguards for people with criminal convictions, that are not available under federal law.

Moreover, as Amanda Terkel points out, Wisconsin state courts can enable victims of discrimination to receive swifter justice instead of waiting for an increasingly overburdened federal judiciary to act. And this problem is only likely to get worse as Walker’s political allies in the U.S. Senate wage an unprecedented campaign of obstruction against President Obama’s nominees to the federal bench.

It’s tough to imagine something more fundamental to a just society that a guarantee that employers will not discriminate, which is why it is so baffling why Wisconsin lawmakers do not believe that their state should protect against such discrimination.

*Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author’s and not views expressed by Today’s Workplace/Workplace Fairness.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on February 27, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a Policy Analyst 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 Guardian, the American Prospect and the Duke Law Journal; and he has been a guest on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Fox Business and many radio shows.

Walmart Women Launch Another Round of Discrimination Suits, But Will It Even Matter in the Long Run?

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Ian Millhiser Last June, the Supreme Court tossed out a class action lawsuit brought by over a million Walmart employees alleging that the company systematically discriminates against women. The Court did not allow the women to try to prove that such discrimination exists, instead holding that the women did not have enough in common with each other to come together in one lawsuit. Yesterday, the women responded to this setback with the first of several cases breaking them down into smaller groups:

The lawyers promised an “armada” of other lawsuits in the next six months making discrimination claims in other regions of the country, as opposed to nationwide. “The case we are starting today is the first of many,” said Brad Seligman, one of the lead plaintiff lawyers. He added that the new lawsuits are “what we like to call Wal-Mart 2.0.” […]

The lawsuit filed Thursday in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California contends that Wal-Mart’s discriminatory practices on pay and job promotion affected more than 90,000 women currently or formerly employed at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in four regions in California and neighboring states.

This tactic could ultimately prove successful, and it is possible that many hundreds of thousands of women could receive long overdue justice by joining together in somewhat smaller groups. Even if they win, however, the sad truth is that this victory could probably never be repeated thanks to an enormous gift the Supreme Court gave powerful corporations last April.

When the Supreme Court’s Wal-Mart case was handed down, ThinkProgress called it only “the second worst class action case this Supreme Court term.” The worst decision — indeed, one of the very worst Supreme Court decisions in the last decade — was AT&T Mobility v. ConcepcionConcepcion built off a long line of misguided decisions allowing corporations to force their consumers and workers to sign away their right to sue the company in a real court and shunt any disputes into a secretive, privatized arbitration system that overwhelming favors corporate parties. Under Concepcion, corporations can not only take away your right to hold them accountable in a real court, they can also take away your right to join together with other victims of the corporation’s lawbreaking to form a class action lawsuit.

Thanks to this deeply erroneous decision, Walmart can now force each and every one of their workers to sign away their rights or they are fired. And without the ability to bring class actions in the future, many of these workers will be completely powerless against their megacorporate employer.

The class action one of the very few tools enabling vulnerable Americans to stand up to a wealthy and influential corporation. If a major corporation cheats a thousand of its workers out of a thousand dollars each, for example, very few of them will decide it is worth the hassle and expense of a major lawsuit and virtually no lawyer will be willing to take such a low dollar case on a contingency fee basis — meaning that the plaintiffs will have to pay more for legal counsel than they are likely to win in the end. If these thousand workers are able to join together into a class action, however, their million dollar claim suddenly becomes very attractive to top litigators — and the hassle of litigation will be virtually non-existent for most of the plaintiffs. Thanks to Concepcion, however, that is probably no longer an option.

Concepcion was an earthquake, and it shook one of the foundations of our civil justice system to the ground. Walmart may still be held accountable for its past actions, but it is doubtful that any of its workers will ever be able to join a class action against them again.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress on October 28, 2011. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and a blogger on judicial and constitutional issues for ThinkProgress.org. 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 Guardian, the American Prospect and the Duke Law Journal; and he has been a guest on CNN, MSNBC, Al Jazeera English, Fox Business and many radio shows.

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