Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘Paul Secunda’

Trump reversal of Obama-era labor rule is great news for corporations

Friday, June 23rd, 2017

A transgender woman is suing McDonald’s and the owner of the franchised restaurant she worked for after allegedly experiencing sexual harassment and discrimination.

La’Ray Reed said a coworker asked if she were a “boy or girl,” “top or bottom,” or what her “role” was “in the bedroom.” She said she was groped and spied on while using the public toilet.

But for Reed to hold McDonald’s responsible for her alleged mistreatment, her lawyers have to prove that McDonald’s should be held responsible as a joint employer—not just the owners of the franchised restaurant. There is a question of whether the Labor Department’s recent decision to rescind the standard for determining who is a joint employer will hinder her ability to seek justice. The Obama administration’s standard went beyond simply looking at who sets wages and hires people, and considered a worker’s “economic dependency” on the business.

McDonald’s has resisted this legal responsibility for many years, and says it does not have control over things like pay and working conditions at franchised restaurants. In 2016, McDonald’s settled a wage-theft class action through a $3.75 million payment that allowed it to dodge responsibility. McDonald’s released a statement that said it “reconfirms that it is not the employer of or responsible for employees of its independent franchisees.”

Industry groups have been pushing against efforts to call businesses like McDonald’s joint employers for many years now. In 2015, Matt Haller, a lobbyist at the International Franchise Association called a 2015 National Labor Relations Board ruling on whether a recycling company could be called a joint employer, “a knife-to-the throat issue for the franchise model.” He told the Washington Post, “You’d be hard pressed to find a business that shouldn’t be concerned about the impact of this joint employer standard.” Haller said IFA was “pleased” at the department’s decision to rescind guidance this month.

But there is certainly hope for La’Ray Reed, and other workers like her who are experiencing discrimination or issues such as wage theft at work. Since the joint employer guidance does not have the full force of law, it is not as important to these cases as existing tests for determining if an employer relationship exists. Under the economic realities test, applied under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Labor Standards Act, among other laws, a relationship exists if someone is economically dependent on that business. Paul Secunda, professor of law at Marquette University, who teaches on employment discrimination law, said this test will play a much bigger role in determining whether an employee can hold McDonald’s responsible for discrimination.

“Just the Trump administration withdrawing this guidance does not mean in any way that these claims are doomed to failure or are otherwise are not plausible,” Secunda said. “Because what matters the most with employment law is focusing on employment discrimination under Title VII and what other state laws apply there.”

‘This control standard is the standard that has been in place since the 1950s and ‘60s, and so it doesn’t make sense to have different standards under different laws. It only makes sense to hold liable those who control what happens in the workplace,” Secunda added.

Representatives of Fight for $15, a group of fast food workers, teachers, and adjunct professors advocating for better pay backed by the Service Employees International Union, said McDonald’s has failed to enforce its own policies.

“The growing number of allegations suggests a failure by McDonald’s to enforce the zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment outlined in its Operations and Training and Policies for Franchisees manuals,” the labor group told BuzzFeed.

“There are terms and conditions that are set by the national parent McDonald’s,” Secunda said. “It has a policy on sexual harassment and equal opportunity that all its franchisees have to meet: that it will not tolerate sexual harassment whether based on transgender status or otherwise in the workplace. [The argument is] that McDonald’s parent company exercises meaningful control—that is being free from sexual harassment and demeaning conduct in the workplace.”

None of this means that any parent corporation is responsible for any franchisees’ lability, Secunda said, since every case must be decided on its facts, but where employers do exercise meaningful control over employees, there should be a possibility that they will be held responsible.

The decision to rescind this joint-employer guidance will by no means kill any possibility of holding a corporation, such as McDonald’s, responsible, and a judge would be more likely to consider the rule of law first, Secunda said, but the joint employer guidance would still be a helpful resource for the defendant to have in its arsenal.

“If I were a conservative jurist who wanted it to come out on the corporate conservative side of the world, I see that they could use this. ‘You know they’re the expert agency, so they can’t be wrong,’” Secunda said. “But I just think that would be disingenuous, because the agency has obviously changed its position based on the politics on the administration. And this should be an answer that has nothing to do with politics. It should be based on rule of law.”

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a journalist covering education, investments, politics, crime, and LGBT issues.

Healthcare Insurers: I Think the Appropriate Word is "Disturbing"

Friday, August 14th, 2009

Washington Post’s Daily Dose Blog adds more fuel to the health care reform debate:

You might have known that insurers can deny health coverage based on preexisting medical conditions, but here’s something else to worry about: They can take away the coverage you thought you had when actually need it, the government says.

The Department of Health and Human Services put a spotlight on that practice Tuesday in its continuing campaign to build support for an overhaul of health insurance.

“When a person is diagnosed with an expensive condition such as cancer, some insurance companies review his/her initial health status questionnaire,” the HHS said in a posting at HealthReform.Gov. In most states, insurance companies can retroactively cancel individuals’ policies if any condition was not disclosed when the policy was obtained, “even if the medical condition is unrelated, and even if the person was not aware of the condition at the time.”

“Coverage can also be revoked for all members of a family, even if only one family member failed to disclose a medical condition,” HHS said.

The department cited recent research by the staff of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, which found that three large insurers rescinded almost 20,000 policies over five years, saving $300 million in medical claims.
At least one insurer included such savings in an employee performance evaluation.

I teach a case in employee benefits law class, McGann v. H&H Music (5th Cir. 1992), that describes a similar practice to this. Unfortunately, the court in McGann found that the participant could not prevail under an ERISA Section 510 retaliation claim when his coverage was dramatically reduced (1 million to $5000) when he told his employer he had AIDS.

Maybe I’ll just start counting reasons why health care reform is a necessity and that health insurers cannot continue to exist in a world with little regulation and even less meaningful remedies against them for this type of disturbing conduct.

The employee performance part can be filed under “truly disturbing.”

Paul Secunda: Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.

This article originally appeared on Workplace Prof Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

The Advent of the Four Day Work Week?

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009

At least in Utah (via Derek Thompson at The Atlantic):

Forget everybody working for the weekend. In Utah all government employees have shifted to a four-day workweek, and the state is calling it a win-win-win for its budget, workers and clean air. Utah has saved $1.8 million in electrical bills in the last year, the air has been spared an estimated 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, and workers are thrilled.  Eighty-two percent of them say they prefer the new arrangement, which still enforces the 40-hour week by requiring 10 or more hours a day Monday – Friday. Is it time to ask your boss if you can take off Friday …. forever?

Not sure this will start a craze, but the fewer day workweek clearly has some benefits, as illustrated above.  Moreover, Thompson points out:

There's another way to realize those kind of savings: Asking workers to telecommute. As I've written before, the benefits of telecommuting are pretty diverse. From the employer side, it can save office space, utilities and overhead for employee services. From the employee side, it allows parents to spend more time with their family and cut down on increasingly expensive travel given the rising price of gas and public transportation. And of course, fewer cars on the road means less traffic, which means quicker travels (and less gas) for other Friday commuters.  

But, on the other hand, any increase in telecommuting will lead to less face time in the office. Will that have deletrious effects on the culture of the workplace and make employees feel that they are not part of a team, part of something more than just what they contribute to the enterprise?

Am I overstating my concerns here?

Paul Secunda: Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.

This article originally appeared at Workplace Prof Blog on July 30, 2009 and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

Confusing the Terms of the Health Care Debate

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

Martin Feldstein, a brilliant conservative economist, has his facts wrong on the health care debate in an op-ed he penned today in the Washington Post.

Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight concisely explains Feldstein’s error:

Take a look at this:
Obama has said that he would favor a British-style “single payer” system in which the government owns the hospitals and the doctors are salaried but that he recognizes that such a shift would be too disruptive to the health-care industry. The Obama plan to have a government insurance provider that can undercut the premiums charged by private insurers would undoubtedly speed the arrival of such a single-payer plan.

Feldstein is simply mistaken here. “Single-payer” has to do with who pays for health care (in the case of single-payer, the federal government does). It has absolutely nothing to do with who provides health care. It’s the difference between the Canadian system, in which private doctors and hospitals are paid by the Canadian government (and indirectly, Canadian taxpayers) to provide health care to its citizenry, and the British system, in which the providers themselves — doctors, nurses, hospital administrators — are actually in the employ of Her Majesty’s Government. For that matter, it’s the difference between Medicare — a single-payer system for American seniors — and the British system. The Canadian system is nationalized health insurance. The British system is nationalized health care — or if you prefer, socialized medicine.

Obama has never expressed or implied any admiration for the British system of socalized medicine. Not that there aren’t admirable elements of it — but I doubt that you’d find even very many self-identified liberals who would suggest that it’s the right system for America. Obama, rather, has expressed admiration for a government-run monopoly on insurance — single-payer — as do about half of Americans in opinion polls.

Got it? Get it? Good.

Paul Secunda:

Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.
This article originally appeared at Workplace Prof Blog and is reprinted here with permission from the author.

 

Obama and the Future of Labor and Employment Law

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Obama With the historic election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States and the substantial gains for Democrats in the House and Senate, there is almost certainty that there will be significant labor and employment law reform in the near future.

Not being a shrinking violet by any means, I would like to add my two cents about what such reform should be about.  Although I previously posted a similar analysis of what the next President should do on the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog about three weeks ago, I want to sharpen these past comments and add some new ideas.

President-elect Obama should first focus on the following four broad areas in the labor and employment law context: labor rights, workplace anti-discrimination and civil rights, employee benefit rights, and public employee rights.

Labor Rights: The percentage of American workers covered by union contracts is now below 8%, as opposed to 16% as recently as 1985. Without unions to fight for them, workers fall behind in wages, benefits, and standard of living. Unionized workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and health insurance than non-unionized workers.  Workers should have the freedom to choose whether to join a union without harassment or intimidation.

President-elect Obama should therefore sign the Employee Free Choice Act, a bipartisan effort to assure that workers can exercise their right to organize and secure initial agreements with their employers.  Obama should also act to restore collective bargaining rights to nurses and other workers excluded as “supervisors,” and to ban employers’ practices of permanently replacing striking workers. He should also sign into law the Public Safety Employer-Employee Cooperation Act to assure public safety workers who put their lives on the line every day their right to bargain collectively.  Finally, President-elect Obama should work to appoint members of the National Labor Relations Board who will work to protect employee choice by outlawing employer captive audience meetings during election campaigns and overruling Dana Corp. and putting back in place the traditional voluntary recognition bar.

Workplace Anti-Discrimination and Civil Rights: President-elect Obama should work for legislation requiring employers to provide at least seven days of paid sick leave to employees and expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) to cover more workers (to employers with 20 or more employees). He should also protect the wages of working women by signing into law a legislative nullification of the Ledbetter decision, which will promote paycheck equity and help close the pay gap that leaves working women earning only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men.

President-elect Obama should also sign legislation to extend § 1983 civil rights claims to actions against federal officials so that federal employees can vindicate their constitutional rights to speech and privacy. Finally, he should expand Title VII and fully include all LGBT individuals (yes, such legislation must include transgendered individuals) under its protections.

Employee Benefits Rights: With more than 47 million Americans-–including 9 million children–without health insurance, President-elect Obama needs to sign a universal health care plan into law before the end of his first term.  This plan structure should include guaranteed eligibility, comprehensive benefits, and affordable premiums and co-payments, with subsidies for families that cannot afford the premiums.  Additionally, ERISA should be amended to provide for less preemption of state health care finance laws so that states can experiment in providing all of their citizens adequate health care.  Obama should also work to amend ERISA to provide monetary, make-whole remedies to employees who suffer from mismanagement of their employee benefits and work for the legislative nullification of the Russell/Mertens line of Section 502(a)(3) equity cases.  In this regard, I have proposed the ERISA Civil Rights Act of 2009, which will act much in the way the Civil Rights Act of 1991 amended Title VII.  Among the changes, the right to compensatory and punitive damages in appropriate cases with caps, the right to a jury trial when such damage is sought, and right to make-whole, equitable relief under current Section 502(a)(3).

Public Employee Rights: First and foremost, President-elect Obama should select Justices who will overule the Garcetti case and return to Pickering and the mandate that employer efficiency interests and employee constitutional rights to speech, expression, association, and privacy be balanced under the First and Fourteenth Amendments.  As to federal employees, Congress should amend the Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 and provide that federal employees are free to bring their First Amendment claims directly to federal court under a re-structured Section 1983, without having to go through the current inadequate, administrative remedies now available.  (This would entail a newly-constituted Supreme Court overruling the Bivens case of Bush v. Lucas).  Such legislation would also provide whistleblowers under Sarbanes-Oxley and in other areas the protection they really need to go out on the limb and report danagerous and fraudulent conditions in the workplace.

Believe it or not, the above suggestions would merely start the process of affording American employees the same basic workplace rights as their international counterparts. Note that I have not even broached what must be an essential component of any comprehensive labor and employment law reform in this country – the institution of just cause workplace protection as the default rule for American employees.

All of this will help return the United States to its international stature and allow it again to not only be a beacon of democracy and freedom, but also the envy of the world insofar as how it treats its working men and women.

Cross-posted from the Workplace Prof Blog.

About the Author: Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.

The Importance of Fair Pay This Labor Day

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

To many, the 2007 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. marked a low point for protecting women against pay discrimination in the workplace. The case held that Lilly Ledbetter, the plaintiff, could not hold her employer, Goodyear, accountable for pay discrimination that had occurred over many years under Title VII because her statute of limitations for such a claim had run out before she even knew about the discrimination.

The Ledbetter decision creates an absurd result. Individual pay decisions by themselves are usually small, incremental changes, not as obviously motivated by discriminatory intent the way that more serious discrete acts such as terminations or failures to promote do.  It is not until many discriminatory wage decisions have occurred that the discriminatory injury becomes clear to the employee.  Often, it takes many years for this pattern to develop before the employee realizes that she might have a claim.

The Ledbetter decision is inconsistent with the purposes of Title VII to both make victims of discrimination whole and to eradicate employment discriminatory practices from society at large.  It leads to an absurd situation where employees must bring pay claims prematurely when they cannot be sure there has been unlawful pay discrimination. If the employee waits to a later time when there exists more substantial evidence of pay discrimination the employee will be barred from bringing the claim at all by the statute of limitations (as in Ledbetter).  This inequitable state of affairs cannot stand and, it is my hope, it will be legislatively nullified.

But legislative nullification depends on both what the next Congress and President plan to do to address this glaring gap in ensuring pay equity in the workplace. Even if Congress continues to support the Lilly Ledbetter Pay Equity Act and passes it in both houses next year, the identity of the next President may determine whether that legislation is signed into law.

John McCain has stated that he is “in favor of pay equity for women, but this kind of legislation, as is typical of what’s being proposed by my friends on the other side of the aisle, opens us up to lawsuits for all kinds of problems . . . . This is government playing a much, much greater role in the business of a private enterprise system.” McCain chose not to return to Washington to participate in the Senate vote on the Ledbetter bill (See Washington Post article.)  Barack Obama, on the other hand, has pledged his unequivocal support for the Ledbetter bill and returned to Washington for the bill’s Senate vote in April.  (See Washington Post article.)

On this Labor Day, while we praise all the workers throughout this country for their dedication and selflessness in making the United States the economic power that it is today, let us not forget that without equal wages for an equal day’s work for all members of our workforce, we really have accomplished very little. Let’s hope that regardless of who is elected president that women are no longer afforded merely second-class status in the workplace and the Ledbetter decision’s days are numbered.

About the Author: Professor Paul Secunda joined the Marquette University Law School as an associate professor of law in the summer of 2008. He teaches employment discrimination, employee benefits, labor law, employment law, civil procedure, and seminars in special education law, global issues in employee benefits, and public employment law. Professor Secunda is the author of nearly three dozen books, treatises, articles, and shorter writings. He is also the author, along with Rick Bales and Jeff Hirsch, of the treatise, Understanding Employment Law, along with Sam Estreicher and Rosalind Connor, of the case book, Global Issues in Employee Benefits Law, and of the Teacher’s Manual to the 14th Edition of the Cox, Bok, Gorman & Finkin Labor Law casebook.

Professor Secunda is a frequent commentator on labor and employment law issues in the national media and has written numerous columns and op-eds for the National Law Journal and Legal Times. He co-edits with Rick Bales and Jeffrey Hirsch the Workplace Prof Blog, recently named one of the top law professor blogs in the country, which is part of the Law Professors Blog Network.

Note: Workplace Fairness is a nonprofit organization and does not make political endorsements. The opinions expressed by our guest bloggers are their own.

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