News & Commentary

February 15, 2016

Emily Miller

Emily Miller is a student at Harvard Law School.

The News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., reports that adjunct faculty recently filed notice that they would be holding a union election, joining adjunct groups which are increasingly becoming organized in an attempt to address issues of adjunct pay, benefits, and job security.  If the faculty members vote to unionize, they will be represented by the Service Employees International Union who represent similar groups at the University of Chicago, Georgetown, and Tufts.  The announcement from the faculty comes shortly after union officials from SEIU filed a complaint against USC, where faculty of the oldest school at USC recently voted against unionizing by a slim majority of 127-113. According to the LA Times union’s complaint to the National Labor Relations Board alleges that University officials made promises of better working conditions as well as threats of that faculty would lose governance rights if they voted for the union.  Faculty at two smaller USC schools voted in favor of unionizing last week, which the university intends to appeal.

In addition to the significant impact the news of Justice Scalia’s death is projected to have on Friedrichs, Lydia DePillis of the Washington Post argued Friday that any change in composition of the Supreme Court may have massive implications for the future of mandatory arbitration agreements, depending on the outcome of a case argued before the 7th Circuit on Friday.  The case was filed as a class action lawsuit by employees of Epic Systems over a lack of overtime pay.  However, Epic argues that the claim is barred by their  employment contracts, which require all claims to go through individual arbitration.  While the Supreme Court had been willing to uphold mandatory individual arbitration under the principles of freedom of contract, the District Court in Chicago ruled that individual arbitration clauses violate the right of collective action guaranteed by the National Labor Relations Act, a position which the National Labor Relations Board continues to support.

The LA Daily News reports that a bill that would ban imports of products made through forced labor passed by a vote of 75-20 in the Senate on Thursday, with President Obama expected to sign the bill.  While US Customs has had the authority to seize such products under the US Tariff Act of 1930, such seizures have been invoked infrequently, in part because of a loophole which allows the importation of goods made through forced or child labor when the demand for such goods in the US could not be met without them.

Is it illegal to fire employees for swearing at work?  Christine Neylon O’Brien, a professor at Boston College examined that question as it related to ten recent cases, reports the New York Times.  In one case that went before the NLRB, an administrative law judge found that a Hooters employee who was supposedly fired for cursing on the job was actually fired after complaining about the results of a workplace contest.  The ALJ ordered that because her dismissal violated NLRA protections on discussing working conditions, she should be reinstated and given back pay.  Professor O’Brien writes that whether vulgar language in the workplace is protected depends on a number of factors, including the language typically deemed acceptable in that workplace as well as whether the language was used in front of customers.

The EEOC released its rankings of the most common discrimination charges filed in 2015, reports Politico.  The bases of illegal employer activity are: Retaliation (44.5%), Race Discrimination (34.7%), Disability Discrimination (30.2%), Sex Discrimination (29.5%), Age Discrimination (22.5%), National Origin Discrimination (10.6%), Religion (3.9%), Color (3.2%), Equal Pay Act (1.1%), and Genetic Non-Discrimination Act (0.3%).


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