News & Commentary

March 27, 2019

Bibeka Shrestha

Bibeka Shrestha is a student at Harvard Law School.

A group of labor unions on Tuesday secured a temporary injunction blocking portions of the lame-duck laws that Wisconsin Republicans passed to limit the powers of Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul following the election victories of the two Democrats.  A Wisconsin state judge issued the injunction in a 49-page ruling, concluding that the unions were likely to succeed in their claim that by shifting power to the Republican-controlled legislature, the challenged laws violated the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.  The decision comes just five days after another Wisconsin state judge blocked the entirety of the lame-duck laws, a ruling that is currently being appealed.  In filing suit, Service Employees International Union argued that the laws constituted an “anti-democratic power grab of the outgoing anti-union, anti-worker governor[.]”

Labor leaders on Tuesday warned U.S. House lawmakers that the trade deal that President Trump negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement includes inadequate protections for workers.  A representative from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations told the House Ways and Means trade subcommittee that the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which has yet to be ratified by Congress, will be ineffective in pushing Mexico to improve wages and working conditions, which, in turn, would undermine efforts to create jobs and raise wages in the United States.  Representatives from United Auto Workers and Communications Workers of America also expressed concerns about the USMCA.  Rep. Kevin Brady, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee maintained, though, that the NAFTA replacement would improve conditions for U.S. workers, while Democratic Rep. Brian Higgins characterized the trade pact as “a continuation of the assault on the American middle class.”

A new study published by a Vanderbilt University professor concluded that the current $300,000 cap on damages for sexual harassment claims brought under Title VII should be raised to $7.6 million to incentivize firms to more effectively deter sexual harassment.  Vanderbilt Professor of Law and Economics Joni Hersch applied the technique used to calculate the value of a statistical life in coming up with the figure.   Professor Hersch looked into whether firms had to pay employees more when they face an increased risk of sexual harassment, just as firms pay higher wages to workers to take on jobs with a greater risk of fatality or injury.  She found that women were paid an extra 0.18% in wages for every 1 in 100,000 increase in the likelihood of sexual harassment they faced.  According to the professor’s research, white women received extra compensation for the risk of sexual harassment, while women of color did not.

The Pipeline Parity Project, a group of student activists at Harvard Law School, took its ongoing campaign against the use of mandatory arbitration agreements by law firms to the streets on Tuesday.  PPP mobilized law students in Washington, D.C. and Boston to hand out leaflets about the harms of mandatory arbitration outside the offices of Venable LLP and DLA Piper, both of which employ such agreements, the group says.  As Vail reported on Tuesday, PPP has also launched an online petition pressing the National Association for Law Placement to begin asking law firms to disclose whether they require employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements or nondisclosure agreements that prohibit employees from discussing claims of workplace misconduct.  The students are turning to NALP, which collects data from law firms and publishes a directory that prospective employees use to research legal employers, because a significant number of law firms failed to respond to a previous survey in which law schools asked firms to reveal whether they require summer associates to sign such agreements.

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