All you need is employment law

August 04, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 1 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

Our blog seems to have focused quite a bit recently on stories from the world of sports, and given the number of professional athletes behaving badly lately, that comes as no surprise. So for this week, we’ll take a break from litigious punters, abusive running backs, and egotistical power forwards to focus on another area of entertainment. Our diversion is well-timed, because I was fortunate enough to attend Paul McCartney’s concert last weekend at Target Field in Minneapolis, where the hapless Minnesota Twins are usually the athletes playing badly, if not behaving badly.  Beatles

What do Paul McCartney and the Beatles have to do with employment law? Well, plenty as it turns out. In fact, with a little creativity, we can conjure up an employment-law subtext to many of the top hits by Sir Paul and his bandmates.

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What HR pros can learn from Casey Kasem

June 23, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 1 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

If you were a teenager in ’70s or ’80s who loved pop music, you undoubtedly recall huddling next to your AM transistor radio, maybe with your cassette recorder on standby so you could hit “record” at the just the right time, listening to “American Top 40” with its mellifluous host Casey Kasem. Each week, Casey would count down and play the current top 40 songs, as determined by Billboard magazine, over the course of his three-hour syndicated radio broadcast. In addition to the songs, Casey would sprinkle in trivia about the recording artists, dig back into the “AT40 Archives” for a few “golden oldies,” and bring a tear to our eyes with the “long-distance dedication” of a special song from a star-crossed lover to his or her far-away soul mate.
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Those of us who grew up with Casey were saddened this week upon the news that he had passed away at age 82. Although many of the recent headlines followed his family’s unseemly bickering over his care in his final days, most observers were able to ignore that side-show and remember the legacy of the man who not only popularized the idea of the “top [fill in the number]” countdown list, but also provided the voice of Shaggy in 40 years’ worth of Scooby-Doo cartoons.

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Donald Sterling: SMH

May 06, 2014 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

I learned something last week. If you read a youngster’s text messages, you’ll notice shutterstock_104818202a complicated system of abbreviations, symbols, and symaphores that, when translated with your 7-year-old’s assistance, become more-or-less coherent English sentences. Anyway, I learned “SMH” means “shaking my head,” which is exactly what I do these days when I hear the words “Donald Sterling.”

Sterling made himself cannon fodder for anyone in sight, and our own Josh Sudbury ably tackled the issue last week. So why go back to the well? Quite simply, Mr. Sterling is the ol’ gift that keeps on giving.

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Clip[pers] his tongue!

April 28, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

This past week the biggest story in the NBA was not the excitement of the first round of the playoffs, but the comments L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling allegedly made to his girlfriend. In an audiotape released Friday by TMZ, a man (allegedly Sterling) is heard chastising his girlfriend for associating with black people and bringing them to his team’s games.  ThatsRacist Several authors and bloggers have already written about the deplorable worldview espoused by the man in the tape alleged to be Sterling so I won’t rehash the obvious. Indeed, the audio reveals personal views one might expect to be held by resisters of the civil rights movement, but not by that of the owner of an NBA franchise 50 years after the passage of Title VII. But a different lesson about our times can be learned from the incident, which concerns the prevalence of audio and video records in today’s world. In our technology-laden society, every smart phone doubles as a camera, tape recorder, video camera, word processor, etc. You name it, and your phone—and your employees’ phones—can probably do it, including secretly recording conversations between themselves and supervisors. On top of that, it takes almost zero technical savvy for someone to make a recording and post it to YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or any number of social media sites instantaneously. The majority of states permit the secret recording of conversations so long as at least one party to the conversation consents to the recording. In those states, such an audio recording could wind up as evidence against the company in court or before a government agency. In the Clippers’ case, it’s the owner himself who is alleged to have made the statements. So, it’s obvious that his statements reflect directly on the organization. But would the result be any better if one of your mid-level supervisors was caught on tape making an off-color joke or sexually charged comment about another employee? The answer is simply no. In addition to the potential liability that may arise from such statements in a discrimination or harassment lawsuit, the company almost certainly would lose the verdict in the court of public opinion. All hope is not lost, however. Employers can minimize the potential for such occurrences by committing to provide anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training for their managers on at least an annual basis. You should also remain in contact with your workforce and get to know your managers. Many times, when a manager is caught on tape making these kinds of statements, it isn’t the first time. Being present in the workplace will help you identify potential bad apples as well as remind your employees to be on guard because their words and actions are being noticed. Finally, employers can adopt and enforce policies prohibiting employees from making secret records in the workplace. Such policies help foster open communications in the workplace and protect confidential or trade secret information. Employers, however, would be wise to consult with outside counsel before implementing or enforcing such a policy to ensure it doesn’t encroach on employee rights. In the hopefully unlikely event you have an employee who sympathizes with Mr. Sterling’s alleged views, nothing short of a muzzle may be appropriate.

If Bill Cosby is wearing a garish sweater, this must be 1980s TV!

March 27, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 0 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

A few weeks ago, I saw a news story about how the last of the baby boomers are turning 50 in 2014. “Wow, that’s old,” I thought, until I realized that I’m 53. Then, as if I needed any further reminders of my elder statesmanship, one of the legal assistants in our office, a 20-something, accused me of “making up” the fact that there used to be a popular singer named Bing. Sigh. (And for the record, he was popular way before my time.)  CosbySweater

That’s it, I decided. Time for a blog post about popular culture from an era that none of those rascally whippersnappers will even remember: the 1980s.  That’ll teach ‘em not to be so darn … er, young. So charge up your brick-sized cellular phone, press “play” and “record” simultaneously on your 150-pound manually-operated VCR, and run your comb through that mullet: We’re going to take a spin through “Employment Law in1980s TV-Land.”

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Trash talk or abuse? NFL debates banning the N-word

March 16, 2014 - by: Josh Sudbury 1 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

In any other NFL offseason, with the hype over combine results all over the television and free agency in full swing, it’s likely many football fans might not notice the NFL Competition Committee meeting in the background. But this year, the committee is making news as it mulls over a controversial potential new rule that could result in individual players being penalized for using the N-word. The potential move is another effort by the NFL to clean up its image in the wake of scandals such as the Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin scandal that surfaced during last season.shutterstock_10634185

The debate over the new rule has brought about opposition from at least a few current NFL players, such as Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman, who told Sports Illustrated’s Peter King that banning the N-word is “an atrocious idea,” adding that he feels its “almost racist” for the league to target only one word. Sherman stated that the N-word is present “in the locker room and on the field at all times” and that he hears it “almost every series out there on the field.” Free agent linebacker D’Qwell Jackson sees it a different way. According to King, Jackson told him he feels the rule would be great for the game, assuming the NFL could get it implemented, although he noted that enforcing the rule could prove difficult. As King’s article points out, the penalty’s stigma could be significantly more far-reaching than the yards assessed: read more…

I believe you have my stapler

March 04, 2014 - by: David Kim 2 COMMENTS
David Kim

shutterstock_44644189Ever flip through the channels on a lazy Saturday afternoon and come across an oldie but goodie? This happened to me recently with the movie Office Space, a workplace classic. While I can’t imagine a world where everyone hasn’t seen Office Space, here is a quick plot summary.

Peter Gibbons (played by Ron Livingston, pictured here) generally has no motivation in life. He hates his job as a programmer at Initech, and hates his boss Bill Lumbergh, a smarmy coffee-mug-holding you know what who makes Peter work weekends and constantly bugs him about the status of his “TPS reports.” Convinced to attend an occupational hypnotherapy session where the therapist dies of a heart attack after hypnotizing Peter, he wakes up relaxed and with a new take on life.  He ignores Lumbergh’s calls and, instead of heading into work over the weekend, goes to Chotchkie’s (a T.G.I. Friday’s parody) and asks out Joanna, a waitress played by Jennifer Aniston, whom Peter seemingly has had a crush on for a while.

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Punter’s legal claims may be blocked

January 10, 2014 - by: Andy Tanick 3 COMMENTS
Andy Tanick

When they asked me to join the rotation of writers for Ford Harrison’s EntertainHR blog, I was a little nervous. After all, while we Minnesotans make headlines for things like our weather (the high temperature here last Monday was 13 degrees below zero) and electing professional wrestlers to high political office, we haven’t had a juicy HR story up here since Lou Grant paid Mary Richards less than her male colleague Murray because she didn’t have a family to support. And that was fictional. Then it happened, just as my deadline was fast approaching: the Deadspin.com headline, dateline Minneapolis. “I was an NFL Player until I Was Fired by Two Cowards and a Bigot.” Thank you, Chris Kluwe.  As both an employment law attorney and the newly crowned champion of my fantasy football league, I might just be qualified to write about this. For those who haven’t heard, Kluwe was the Minnesota Vikings’ punter for eight years, until the team released him in May 2013. In the fall of 2012, Kluwe had become a media sensation due to his outspoken opposition to a proposed amendment to the Minnesota Constitution that would have defined marriage as “only a union of one man and one woman.” Many observers gave Kluwe part of the credit for the eventual defeat of that proposed constitutional amendment, which would have prevented the Minnesota legislature from legalizing same-sex marriage. Just a few months later, the legislature–encouraged by the defeat of the proposed constitutional amendment–did just that.football Now, Kluwe claims the Vikings “fired” him because of the allegedly homophobic views of his Special Teams Coach (the “bigot”) and the alleged failure of his Head Coach and General Manager (the “two cowards”) to stand up to those views. To nobody’s surprise, he has also announced that he’s hired a lawyer. And pundits, fans, and observers everywhere are asking the same question: “Is Kluwe going to sue the Vikings?” While at first glance it certainly seems like Kluwe’s claims, if proven, would support some claim under federal or state law, it’s actually not all that clear. Let’s take a look at the most likely legal theories. Discrimination? Not really. Kluwe doesn’t claim that the Vikings cut him because he belongs to any protected class. He doesn’t profess to be gay himself–indeed, he has stated that he is not, and his wife would likely corroborate that. A more likely legal theory would be retaliation. State and federal discrimination laws prohibit employers from taking adverse action against an employee because the employee engaged in “protected activity.” Protected activity in this context means either opposing a practice believed to violate those same discrimination laws, or participating in an employment discrimination proceeding. Kluwe never did the latter, so he would have to prove the former: that the Vikings released him because he opposed a practice prohibited under state or federal discrimination laws. As Kluwe describes it himself, however, the Vikings replaced him because he supported marriage equality, not because he opposed anything prohibited by anti-discrimination laws. Certainly, by supporting same-sex marriage, Kluwe was implicitly opposing the state law that, at the time, banned such unions. But opposing an existing law that some believe to be discriminatory isn’t really the same as opposing a practice or act that is specifically forbidden by civil rights laws, e.g., employment discrimination, sexual harassment, failing to accommodate a disabled employee, etc. What about Kluwe’s right to free speech, you may ask. The Vikings couldn’t fire the man just for speaking his mind on a highly charged political issue, could they? Well, actually, yes, they could.  Despite what TV and radio pundits might think, the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech doesn’t apply to private employers such as a football team. While the law protects some types of speech, such as organizing a union, most speech by private employees is not protected. Indeed, exercising their nonexistent right to “free speech” has been the downfall of many employees. Chris Kluwe, of course, was not a typical “at will” employee; as an NFL player, he belonged to a union, and it’s possible (albeit unlikely) that his union’s collective bargaining agreement protects players from being released due to their political statements. But even if that were the case, Kluwe would probably have to pursue his claim initially through a union grievance, not a lawsuit. Plaintiff’s employment lawyers, of course, are nothing if not creative, and win or lose, Kluwe’s case would provide his lawyer with a lot of irresistible free publicity. And many people would find it objectionable if the Vikings really did let Kluwe go because of his political views. But being a victim of an unfair employment practice, no matter how troubling, doesn’t necessarily translate into having an actionable legal claim. So while Chris Kluwe’s situation may have saved this new blogger from having to write about Minnesota weather for the time being, when it comes to legal action, Kluwe may be forced to … punt.

Robertson a sitting duck after controversial quotes released

December 19, 2013 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson and his family are most likely not enjoying a Happy Happy Happy Holiday after his recent GQ interview hit newsstands. In the interview, Robertson is quoted as saying:

“It seems like, to me, a vagina—as a man—would be more desirable than a man’s anus. That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”

When asked what he considered sinful, Robertson elaborated:

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men . . . .”

[For greater context and to get Robertson's full quotes on the subject, I encourage you to read the entire GQ article, which you can find here.]

In response, A&E Networks put the eldest Robertson on “indefinite hiatus” from filming, issuing a statement saying the network is “extremely disappointed” to read Robertson’s comments, which A&E notes “are based on his own personal beliefs and not reflected in the series Duck Dynasty.”

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Save the white males!

December 05, 2013 - by: Brian Kurtz 6 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

For decades the most heated gender-related dispute in the world of Archie Comics wasshutterstock_91545035 whether Archie was more into Betty or Veronica. But a recent lawsuit by five white male executives of Archie Comics against the company’s female co-CEO is enough to whiten Reggie Mantle’s hair.

The five men (and one woman) allege that Nancy Silberkleit engaged in a lengthy pattern of harassing, bullying, and demeaning conduct, including referring to each male employee simply as “penis.” For example, the complaint alleged that Silberkleit once interrupted a meeting, pointed at each of the four men present, and said “penis, penis, penis, penis.”  The complaint, filed in the Supreme Court of Westchester County, New York, alleges gender discrimination under the New York State Human Rights Law and asserts various state law causes of action.

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