Parks and relationships

October 18, 2013 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

As an avid Parks and Recreation fan, I cannot help but love the chemistry between newlyweds Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt. Long before they were joining their dysfunctional families via a wedding with a punch heard round the world and a unity quilt (complete with a patch dedicated to waffles, of course), these two were navigating the complicated minefield of an office romance. Like a number of employers, the fictional City of Pawnee had enacted a policy against workplace dating, which posed a serious obstacle for Leslie and Ben’s budding romance.  Clearly this story had a happy ending for the two lovebirds, but unfortunately that is not always the case in the real world where workplace romances all too often lead to messy litigation.

While there are countless cases of one party to a soured office romance later accusing a coworker of sexual harassment and denying that the relationship was ever consensual (particularly where the accused had supervisory authority over the accuser), there are also cases of non-parties to the romance attempting to file suit under a variety of creative theories. For example, in a case out of Texas, two employees entered into an extramarital affair. Their spouses decided to sue the company for negligently interfering in their familial relationships by failing to take action to prevent the affair. The case eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which found in favor of the employer and helped establish that employers generally aren’t liable for failing to prevent office liaisons.

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Dress for success

October 13, 2013 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

This season, the network that originally brought you “COPS” is giving the oversaturated police-television show market a somewhat fresh take through its cop comedy called “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” The show stars Andy Samberg as Det. Jake Peralta, a “talented, but carefree” (Fox’s words—not mine) detective dealing with his new hard-nosed, rule-following boss, played by Andre Braugher. You may remember Samberg from his digital shorts on Saturday Night Live, or as one-third of the comedy music act, Lonely Island. While the premise of Samberg’s new television venture is pretty standard, the show itself has so far proved funny and entertaining.

The show draws a good bit of its humor from the seemingly awkward to downright inappropriate workplace interactions among the cast members. From attempted interoffice relationships to inappropriate nicknames, to openly gossiping about the new boss’s assumed sexual preferences, just the pilot episode racks up quite a stack of complaints for the NYPD’s human resources department to wade through. But buried hidden behind the more overtly inappropriate conduct was a workplace issue that has recently been brought to the forefront of HR law—employee dress codes.

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A horse with no claim

October 04, 2013 - by: Brian Kurtz 0 COMMENTS
Brian Kurtz

Some colorful (ahem) corners of the Internet were abuzz this week after a report surfaced that an anonymous adult male fan of the cartoon show My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic was fired from his job after admitting his fandom to his coworkers. The firing of this “brony” (and let’s just assume for the sake of this post the story is true) prompted questions about the limits of employee workplace protections. Did this man’s termination violate his right to free expression?  Answered simply, no. This episode is a useful reminder of the limits of constitutional protections in the private-sector workplace and the viability of at-will employment.  

The First Amendment guarantees that our rights to freedom of speech and expression are shielded from state action. Private sector employers, however, are not state actors. A 2007 federal district court decision unambiguously held that “the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution don’t extend to private-sector employees.” Simple, right? Well, maybe not always. Employers should be aware that some states have their own laws or provisions in their state constitutions that transpose First Amendment-like protections into private workplaces.

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Workers’ compensation latest battleground for NFL

September 27, 2013 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

When is $765 million a bargain? Apparently, when you’re the National Football League. By now most people know that the NFL agreed to pay $765 million last month to settle a lawsuit brought by more than 4,500 players and their families, who alleged that the league concealed what it knew about the dangers of concussion-related brain injuries. Attorneys for the plaintiffs point to the fact that immediate care is needed for retired players with severe neurological disorders, such as ALS, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease, many who would never receive remuneration during their lifetime should the case be litigated over many years. In addition, there was a concern that individualized claims could become complex due to the fact that certain former players with short NFL careers played the vast majority of their football outside of the NFL (college, high school, etc.). This settlement ensures that thousands of retired players obtain compensation needed for current and future medical injuries and exams. While this is true, most agree that the NFL has to be ecstatic with this deal. With annual revenues hovering around $10 billion, the NFL is paying a mere fraction to avoid a potential finding of liability as well as a public relations nightmare. And if anything, Commission Roger Goodell has admitted that one of his primary objectives is “protecting the shield.” Instead of spending years defending allegations that the league knew concealed and misled players about the long-term dangers of concussions, the NFL can say this settlement not only helps retired players in need but also funds future baseline medical exams and research and education funds intended to take appropriate preventative measures. While the settlement’s details are still being analyzed and debated, including questions (and confusion) from some former players about who is or is not eligible under its terms, another fight is brewing between the NFL and its former players that has not quite received the same national attention. That is because the battleground is California. Just a few weeks ago, the California Senate passed a bill (which previously passed the California Assembly) that would preclude workers’ compensation claims by athletes from non-California teams, as well as athletes who played only a portion of their career with California teams. The bill is currently before California’s governor, who many expect will sign it into law. Who helped lobby and push this bill through? You guessed it. The NFL, along with the other five other professional sports leagues that the bill affects: MLB, NBA, WNBA, NHL, and MLS. California’s statute of limitations on workers’ compensation claims is much less restrictive than in other states, and California is one of the few states that cover “cumulative” injuries such as brain trauma incurred over a period of time. As a result, former athletes who played for visiting non-California-based teams have been making claims in California for years, especially former NFL players seeking compensation for repeated head trauma and related brain injuries, because they cannot do so anywhere else. Many of these claims are made by little-known athletes who enjoyed relatively short careers, earned the league minimum, or never even made it to the “big” leagues. On the one hand, this bill’s impact is arguably limited to professional sports. Teams and their insurers pay the costs of successful workers’ compensation claims, not taxpayers. In addition, insurance premiums are often determined on an industry-specific basis and therefore the claims activity of professional sports leagues don’t directly affect other industries. On the other hand, there are concerns that this measure could lead to future legislation depriving workers in other industries from filing claims in California, or to legislation in other states’ creating carve-outs for specific classes of workers. In addition, there is a belief that if players are prohibited from obtaining workers’ compensation in California, they will have to turn to Medicaid, Social Security, or other forms of government assistance, leaving the public to foot the bill. The reality is that oftentimes legislation begets legislation. We may think of “athletes” as those men and women on SportsCenter and TV commercials making millions of dollars and whose lives have no similarity to ours. However, the fact is an athlete’s injury is considered a workplace injury just as if he or she was injured on the job as a foreman, truck driver, or messenger. And just because the California bill applies only to athletes doesn’t mean the next piece of legislation won’t apply to you, your class of workers, or your state.

Equal opportunity offender

September 20, 2013 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

No discussion of the film Horrible Bosses is complete without covering Kevin Spacey’s character, David Harken. Although he is arguably the most intimidating and even frightening of the three horrible bosses (two of which I covered in earlier posts, #1 and #2), his workplace conduct gives rise to the lowest litigation value from an employment law perspective. Unfortunately for Harken, his jealousy combined with his unhealthy marriage ultimately lead him to a life of violent crime outside the office and his final downfall. For the purposes of this blog entry, we will focus on Harken’s workplace conduct and leave his more colorful personal life for your enjoyment at home with a tub of popcorn.

In the film, Nick Hendricks (played by Jason Bateman) has good reason to detest Harken. After dangling a possible promotion in front of Hendricks and watching Hendricks work tirelessly to meet Harken’s extremely high (and often inconsistent) expectations , Harken proceeds to award the promotion to . . . himself.  He then commences construction on an even larger office for himself.  Hendricks is understandably upset about this strange turn of events. Sadly for Hendricks, “unfair” and even “bizarre” do not equate to “unlawful.” In addition, case law has clearly established that federal employment laws aren’t general civility codes for the American workplace.

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Moneyball tips on letting less productive players go

September 15, 2013 - by: Matt Gilley 0 COMMENTS
Matt Gilley

Part of our mission here is to keep all you bibliophiles out there engaged and entertained. (I happen to be one, so I know we’re a rare breed.) Our book today is Michael Lewis’ Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. read more…

Retaliation is Reality TV

September 08, 2013 - by: Josh Sudbury 0 COMMENTS
Josh Sudbury

I think it’s safe to say that now, in 2013, we as a society are overrun by reality TV.

The Truman Show starring Jim Carey debuted in 1998. In case you have forgotten, that was the movie where the whole world watched one man’s every move on a daily basis, from brushing his teeth to mowing the lawn to sleeping. While it’s hard to imagine a creepier plot line for a show, that’s pretty much all that’s on TV nowadays. Well, that and . . . CSI [insert your city here]. YEEEEEEAAAAHHHHH! (We miss you, Horatio Caine.) 

So it should come as no surprise that the ubiquitous genre of reality TV lends itself to the occasional employment law lesson. And today’s lesson comes from that epic engineer of entertainment–A&E–and its hit show Storage Wars. The show follows professional buyers who purchase the contents of storage lockers based only on a five-minute inspection of what they can see from the door when it is open. The goal is to turn a profit on the merchandise. (And you thought your college degree meant something.)

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Fire all the “cripples” and the “fatties?!”

August 30, 2013 - by: Kristin Starnes Gray 0 COMMENTS
Kristin Starnes Gray

As I mentioned in my July post, the film Horrible Bosses has enough material for weeks’ worth of blog posts. With three atrocious bosses blatantly making the lives of their employees miserable and disregarding a long list of employment laws, it is certainly a plaintiffs’ attorney’s dream situation and an HR manager’s nightmare. I am sure the upcoming sequel will be full of blog material as well. This week, I turn my attention to the antics of Bobby Pellitt (Colin Farrell), the cocaine-addicted son of business owner Jack Pellitt.

Unfortunately, when his kindly, family-oriented, and environmentally conscious father suddenly dies, Bobby is left to run the business. As it turns out, Bobby’s business approach includes snorting as much cocaine as possible, having his own harem of prostitutes present at the office at all times, disregarding necessary safety precautions for hazardous materials, and firing all the “cripples” and the “fatties.” Bobby even starts calling one wheelchair-bound employee “Professor Xavier” of X-Men fame. According to Bobby, “Roaming around all day in his special little secret chair, I know he’s up to something.”

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And the Gold Medal in Flonkerton goes to…

August 26, 2013 - by: Jaclyn West 0 COMMENTS
Jaclyn West

If you’ve worked in your share of offices, you’ve probably seen at least one coworker post the following sign: “The Beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves.”

Ah, yes. Morale. It’s six little letters, but it’s a big concept–especially when you start considering all of the ways that employee morale relates to productivity and profitability. Happy employees get more done at work. They bring better attitudes to the job and are able to deal better with problems or issues that pop up during the day. Their higher levels of productivity, and their enhanced abilities to solve problems without losing their cool, add up to more profits for their employers. Not to mention the fact that the happier people are at work, the more likely they are to take care of their health, adding up to big savings on insurance costs. Happy employees are also less likely to take the extreme step of suing their employers, and teams with good morale and positive communication often don’t see the need for third-party union representation, either. Really, the only question is: Why don’t more companies take steps to improve employee morale?

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Categories: Jaclyn West / Uncategorized

Biogenesis and the (Bad) Boys of Summer

August 16, 2013 - by: David Kim 0 COMMENTS
David Kim

For some people, summer evokes thoughts of sunshine and long walks on the beach with sand under their bare feet (sounds like the setting of a Nicholas Sparks novel … or so I’m told). For me, I think of baseball. As an annual subscriber to MLB Extra Innings, I think of the plethora of games waiting for me when I get home from work, especially those of my hometown Red Sox. I constantly check my fantasy baseball team to see what moves I can make to catapult me up the standings. When I’m working late, the text from my wife doesn’t just ask when I’m coming home, but also provides me with spirit-lifting updates: “McCutchen just hit a three-run bomb.” Pause. Fist pump. Back to work.

But this summer, my fellow baseball fans and I aren’t the only ones thinking and talking about America’s pastime. Biogenesis has dominated the headlines, culminating in the suspension of 13 major and minor league baseball players this month, in addition to last month’s suspension of Ryan Braun. Interestingly, none of these players actually tested positive for performance enhancing drugs (except for Braun back in 2011, who successfully appealed based on a technicality, and has now been introduced to my friend karma). A failed test would establish per se grounds for a 50-game suspension pursuant to the Joint Drug Agreement (JDA) between Major League Baseball and the Player’s Union.

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