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14 Senators Urge Unemployment Extension

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Image: Seth Michals
Photo by Joe Kekeris/AFL-CIO

More than 1 million people hurt by the bad economy are at risk of losing their unemployment insurance by the end of the year. During the toughest economic crisis in more than a generation, 7,000 people every day are seeing their UI expiring—and it’s due to the petty obstructionism of two senators who are blocking the needed extension of UI benefits.

This afternoon, 14 senators from across the country joined together to urge swift passage of a UI extension, to give workers access to the system they’ve paid into and to keep families and communities economically secure. With unemployment officially at 9.8 percent and an estimated 26 million out of work or discouraged, we can’t wait any longer to extend UI.

Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said that the obstruction of desperately needed assistance to struggling families must end:

We can stand together now, pass this vital piece of legislation, and provide families with the means to stay in their homes and pay the bills as they look for work in these extraordinarily turbulent times. Slow-walking these benefits doesn’t just hurt individuals and families; it is bad for businesses and the broader economy. Helping people stay afloat is not a partisan issue—it is an urgent national issue that demands action now.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) said that UI extension is necessary to prevent even further weakening of our economy:

The unemployment extension bill before the Senate is a great bill—one that will stimulate the economy and help unemployed workers across the country struggling to get back on their feet. Helping people who are about to lose a lifeline is the essence of what we do as public servants—that is why this delay is so disappointing. I ask those members who are holding up this urgent legislation for political purposes to do the right thing and pass this extension immediately.

The pending bill in the Senate would extend unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks, or 20 weeks in states with especially high unemployment. Unemployment benefits allow workers looking for jobs to continue to support their families and local businesses, providing a needed economic boost. Unfortunately, efforts to pass this bill have been blocked twice by Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.).

Click here to tell the Senate it’s time to pass an extension of UI benefits.

This article originally appeared in AFL-CIO blog on October 20, 2009.

About the Author: Seth Michaels is the online campaign coordinator for the AFL-CIO, focusing on the Employee Free Choice campaign. Prior to arriving at the AFL-CIO, he’s worked on online mobilization for Moveon.org, Blue State Digital and the National Jewish Democratic Council. He also spent two years touring the country as a member of the Late Night Players, a sketch comedy troupe.


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Sex At Work: Guidelines to Avoiding a Sticky Situation

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Image: Nicole WilliamsAuthor of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success

Let’s face it. We spend more waking hours at work than at home. And considering the fact that men think about sex every 52 seconds (true stat!), to think that hookups aren’t taking place in the office is not only absurd, it’s naïve. Today’s working singles have little time to socialize with existing friends, much less meet enough new people to successfully find love.  An estimated 10 million couples met their mate at the office in 2003.  Some found themselves in sticky situations with far reaching career consequences, even resulting in the loss of their job. Others had a fling, married co-workers or engaged in extramarital affairs. It’s no longer just the classic image of the male boss chasing his female secretary around the desk. Women are initiating the trysts as well, and are even doing so with subordinates.

It is becoming more common for companies to ask workers to sign love contracts, which require them to alert their bosses to an office romance, confirm that it is indeed voluntary and inform them when they break up. Other companies have policies against in-office relationships. However, with or without these restrictions, negotiating an office love affair can be tricky. It’s difficult to avoid distractions, conflicts, and gossip, not to mention the complications if and when the relationship ends. Ultimately, if you start an office love affair, you need to keep your résumé up to date, because it’s likely that one of you will need to look for a new job.  Of course, if you understand the risks and insist on taking them for the sake of finding love, here are a couple of guidelines to follow:

Know Your Company’s Policy on Inter-office Dating
If there are special rules, make sure you talk together about it first and are clear about the potential ramifications before moving forward.

Don’t Keep It Secret
If you are hiding your relationship, it’s likely that you shouldn’t be in it in the first place.

Be Discreet and Act Professional
Nothing will put off your colleagues and superiors more than public displays of affection, much less sexual exchanges on office property. I’ve heard some great stories about the places in the office couples find to have sex; the boardroom seems to be the favorite, followed by the snack room and elevator. But these quickies are often discovered and may result in much more dire consequences than a little gossip around the cooler.

Be Aware of Sexual Harassment
This is true especially if you are thinking about starting a relationship with a subordinate. Even if you are both enthusiastic, if the relationship gets rocky, you might find yourself facing charges.  A subordinate is arguably incapable of consenting freely to a relationship with her supervisor, because of the inherent pressure and influence of a direct superior’s advances.  By the way, your company is the one that pays the harassment bill. And insurance doesn’t cover it.

Finally, if you find yourself in an office entanglement that has gotten tricky, or if you have doubts about how to handle the office politics around your affair, think about making use of the human resource department. They will be able to advise you and advocate for you should you need it. In general, while an office affair can work out, it’s often more trouble than it’s worth. But, as Shakespeare once put it, “The heart knows reason that reason knows not.” In other words, “sometimes we just can’t help ourselves.”

©2009 Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success.

About the Author: Nicole Williams, author of Girl on Top: Your Guide to Turning Dating Rules into Career Success, is the best-selling author of Wildly Sophisticated: A Bold New Attitude for Career Success and Earn What You’re Worth, and the founder of WORKS by Nicole Williams, the first media and content company marketed toward young professional women. Her advice is featured regularly in major media outlets including Elle, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Marie Claire, the Wall Street Journal, and the Financial Times. Nicole also regularly appears on The Today Show, ABC’s Primetime, Good Morning America, Fox News, and CNN.

You can visit Nicole’s websites at www.NicoleWilliams.com and www.GirlOnTopBook.com.


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The Chamber of Commerce’s Jobs Deception Campaign

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Unions are popularly known as “the folks who brought you the weekend.” In contrast, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has the distinction of trying to take away the weekend–along with overtime pay, the minimum wage, Buy America rules, workers’ freedom to form unions, child labor standards….The list is long and ugly.

So it’s farcical that today the Chamber launched a campaign estimated to run in the tens of millions of dollars to promote job creation.

The Chamber’s campaign originally started out as an attack against financial regulation–until the Chamber found out how strongly U.S. taxpayers support reining in Big Banks and the financial industry’s widespread shady practices. So the Chamber conveniently changed the packaging to purportedly focus on jobs, which in fact the American people desperately need.

Look at who accompanied the Chamber suits while they were announcing their Orweillian-named “free enterprise campaign.” As Sam Stein reported here:

Many of the individuals featured on Wednesday are long-standing donors to Republican candidates and groups that have fought efforts to enhance regulation. And, in one case, the business leader appearing alongside [Thomas] Donohue to decry the interference of government in the market place received business through the benefit of government contracts.

Yet, while millions of America’s workers struggle to find jobs in an economy where there are more than six workers searching for every one job, the Chamber repeatedly opposed extending unemployment insurance. Can’t have government interference in the marketplace, after all. Or aid to jobless workers. The same workers the Chamber’s smoke-and-mirrors campaign is supposed to be all about.

The Chamber also is joining with Big Banks and financial giants to try and kill a proposed agency that would protect U.S. consumers from being preyed upon by unscrupulous banks, mortgage lenders and many of the same financial institutions that helped create our nation’s economic disaster. The Obama administration’s proposed Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which this week is being considered in the House Financial Services Committee, would regulate products such as credit cards and home loans, while ensuring the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission oversaw the $450 trillion “derivatives” market that sunk the world economy.

The Chamber is spending $2 million in attack ads, claiming that the new agency would hamstring even your local butcher from extending you credit for a week. It’s the same sorry effort at deception and outright lies that the health insurance industry now is trying to pull in the debate over health care reform. Tell enough lies and hope someone believes you.

As President Obama said in response to the Chamber’s distortion:

“We’ve made clear that only businesses that offer financial services would be affected by this agency. I don’t know how many of your butchers are offering financial services,” Obama said to laughter.

The Chamber is so twisted up in deception it seems unable to even provide accurate membership numbers. Writing in Mother Jones this week, David Corn points to a big discrepancy between the Chamber’s public membership numbers and reality.

In testimony before Congress, statements to the press, and on its website, the Chamber claims to represent “3 million businesses of all sizes, sectors, and regions.” In reality, the number is probably closer to 200,000.

Not sure if the 200,000 includes Apple Inc., Pacific Gas & Electric and the other giant corporations that recently have pulled their membership from the Chamber because of its draconian stand on climate change.

The Chamber’s so-called “free enterprise” campaign has been tried before. After World War II, the National Association of Manufacturers led a similar such effort. That campaign to sell capitalism to U.S. consumers incurred the derision of no less than the editors of Fortune magazine, who found similar sentiments among business executives represented on the boards of the business associations that supposedly represented them.

In dismissing the campaign as ludicrous, one such executive described it this way:

The best way we can demonstrate the importance of Free Enterprise is to make it work.

It’s clearly not working now. And although the Chamber may try to wrap itself in the shiny trappings of a feel-good campaign, its repeated attacks on consumers and workers demonstrate who the Chamber stands for: Wall Street not Main Street.

This post originally appeared in Campaign for America’s Future on October 15, 2009. Reprinted with permission by the author.

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka was elected AFL-CIO president in September 2009. He served as AFL-CIO secretary-treasurer since 1995. Born in Nemacolin, Pa., on July 24, 1949, Trumka was elected to the AFL-CIO Executive Council in 1989. At the time of his election to the secretary-treasurer post, he was serving his third term as president of the Mine Workers (UMWA). At the UMWA, Trumka led two major strikes against the Pittston Coal Co. and the Bituminous Coal Operators Association. The actions resulted in significant advances in employee-employer cooperation and the enhancement of mine workers’ job security, pensions and benefits.


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Do You Trust People Where You Work?

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Image: Bob RosnerPlease don’t tell my boss, but I hit Netflix hard this week. Among the movies I saw were, Casino Royale, The Departed, The Good Shepherd and Wall-E. As different as these three movies are, they all seem to revolve around the same point—that you can’t trust anyone. Ever.

It’s clear that Hollywood is picking up on our general discomfort and disillusionment. And they’re running with it at a dead sprint.

So what does this have to do with us working stiffs? I’m going to propose a radical strategy. Something that is probably going to suggest to you that I’m either naïve or crazy. But probably more likely, both.

My suggestion is that we all need to start trusting people. Just by writing that sentence guarantees that I’m going to get a flood of emails from people who disagree. No, who really DIASGREE! The emails will outline in graphic detail stories of abuse, cruelty and general nastiness. How people used to trust others at work, but have learned the hard way that they can’t. And how it’s crazy to either forgive or forget.

I understand how hard it is to do what I’m suggesting. To trust again. Pardon me for going all “Oprah” on you, but if we allow ourselves to get painted into this cynical corner, we end up being the very enemy we decry. Because to others it will appear like we are isolated and only looking out for ourselves.

First a personal admission. I’ve been burned. Big time. And as I’m writing this blog many of the past burns are coming back to me. But I’ve decided that I’m going to try to rise above them. Because I don’t want that to define who I am. Or how I approach my life.

I’m not saying that we all should trust people who’ve already earned your trust. Or who haven’t yet violated you trust. I’m suggesting that we all reach out to people who we aren’t sure about. Heck, while you’re at it, to people who’ve burned you in the past. Offer them a hand of friendship. Give them a second chance to prove themselves worthy.

I can hear what you are thinking, why take this risk? Okay, now I’m going to get really touchy-feely. Pardon me. But the key reason that we should take this risk is because chances are that if we were in the shoes of the person that you don’t really trust, we’d want someone to give us a break. Right?

Sure some will disappoint you. Maybe even a majority. But think about the people who will come through in a way that you would have never expected them to. Think about how that will inspire you and introduce new possibilities in your career and in your life.

I’m willing to bet if you take my challenge, you’ll experience far more gains than losses from this experience. You’ll have renewed faith in the human spirit. Either way I’d like to hear your thoughts. Are you willing to take me up on my challenge? And if you do, what happened.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. For free job and work advice, check out the award-winning workplace911.com. If you have a question for Bob, contact him via [email protected]


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On the Path to Economic Recovery: Extended Unemployment Benefits

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Image: Courney ChappellAlthough it is encouraging to see that the Dow Jones Industrial Index hit 10,000 this week, unemployment in this country continues to look bleak.  The September national unemployment rate shot up to 9.8%, and a record 5 million people have been unemployed for six months or longer.  These workers are now competing for a very limited number of available jobs, a ratio of 1 to 6.  If the Dow is in fact a reliable indicator of an economic rebound, why hasn’t the unemployment rate followed suit and leveled out or decreased?  Economists predict that unemployment will continue to remain high throughout 2010 – and even 2011 – at which time we will see more promising signs of recovery.  Until then, however, according to the National Employment Law Project (NELP), an estimated 1.4 million jobless workers will lose their unemployment benefits by the end of 2009.

The purpose of the unemployment insurance (UI) system is to prevent workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own from slipping into poverty.  By temporarily filling the income gap for families while they search for work, UI serves as a critically important safety net.  Although the weekly benefit amount generally replaces only about one-third of a worker’s weekly earning, those checks can stabilize a household and help families cover their basic needs.

Congress is currently debating legislation that will extend benefits to workers who are struggling during this economic downturn.  Last month, the House passed a bill that would extend UI by 13 weeks, but it would apply only to those jobless workers who live in states with unemployment rates higher than 8.5%.  The Senate has likewise introduced legislation, but it is broader in scope.  The Senate bill would provide 14-20 weeks of additional benefits to jobless workers in all states.  Although advocates originally expected the bill to pass the Senate rather quickly, opposition has been raised regarding how these additional weeks will be paid, ultimately stalling any movement.

Any extension of benefits will no doubt help jobless workers in D.C.  The city’s unemployment rate is over 11%, and even higher in Wards 7 (19%) and 8 (27%), two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.  According to NELP, by the end of 2009, approximately 4,700 District workers will have exhausted their federal extensions.

The D.C. Employment Justice Center, in collaboration with its community partners, has been working to ensure that all available stimulus money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will make its way into the pockets of District workers.  Specifically, D.C. is entitled to receive $27 million of federal funding as incentive payment for modernizing its UI system.  Because the District adopted the alternative base period (ABP) in 2002, it has already received $9 million of this funding from the Department of Labor.  In order for the District to qualify for the remaining incentive payments, it must implement, at a minimum, two additional reforms and submit a second application to the Department by August 22, 2011.  Emergency legislation was introduced and passed in July 2009 that included two such reforms: a dependent allowance and an extension of UI to those enrolled in approved training.

Permanent legislation must still be passed in order for D.C. to receive the remaining stimulus funding.  But even this will not be enough.  In order to address the record rate of joblessness, the significant percentage of workers exhausting benefits, and the inadequate weekly benefit amount, evidenced by the fact that over 50% of UI recipients receive the maximum amount, the District must maximize the scope and impact of the $27 million federal funding to which it is entitled.  It can do so by also increasing the maximum weekly benefit amount by $20; expanding eligibility to those who leave their jobs to care for a sick family member or to relocate with their spouse/domestic partner; and extending the time in which an individual may file an appeal if he/she is denied UI.  These changes will help thousands of District workers and families as they continue to look for long-term employment.  Specifically, $10 million will make its way into the pockets of approximately 22,000 struggling workers.

If the federal government steps in to extend benefits for an additional 14-20 weeks under the Senate bill, all of the District’s reforms could be funded with stimulus money for 2 ½ years, and employer taxes would not increase.  Other states are no doubt in a similar situation – with the federal government footing the bill for up to 20 extra weeks, states can maximize the impact of their stimulus funding by changing their UI programs beyond the minimum requirements prescribed by the Department of Labor, and thereby provide much needed relief to their residents.  Two and a half years is a significant amount of time to feel the impact of the ARRA and create real economic opportunities for struggling communities.

With more money in the hands of consumers, more dollars will circulate throughout the economy, the stock market will continue to steadily rise, employers will regain their confidence, and the unemployment rate should eventually fall.  Congress’ decision to provide extended unemployment benefits is a critical step in helping the economy rebound, and will help ensure that the Dow’s resurgence this week is a truly promising long-term sign of the nation’s recovery, rather than a single snapshot of Wall Street.

About the Author: Courtney Chappell is the Advocacy Manager at EJC.  Prior to joining EJC, she was an associate at James & Hoffman, P.C., where she represented unions and individual employees in all matters relating to labor and employment law. As the first Policy & Programs Director at the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, Courtney spearheaded the organization’s reproductive justice program and developed a multi-pronged action agenda that included lobbying, grassroots organizing, and public education campaigns.  Her achievements included coordinating a national lobby day relating to immigration reform, and convening a national coalition of women’s rights, immigrant rights, and reproductive rights organizations to focus on the intersection of health care and immigration.  She similarly engaged in policy advocacy as a fellow at the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund after graduating from law school. Courtney graduated magna cum laude from the American University Washington College of Law, where she was a student attorney in the domestic violence clinic and interned for the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, the EEOC, and the ACLU. She was also a staff member of the American University Law Review and volunteer intake counselor at the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center and the Domestic Violence Intake Center.  Courtney has served on the boards of the Third Wave Foundation and the Asian/Pacific Islander Domestic Violence Resource Project.  She is a recipient of a New Voices Fellowship and a Georgetown Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship.


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Praising the Boss on Boss’s Day? Not So Fast.

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Image: Aubrey DanielsPatricia Bays Haroski who worked for her father in a State Farm Insurance Agency in Deerfield, Ill., registered October 16 as Boss’s Day with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in 1958. She chose October 16 because it was her father’s birthday and the story goes that she forgot his birthday and that by making it a holiday, she would not only recover from her oversight, but would never forget again. Of course, retailers have since capitalized on the holiday as an additional way to sell greeting cards, candy, mugs, and balloons.

Wikipedia defines Boss’s Day as a day when employees thank their boss for being kind, fair, honest, and awesome throughout the year. While I have nothing against thanking the boss, the National holiday celebration does put pressure on everyone, even those who don’t have an awesome boss. The social pressure probably causes more than a few people to do something to thank him/her even though their hearts are not in it…

Googling “bad boss” gets 166,000 hits (’good boss’ yields only slightly less – 164,000). I am aware that people are more likely to talk and write about bad bosses more than good ones but it is clear that even after 40 years of teaching managers, executives and supervisors to use positive methods to get superior results I still have a lot of work to do.

One of the problems with this holiday is that if a bad boss is rewarded in even some small way, it will not make him/her a better boss but will actually make him/her a worse one. So we can expect that next week there will be many bosses who will be worse than they are this week because of boss’s day.

That problem aside, most bosses are good and do deserve more recognition for what they do to create a positive workplace than they get. I have often said that if you think that you get too little recognition or positive reinforcement for what you do at work, think of your boss because he/she gets less. So if you are one of the lucky ones who has a good or awesome boss here are some suggestions of how to positively reinforce the boss without coming off as buttering her up or brown-nosing.

  1. Make recognition of the boss a frequent event. Remember that if the only time you think about recognizing your boss is on Boss’ Day, you have a problem. Think what it would be like if the only time you told you mother that you love or appreciate what she does for you was on Mother’s Day. How do you think she would respond to that? While Boss’s Day is a day to pause and do something out of the ordinary, there are about two hundred days that the boss may be doing things to make your life at work better. Recognition is as important on those days as it is on Boss’ Day.
  2. Thank the boss for helping you. I think that praising the boss on Boss’ Day is highly suspect anytime. However, I believe that thanking the boss for something that she has done that is helpful to you in some way is always appropriate, never suspect and almost always appreciated by the boss. I can recount many cases where bosses have done things that were later abandoned because all the boss heard was from those who had a problem with the boss’s decisions or actions. The president of one of our customers told me that he gauged whether employees liked his decisions by the number of complaints he received. The fewer complaints he received the better he assumed that employees liked what he did. There is an old saying that goes, “if people are not told clearly and overtly that they are appreciated, they will assume the opposite.”
  3. Keep the boss informed. This is a positive reinforcer for almost every boss I know. Keeping the boss informed about things that are not going well is as important as keeping him informed about things that are going well.
  4. Help your boss be successful. Helping your boss be successful by responding positively to her initiatives, priorities and decisions always puts you in a favored place by every boss. This assumes, of course, that you think these things are good. In the current economic environment a positive response to the boss’s initiatives, actions and decisions are positively reinforcing as most bosses are struggling to keep the company afloat. Pessimism is not appreciated anytime but especially now. A “Can Do” attitude in today’s economy is priceless.
  5. Helping others. Go out of your way to help others who are working to implement and address the boss’s initiatives and priorities. This causes most bosses these days to relax as they are able to see that the total burden of creating results does not fall on their shoulders. Employees who help peers solve problems before they get to the boss are particularly prized today.

All people need positive reinforcement in order to do their best – bosses included. Position on an organization chart neither increases nor decreases that need. You have the ability to strengthen your boss’s good habits and improve other behaviors by how you respond to the boss’s behavior. Positive reinforcement will do the trick. Do it often and you and your boss will be the better for it.

About the Author: Dr. Aubrey C. Daniels has devoted more than 30 years to working with organizations of all types and sizes to apply the science of human behavior in their workplace. His latest book “Oops: 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money” examines time-honored management practices – such as layoffs, year-end bonuses, and automatic pay raises – that actually reward bad habits and punish good behavior. Daniels is also the author of four best-selling books widely recognized as international management classics: Bringing out the Best in People, Performance Management, Other People’s Habits, and Measure of a Leader (with James E. Daniels).

This post originally appeared in Aubrey Daniels blog on October 14th, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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Important Decision From Sixth Circuit in Discriminatory Failure to Promote Case

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Female Officer Wins Big In Fight For Discriminatory Denial Of Promotion

It’s not uncommon for women to be passed over for promotions they deserve – but proving gender discrimination has been difficult.

The good news is that the recent decision from the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Risch v. Royal Oak Police Department will make it easier to succeed in these cases in the future. 

What Happened In The Case

Karen Risch was a patrol officer for the Royal Oak Police Department for seventeen years.

In 2005 Risch was passed over for a promotion to the position of detective. Two male applicants, who had lower scores than Risch under the promotion system used by the Department, were awarded the positions instead of her.

Risch claimed that the Department failed to promote her to a command position six times between 2002 and 2005.

Risch filed a gender discrimination claim under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The federal district court (Eastern District of Michigan) granted judgment in favor of the Royal Oak Police Department and threw out Risch’s case.

On September 23, 2009, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed and this is why.

Evidence of Pretext

Discrimination cases are hard to prove but here’s how it’s done in a nutshell.

The plaintiff can prove her lawsuit by establishing what is called a prima facie case which can establish an inference of discrimination. If she does that, the defendant must come forward with admissible evidence of a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for its action.

Once the Defendant establishes a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason for its conduct,  the plaintiff must identify evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that the employer’s proffered reason is a pretext for unlawful discrimination.

A plaintiff can prove pretext by showing that the employer’s stated reason for the adverse employment action either:

  1. has no basis in fact or
  2. was not the actual reason or
  3. is insufficient to explain the employer’s action

In this case, the trial court granted judgment against Risch because it concluded that Risch failed to present sufficient evidence that the Department’s proffered explanation for not promoting her was pretextual.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and reversed, holding that Risch did present ample proof of discrimination to to go before a jury.

Here’s the evidence the Court determined to be  evidence of pretext and gender discrimination.

Superior Qualifications

As the Court pointed out, Risch had superior qualifications for the position of detective than two of the male candidates (Moore and Spencer) promoted to the position in 2005. Her scores were better and she had greater experience in the department.

As the Court stated:

Taking the facts in the light most favorable to Risch … it is clear that Risch was as qualified as or better qualified than either Moore or Spencer.

Discriminatory Remarks

The Court noted that male officers frequently made degrading comments regarding the female officers. Some of those remarks included the following:

  • “The chief will never have a female officer on the command staff”
  • “None of you {female officers} will ever go anywhere …”
  • A majority of male officers told Risch that women do not belong in the police force

As the Court stated:

We have held that discriminatory remarks, even by a nondecisionmaker, can serve as probative evidence of pretext ….

The statements in this case evidence a discriminatory atmosphere in the Department in which male officers frequently made derogatory or discriminatory remarks about female officers. …

We do not view each discriminatory remark in isolation, but are mindful that the remarks buttress one another as well as any other pretextual evidence supporting an inference of discriminatory animus.

Other Evidence Proving Discrimination

The Court also made note of other evidence it considered to prove a “general atmosphere of discrimination” including discrimination against women in duties, shift assignments, and work distribution.

Part of the evidence was that Lieutenant Foster, who held a senior position in the command staff, gave the men:

  • any kind of detail they wanted
  • all of the plum assignments

The assignments and the work the men didn’t want went to the women.

This evidence, according to the Court, supported Risch’s claim that she was discriminated against regarding her promotion.

As the Court stated (citing its decision in Ercegovich v. Goodyear Tire &Rubber Co. interestingly written by the same judge as this case):

We have explained that management’s consideration of an impermissible factor in one context may support the inference that the impermissible factor entered the decisionmaking process in another context.

In light of the above evidence … we conclude that Risch has produced sufficient evidence to establish a genuine issue of material fact concerning whether the Department’s proffered legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason was pretextual.

What’s Important About The Case

What’s important about the case is that the Court broadly looked at a combination of evidence about Risch’s experiences at work (as well as that of other women) and used it to hold that Risch could challenge the department’s failure to promote her. That evidence included:

  • a record of comparative qualifications
  • discriminatory statements by decisionmakers and others in the department
  • an atmosphere of discrimination experienced by Risch and co-workers
  • the lack of women in command positions
  • proof that Risch was arguably better qualified than male candidates

The federal district court disregarded much of the evidence presented by Risch and that, according to the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, constituted reversible error.

The simple fact that the Court of Appeals considered all of the evidence of gender discrimination — instead of narrowly limiting the inquiry to the reasons given by the employer for the denial of the 2005 promotion — is what’s really important about this case.

It’s been historically quite difficult for women to prove that they they were denied promotions which went to less qualified male counterparts.

The Sixth Circuit’s opinion in this case —  and its broad interpretation of what kinds of evidence can support these claims —  should go a long way in helping women, as well as other victims of discrimination, get their cases in front of juries where they properly belong.

image:img.alibaba.com

This post originally appeared in Employee Rights Post on October 8, 2009. Re-printed with permission by the author.

About the Author: Ellen Simon is recognized as one of the first and foremost employment and civil rights lawyers in the United States. With more than $50* million in verdicts and settlements and over 30 years of experience, Ellen has been listed in Best Lawyers in America and in the National Law Journal as one of the nation’s leading litigators. She has been lauded for her work on landmark cases that established employment law in both state and federal court. Ellen also possesses a wealth of knowledge as a legal analyst discussing high-profile civil cases, employment discrimination and women’s issues. Ms. Simon has been quoted often in local and national news media and is a regular guest on television and radio, including appearances on Court TV. She is the author of the Employee Rights Post, a legal blog devoted to employee and civil rights.

*prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome


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Real Health Care Reform or Bust

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Image: Health Care Can't WaitThe health care reform legislation approved yesterday by the Senate Finance Committee is “deeply flawed” and unless “substantial” improvements are made in the bill that makes it to the Senate floor, the AFL-CIO and some two dozen unions will oppose it.

In full-page ads in the Washington Post, Politico and other dailies, union leaders say that comprehensive health care reform that brings down costs, improves quality and guarantees coverage for all “is closer than ever.”

But we aren’t there yet. The Senate Finance Committee bill is deeply flawed.

Not only does the Finance Committee’s bill tax workers’ health care benefits, it does not include a public health insurance option. This summer, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee (HELP) approved health care reform legislation that includes a public option and does not tax workers’ health care benefits. Senate negotiators are now trying to merge the two bills into a finished product for a vote by the full Senate.

The ad spells out the unions’ “bottom line” for a final health care reform bill.

  • A public health plan is essential for reform.
  • Health care reform has to ease cost burden on individuals and families, not worsen it.
  • Employers have to pay a fair share of costs.
  • Health care can’t be paid for by a new tax on middle-class benefits.

As the ad points out, a public option would lower premiums for everyone, reduce the cost of health care reform by $100 billion and set up competition

to break the stranglehold of a handful of big insurance companies that have made 96 percent of metropolitan markets uncompetitive.

Health care premiums have climbed by 300 percent and insurance company profits have soared by 1,000 percent over the past decade. The Finance Committee bill requires individuals to obtain coverage, while employers face few incentives to provide coverage.

Penalties on individuals who cannot obtain coverage, should not be more than what employers are required to pay.

Workers and employers who do provide health coverage to their employees also are footing the bill for uninsured workers whose employers do not offer health coverage, says the ad. More than $1,000 of each family premium goes to cover the cost of the uninsured.

The only fair way to cover the cost for all is to include an employer responsibility provision that requires all employers to provide health coverage or contribute a truly meaningful sum to help pay for subsidies.

Starting in 2013, the Finance Committee bill would levy a 40 percent excise tax on what could be as many of 40 percent of all heath care plans, according to the congressional Joint Committee on Taxation. That tax, says the ad, would most likely “hit plans with people who are older or sicker or those who work for small employers.”

A new tax on the middle class is unacceptable.

The ad warns lawmakers:

Unless the bill that goes to the floor of the U.S. Senate makes substantial progress to address the concerns of working men and women, we will oppose it.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and have written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety. When his collar was still blue, he carried union cards from the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers, American Flint Glass Workers and Teamsters for jobs in a chemical plant, a mining equipment manufacturing plant and a warehouse. He’s also worked as roadie for a small-time country-rock band, sold his blood plasma and played an occasional game of poker to help pay the rent. You may have seen him at one of several hundred Grateful Dead shows. He was the one with longhair and the tie-dye. Still have the shirts, lost the hair.

This article originally appeared in the AFL-CIO blog on October 14, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.


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Shilling on the Corporate Dollar

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Image: Art LevineBusiness-sponsored ‘scholars’ deliver anti-union talking points.

Testifying before the Senate labor and health committee hearing in March, economist Anne Layne-Farrar of the corporate consulting firm LECG warned about the horrendous impact of the Employee Free Choice Act. Its potential to increase union membership from between five and 10 percent, she said, “would result in an increase in the unemployment of around one and a half to three percentage points. These are sizable effects for the U.S. economy.” Earnest and well-prepared, Layne-Farrar cited her study that concluded that 600,000 jobs would be lost in the first year after the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) became law. Fox “Fair and Balanced” News, naturally, in its TV report neglected to mention that her “research” was funded by the corporate-friendly, anti-union “Alliance to Save Main Street Jobs.”

Since the report’s publication in March, this statistic has circulated through the media, showing up on MSNBC, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal and, in spades, Fox News. EFCA has been Swift-Boated for purportedly taking away the secret ballot from workers. But union supporters say it will level the playing field, offering workers the choice of whether to form a union either through an election or “card check”­—the majority sign-up of authorization cards. Plus it toughens penalties and mandates arbitration after 120 days if employers refuse to negotiate in good faith.

Yet business interests have used Layne-Farrar’s study and that of prolific legal scholar Richard Epstein of the University of Chicago to tell a different story. Ads citing the “600,000” statistic appeared on Politico and other political insider publications aimed at buttressing anti-union lobbying that targets moderate senators such as Arlen Specter and Blanche Lincoln, who subsequently backed away from the EFCA legislation.

Epstein, by some measures the third-most cited law professor in the country, has issued two major reports and five op-eds for the Wall Street Journal and other publications denouncing EFCA as a job-killing, unconstitutional “regime.” His wide-ranging attack on the pro-union bill for Stanford University’s Hoover Institution was paid for by the same Alliance to Save Main Street Jobs that subsidized Layne-Farrar’s work. In the past Epstein, an extreme libertarian, has attacked minimum wage and unemployment benefits, denouncing such New Deal legislation as unconstitutional “takings” that violate the Fifth Amendment. That is no surprise. Epstein has argued that, historically, sweatshop conditions can only be ameliorated by market forces, not by laws or unions. He told In These Times: “The level of wages will be determined by the intersection of supply and demand…the escape from that system is not driven by unions, which cannot increase productivity.”

Epstein’s past work is even a bit too radical for his business backers. He told In These Times that he is “unrepentant” about his earlier writings, but he concedes that his corporate-funded sponsors have asked him to omit some of those previous arguments when attacking EFCA.

Counter-attack by progressives

Progressive bloggers, law professors and economists have launched counter-attacks, but these conservatives’ talking points, theories, and, most importantly, their data cannot be easily marginalized. In fact, they strengthen the hyperbolic rantings comparing the bill to the Gestapo or Islamic terrorism, claims that may seem laughable to progressives, but set the tenor for the debate in Washington. And Layne-Farrar’s and Epstein’s conclusions serve as the academic veneer for the PR blitz that has tried to demonize the Employee Free Choice Act.

Despite the wide dissemination of Layne-Farrar’s report, critics like Chris Kromm of the Institute of Southern Living have found distortions and shoddy analysis in her work. Of the 10 Canadian provinces she studied, Kromm discovered that only three actually had significant changes in card check rules. And he found that the report itself acknowledged there wasn’t enough data to draw conclusions about the impact of card check. It further admitted that the provincial card check data they did collect was too “weak” for economic analysis. Kromm also wondered, “If unions really were the cause of unemployment, why has Canadian unemployment risen in recent years…even as union membership has declined?”

But Layne-Farrar massages the data using a complex “regression analysis” to connect the dots between card check, higher unionization rates and more unemployment, putting the loss at between 600,000 and 2.6 million new American jobs in the first year.

“That’s bullshit,” says Canadian labor economist Charlotte Yates, now the Dean of Social Sciences at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “I don’t know of any credible economists who say [now] there is a direct correlation between unionization and the rise in unemployment.”

Even so, Layne-Farrar invokes her use of “regression analysis” as a sort of holy totem to ward off criticism of her work from other economists who cite what she says are “simplistic correlations.” These include studies showing that countries such as England, Denmark and Norway have higher unionization and lower unemployment rates than the United States. She says, “This is empirical analysis, not an opinion piece, with results based on publicly available data and using well-accepted econometric tools. You can’t rig these.”

John DiNardo, a labor economist at the University of Michigan and author of the textbook Econometrics retorts, “Just because she calls it ‘econometrics’ and ‘regression analysis’ doesn’t mean that it makes any sense.” While some earlier research had found a link between unionization and unemployment, more rigorous, recent research in Europe and the United States has found no connection between unionization and unemployment. In fact, Layne-Farrar’s study concocts a negative jobs impact from unionization that is 200 to 300 percent higher than even the most critical anti-union research.

Behind the statistical wizardry

Here’s where it helps to look behind the curtain of her statistical wizardry designed to dazzle common folk and legislators alike with econometrics. Her regression analysis supposedly aims to tease out the factors driving unemployment increases. But, DiNardo says, if unemployment shoots up and the unionized percentage of the workforce goes up, that could just as well be caused by more non-union workers getting laid off—while union members still keep their jobs. Hence, the percentage of unionized workers increases.

How do you get around this thorny problem if you want to blame unions for unemployment? Layne-Farrar purportedly “corrected” for the hopeless muddle of such simultaneous factors by, in part, merely measuring the unionization rates a year earlier than the unemployment rates. Presto! Unionization causes massive unemployment, she concludes. “She has very poor research design,” says DiNardo. “She doesn’t have anything resembling a natural experiment.” And he says that his review of the economic impact in America of unionization shows the “the casual effect of union recognition is zero.”

But for Epstein, the virtually unanimous opposition of business groups to the pro-labor legislation is proof positive that it will be “a job-killer of the worst sort.” In his report for the Hoover Institution, he paints an Edenic portrait of a non-unionized labor market, and laments the passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 that legalized unions. “If the National Labor Relations Act offends every principle of the voluntary exchange of private property, this new bill is much worse,” he says. “I’ve never seen a statute so draconian.”

Epstein is the labor market equivalent of Candide’s Dr. Pangloss: If employers could just be left alone, all things work for the best in this best of all possible worlds. If there were no minimum wages laws, for instance, Epstein told me, “Wages would go up because productivity gains would offset any short-term losses [to workers].”

Such anti-union assertions don’t take into account the real world of employment—and the justifiable fear of being fired. Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, asks, “What bubble does he live in?” Even the Bush labor board found that nearly 30,000 workers are illegally fired or discriminated against each year because of union activity. And these researchers don’t really consider the widespread estimated $19 billion in wage theft.

While Epstein’s more radical views are left off the table, his intellectual firepower adds to the impact of his arguments against EFCA. Both Epstein and Layne-Farrar see an idealized world waiting to be born where unions don’t exist, and where workers and businesses thrive without them.

The question remains, will Washington politicians still listen to business interests that use these researchers’ dubious claims to argue, as Epstein does: “Unions are a bad deal for most workers.”

About the Author: Art Levine, a contributing editor of The Washington Monthly, has written for Mother Jones, The American Prospect, The New Republic, The Atlantic, Slate.com, Salon.com and numerous other publications. He wrote the October 2007 In These Times cover story, “Unionbusting Confidential.” Levine is also the co-host of the “D’Antoni and Levine” show on BlogTalk Radio, every Thursday at 5:30 p.m. EST.

This article originally appeared in In These Times on May 31, 2009.


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What Do You Believe About Work That Is Wrong?

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After fifteen years of writing Workplace911 and its predecessor Working Wounded I’ve concluded that there are a lot of myths about work. I thought it would be fun to tackle some of the bigger ones in this week’s blog. Check out my list below and send me some of your favorites.

It’s impossible to be overpaid when someone else signs the paycheck. Let me offer a short translation of this rule—as long as someone is willing to pay you a ridiculous amount of money to work for them, then you aren’t overpaid because they have established a market for your services. I disagree. Corporate salaries are absurd. Cost cutting, layoffs and a myriad of other organizational sacrifices should float more than just the boats of the CEO and a few top executives. I’m no Marxist, CEOs do deserve a big paycheck when they are successful. But this escalator only seems able to go up.

Greed is good. The biggest problem here is that when Oliver Stone came up with this mantra for his Gordon Gekko character in the movie Wall Street it was meant as parody. Yet I hear some variation of it whenever I talk to traders, salespeople, etc. Henry Ford, hardly a commie himself, once said that only a fool holds out for the last dollar. I think wretched excess is a terrible way to run a company.

The bigger the jerk, the better the boss. Probably my favorite quote on management came from President (and General) Dwight Eisenhower. He once said, “Hitting people over the head isn’t leadership, it’s assault.” Sure jerks do get your attention and possibly results over the short term. But most employees will flee at the first chance they get. There are just too many sane bosses out there to continue to slave away for a jerk.

You’ve got to be first to market. Microsoft seems to me to be the only company that consistently puts second-rate products on the market and lives to tell the tale. The rest of us have to pick our spots and often the first to market position can’t justify launching a crappy product. So it often pays to wait.

Innovation is the middle name of American corporations. Despite rising productivity, I believe that corporations in the U.S. are running on fumes. Don’t believe me? Listen to most people talk about the management of their companies. It’s not a pretty sight. I see far more innovation right now coming from abroad and from the not-for-profit sector and I think it’s time that corporations started walking their talk.

Corporations are drowning in regulation. Tyco, Enron, WorldCom, etc. left in their wake Sarbanes Oxley and a host of other regulations. Undoubtedly Lehman, Goldman Sacks, etc. will leave their mark too. There is a lot of talk now about how corporations are being held back by senseless regulations. I hate filling out government forms as much as the next guy, but these laws came into place because of abuse by corporations. And in order to maintain the trust of the average investor these regulations need to remain in effect, no matter how much whining you hear from big business.

The bottom line isn’t just the bottom line. If I’ve learned one thing as an observer of business and the founder of four corporations, it’s that there are many bottom lines for a business. In addition to economic there are also social and environmental considerations. The financials really only are a part of the picture. The sooner that corporations take a broader view of the bottom line, the sooner they’ll begin to fully reach their potential.

About the Author: Bob Rosner is a best-selling author and award-winning journalist. His web site, workplace911.com, contains a comprehensive archive of strategies for surviving today’s workplace. He is a fan of Workplace Fairness and can be reached via [email protected].


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