Tuesday, January 22, 2008

James v. Metro Government of Nashville

Someone asked if I would set out the citations that reflect the circuit split on this issue - the issue being whether the judge or the jury decides whether the facts support a claim that the retaliatory act could have deterred protected conduct. In our post of Friday, we provided the Fourth, Sixth and D.C. Circuit authorities on this issue.

The Fifth Circuit has held that judges, not juries determine whether the fact-bound Burlington Northern standard has been met. See DeHart v. Baker Hughes Oilfield Operations, Inc., 214 Fed. Appx. 437 (5th Cir. 2007). The Eleventh Circuit so held in Collins v. Board of Trustees of University of Alabama, 211 Fed. Appx. 848 (11th Cir. 2006). The Eighth Circuit goes with courts, not juries. See Higgins v. Gonzales, 2007 WL 817505 at *8-*9 (8th Cir., March 20, 2007). The Seventh Circuit in at least six cases since Burlington Northern has held that judges are to decide the question. See Roney v. Illinois Dept. of Transportation, 474 F.3d 455, 459 (7th Cir. 2007); Phelan v. Cook County, 463 F.3d 773, 781 n.3 (7th Cir. 2006); Szymanski v. County of Cook, 468 F.3d 1027, 1031 (7th Cir. 2006); Thomas v. Potter, 2002 Fed. Appx. 118 (7th Cir. 2006); Novak v. Nicholson, 2007 WL 1259054 at *5 (7th Cir., Apr. 12, 2007); Schmidt v. Canadian National Railway Corp., 2007 WL 755171 at *4 (7th Cir., Mar. 13, 2007).

In addition to the D.C. Circuit, three other circuits have held that juries, not judges, determine the question. The Third Circuit has so decided in at least three cases. See Hare v. Potter, 2007 WL 841031 at *11 (3d Cir., Mar. 21, 2007); Ridley v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 217 Fed. Appx. 130, 1325 (3d Cir. 2007); Moore v. City of Philadelphia, 461 F.3d 331, 347 (3d Cir. 2006). The Second Circuit has aligned itself in favor of juries. See Kessler v. Westchester County Department of Social Services, 461 F.3d 199, 209-10 (2d Cir. 2006); Wrobel v. County of Erie, 211 Fed. Appx. 71, 73 (2d Cir. 2007); Zelnik v. Fashion Institute of Technology, 464 F.3d 217, 227 (2d Cir. 2006). And, the Tenth Circuit has joined the Second, Third and District of Columbia Circuits in holding that the application of the Burlington Northern standard to the circumstances of a case is a matter for a jury. See Williams v. W.D. Sports, 2007 WL 2254940 at *10 (10th Cir., Aug. 7, 2007).

False Claims Act

On January 22, 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court denied cert in U.S. ex rel. Bly-Magee v. Premo, Case No. 05-55556 (9th Cir. Dec. 13, 2006). The Ninth Circuit's opinion is at 470 F.3d 914. In Bly-Magee, the Ninth Circuit ruled that non-federal reports, audits, and investigations qualify as a source of public disclosure under 31 U.S.C. section 3730(e)(4)(A). This represents yet one more split in the circuits, for the Third Circuit limits this provision to federal reports, audits, investigations. See U. S. ex rel. Dunleavy v. County of Delaware, 123 F.3d 734, 745 (3d Cir. 1997). The Eighth Circuit, on the other hand, agrees with this Ninth Circuit decision. See Hays v. Hoffman, 325 F.3d 982, 988 (8th Cir. 2003).

FLSA Settlements

If you settle an FLSA claim and have it supervised by the US Department of Labor, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. Section 216(c), the settling employee may end up signing off on a government form entitled WH-58 "Receipt for payment for lost or denied wages, employment benefits, or other compensation." In a recent opinion, the Ninth Circuit teaches us that the language contained in that form can either extinguish a claim or merely extinguish some portion of a claim.

In Dent v. Cox Communications Las Vegas, Inc., 502 F.3d 1141 (9th Cir. 2007), Mr. Dent signed a WH-58 which acknowledged receipt of payment of unpaid wages for the period beginning with the workweek ending May 4, 2002 through the workweek ending October 11, 2003. Thereafter Dent claimed unpaid wages for a time period prior to May 4, 2002. The district court dismissed his claim, accepting the employer's argument that the unpaid overtime wage claim had been settled in full. The Ninth Circuit reversed, finding that his claim was released only with regard to the time period specified in the WH-58.

Two New New Jersey Employment Statutes

New Jersey has amended its Law Against Discrimination and expanded it to require that employers reasonably accommodate sincerely held religious beliefs unless to do so would impose an undue burden. The statute now defines "undue hardship" as an accommodation requiring unreasonable expense or difficulty, unreasonable interference with the safe or efficient operation of the workplace or a violation of a bona fide seniority system or a violation of any provision of a bona fide collective bargaining agreement. Further, the statute states that, in determining whether an accommodation constitutes an undue hardship, the factors considered shall include:

  • The identifiable cost of the accommodation, including the costs of loss of productivity and of retaining or hiring employees or transferring employees from one facility to another, in relation to the size and operating cost of the employer.

  • The number of individuals who will need the particular accommodation for a sincerely held religious observance or practice.

  • For an employer with multiple facilities, the degree to which the geographic separateness or administrative or fiscal relationship of the facilities will make the accommodation more difficult or expensive.

The other statute concerns employment protections for employees on military leave in time of war or emergency.

Insurance Coverages for Federal Employees

There was an interesting article in one of the newspapers in the last few days about insurance coverages provided to federal employees who might be sued, and presumably not otherwise protected by immunity doctrines. Wright & Company, a Virginia-based insurance company, writes coverages. The article indicated that it provides $200,000 for legal fees incurred in an administrative proceeding, an additional $100,000 in fees for criminal investigations, and up to $1,000,000 for damages incurred in civil litigation. See: http://www.wrightandco.com/wmspage.cfm?parm1=23.

Corporate Social Responsibility

The January 19, 2008 issue of The Economist has a special report on corporate social responsibility. Reprints of the report are available. See www.economist.com/rights. A list of sources can be found at www.economist.com/specialreports and an audio interview with the author can be found at www.economist.com/audio.

For those who are interested, there is an ABA corporate social responsibility committee. If you should be interested in joining, please let me know and I will forward your name to the committee chair.

Hangman's Nooses

In the past week we have observed first Kelly Tilghman making an utter fool of herself on the Golf Channel when she said that the way to defeat Tiger Woods was to take him out and lynch him. That merited only a two week suspension. Then to add fuel to the fire, Golfweek distributes this past week's issue with a cover image of a noose for an article about Ms. Tilghman's idiocy. That thankfully merited the discharge of Dave Seanor, the editor.

Some of the obvious questions raised by these two incidents, other than being dumbfounded that supposedly intelligent people still just don't get it, would be the following:

  • How come it took two days to apologize? You would have thought that within seconds after Ms. Tilghman uttered her stupidity, that she or someone associated with the channel, would have realized that what she said was over the top, and an apology should have issued within moments after she said what she said. Makes you wonder whom, in addition to Ms. Tilghman, at the Golf Channel simply doesn't get it.

  • Makes you also wonder what the hiring practices are at the Golf Channel. I would assume that if there were African-Americans on the production team, that one of them would have spoken up immediately and demanded that she apologize on the air. I sure would like to see the Golf Channel's hiring statistics.

  • That takes me to Golfweek magazine, the cover page, I am told, was vetted by a committee. So, it isn't just Mr. Seanor who doesn't get it, there are many others at the magazine who are simply clueless or worse than that, closet racists who took pleasure in insulting millions of our citizens. So, one wonders why Mr. Seanor is the only person who was disciplined. Yes, "the buck stops here", and the boss takes the fall, but the others ought not to go scot free.

  • Finally, the incident, like the Golf Channel incident, has to raise questions about the hiring practices at Golfweek. Again, I sure would like to see some data.
The EEOC recently obtained a $2.5 million settlement on behalf of an African-American electrician who claimed he was harassed daily, including the display of nooses, at Lockheed-Martin. This was the largest settlement filed by EEOC on behalf of an individual. See: http://www.diversity.com/public/2919.cfm

Since Fiscal Year 2001, the EEOC has filed more than 30 lawsuits that involve the displaying of hangman’s nooses on the job. It recently settled for $290,000 such a claim against Helmerich & Payne International Drilling in Jackson, Mississippi, for $390,000 against Pemco Aeroplex in Birmingham Alabama, for $600,000 against AK Steel in Butler, Pennsylvania, and for more than $1,000,000 against Commercial Coating Service of Conroe, Texas. Tresa Baldas, EEOC Targets Workplace ‘Noose” Cases, National Law Journal, November 5, 2007. Available at: http://www.law.com/jsp/nlj/PubArticleNLJ.jsp?id=1193735026861. See Stephanie Armour, “Racial Bias Suits Climb in Workplaces,” Asbury Park Press, Oct. 29, 2007, available at http://www.app.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071029/BUSINESS/710290307/1003.

For additional coverage of the Golf week debacle see:



For some startling discussion of the use of nooses as a form of racial discrimination in the workplace see:





Sunrise Senior Living Sued by Former CFO

The former CFO of Sunrise Senior Living filed suit back in September in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia, claiming that he was fired in retaliation for uncovering improper accounting practices. Sounds like a snooze, but, trust me it has gotten real interesting. In recent court filings, Sunrise disclosed that it had discovered "more than 25,000 unique pornographic images" on a company-owned computer used by the former CFO. That disclosure raises interesting issues regarding the former CFO's attempt to delete material from laptops provided to him by Sunrise. Sunrise alleges that the former CFO returned one of two laptops after deleting all active electronic files, and that only after a forensic examination did it find the evidence of pornography on parts of the hard drive that had not been wiped clean. The former CFO's attorney has asked the court to strike all references to the pornography, arguing that Sunrise's instructions regarding retention of materials related to accounting activities under investigation and did not require the retention of the "adult materials". We hope to obtain more information about this interesting case and report further in the future.


General Sherman supposedly once said: "If I owned Texas and Hell, I would rent Texas and live in Hell." Quite obviously, Roger Clemens is betting that the good citizens of Harris County, Texas will prove the good general wrong. In what, in retrospect, may well be viewed as a serious blunder, Brian McNamee's lawyers threatened to sue Clemens if he went on 60 Minutes. Presumably, that lawsuit would have been filed in a more favorable venue than Harris County, Texas. But Rusty Hardin beat McNamee's lawyers to the punch, and filed a fourteen page complaint for defamation in Harris County before McNamee could file elsewhere. The complaint can be found at http://i.cnn.net/si/2008_images/2008.01.06_Clemens_Original_Petition.pdf.

I am beginning to get that itch that starts about this time every year - the itch to go south for spring training. Many players that I would love to go observe. Will Elijah Dukes get through spring training before he gets arrested yet again? How will D Train (Dontrelle Willis) do in the American League? And who is this latest deportee from Japan, Yosuke Kukudome, who will play right field for the Cubbies?


Put this under the category of crass commercialism. I co-chair a two day CLE conference sponsored by ALI-ABA on damage issues in employment cases which will be held February 7-8 at Georgetown Law School in Washington, D.C. If you are interested in registering, just contact ALI-ABA at 1-800-CLE-NEWS.

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