Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Have you listened to Labor Relatedly yet?

Over the past few years, I've toyed with the idea of launching my own legal podcast. Two things have held me back. First, I don't really want to add another "thing" for me to manage. Secondly, other people ask me to guest on their podcasts and I feel like I'm getting enough bang for the podcasting buck that the added time of recording and producing my own show wouldn't justify any additional return.

Thus, I jumped at the chance when my friend Michael VanDervort asked if I wanted to join his existing podcast, DriveThruHR, as a recurring co-host to discuss all things labor relations in light of current and historic rise in union organizing. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Posting about litigation (actual or potential) is a terrible idea

Until yesterday, Erin Overbey worked as an editor at The New Yorker. Shortly after her termination, Overbey took to Twitter to write about her termination. Across 35 tweets, she accuses the magazine of retaliating against her because of she had previously raised concerns over its lack of equity and inclusivity. 

While the allegations are interesting, I instead want to focus today's lens on the idea of tweeting about a matter in litigation, or reasonably expected to head in that direction. What I'm about to say holds true for employees and employers.

Monday, July 25, 2022

Cursing in the workplace

According to one survey, 57% of American employees admit to swearing at work. (Count me in the "yes" column.)

Where is the line between swearing as harmless workplace banter and swearing as harmful unlawful harassment? The seminal case is Reeves v. C.H. Robinson Worldwide, which involved the female plaintiff's offense to the salty language used by male co-workers in nearby cubicles.

Friday, July 22, 2022

WIRTW #634: the “%@$&*!” edition

Vacation 💑
I love trivia, even if it doesn't always love me back.

For example, in 1993 my collegiate trivia bowl team lost in the university finals. (For the record, I've always been more than suspicious of the fact that the winning team were fraternity brothers with the quiz master and knew the answer to nearly every question almost too quickly.)

In November 1999, I lacked the fastest fingers on Who Wants to be a Millionaire. ("Where's the proof," you ask? Here you go.)

Thus, when my niece asked if we wanted to do trivia night at a local winery during our visit last week, my answer was a resounding, "Yes!" (For the record, she had me at winery; trivia just provided the exclamation point.)

What's better than trivia night at a winery? Barnstorming into town and winning trivia night at a winery … which is exactly what we did. Correctly answering 16 out of 21 questions earned us a three-way tie for first place, which we broke by naming all seven dwarfs the quickest. 

Of the five questions we answered incorrectly, one stuck with me as the most interesting and obscure. So today I'm sharing it with you.
What is the word for a string of typographical symbols (such as %@$&*!) used in place of an obscenity, especially in comic strips?

Take your best guess in comments, and I'll provide the correct answer on Monday. No Googling!

Here's what I read and listened to this week and last week that I think you should be reading and listening to, too.

Thursday, July 21, 2022

We need to talk about litigation holds and spoliation of evidence

The situation playing out in real time between Congress and the Secret Service over text messages related to the Jan. 6th insurrection is quite the teachable moment on litigation holds and spoliation of evidence.

On Jan. 16, 2021, Congress sent the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees the Secret Service) a broad preservation and production request for documents related to Jan. 6, which included communications "received, prepared or sent" between Jan. 5 and Jan 7. 

Following the Jan. 16 request, the Secret Service explained to employees that it was up to them to preserve records from their phones and provided a step-by-step guide to preserve mobile phone content, including text messages, prior to a phone migration that occurred on Jan. 27. That migration, however, appears to have caused a widespread destruction of data, as the Secret Service has only been able to produce to the Jan. 6 Committee one text message from the critical three-day window.

What went wrong? 

A lot, apparently.

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

A modest proposal to revamp continuing legal education credits #CLECreditsforBlogging

"I'm finishing all my CLE credits this week. It amazes me how if you keep up with law changes regularly how out-of-date these CLEs feel."

That's an excerpt of a recent conversation between my friend, Kate Bischoff, and me. Kate is 100 percent correct. I learn very little, if anything from the continuing education courses I take. I take them because the Ohio Supreme Court requires me to check a 24-credit box every two years, not because they offer me any educational value.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Abortion travel benefits don’t discriminate against non-abortion-seeking pregnant workers

Within hours of the Supreme Court releasing its opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and reversing Roe v. Wade, DICK'S Sporting Goods announced that it will provide up to $4,000 in travel expense reimbursement for an employee, spouse, or dependent enrolled in its medical plan (plus one support person) to travel to the nearest location where abortion care is legally available. 

Last week, America First Legal, an ultra-conservative non-profit legal group run by "patriots" such as Stephen Miller and Mark Meadows, filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission asking the agency to conclude that DICK'S offering of abortion travel benefits discriminates against female employees who choose to give birth. According to America First Legal Senior Counselor and Director of Oversight Reed D. Rubinstein, "Subsidizing travel for an abortion, while denying an equivalent benefit to a mother welcoming a new baby, is perverse and unlawful."

Monday, July 11, 2022

This is why I (almost) always recommend that employers provide terminated employees a reasonable severance package

Roosevelt Jointer worked as a maintenance supervisor at Tesla from September 2017 until last month. That was when his manager called him over the phone, during Jointer's vacation, to tell him that he had been fired. 

Business Insider quotes Jointer about what was said during that call:
I did not receive any advance notice that I would be losing my job. Up to that point, no one at Tesla ever raised any issues with me regarding my performance.

During this call, my manager told me that I would receive a severance offer over an e-mail and urged me to sign a separation agreement to get a severance payment of one week's salary [and two months of health insurance].

He did not sign the agreement. 

Friday, July 8, 2022

WIRTW #633: the “what I’m listening to” edition

I'm weird. I travel to my office for work every day possible. Not my "home office," but my actual office, inside my law firm, in a building with our name on it. Working in an office, as opposed to working remotely from my home, offers many benefits. I get to collaborate with and better know my co-workers. It fosters a sense of community and belonging within my business. It gets me out of my house (and t-shirts). And it provides a daily commute that enables me to listen to podcasts.

"Which podcasts," you ask? Here's my current Top 5 list (excluding any I've previously recommended to you).

1/ Films To Be Buried With — Hosted by Brett Goldstein (aka Ted Lasso's Roy Kent), each episode features a celebrity guest telling the story of their life through a history of movies (first movie they remember seeing, sexiest movie, best movie, etc.). It's always a compelling and entertaining listen, even when the guest is some British comedian I've never heard of. 

2/ Slow Burn — Each season of this podcast, produced by Slate, tackles, in long form, a political issue from our recent history. Past seasons examined Watergate, Bill Clinton's impeachment, Rodney King and the L.A. Riots, and David Duke. The current 7th season, which examines Roe v. Wade and the history of abortion legislation and politics, is an important listen in this specific time in our history.

3/ The Bittersweet Life — Ever wonder what it's like to live as an expat in a foreign country. This podcast, hosted by one current expat living in Rome and another who's since moved back to the States, makes a pretty compelling case to pitch it all and move to Europe.

4/ Ghost Church — Religion has always fascinated me. Not because I'm particularly religious (I'm not), but because I want to understand what draws others in. In this limited series, comedian Jamie Loftus (check out her other excellent show, My Year in Mensa) explores, investigates, and interrogates American spiritualism, a century-old tradition of communing with the dead that takes place in camps full of mediums. It's also quite funny without mocking this faith in the least.

5/ Things Fell Apart — I don't think I'm breaking any news by telling you that our country is in the midst of a significant culture war. This BBC podcast examines various pressure points that are currently ripping our country apart (e.g., abortion, LGBTQ+ rights, sex education) by talking to people on both sides of the front lines.

Here's what I read this past week that I think you should be reading, too.

Thursday, July 7, 2022

A Q&A on service animals at work

The EEOC has sued Hobby Lobby, accusing the arts-and-crafts retailer of refusing to reasonably accommodate a cashier by declining her the use a service dog and ultimately firing her.

The agency shares the details in its press release:

According to the suit, the employee advised her manager that she needed to bring her fully trained service dog to work to assist her with symptoms caused by PTSD, anxiety and depression. The company's human resources representative met with the employee to discuss her request but concluded the dog would present a safety concern because a coworker or customer might be allergic to or trip over the dog, or the dog might break something. Even though Hobby Lobby allows customers to bring service dogs and other dogs to the store, managers were unwilling to allow the employee's service dog in the store to see whether there was an actual safety concern. Hobby Lobby ultimately terminated the employee when she could not work without her service dog.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Having a disability is NOT an excuse for mistreating others

I've written before about BrewDog (here and here), the multinational Scottish craft brewery accused by hundreds of former employees of systemic mistreatment through its sexist and misogynist work environment. The brewery's founder and CEO, James Watt, stands at the center of much of controversy and most point to him as the root cause of most of the allegation.

Earlier this week, Watt appeared as a guest on The Diary of CEO podcast. During the interview, Watt blamed his pattern of mistreatment of employees him possibly being autistic.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

Forced religion and work do not mix

I believe that everyone's relationship with God (whether you call that deity God, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, Vishnu, Buddha, something else, or nothing at all) is personal. I have no opinion on your spiritual relationship, as should you have none on mine. Thus, I get mad whenever someone tries to shove their religious beliefs down my throat. Not only do I not care, but I can guarantee that you will not change my mind. Proselytism is one small step removed from fanaticism, and rarely, if ever, has anything good come from religious fanaticism.

I share the above as prologue to today's discussion, which focuses on a Title VII lawsuit the EEOC recently filed against Aurora Pro Services, a North Carolina residential home service and repair company, alleged to have required employees to participate in religious prayer sessions as a condition of employment.

Friday, July 1, 2022

WIRTW #632: the “it's been a week” edition

From the Supreme Court's opinion terminating the constitutional right to abortion … to other Supreme Court opinions allowing and endorsing the open carry of firearmsprayer in public schools, the public funding of religious schools, and global warming … to the grim details of the near end of our republic laid bare by the brave Congressional testimony of Cassidy Hutchinson, it's been one hell of an exhausting, sad, and enraging week.

Weeks like this one demand a breather. So today, no law (other than the below list of links to read). Just music. 

Enjoy my daughter's cover of Alanis Morissette's "Hand in My Pocket", recorded live at her gig last weekend at Akronym Brewing. (She's quite the busy musician this summer; you'll find all of her upcoming gigs listed on her website, including upstate New York, on July 15.)

Everyone please have safe, relaxing, and peaceful holiday weekend, full of family, food, and frivolity. I'm not feeling particularly patriotic these days, but I'll nonetheless find a way enjoy my burgers, beer, and breather. 🍔 🍺 😌

Here's what I read this past week that I think you should read, too.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

Court dismisses employees’ race discrimination claims against Whole Foods based on prohibition of BLM masks

A group of Black and non-Black Whole Foods employees claimed that their employer unlawfully discriminated against them because of their race and their association with people because of their race based on their employer's prohibition of the wearing of "Black Lives Matter" face masks starting in June 2020 following the death of George Floyd.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

“Abortion discrimination” = illegal pregnancy discrimination … even after Dobbs

Is it legal to fire an employee who has an abortion? This is question that a lot of employers and employees will now be asking in light of the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that that there is no constitutional right to abortion.

As controversial and divisive of an issue as abortion is (perhaps now more than ever), the law is clear that an employer cannot fire an employee for having one. Nothing the Supreme Court did in Dobbs changes this.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Federal appeals court rejects reliability of electronic signatures on employment agreements

During a webinar I recently conducted on employee handbooks, someone asked me a question about the best practice between wet signatures vs. e-signatures on handbook receipts. I answered that either was fine, but at least with the digital footprint of an e-signature you avoid the disingenuous "that's not my signature," or the "I don't ever remember signing that" we sometimes hear from plaintiffs in deposition. 

Then I read Barrows v. Brinker Restaurant Corp.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The best response to the end of Roe v. Wade came from a company called DICK’S

Within hours of the Supreme Court announcing its decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, Lauren Horbart, the President and CEO of DICK'S Sporting Goods, posted the following on LinkedIn.
At DICK’S, our teammates are the heart of our business, and we are committed to protecting their health and well-being.… 
In response to today's ruling, we are announcing that if a state one of our teammates lives in restricts access to abortion, DICK'S Sporting Goods will provide up to $4,000 in travel expense reimbursement to travel to the nearest location where that care is legally available. This benefit will be provided to any teammate, spouse or dependent enrolled in our medical plan, along with one support person.

We recognize people feel passionately about this topic -- and that there are teammates and athletes who will not agree with this decision. However, we also recognize that decisions involving health and families are deeply personal and made with thoughtful consideration. We are making this decision so our teammates can access the same health care options, regardless of where they live, and choose what is best for them.

Friday, June 24, 2022

WIRTW #631: the “(not so) Good Ship BrewDog” edition

Job interview: "Are you planning on having kids? Do kids feature in your five-year plan? Because we want someone in this role for a minimum of five years."

Answer: "I've never wanted kids. Never have; never will. I've been told I probably can't have kids anyway."

Follow-up phone call: "You're the best candidate for the job. You're everything that we've been looking for. You'd be absolutely perfect for the role. But we need to clear things up with this whole 'kids' thing."

Answer: "I don't want them, it's not part of my plan, and I can't anyway."

Final conversation: "We can't hire you because of the whole 'marriage and babies' thing."

That what Alice Hayward claims happened to her at BrewDog when she applied for a promotion from bar work into a sales position, as reported by the BBC in the Good Ship BrewDog podcast. I've absolutely devoured this six-episode podcast over the past several days. (Bonus points for the narrator's lovely Scottish brogue.)

If you're curious about the damage that a toxic work culture can cause, I cannot more highly recommend this podcast. While the entire show is a master class in how not to manage employees, I thought episode 5 — which focuses on BrewDog's expansion into the U.S. — was the standout.

Good Ship BrewDog also underscores why I decided to become a beer lawyer. Our industry is cool, fun, and full of great people. Yet, there is still so much work to do.

Before I get to this week's list of links, I'll leave you with this thought I found on Instagram.
Regardless of how "hype" or "good" the beer is, stop supporting breweries … who perpetuate problem behavior.
Businesses have little financial incentive to cease misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, racist, and other problematic behavior if we who stand against it and believe it's dangerous and wrong keep supporting them with our wallets. 

Or, to put it another way (quoting Jim Vorel in Paste Magazine, from a recent story on another brewery, Tired Hands — more on their story next week): "If we look away, the beer world's sexism will always return to the status quo."

Here's what I read this past week that I think you should be reading, too.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

THIS is how you help a struggling employee

Peter Gabriel sits on my personal Mount Rushmore of musical artists. He's also its longest resident, first etched during my high school years. I did not get the chance to see him play live, however, until the summer of 1994, Aug. 8, to be precise. He played the Stabler Arena at Lehigh University, a warm-up gig for his set six days later that would close the Woodstock '94.

Paula Cole, who had not yet struck it big herself, was Peter's main backing vocalist. She joined that tour for its final two legs, replacing Sinéad O'Connor. 

For that final leg of the tour (which included the date I attended), Peter added Don't Give Up to the set, a song originally made famous for Peter's duet with Kate Bush on the So album. The show I attended was one of the first (if not the first) at which the band performed Don't Give Up. Unfortunately, about half-way through, Paula Cole had a bit of a problem with the lyrics and went completely silent through her part while band kept playing.

Peter jumped in. "It's been a while since we've done this one." Paula then composed herself enough to finish the song (beautifully and brilliantly, I might add).

But it's what happened next that stuck with me for the past 28 years. 

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Is there a statute of limitations on old social media posts?

"LET ME SALUTE TO HITLER THE GREAT. He said 'i would have killed all the jews of the world, but I kept some to show the world why i killed them.'"

"F**k that Jew."

"who bothering ya!!! Let me at em! Lol if it's a Jew give me their @ and I'll do it 😂 😂 😂"

These are three examples of many recently discovered blatantly and offensively anti-Semitic tweets allegedly posted by Ismail Quran, Cleveland's "Police Officer of the Year" for 2019.

The thing is, they all pre-date Quran joining the department, and some are a decade old.