Category Archives: legal issues

Vigilante Anti-Illegal Immigrationists?

Here’s a new twist in the ongoing fracas over immigration. Came across this piece in Thursday’s New York Times about residents of a small town in Nebraska who are so fit-to-be-tied over illegal immigrants in their midst that they forced a vote on the issue — fighting off challenges by some of their elected leaders all the way to the state Supreme Court.

Indeed, voters of Fremont, Neb., will be deciding this Monday (June 21) whether to ban businesses from hiring illegal immigrants and bar landlords from renting to them. Forget waiting for your governor to take the lead, eh? (Though it does appear Fremont’s proposal was written with help from an author of Arizona’s new anti-immigration law.)

Mind you, there are only about 25,000 residents in this 1850s-era railroad and farming town about 30 miles northwest of Omaha, and it’s nowhere near an international border. But those in favor of the bans say the number of Hispanic residents has climbed from 165 in 1990 to close to 2,000 now, and that many are living and working there illegally and are responsible for rising crime rates. They’re demanding that all Fremont businesses use the E-Verify system, something skeptics of the proposed law say most already do.

I’m wondering what the atmosphere at the polling places is going to be like on Monday. (I’ll try to keep you posted.) The story suggests many people in Fremont have stopped talking to one another because they’re not sure where everyone stands on this extremely heated and controversial — and, of course, very personal — issue.

More importantly, I’m wondering how far from this kind of development the rest of our American cities and towns might be.

Supreme Court Rules on Texting at Work

The U.S. Supreme Court has just unanimously ruled that a California police chief was within his constitutional rights when he viewed sexually explicit text messages sent by an officer’s work pager to two different women.

According to the LA Times, Sgt. Jeff Quon sued the police department after learning that thousands of messages he separately sent to his wife and a girlfriend had been viewed by his police chief in Ontario, Calif. He previously won his case in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but lost today because:

In this case, the high court said the police chief’s reading of the officer’s text messages was a search, but it was also reasonable.

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy agreed the police chief’s actions amounted to a search, but it was reasonable, he said, because it had “a legitimate work-related purpose.” He wanted to see whether officers were using their text pagers for police work or for personal matters. “Because it was not excessive in scope, the search was reasonable,” Kennedy said.

While it’s true that many, if not most, employers tell employees that they should have no expectation of privacy when using company-owned communication devices, an Associated Press report on the ruling reports that Kennedy also offered some advice to employees on the topic:

Kennedy said that it is true that many employers accept or tolerate personal communications on company time and equipment. But he suggested that employees who want to avoid the potential embarrassment of having those communications revealed might “want to purchase and pay for their own” cell phones and other devices.

Ultimately, one wonders if this ruling will prompt HR departments across the country to revise, with stronger language, their employees’ handbooks on the use of company-owned telecommunications devices and the accompanying lack of an expectation of privacy.

Or maybe they should just send out a text message to everyone with a company cell phone.

Banker Alleges Discrimination at Citibank

A steamy Friday morning brings us news of a steamy suit being filed against Citibank, alleging sexual discrimination against one of its ex-employees. The suit is being filed by Debrahlee Lorenzana, who formerly worked for Citibank:

Her bosses told her that “as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly ‘too distracting’ for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear,” she says.

[Her two male] managers gave her a list of clothing items she would not be allowed to wear: turtlenecks, pencil skirts,  and fitted suits. And three-inch heels.

Wage and Hour Division’s Aggressive Agenda

 The U.S. Department of Wage and Hour Division held a public stakeholders forum on May 21 to lay out its goals and regulatory agenda — and from the looks of the reports I found, employers better stay on their toes ’cause the feds they are a-watchin you, folks.

Noel Tripp, an attorney with one of the employment law firms I quoted in an April 5 news analysis — Jackson Lewis — was in attendance and filed this report. Reads more like a warning to me. At the very least, it seems clear the Department of Labor’s WHD is gearing up to enhance employees’ rights, but not necessarily bend over backwards to help employers do just that in the process.

According to a story posted by Roy Maurer of the Society for Human Resource Management, WHD Deputy Administrator Nancy Leppink started the forum by defending her agency’s March 24 decision to end its long-held practice of issuing opinion letters to employers’ specific questions about compliance (which my news analysis was about). Leppink told those in attendance the practice was dropped because the “cost benefit was not there.”

 Yet, in the same initial greeting, she touted WHD’s “ambitious agenda,” according to Maurer, and listed some of the agency’s more impressive accomplishments, including hiring 250 new investigators (with plans to hire 100 more in 2010) and starting the “We Can Help” campaign, aimed at reaching vulnerable workers who wouldn’t otherwise report violations and noncompliance (this last bit, ala Tripp).

Tripp also offers this parting shot: “Employers must recognize that the newly aggressive WHD is focusing on complance and [will] consider internal or external audits to review wage-and-hour compliance. Employers in traditional low-wage industries must take special notice of the WHD’s initatives.”

I would say ALL employers would be well-advised to open these links I’m providing here and read them very carefully. 

New Law Advisory from the DOL

Just wanted to make sure everyone saw this recent release from the U.S. Department of Labor about a new disability nondiscrimination law advisory — part of its new elaws Web site, an interactive site developed to help employers and employees understand their rights and responsibilities under numerous federal employment laws. Might want to check this stuff out and report back to us with your impressions and feedback! In fact, we’d appreciate it!

Obama’s Choice for the High Court

Elena Kagan— President Obama’s choice for replacing the retiring Justice John Paul Stevens—may not be as controversial a candidate as some previous Supreme Court nominees. But the current Solicitor General should still expect some tough questions when she comes before the Senate Judicial Committee, including maybe a few pertaining to military recruiting on college campuses.

In announcing the nomination earlier today, Obama described Kagan, 50, as someone “respected and admired not just for her intellect and record of achievement, but also for her temperament, her openness to a broad array of viewpoints, her habit—to borrow a phrase from Justice [John Paul] Stevens—of understanding before disagreeing, her fair-mindedness and skill as a consensus builder.”

Critics, however, are expected to point to Kagan’s lack of judicial experience as a major concern.

Not much is known about Kagan’s positions on issues in the realm of employment law. But it’s quite likely committee members will bring up her decision as dean of the Harvard Law School to bar military recruiters from using its offices. In an e-mail to students and faculty, she called the military’s “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy “discriminatory” and a “profound wrong.” But in the face of losing federal funding because of the school’s violation of the Solomon Amendment—which allows the government to withhold money from universities that bar military recruiters—Kagan reversed her position on the ban.

No doubt proponents and opponents of her nomination will attempt to spin this incident to their own advantage. But while it’s not likely to make any difference in the eventual outcome—most expect the Kagan nomination to eventually be approved, unless something unforeseen happens—it does, at the very least, provide a hint into how she might approach some of the employment-discrimination issues that find their way to the High Court.

Biometric Brouhaha Boiling On

Sentiments from either side of the proposed biometric national ID card debate are getting more and more heated, as this recent story from the Society for Human Resource Management underscores.

Aside from the politics involved in the idea of including the card in an immigration-reform bill, HR professionals are also “casting a wary eye,” according to the story. The ACLU predicts employers could pay as much as $1.2 billion to issue the cards and workers would have to pay $105 to $139 eachto obtain them. Expanded to the entire U.S. workforce, the program could translate to a cost of $285 billion.

ACLU Legislative Counsel Christopher Calabrese tells SHRM the bureaucracy behind such a program “would involve new government offices across the country, tens of thousands of new federal employees and the construction of huge new information-technology systems.”

Other opponents predict long document-presentation lines, inevitable information errors and bureaucratic red tape. Employers “would have to purchase expensive biometric readers, train HR workers to be immigration agents and endure delays in their workforce,” Calabrese says.

But nothing else could be as fraud-proof and sure to enhance homeland security and reduce the number of illegal immigrants living and working here, card proponents say.

My prediction: This cauldron has a heckuva lot more cooking time ahead.