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An Epic Supreme Court Decision on Employment
Legal Interview | 2018/06/01 02:44
False dichotomy, meretricious piety, and pay-no-attention-to-that-man-behind-the-curtain misdirection are vital arrows in the quiver of any lawyer or judge, no matter of what persuasion.

These tricks were on particularly egregious display in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, a 5-4 decision announced Monday in which the Supreme Court’s conservative majority continued its drive to narrow protection for employee rights. (The opinion, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito; the dissent, by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was joined by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagan.)

The issue in Epic Systems was this: Can an employer require its employees, as a condition of keeping their jobs, to submit to individual arbitration of wage-and-hour and other workplace-condition claims—not only without an option to go to court, but without an option to pursue even private arbitration in common with other employees making the same claim?

Employees’ objection to a “no group arbitration” clause is that individual arbitration may concern amounts too small to make pursuing them worthwhile. Thus, these clauses make it easier for employers to maintain unfair or even unlawful employment structures and salary systems.

The question required the court to interpret two federal statutes—the Federal Arbitration Act (1925) and the National Labor Relations Act (1935). The FAA says that “a written provision in a contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce” requiring the parties to arbitrate instead of litigate disputes “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” The NLRA provides that “employees shall have the right to self-organization, to form, join, or assist labor organizations, to bargain collectively through representatives of their own choosing, and to engage in other concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection.”

Begin with text: the NLRA states that it is designed to counter “inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association.” There is no language like this in the FAA. The best histories of the FAA’s adoption suggest that it was designed to efficiently settle disputes among merchants—business interests with comparable bargaining power. The Act itself says it should not be read to affect “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The sponsors stated during deliberations that it was not designed to cover labor agreements.

Thus, the issue is whether the no-group-arbitration clause, by violating that provision of the NLRA, provides “grounds as exist at law” to bar the employer-imposed requirement of individual arbitration.

Gorsuch accused Ginsburg, author of the dissent, and the other three moderate liberals—Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan—of improperly consulting their own policy preferences, refusing to harmonize two easily reconcilable federal statutes, and illicitly smuggling extra-legal commentary—legislative history—into judicial decisions. But this was purest rhetorical Pecksniffery. Gorsuch himself quite cheerfully invoked a pro-arbitration policy preference; did no more to harmonize the two statutes than did the dissents; and ignored actual history, and the text of the NLRA, in favor of a spurious extra-legal non-textual narrative of the FAA.


North Carolina court allows case against dance instructors
Legal Interview | 2018/04/12 02:11
North Carolina's highest court says dance instructors who glided away to a competing dance studio can still be sued by the employer who wrangled the foreign-born pair's permission to work in the United States.

Happy Dance Inc. studio owner Michael Krawiec said Wednesday he's not yet discussed with his lawyer how to proceed after last week's ruling by the state Supreme Court.

The court decided breach of contract and other claims can continue against two dance instructors from Bosnia and Serbia, but the Charlotte studio that hired them away is largely out of the woods.

U.S. dance studios face a chronic search for instructors and have filled the gap by importing foreign workers from Eastern Europe and other countries where learning to waltz or tango is part of growing up.



Martin Shkreli cries in court, is sentenced to 7 years for securities fraud
Legal Interview | 2018/03/10 12:14
The smirk wiped from his face, a crying Martin Shkreli was sentenced to seven years in prison for securities fraud Friday in a hard fall for the pharmaceutical-industry bad boy vilified for jacking up the price of a lifesaving drug.

Shkreli, the boyish-looking, 34-year-old entrepreneur dubbed the "Pharma Bro" for his loutish behavior, was handed his punishment after a hearing in which he and his attorney struggled with limited success to make him a sympathetic figure

The defendant hung his head and choked up as he admitted to many mistakes and apologized to the investors he was convicted of defrauding. At one point, a clerk handed him a box of tissues.

"I want the people who came here today to support me to understand one thing: The only person to blame for me being here today is me," he said. "There is no conspiracy to take down Martin Shkreli. I took down Martin Shkreli."

In the end, U.S. District Judge Kiyo Matsumoto gave him a sentence that fell well short of the 15 years prosecutors wanted but was a lot longer than the 18 months his lawyer asked for. He was also fined $75,000.

He was found guilty in August of lying to investors in two failed hedged funds and cheating them out of millions. The case was unrelated to the 2015 furor in which he was accused of price-gouging, but his arrest was seen as rough justice by the many enemies he made with his smug and abrasive behavior online and off.

The judge insisted that the punishment was not about Shkreli's online antics or his raising the cost of the drug. "This case is not about Mr. Shkreli's self-cultivated public persona ... nor his controversial statements about politics or culture," Matsumoto said.

But she did say his conduct after the verdict made her doubt the sincerity of his remorse. She cited his bragging after the verdict that he would be sentenced to time served. And she quoted one piece of correspondence in which he wrote: "F--- the feds."

The judge ruled earlier that Shkreli would have to forfeit more than $7.3 million in a brokerage account and personal assets, including a one-of-a-kind Wu-Tang Clan album that he boasted of buying for $2 million.

Defense attorney Benjamin Brafman described Shkreli as a misunderstood eccentric who used unconventional means to make his defrauded investors even wealthier. He told the court that he sometimes wants to hug Shkreli and sometimes wants to punch him , but that his outspokenness shouldn't be held against him.


Court rules that Kushner firm must disclose partners' names
Legal Interview | 2018/01/26 15:16
A federal judge ruled Friday that the family company once run by Jared Kushner isn't allowed to keep secret the identity of its business partners in several Maryland properties.

A U.S. district judge in the state rejected the argument that the privacy rights of the Kushner Cos. partners outweigh the public interest in obtaining judicial records in a lawsuit before the court. The decision means the company tied to President Donald Trump's son-in-law might be forced to provide a rare glimpse into how it finances its real estate ventures.

The ruling backed the argument by The Associated Press and other news organizations that the media has a "presumptive right" to see such court documents and the Kushner Cos. had not raised a "compelling government interest" needed by law to block access.

U.S. District Court Judge James K. Bredar ruled that Westminster Management, a Kushner Cos. subsidiary, must file an unsealed document with the identity of its partners by Feb. 9.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit filed by tenants last year alleging Westminster charges excessive and illegal rent for apartments in the state. The lawsuit seeks class-action status for tenants in 17 apartment complexes owned by the company.

Westminster has said it has broken no laws and denies the charges.

In addition to its privacy argument, the Kushner subsidiary had said media reports of the Maryland dispute were "politically motivated" and marked by "unfair sensationalism." Disclosure of its partners' names would trigger even more coverage and hurt its chances of getting an impartial decision in the case, it had said.

In Friday's ruling, the judge said these are not "frivolous concerns," but the public's right to know is more important.



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