News

TALS Seeks Presenters for Equal Justice Conference

The Tennessee Alliance for Legal Services (TALS) is seeking presenters to speak at this year’s Equal Justice University set for Sept. 2-4 at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Murfreesboro. The conference, cosponsored by the TBA, is the annual gathering for Tennessee’s Access to Justice community. Speakers are sought to provide substantive law courses, ethics and professionalism training, and technology and communications skills. Send proposals by May 15 to TALS’ Policy & Training Director Anne Fox.

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Labor CLE to Include Session on Pregnancy Discrimination

Recent administration guidelines and case law on pregnancy discrimination will be addressed at this year’s Annual Labor & Employment CLE set for April 24 at the Tennessee Bar Center.

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State Law Limiting Workers’ Comp to Undocumented Ruled Unconstitutional

Davidson County Chancellor Russell Perkins has ruled that a state law limiting the amount of workers’ compensation benefits that undocumented workers can receive is unconstitutional, the Associated Press reports. The decision stems from the case of a Guatemalan man whose left arm was severely injured when he fell and was run over by a lawnmower. Perkins found that the U.S. Constitution gives the federal government, not the state, the authority to set immigration policy, The Memphis Daily News reports.

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Healthcare Liability, Workers' Comp Bills See Action

The Senate sponsor of legislation to establish an administrative system for addressing healthcare liability and errors announced today that the bill (SB507 by Sen. Jack Johnson and HB546 by Rep. Glen Casada) will not receive any further consideration this year, but will be the subject of an ad hoc committee study this summer. Also today, the Senate version of a bill to create a system for allowing employers to create a private workers' compensation plan bypassing the state system (SB721 by Sen. Mark Green and HB 997 by Rep. Jeremy Durham), cleared its first hurdle in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee by a 6-0-2 vote, with one member absent.

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Court Clarifies Who Qualifies as Whistleblower

The Tennessee Supreme Court on Friday ruled that an employee may not qualify as a whistleblower unless the employer’s alleged illegal activity is reported to someone other than the wrongdoer. The ruling upholds a lower court decision to dismiss the case of a horse groomer who claimed that he was fired for complaining to superiors about the care he received after being kicked in the head by a Tennessee Walking Horse. WDEF has the Associated Press story.

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Lawmakers Shoot Down Equal Pay Nondiscrimination Bill

A bill meant to even the playing field for wages for men and women was rejected by state lawmakers Wednesday afternoon, Nashville Public Radio reports. The measure would have let women file wage complaints at their local courthouses. Currently in Tennessee, only federal courts can handle pay discrimination suits.

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Court Revives Pregnant Worker’s Bias Claim

A former UPS driver gets another chance to prove her claim of discrimination against the company after the Supreme Court today threw out a lower court ruling that had rejected her suit, WRCB TV reports. Peggy Young charges the company discriminated against her by not offering her lighter duty work when she was pregnant.

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Appeals Court Affirms $3 Million Judgment Against MTSU

The Tennessee Court of Appeals has affirmed a $3 million judgment against Middle Tennessee State University after its original decision in the case was reversed by the Tennessee Supreme Court. In 2011, Jim Ferguson — an ex-maintenance worker who is of Japanese-American ancestry — sued MTSU for disparate treatment, malicious harassment and retaliation, alleging he was given work that exceeded doctor's orders after he filed a discrimination complaint. The Nashville Post has more (subcription required).

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Employers Could Opt out of Workers Comp Under Proposed Bill

Qualified employers could avoid the traditional workers' compensation coverage under a bill set for the Senate Commerce Committee next Tuesday. Sponsored by Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, and Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, SB721/HB997  would permit large self-funded employers to establish private ERISA-qualified workers compensation benefit plans as a substitute plan for workers compensation. The bill would limit medical expenses to 156 weeks and $300,000. Employees subject to the plan would not have the protection and oversight of the local courts or the Department of Labor, and would have to bring a lawsuit in federal court under ERISA. The TBA opposes this bill because of the extreme cut in benefits and because there is no advocacy on behalf of the injured workers. Use TBAImpact to reach out to your legislators today.

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Workers’ Comp Court Launches Blog

The Tennessee Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims has launched a new blog. Created in 2013 after the legislature passed comprehensive worker’s comp reform, the court says they created the blog as a means of further communicating critical information about the new law and court, and to promote just, efficient outcomes, with an emphasis on service and courtesy toward all individuals.

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ABA Urges Corporations to Fight Labor Trafficking

The ABA called on Fortune 500 companies this week to help eradicate human rights abuses by adopting and implementing anti-human trafficking policies consistent with its Model Business and Supplier Principles. The group also unveiled a new database to assist companies in this effort. In a letter to CEOs and general counsels, ABA President William C. Hubbard reiterated the need: an estimated 21 million people are subjected to forced labor around the world and 168 million children are in situations of child labor. Read more from group.

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Pilot Whistleblower Sues for Wrongful Termination

A Morgan Stanley executive who apparently was a key confidential source in the FBI investigation into Pilot Flying J filed a whistleblower lawsuit in federal court last week alleging he was fired after his role in the investigation was discovered, the Tennessean reports. Financial planner John Verble filed the suit in federal court in Knoxville. He is seeking hundreds of thousands of dollars in back pay and personal brokerage funds.

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Attorneys Form Green Hills Law Firm

Three Nashville attorneys, including the former legal counsel to then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, have opened a law firm in the Green Hills area of the city. Trajan Carney, Steve Elkins and Leslie Curry have created Carney|Elkins|Curry PLC at 3817 Bedford Ave. in Bedford Commons. The firm will handle general civil litigation and appellate practice, with a focus on construction law, general business litigation, administrative and regulatory law, and labor and employment law. It also will offer estate planning and probate services. The Nashville Post has more on the story.

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Councilman: Labor Bill Would Hurt 3,000 Chattanoogans

Some Chattanooga officials say efforts by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, to dissolve union agreements with city workers amounts to an attack on municipal employees statewide and could negatively affect up to 3,000 workers in Chattanooga alone. Kelsey said yesterday he is only trying to help cities with Senate Bill 123, which seeks to prevent cities and metropolitan governments in Tennessee from recognizing or entering agreements with employee unions and rendering any "agreement, contract, understanding, or practice, written or oral, implied or expressed" between a city and a union "illegal, void and of no legal effect." The Chattanooga Times Free Press has more.

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Concubines and Dead Partners? TBJ Has Them This Month

The Standard of Clear and Convincing Evidence has never been so interesting, as when Judge Tom Wright and Ben Welch write about it, using concubines and dead partners as examples, in the February Tennessee Bar Journal. Also in this issue, Monica J. Franklin explains the ABLE Account, an alternative to special needs trusts, and Edward G. Phillips and Brandon L. Morrow delve into wage and hour issues in the high court. Bill Haltom has in mind a perfect Valentine's gift for the lawyer on your list.

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Waller Adds 11 Attorneys

Waller today announced the addition of 11 new attorneys to several key practice groups: real estate, finance and restructuring, labor and employment, healthcare compliance and operations, and litigation and dispute resolution practices. "In response to the needs of our clients, we continue to experience tremendous growth in practices that are core strengths of our firm," said Waller chair Matt Burnstein.

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2 Fired, 1 Position Created in Criminal Court Clerk’s Office

Knox County Criminal Court Clerk Mike Hammond cut two positions and created a new one this week, laying off two longtime supervisors in the Fourth Circuit Court. The changes are expected to save the clerk’s office more than $157,000 in salary expenses. The staff reductions had nothing to do with the employees’ performance but are part of an ongoing reorganization, Hammond told Knoxnews.  He had earlier released six other employees from the office.

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Apple, Google, Others Pay $415M in Wage Case

Apple, Google and two other Silicon Valley companies have agreed to pay $415 million in a second attempt to resolve a class-action lawsuit alleging they formed an illegal cartel to prevent their workers from leaving for better-paying jobs. The settlement filed yesterday in a San Jose federal court revises a $324.5 million agreement that U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh rejected as inadequate five months ago. Koh indicated that she believed the roughly 64,000 workers in the case should be paid at least $380 million, including attorney fees. The lawsuit, filed in 2011, sought $3 billion in damages that could have been tripled under U.S. antitrust law. Attorneys for the workers decided to settle after concluding it would have been difficult to prove the alleged conspiracy to a jury. WRCB has more from the Associated Press.

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State Seeking Workers’ Comp Judge

The State of Tennessee Division of Workers’ Compensation is accepting applications for the position of Workers’ Compensation Judge through Feb. 1. Candidates must have a valid, active Tennessee law license, be at least 30 years old, and have at least five years experience in Tennessee workers’ compensation matters. Interested individuals should complete an application and send all required attachments to Jeff Francis by email at b.jeff.francis@tn.gov, by fax to (615) 253-8539 or by mail to Tennessee Division of Workers’ Compensation, 220 French Landing Dr., Nashville, TN 37243. Questions should be directed to Abbie Hudgens.

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Littler Names New Managing Shareholder

Tanja L. Thompson has been named office managing shareholder of Littler's Memphis office. Thompson succeeds Jay Kiesewetter, who will be retiring from the firm. Thompson serves as a co-chair of Littler’s Labor Management Relations Practice Group. Her practice focuses on representing companies in the area of traditional labor law. She received her law degree from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and her undergraduate degree from Rhodes College. View the press release.

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Court Clerk Files Age Discrimination Suit

Helen R. Forrester, a longtime employee of the Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk’s office, has sued the county for illegal age discrimination and violation of the state’s Human Rights Act, following her termination. Forrester, 69, worked in the office for 24 years both as office manager and deputy general sessions court clerk. Forrester asserts that she was let go so that new Anderson County Circuit Court Clerk William Jones could replace her with “a much younger individual of his own choosing.” Knoxnews has the story.

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Obesity Can Be Disability, European Court Rules

Obesity can be a disability, the European Court of Justice ruled Thursday in a case involving a Danish childcare worker who said he was fired for being fat. The Associated Press reports that the decision could have employment law consequences across the 28-nation block, where employers might face an "active obligation" to cater to the needs of their obese staff members who are considered disabled, because discrimination on the grounds of disability is illegal under European Union law.

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Court: No Pay for Warehouse Security Checks

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously Tuesday that warehouse workers who fill orders for retail giant Amazon are not entitled to pay for time spent complying with security checks at the end of their shifts. At the heart of the case was whether the time employees spent waiting in line and going through the security check was related to their primary job duties. In saying it was not, the justices reversed a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had said the screenings should be compensated because they were performed for the employer’s benefit and were integral to the workers’ jobs. WTVC-TV NewsChannel 9 has the AP story.

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Advice for a Jolly, Safe Work Holiday Party

As a labor and employment lawyer, Bob Nobile has seen his share of holiday parties that went awry, ranging from the uncomfortable to the downright tragic. In the December issue of Inside Counsel, he shares examples of “parties that got lost in a snowstorm of problems” and gives concrete tips on “how to avoid the biggest lumps of coal in the HR holiday stocking.” Nobile is a partner in the New York office of Seyfarth Shaw.

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High Court to Hear Pregnancy Discrimination Case

The Supreme Court today heard arguments regarding a former UPS driver who sued the company for discriminating against pregnant women. Peggy Young was pregnant with her now 7-year-old daughter when UPS told her she could not have a temporary assignment to avoid lifting heavy packages, as her doctor had ordered. Young's case hinges on the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, a law that Congress passed in 1978 specifically to include discrimination against pregnant women as a violation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The question in Young's case is whether UPS violated the law through its policy of providing temporary light-duty work only to employees who had on-the-job injuries, were disabled under federal law or lost their federal driver certification. WATE has more.

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