News

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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Court Holds Human Rights Act Claimants Have Right to Trial By Jury

The Tennessee Supreme Court has determined that Tennessee Human Rights Act claims against local governmental entities are not governed by the Governmental Tort Liability Act (GTLA) and claims filed in Chancery Court include a statutory right to trial by jury. The ruling pertains to the 2010 case of Larry Sneed, who was fired from his job as chief of police for the City of Red Bank. Sneed filed suit against the city in the Chancery Court for Hamilton County, alleging numerous claims, including a Rights Act claim against the city and a claim under the Tennessee Public Protection Act. Prior to trial, Red Bank filed a motion to transfer the case from Chancery Court to Circuit Court, alleging that the GTLA applied, which requires claims to be filed in Circuit Court and tried without a jury. The Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals decision and held that the GTLA does not control Rights Act claims because the Rights Act is an independent and specific statute, which itself removes governmental immunity and authorizes claims against governmental entities. Visit the AOC website for more.

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Vested Property Rights Act Leads December TBJ

In the December issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal, lawyers Jennifer Lacey and John Williams detail the Vested Property Rights Act of 2014 and how it has given more stability to developers. Bill Rutchow looks at employer protection of confidential business information through the Tennessee Uniform Trade Secrets Act. And in perhaps the best news of all, columnist Eddy Smith reports the demise of Circular 230 Disclosures in "How the IRS Saved the Planet and Returned 30 Minutes of Your Day."

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Section Chair Provides Details on Immigration Executive Order

In a newsletter today to members of the Immigration Law Section, chair Bruce Buchanan breaks down President Obama’s executive order on immigration, explaining six key provisions of the order. Then on Dec. 10, Buchanan and fellow Nashville lawyer Sean Lewis will present a one-hour webcast on the executive action and other changes in immigration policy. Learn more at TBA CLE.

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New Resource Helps Parents Navigate Workplace Laws

A Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center has released a new resource for parents and families trying to navigate workplace laws. The advocacy group this week unveiled babygate, an online resource that breaks down pregnancy and parenting laws in an easy-to-use, state-by-state guide. Among topics covered are whether pregnant women can be fired for morning sickness, what rights women have to workplace accommodations while pregnant and remedies for alleged discrimination. The organization also offers a free hotline offering information about workplace rights. In Tennessee, concerned parents can call (615) 915-2417.

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MTSU Employee Awarded Damages in Retaliation Lawsuit

The Tennessee Supreme Court unanimously reinstated a jury verdict, finding that a former maintenance employee of Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) suffered unlawful retaliation through the actions of his supervisor. Jim Ferguson, a Japanese-American, argued that shortly after he filed a discrimination lawsuit against MTSU, his supervisor retaliated against him by requiring him to perform tasks outside his medical restrictions, increasing his work assignments and engaging in other retaliatory conduct. A jury rejected Ferguson’s discrimination and malicious harassment claims, but found MTSU had retaliated against him and awarded him damages. The Tennessee Court of Appeals reversed the jury award, but on appeal the Tennessee Supreme Court disagreed. Chief Justice Sharon G. Lee authored the opinion for the court. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Appeals Court Denies Girl Scouts’ Pension Request

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati has upheld a district court ruling involving a local Girl Scouts council’s pension dispute with its parent organization, the Nashville Post reports. In 2012, the Girl Scouts of Middle Tennessee (GSMT) sued Girl Scouts of America after the national group’s pension plan went from a 2007 surplus of $150 million to a $340 million deficit five years later. GSMT asked a district court to force the national organization to spin off pension assets, alleging breaches of fiduciary duty and financial mismanagement. It also asked the court to force the national group to allow it to operate its own plan. The district court dismissed the claim and, last week, the appeals court upheld the dismissal. The three-judge panel said allowing the spin-off would be tantamount to creating a new law.

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TBJ Has Employment Law Updates, Elder Law Resources

Journal columnists Edward G. Phillips and Brandon L. Morrow tell you about recent amendments to employment law, which you need to know whether you represent employees, employers or both. In the same issue, columnist Monica Franklin explains and gives valuable resources for talking with senior adults about driving and help in determining when Momma needs to get off the road.

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New Law Targets Workplace Bullying

Currently, no federal law against workplace bullying exists, but Tennessee is the first state to enact a law to target workplace bullying, writes Heather Anderson in a Knoxville News Sentinel column. She explains the "Healthy Workplace Act" and suggests that regardless of the law, stopping bullying is good for business, employees and a business's bottom line.

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Court Looks at Religious Beards, Pay for Warehouse Workers

The Supreme Court on Tuesday took up the case of Arkansas prison inmate Gregory Holt, who says his Muslim beliefs require him to grow a half-inch beard. Prison officials in the state do not permit beards except for inmates with certain skin conditions, who can have beards a quarter-inch long. Groups across the political spectrum and the Obama Administration say Holt has a right to grow a beard under a federal law aimed at protecting prisoners’ religious rights. WRCB-TV reports that the justices “appeared united … as they picked apart prison rules … that allow full Afros and mustaches, but no beards.” Also this week, the court heard from warehouse workers who want to be compensated for the time it takes to go through security checkpoints each day. The business community is opposing the idea, saying the security clearances are unrelated to core job duties. The Tennessean has more on that case.

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Court Opens Term with Case on Police Actions

The U.S. Supreme Court opened its new term Monday with a case questioning whether a police officer’s misunderstanding of the law can justify a traffic stop that led to the seizure of illegal drugs. A divided North Carolina Supreme Court said the mistake was reasonable enough to justify the routine traffic stop and refused to toss out the drug evidence. Other actions today included decisions to leave in place the conviction of a Massachusetts man who argued his online activities were free speech, not support for al-Qaida; reject an appeal to South Carolina’s redrawn state house and congressional maps; and not hear an appeal from a lawyer/activist who claimed a federal judge ruled against him because of personal bias.

The court did grant review in a number of cases, including a challenge to Abercrombie & Fitch’s decision to not hire a Muslim teen because her hijab was deemed inconsistent with the company’s dress code; a question of federal litigation fee awards; a case involving ERISA plan fiduciaries; and whether discrimination claims brought under the Fair Housing Act can be based on proof of disparate impact rather than intentional discrimination. WATE News 6, WRCB News 3, Bloomberg News and the ABA Journal have more on each of these cases.

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Contractors Score Legal Victory Against FedEx Ground

FedEx Ground lost a costly battle yesterday in a long-standing legal war with its not-so-independent contractors, the Memphis Business Journal reports. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that 2,300 individuals working for FedEx Ground should be considered employees instead of independent contractors. That could mean FedEx is on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, as it may have to reimburse the employees for overtime pay and businesses expenses and give them access in some cases to retirement benefits.

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Obama Order Protects LGBT Employees

President Barack Obama signed an executive order today that prohibits federal contractors from discriminating against employees or job applicants based on sexual preference or gender identity. The president also used the occasion to urge Congress to extend the same protections to all employees by passing the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). Of note, the Memphis Business Journal reports that the order does not include the same religious exemption for employers that is included in the legislation. Several gay rights groups recently withdrew their longstanding support for ENDA over fear that the bill’s language might allow private companies to use the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case as justification for discriminating. The Washington Post has more on that story.

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Democrats Unveil Bill to Reverse Hobby Lobby Decision

National Democrats have introduced legislation to reverse the U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision by exempting federally mandated health benefits, such as contraception coverage, from the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Nashville Business Journal reports. The Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act would prohibit for-profit companies from using religious beliefs to deny employees' coverage for contraceptives or any other essential health benefit required under the Affordable Care Act.

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Event to Focus on Disability Employment

The Disability Law & Advocacy Center of Tennessee will host an awareness event Aug. 5 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Nashville City Club, 201 4th Ave. N., Nashville. The Disability Employment Awareness Luncheon will feature a keynote address by Randy Lewis, a retired Walgreens executive, who created thousands of full-time jobs for people with disabilities. The event is designed to help employers navigate new laws requiring the hiring and advancement of people with disabilities and create workplaces where disability inclusion is possible and profitable. Tickets are $150 for corporate attendees and $75 for non-profit leaders.

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Court Issues Final Orders Before Recessing

The U.S. Supreme Court issued several order today before recessing for the end of its current term. The actions today included confirming that its decision in the Hobby Lobby case applies broadly to the contraception coverage requirement in the health care law, not just the handful of methods considered in the case; and ordering two appeals courts to reconsider cases decided by the National Labor Relations Board in light of its recent decision on recess appointments to that board. The court also announced eight cases it will consider in the fall term. These include whether a local Arizona law violates the First Amendment by restricting where a church can advertise its Sunday services; whether a group of energy companies can be sued under California antitrust laws for manipulating natural gas prices; discrimination claims by a pregnant employee; and whether a whistleblower can sue a defense contractor over claims it falsely billed the government for work in Iraq. WRCB-TV has AP stories on these, while SCOTUSblog has a summary of all new grants.

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Partial Public Workers Cannot Be Forced to Pay Union Dues

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that home health-care workers who are partly public employees cannot be forced to pay "fair share" dues for union work affecting the terms and conditions of their jobs. The majority found that compulsory union dues violated the employees' free speech rights. "Except perhaps in the rarest of circumstances, no person in this country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support," Justice Samuel Alito wrote. The decision stopped short of overturning a 1997 decision that found public employees may be required to pay mandatory union dues as long as the money is not used for political purposes. The ABA Journal has more.

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