News

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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Six Nominated for Workers' Comp Board

After interviewing candidates, the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments has submitted the following six nominees to Gov. Bill Haslam for the three openings on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board: Catherine Bulle Clayton of Madison County, Aaron James Conklin of Rutherford County, Timothy Wade Conner of Knox County, Marshall L. Davidson III of Sumner County, David F. Hensley of Hamilton County and Dale A. Tipps of Rutherford County. The Administrative Office of the Courts has more.

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Obama to Sign Order Extending LGBT Protections

President Barack Obama plans to sign an executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating against employees on the basis of their sexual orientation, a White House official said Monday. There is currently no federal law that explicitly bans workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, and while Obama does not have the authority to include all Americans, he can take unilateral action that impacts federal contractors, the Associated Press reports. The Memphis Daily News has the story.

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Fired Road Workers Win Settlement in Free Speech Case

Seventeen road workers will receive half a million dollars in a settlement from Monroe County in a federal lawsuit that alleged the workers were fired for their political participation. The workers all campaigned for Phil Axley, the former Road Superintendent, who lost the 2010 election to Steve Teague by about 2,000 votes. All lost their jobs on Sept. 1, 2010 -- the day Teague took office. Teague admitted no wrongdoing, but attorneys for the ex-workers hailed the settlement as a victory for free speech. “Nobody will get their job back, but we think this sends an important message that this type of behavior won’t be tolerated,” said David Garrison, an attorney with the Nashville-based law firm of Barrett Johnston, which represented the workers. Knoxnews has the story.

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Columns Cover Labor Law, Hospice ... and Golf

In his "The Law at Work" column in the June Tennessee Bar Journal, Ward Phillips writes with co-author Brandon Morrow "that courts have not been shy to award substantial fees and costs to employers who have been required to combat frivolous claims." They look at how courts have been increasingly critical of agencies’ “sue first, ask questions later” strategy. In Monica Franklin's "Senior Moments" column, she helps you and your clients know when to choose Hospice and who pays for it, and she explains the new "Medicare Choices Model." Humor columnist Bill Haltom explores the game of golf -- and why he ended up selling his golf clubs at a yard sale.

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How Workers’ Comp Changes the Legal Game

Sweeping reform to Tennessee’s workers’ compensation process goes into effect next month and will have new legal implications for employers. The Nashville Business Journal spoke with Stuart Scott, an attorney with Dickinson Wright in Nashville, who highlighted what he considers the major changes in the new process. For a time being, Tennessee will be operating under both the new law and old — claims filed before July 1 will still go through the old process, meaning cases can still go to state courts. Those filed after that date will enter the new system.

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Deadline Extended for Workers' Comp Board Vacancies

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments has extended the deadline for applications for three vacancies on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board to 4 p.m. CDT, June 4. Candidates ultimately chosen by the governor will fill one of three terms: two, four or six years. After the initial terms, each term will be six years and judges are limited to serving two terms. Learn more from the Administrative Office of the Courts. The commission will interview all qualified Workers’ Compensation Appeal Board applicants on June 10 in Nashville. The same day, the commission will also consider applicants for the Court of Criminal Appeals vacancy.

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LAET Project Brings Millions to Chattanooga Economy

Legal Aid of East Tennessee’s (LAET) Family Stabilization Project continues to reap great benefit for the local community. The project focuses on the recently unemployed in the Chattanooga area to identify those who lost a job through no fault of their own, and yet were denied unemployment benefits. Funded by an anonymous $34,000 grant, the program provides legal services to help low-income residents appeal wrongful denials by the Tennessee Department of Employment Security. In its four-year history, the project has appealed and won 744 cases, bringing $2,465,471 into the Chattanooga economy. For more information on this program, contact LAET’s Chattanooga office at (423) 756-4013.

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Right to Work Attorneys Drop Lawsuit Against Auto Union

National Right to Work Foundation attorneys have dropped a federal lawsuit — which they filed on behalf of some Volkswagen (VW) employees — that sought to block "collusion" between the United Auto Workers union (UAW) and VW, Nooga reports. In February, VW employees at the Chattanooga plant voted against union representation in a 712-626 vote. A foundation spokesman said the organization will continue to monitor the situation at the plant.

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Commission Accepting Applications for Workers’ Comp Appeals Board

The Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments is now accepting applications for three vacancies on the Workers’ Compensation Appeals Board. Any interested applicant must be an attorney licensed in Tennessee who is at least 30 years of age, has a Tennessee law license, has at least seven years experience in workers’ compensation matters and will attend annual training on workers’ compensation. The deadline to submit applications to the Administrative Office of the Courts is noon CDT on June 2.

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8 Judges Named to New Workers’ Comp Court

Eight judges were appointed today to the recently formed Workers’ Compensation Court by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The court was created by the comprehensive workers’ compensation law passed by the General Assembly in 2013. Brian Addington of Kingsport, Joshua Baker of Nashville, Lisa Knott of Knoxville, Pamela Johnson of Knoxville, Allen Phillips of Jackson, Jim Umstead of Memphis, Thomas Wyatt of Chattanooga and Ken Switzer of Nashville will begin work prior to July 1, when the law goes into effect. Switzer will be the court’s chief judge, the Nashville Business Journal reports.

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UAW Drops Appeal in VW Vote

The United Auto Workers (UAW) has dropped its appeal of the failed February vote to unionize workers at Volkswagen’s plant in Chattanooga, the UAW announced this morning. At the same time, NewsChannel5.com reported, the union called on Congress to specifically investigate Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s use of federal funds as a part of a $300 million incentive package that his administration appeared to have used as leverage against the UAW. This major development came as the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) was set to begin hearings on the UAW appeal. The union had wanted the NLRB to order new elections, claiming third-party interference tainted the vote. In the announcement, UAW President Bob King noted that the NLRB process could take months or years. The union also cited efforts by Haslam and U.S. Senator Bob Corker to fight UAW subpoenas requiring them to testify about their involvement in the anti-union effort.

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6th Circuit Reinstates Age Bias Suit

The 6th Circuit on Friday reversed a Nashville court ruling and reinstated the age discrimination lawsuit James C. Pierson vs. Quad/Graphics Printing Corp., et al. The District Court had granted Quad/Graphics summary judgment dismissing the case, but a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit unanimously disagreed with the lower court, holding that an employee does not need to meet heightened standard of proof for age discrimination during a reduction in force. Business Insurance has more.

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House Investigating Haslam’s Role in VW Vote

Democrats in the U.S. House today opened an “inquiry” into whether Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration might have violated federal labor law by attempting to tie state incentives for expansion of the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant to the outcome of an election over representation by the United Auto Workers union. The probe is yet another chapter in the ongoing debate over whether Republican officials, including Haslam and U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, may have interfered in the February election in which workers voted 712-626 to reject the UAW, the Tennessean reports.

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UAW Calls Haslam, Corker, Others to NLRB Hearing

The United Auto Workers has served subpoenaes on Gov. Bill Haslam, U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and 18 others involved in February’s union vote at the Chattanooga Volkswagen plant, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports. The UAW wants them to appear at an April 21 National Labor Relations Board hearing on an appeal of the vote. The UAW also is seeking testimony from Tennessee Economic Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty; Will Alexander, aide to Hagerty and son of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander; state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga; state Sen. Bo Watson, R-Chattanooga, and others.

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College Athletes Can Unionize, NLRB Rules

Football players at Northwestern University are deemed employees under federal law and so can create the nation’s first college athletes’ union, according to a ruling by National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) regional director Peter Ohr. Union lawyers argued the Big Ten school's football players are part of a commercial enterprise that generates hefty profits through their labor. The NCAA, Big Ten Conference and the private school vehemently opposed the union drive. The Tennessean has the story.

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NLRB Judge to Hear VW Case Appeal

An administrative law judge from the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) will hold a hearing April 27 in Chattanooga on the recent vote by Volkswagen employees not to have union representation at the plant. The narrowly decided vote is being appealed by the United Auto Workers, Chattanoogan.com reports. Officials said the time and location of the hearing have not yet been set.

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