News

AG: Bill Banning Labor Picketing is Unconstitutional

A bill banning "mass picketing" by unions is unconstitutional, according to Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper. The bill is scheduled for a vote in the House Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee next week. The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner asked for the opinion, citing potential "invalid" restrictions on speech. The AG's opinion confirms Rep. Turner's concerns, saying the bill raises First Amendment issues in the form of "content-based restriction on speech."

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Senate Approves Bill for Felons' Employability Certificate

The Tennessee Senate today passed a bipartisan bill 27-2 by Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, that will "help reformed former felons find employment and lead lawful lives as productive members of society," a news release from the Senate Republican Caucus says. The House companion, HB1109, is sponsored by Rep. Karen Camper, D-Memphis. Senate Bill 276 will help spur job creation, reduce crime, and protect businesses from needless lawsuits by allowing individuals to petition courts for a certificate of employability, it says. These certificates operate to protect employers who hire new job-seekers from claims of negligent hiring. Knoxblogs.com carried the news.

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Minimum Wage Bill Voted Down

Legislation to raise the minimum wage in Tennessee was defeated 3-2 today in the Consumer and Human Resources Subcommittee, the Tennessean reports. House Bill 1694, sponsored by Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, would have required employers to raise the hourly wage $1 to at least $8.25 starting July 1 for thousands of workers who have not been offered health insurance.

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FordHarrison Expands Mid-Atlantic Presence

Labor and employment law firm FordHarrison LLP has merged with the Washington, D.C., area firm of Kruchko & Fries. The move adds offices in Virginia and Maryland for FordHarrison, which has Tennessee offices in Nashville and Memphis.

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If You Did It, Flaunt It With a TBJ Announcement

The Tennessee Bar Journal has a new opportunity for lawyers and firms to promote outstanding achievements, new associates, new partners, mergers, awards and any changes within the firm. Now, Professional Announcements are available at special, lower-rate pricing. You can tell more than 12,000 of your peers about your accomplishments by placing an announcement in the Journal. For information or to place an announcement, contact Debbie Taylor at 503-445-2231 or Debbie@llm.com. To have an announcement placed in the April issue, please contact her before Feb. 18.

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Appeal Filed in Nashville Nondiscrimination Case

Plaintiffs who sued the state over a law that overturned a Nashville nondiscrimination ordinance filed a lengthy appellate brief on Friday, the Tennessean reports. Nashville’s ordinance, enacted in 2011, extended the city’s ban on discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity to the employees of city contractors. A suit was filed challenging the law but a lower court ruled the plaintiffs lacked standing to sue because they failed to show harm. Since then, the plaintiffs argue, the U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act opens new avenues to examine such laws.

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TBJ Covers Wage Regulations Act, Social Security

This month in the Tennessee Bar Journal, columnists Edward G. Phillilps and Brandon L. Morrow cover the Wage Regulations Act, Monica Franklin discusses when to apply for Social Security -- and Bill Haltom worries about the possibility of airlines allowing cell phone conversations on board.

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Proposed Bill Allows Skipping Lunch Break

Republican lawmakers have filed legislation that would give workers the option of waiving their 30-minute lunch break currently required under state law, the Tennessean reports. Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, said his intent is merely to give workers the option of bypassing the 30-minute unpaid break that almost everyone working at least a six-hour shift must take. Critics, including House Democrats, blasted the bill Tuesday saying it would take away an important workplace safety requirement and create a work environment in which employers could strong-arm workers into skipping meal breaks.

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Prevailing Wage Law Rescinded

As of Jan. 1, most government building projects no longer have to pay workers the prevailing wage rate. Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin, sponsored the repeal of Tennessee's prevailing wage law last year, saying the law stifled competition and made building projects too expensive. The prevailing wage still has to be paid on highway projects in order for the state to receive federal highway funds. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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UT Gender Discrimination Suits Drawing National Attention

For nearly 40 years, the University of Tennessee's Lady Vols were a role model for college athletics while former coach Pat Summitt and sports medicine director Jenny Moshak provided examples of how women can succeed in sporting. But as two discrimination lawsuits filed last year work their way through the system, new filings and exhibits lead sex discrimination lawyers to believe they could become a model for similar cases nationwide. And there is plenty of fertile ground, Northern Virginia attorney and Title IX specialist Kristen Galles says, alleging that there is “massive sex discrimination in college sports.” Read more on govolsxtra.com.

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Self-Insurers Association Seeking Director

The Tennessee Self-Insurers Association is seeking an executive director. Duties include promoting improvements in workers’ compensation law, acting as a liaison with the state departments of Labor and Insurance, keeping members informed of relevant issues, and managing association operations. Applicants should have an understanding of workers’ compensation law as well as the legislative and regulatory environments in Tennessee. Download a job description. Resumes should be submitted to Board of Directors Chair Gary Eastes.

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Applications Accepted for Workers' Comp Judges

The State of Tennessee-Division of Workers’ Compensation is requesting interested and qualified attorneys to apply for the position of Workers’ Compensation Judge. All workers’ compensation claims involving illness or injury that occurred on or after July 2014, will be heard in the new workers’ compensation court. All interested applicants must complete a questionnaire by Dec. 1. For more information, contact the Division of Workers' Compensation Administrator Abbie Hudgens.

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Columnists Cover Retaliation, How to Handle a Neighbor's Tree

In this issue of the Journal, Edward Phillips and Brandon Morrow write about retaliation claims and how standards are more difficult under "Nassar" and "Ferguson." Don Paine tells you what the law is when a neighbor's tree's limbs and roots cause problems across the property line. Paine also reviews Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery.

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Nashville Considering Study of Same-Sex Benefits

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean plans to appoint a Study and Formulating Committee to look at domestic benefits for same-sex partners of city employees, his office said yesterday. Dean spokeswoman Bonna Johnson said the mayor agrees with a majority of Metro Council members who signed a letter asking him to “consider the provision of domestic partner benefits for Metro employees and to make the appropriate recommendations to the Metropolitan Employee Benefit Board.” The Tennessean has more.

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Vanderbilt Sued Over Summer Job Cuts

Attorneys with Barrett Johnston LLC, including civil rights lawyer George Barrett and former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, have filed a lawsuit against Vanderbilt University Medical Center, claiming the hospital violated the WARN Act when it terminated up to 300 workers in July without the federally mandated 60 days notice, the Tennessean reports. The lawsuit says, “Although the letters provided to the July 2013 group of terminated employees referenced ‘performance’ as part of the basis for the terminations, this was merely a ruse designed by the defendant to intentionally avoid the WARN Act's obligation and requirements.” The 275 workers let go yesterday were given 60 days notice, the newspaper reports.

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Magazine Predicts 12 ‘Hottest’ Practice Areas

The September issue of The National Jurist predicts the 12 "hottest" practice areas for the next decade. Those deemed to be “super hot” were health care, administrative, intellectual property and family law. Food and drug law, tax litigation, privacy law and compliance law were ranked as “hot.” And employment, energy, manufacturing and immigration law were judged “somewhat hot.”

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Tennessee Workers’ Compensation Payments Decline

Tennessee is one of 22 states where both workers’ compensation payments and costs to employers decreased in 2011, according to a new report from the National Academy of Social Insurance. According to the report, the state’s employers paid $783.7 million in workers’ compensation benefits, down 0.1 percent from 2010. By contrast, workers’ compensation payments rose 3.5 percent and costs to employers rose 7.1 percent nationwide during 2011. The report also estimated that 125.8 million workers are now covered by workers’ compensation protection – up 1.1 percent from 2010. The Memphis Daily News has more.

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Workers’ Comp Law Favoring Independent Exams Upheld

In a unanimous opinion this week, the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of a workers’ compensation law that gives priority to the opinion of an independent medical examiner when parties cannot agree on a disability rating. The court found that the law does not violate principles of due process and does not constitute an infringement by the legislative branch on the exclusive powers of the judiciary. With regard to the specific facts of Mansell v. Bridgestone, the court also found that the employee did not provide evidence to contradict the independent examiner’s finding. Read more from the court.

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First Wrongful Dismissal Suit Filed Against Vanderbilt

The first of what could be several lawsuits against Vanderbilt University Medical Center in relation to a recent round of job cuts was filed Monday in U.S. District Court in Nashville, The Tennessean reports. The suit alleges the hospital violated the Family and Medical Leave Act by targeting certain employees to cut. “While VUMC has yet to publicly comment on the precise criteria utilized in selecting employees to terminate, some employees were targeted as a direct result of having exercised their rights pursuant to the FMLA,” argues Nashville civil rights attorney George Barrett and former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin, both with Barrett Johnston LLC, who are representing the plaintiff.

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Franklin Firm Launches New Practice Area

The Franklin law firm of Thompson Burton has launched an employment law practice, adding to its existing services in commercial real estate, business litigation and direct sales/advertising law. Leading the new practice group will be Nashville lawyer J.K. Simms, the Nashville Post reports. Simms previously chaired the Labor and Employment Practice Group at Cornelius & Collins. Simms graduated from the TBA Leadership Law program in 2011 and now serves on the program’s steering committee.

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Nelson Mullins Moves into New Nashville Office

Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP has moved into a 17,000-square-foot office space at One Nashville Place at Fourth Avenue and Commerce Street. Although about the same size in square footage as the firm's previous office at the Regions Center, managing shareholder Larry Papel noted that the new space is "lighter and brighter and newer and nicer." The new space can accommodate up to 25 attorneys. Nelson Mullins, which opened in 2012 with six attorneys, added two more in April of this year and expects to add at least three more attorneys within the next few months. The Nashville Business Journal has the story.

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EEOC Lawyer Talks About Employment Trends

A former trial attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) who now represents employers in lawsuits, Paul Patten, says several recent EEOC cases highlight the increasing government scrutiny of employers that use blanket criminal background checks to screen applicants. The EEOC recently sued Goodlettsville, Tenn.-based Dollar General and a U.S. unit of German automaker BMW AG, alleging the companies refused to hire applicants with criminal records, when the companies should have individually considered each applicant. Patten will discuss rapidly evolving employment law trends, along with a panel of industry experts, Aug. 8 in a seminar sponsored by The Daily News.

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County Employee Wins Termination Suit

Gabriel Segovia, a former school resource officer with the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, won a wrongful termination case against the county in federal court Friday, the Leaf Chronicle reports. A jury awarded Segovia $79,382 in back pay after they found that his termination was in retribution for submitting a letter to the editor of the Chronicle. The letter questioned the city council’s allocation of funds for a park project. Segovia reports he was “berated” by the sheriff for expressing his opinion as a private citizen and a month later was dismissed for “dishonesty, insubordination and conduct unbecoming a member” of the sheriff’s department. The county argued that the letter played no part in the dismissal.

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Lawyers Look into Vanderbilt Layoffs

Vanderbilt University Medical Center has started what could be a two-year span of layoffs, but some employees are not walking away quietly. Civil rights and employment lawyer George Barrett will be holding a press conference tomorrow morning with former U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin to discuss their investigation of the terminations. Employees who have been affected by the layoffs contacted the lawyers with concerns of possible violations of state and federal laws, WZTV Fox News 17 reports.

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Haslam Names Head of New Workers’ Comp Division

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced that Abbie Hudgens will oversee the new Workers’ Compensation Division starting today. Hudgens will serve a six-year term leading the revamped Workers’ Compensation Division in the Department of Labor and Workforce Development. She had been handling workers’ compensation issues for the department and was instrumental in developing legislation to make changes to the states’ workers’ compensation laws. Hudgens, 67, has a Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Tennessee. Before joining the Labor Department, she was risk and insurance manager for Metro Nashville, risk and benefits manager for the City of Knoxville and a private consultant.

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