News

State Denies Metro's Employment and Wage Records Requests

The Tennessean reports the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development denied two records requests by Metro Nashville officials for wage and employment data. Metro officials are seeking the information for use in its plans to create a new affordable housing policy. State attorneys argue that the data is confidential information that state labor workers cannot disclose under federal law. “We’re trying to create affordable housing where the jobs are, and for us to really understand where the jobs are, we need the most up-to-date data. And they’re not willing to share that data with us,” Metro Planning Department Executive Director Doug Sloan said.

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Department of Labor Files Suit Against Convergys

The U.S. Department of Labor filed a lawsuit against Convergys Customer Management Group Inc., which employs more than 900 people in Chattanooga. Department of Labor officials are seeking information about the company's affirmative action plan at facilities in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. “Convergys knew when it became a federal contractor that it would be held to equal employment standards," Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs Director Patricia A. Shiu said. Read more from Nooga

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Chattanooga Wins Pension Suit

A federal court judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by four retired Chattanooga police officers and firefighters that challenged the city's decision to reduce the cost-of-living adjustments to their pensions. U.S. District Court Judge Curtis Collier granted the city's motion for summary judgment in a decision issued today, the Times Free Press reports. In his ruling, Collier rejected that claim, agreeing with the city that the cost-of-living adjustment was not a contract.

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Age Discrimination in Job Market Bigger Issue for Women

Recent studies from the National Bureau of Economic Research show that older workers who are unemployed are often discriminated against in their job search, according to Five Thirty Eight Economics, and that it's worse for older women than men. One of the study's authors, David Neumark, speculates that anti-discrimination laws actually make it harder to prove the discrimination for older women. Sex is a protected class in employment under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, while age is covered by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, he said. "Because different laws cover different categories, those who fall into both may also have a harder time proving they’ve been discriminated against."

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Frost Brown Todd, Littler Receive Top Marks for Workplace Equality

Cincinnati-based law firm Frost Brown Todd and San Francisco-based law firm Littler Mendelson – both with offices in Nashville – received a 100 percent score on the Human Rights Campaign Foundation’s 14th Annual Scorecard on Workplace Equality. The firms join Baker Donelson and Nissan North America Inc. as legal workplaces in Tennessee to earn the distinction. The 2016 Corporate Equality Index (CEI) is a national benchmarking survey and report on corporate policies and practices related to LGBT workplace equality.

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Memphis Law Firm Praised for LGBT Equality

The Memphis-based law firm of Baker Donelson has been hailed as one of the “Best Places to Work for LGBT Equality,” according to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. The firm, along with Nissan North America Inc., headquarted in Franklin, Tennessee, received a perfect score in the organization’s annual Corporate Equality Index. Read more from the Memphis Business Journal.

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UT Faculty Senate Votes to Condemn Privatization Plan

University of Tennessee’s Faculty Senate voted unanimously Monday to condemn Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed privatization plan based upon current information, The Daily Beacon reports. “There has been no evidence provided to support the benefits to campus life of any significant cost savings of further outsourcing the facility and management services,” read the resolution in part.

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Madison County Sued by Former Employees

Two former Madison County Criminal Justice Complex nurses – Ovester Powell and Chloe Mercer – filed a lawsuit saying the county owes them unpaid “straight and overtime” compensation, The Jackson Sun reports. Powell and Mercer both worked in various county detention facilities, including the jail.

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Former Magistrate Files $500,000 Discrimination Suit

Former magistrate judge Elizabeth Gentzler filed a $500,000 lawsuit against Hamilton County and members of the Juvenile Court, The Times Free Press reports. Gentzler, whose employment was terminated in September 2014, claims Judge Rob Philyaw and administrator Sam Mairs created a hostile environment for her by making homophobic jokes and transferring her without warning to Child Support Court.

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Memphis City Employees Suing Over Pension Cuts

Unions representing Memphis city employees filed a lawsuit asking a judge to stop planned pension cuts for newer employees, WREG reports. "The City Council just arbitrarily selected 7 1/2 years and there was basis for that decision other than just pick a number," Danny Todd with the International Firefighters Association said. The pension cuts are expected to take place next July.

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Nashville Eliminates Criminal Check from Job Forms

Nashville’s Metro government will eliminate a criminal background question from city job applications following a grassroots campaign that netted nearly 10,000 signatures. The “ban the box” movement said it was unfair to eliminate candidates with criminal records in the first stage of an application process, Nashville Public Radio reports.

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Knoxville Attorney Addresses Benefits Disputes in Editorial

Knoxville attorney Sam Doak of Arnett, Draper and Hagood writes in the Knoxville News Sentinel that Tennessee’s relatively new workers’ compensation law – effective July 1, 2014 – is causing some confusion when it comes to how medical and other temporary benefits are addressed. “The point is that the parties need to think ahead, be smart about what issues they dispute and be prepared to appear before a judge to justify their position with admissible evidence if they cannot reach a compromise,” Doak writes. 

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Governor Names Members to Law-Related Bodies

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced a series of appointments to state boards and commissions, including several law-related bodies, WRCBTV.com reports. Among the appointments are Chris Hodges of Nashville and Ward Phillips of Knoxville to the Board of Judicial Conduct; Niesha Wolfe of Clarksville and Mary Wagner of Memphis to the Post-Conviction Defender Oversight Commission; and Jason Denton of Lebanon, Lynn Lawyer of Nashville and Jerry Mayo of Brentwood to the Advisory Council on Workers' Compensation.

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Efforts to Allow Opt-out of Workers’ Comp Still Alive in Tennessee

Some of the country’s largest companies are proposing a radical idea: let businesses opt out of state workers’ compensation laws so they can write their own rules for taking care of injured workers. In an article out today, Pro Publica looks at the issue and how the concept is working in Texas and Oklahoma, which both have passed laws allowing such waivers. Similar proposals are under consideration in Tennessee and South Carolina.

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Drugs, Pro Bono and Other Legal Topics Covered in This Issue

Jason R. Smith writes in this issue of the Tennessee Bar Journal about controlled drug purchases and the probable cause necessary to issue a search warrant. TBA President Bill Harbison tells about some of his pro bono heroes and -- thanks everyone who gives of their time to ensure access to justice for all. Columnist Monica Franklin covers changes in the CHOICES Group 3 Program, and Ward Phillips and Brandon Morrow write about a recent win for the Employment-at-Will doctrine. Humor columnist Bill Haltom warns about the “para-lawyers” who might be coming to a courtroom near you. Read the October issue.

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Former Erlanger CEO Receives Settlement in Termination Suit

Former Erlanger interim chief executive officer Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson will receive $600,000 to settle a wrongful-termination lawsuit she filed against the Chattanooga hospital more than two years ago, the Times Free Press reports. Woodard-Thompson claimed that she was the target of racial remarks and e-mail hacks when she filed a $25 million lawsuit after being terminated while on medical leave. “This settlement is comparable to what Erlanger had agreed to pay Woodard-Thompson more than two years ago, but was refused by her at that time,” Pat Charles, an Erlanger spokeswoman, said.

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Tennessee Lawmakers Host Discussions on Privatization Proposal

University of Tennessee students, faculty and staff joined members of United Campus Workers in speaking against Gov. Bill Haslam’s privatization proposal yesterday during a campus visit from Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, and Sen. Lee Harris, D-Memphis, WBIR reports. The privatization proposal is predicted to cut 1,000 campus jobs, according to The Daily Beacon. "Sen. Harris and I are traveling the state of Tennessee to see if there are any ways to make the state run more efficiently," Clemmons said. "But what we heard today is that, in fact, no, it is being run efficiently. It is being run effectively, and that's what we want to maintain." 

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Metro Schools Can Fire Non-teaching Staff Without Appeals Hearing

Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Ellen Lyle said Metro’s director of schools has the power to dismiss non-teaching staffers without giving them an appeals hearing, The Tennessean reports. Lyle said in her ruling that state law “supersedes the Metro Charter’ and allows for a board to create policies detailing the process in which the director hires and fires personnel.

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Erlanger Wrongful Termination Lawsuit Continues

Testimony resumed Friday in the Erlanger Health System lawsuit in which former interim chief executive officer Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson seeks to prove she was wrongfully terminated two years ago during her medical leave. The Times Free Press reports that during opening arguments last week, Jennifer Lawrence – Woodard-Thompson’s attorney – described Erlanger's board of trustees as a "country-club clique" that was unhappy with Woodard-Thompson after she reported inappropriate behavior from a former hospital cardiologist. Woodard-Thompson filed a $25 million wrongful termination lawsuit against the Chattanooga hospital. 

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Court Adds 13 Cases to October Docket

The U.S. Supreme Court today added 13 new cases to its argument docket for the term that begins Oct. 5. Issues include questions of employee free speech rights, application of U.S. anti-racketeering law overseas, use of Iranian assets in the United States to compensate victims of terrorism and one hunter’s challenge to federal regulations on moose hunting. Justices did not act on a case dealing with abortion clinic regulations and one dealing with contraceptive mandates in the Affordable Care Act.  The National Journal and the Washington Post have wrap up stories of the court's actions.

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Cooper to Lead New Nonprofit Practice Group

Former Tennessee Attorney General Bob Copper will lead Bass, Berry & Sims' new practice group focused on nonprofits, Memphis Daily News reports. “We want clients to know that we can be a one-stop shop for all the unique issues nonprofits face, whether they’re in tax, litigation, regulation – whatever it is,” Cooper said. The practice group, which will primarily focus on health care within nonprofits, will also counsel organizations on corporate governance, employment, compensation and business transactions.

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Jury Selection Could be Difficult in Discrimination Case

A Chattanooga lawsuit filed by Erlanger Hospital’s former interim CEO Charlesetta Woodard-Thompson that includes claims of racial remarks made against Thompson could make upcoming jury selection arduous. The Times Free Press reports that Thompson claimed several high-ranking hospital officials called medicine "a white man's world.” "In this situation, a problem would arise if the defense attorney used peremptory challenges to remove all or most African-Americans as prospective jurors," said Stephen Wasby, an emeritus professor at University at Albany.

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Chattanooga Councilman Seeks Citywide Minimum Wage

A 2013 state law preventing cities and counties from requiring employers to pay an hourly wage above the the established minimum may prevent Chattanooga Councilman Moses Freeman from introducing a citywide minimum wage. Nooga reports Freeman says the current $7.25 per hour federal rate is not enough "to get workers out of poverty." Tennessee House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick is not keen on the idea. "For them to have their own minimum wage laws out of step with the rest of the state would distort the market and kill jobs," McCormick said. "I strongly suspect that the state would step in and prohibit the city from doing that."

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Uber Lawsuit Moves Forward, Challenges Company for Reimbursement

A federal lawsuit filed by three Uber drivers in California can proceed as a class-action suit and challenge the company for tips and gas reimbursement, following a ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Edward Chen, Forbes reports.The lawsuit now represents 160,000 people who drive for Uber in California. Judge Chen rejected Uber’s assertion that the three people filing did not represent the entire company, saying that the 400 driver testimonials presented by Uber in the courtroom were “statistically insignificant." Uber’s current business model is based on drivers paying their own expenses because they are independent contractors, not employees.

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State Requests Agency to Review Prison System

The state of Tennessee requested an independent accrediting agency to review certain practices and policies within the state prison system, The Tennessean reports. Tennessee Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield asked the American Correctional Association to conduct the review. The agency will focus its review on five of the state’s 13 prisons, reviewing officer schedules and how the state classifies assaults or attacks within prisons.

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