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Labor & Employment Update: An Interpretative Reading of President Trump’s Tweets (a.k.a 'The Shakespeare of Twitter')

Brevity is the soul of wit.
-- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2

President Donald J. Trump agrees, as he needs no more than 140 characters to set the world astir. The parallels between The Bard and The Donald are clear. Both have a flare for drama. Shakespeare invented over 1,700 words that became part of the English language. Trump gave us “bigly.” Many voted for Trump to “Make America Great Again.” Many others feel that they have had his “greatness thrust upon them.”[1] Either way, Trump keeps things interesting. Within the first few months of his presidency, he has:

  • issued approximately 36 executive orders,
  • published approximately 30 Presidential Memoranda,
  • nominated and had confirmed one U.S. Supreme Court Justice, and
  • made countless policy statements via Twitter. 

Some of Trump’s tweets have conflicted with official White House statements. Some have appeared at 3 a.m. Some have mentioned Rosie O’Donnell. Struggling to keep up, employers may ask, “Though this be madness, [is] there method in’t?”[2] While many significant unknowns remain, here is what we do know.

(1)  New Direction for the NLRB

In recent years, many employers have felt that “something is rotten in the state of” the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).[3] Even under normal circumstances, the NLRB changes policy under each new administration. Now, it’s Trump’s turn. Although he moved slowly to fill two board vacancies, he quickly tapped Philip Miscimarra as the new chairperson. Miscimarra should sway the board toward employer-friendly rulings, particularly once Trump’s appointments give Republicans a majority of board members. The following are a few recent rulings that the board may revisit:

  • The “quickie” election rule that shrinks the time for employers to counter union campaigns.
  • The “joint employer” rule from the 2015 Browning-Ferris case, which revised the standard for determining whether two business are joint employers by claiming that “indirect control” can lead to joint liability.[4]
  • The 2011 decision in Specialty Healthcare allowing for more micro units for union representation.
  • The 2014 decision in Purple Communications allowing workers greater use of their employer’s email system for NLRA-protected activity on non-working time.
  • The D.R. Horton[5] and Murphy Oil[6] cases rejecting class arbitration waivers in the employment setting. If the board does not readdress this issue soon, the U. S. Supreme Court will resolve the matter during the upcoming fall term.
  • The 2016 Persuader Rule that added reporting requirements for employers and law firms related to indirect efforts and advice seeking to persuade employees not to favor union representation. A Texas federal court issued an injunction to block the Rule, which the Department of Labor (DOL) under the Obama Administration appealed. On May 22, the Trump Administration sent a Rescission of the Rule to the Office of Management and Budget for review, a required step in route to repealing the rule.
  • Trump has proposed a 6 percent reduction in the NLRB budget and directed the board not to use funds to “provide employees any means of voting through any electronic means” in a union election.

(2)  Wage and Hour: The DOL’s Final Rule Not So Final and Other Changes

Employers faced a conundrum last winter when a Texas federal court issued an injunction on the DOL’s Final Rule that was to raise the guaranteed minimum salary for executive, administrative and professional exemptions from $23,660 to over $47,000. After the DOL issued this rule, many employers began reclassifying exempt employees as nonexempt or raising salaries. The DOL under the Obama Administration appealed the Texas injunction to the Fifth Circuit. Since Trump has taken office, the question has been to brief or not to brief this appeal.[7] The court has granted the DOL an extension until June 30, giving the new DOL Chief, Alexander Acosta, time to formulate a position. Acosta indicated at his confirmation hearing that the DOL might not pursue the appeal. He did suggest, however, a possible middle ground increasing the guaranteed minimum salary to $33,000. The current minimum falls below the federal poverty level.

Other possible changes on the wage and hour front could include the following:

  • On June 7, the DOL retracted its 2015 guidance on whether employers can classify workers as independent contractors. As a word of caution, this retraction may signal more of a downgrade in DOL focus than a shift in substantive law, and State agencies and private attorneys will remain vigilant on this front.
  • Also on June 7, the DOL retracted its 2016 guidance on joint employer status, which particularly impacted companies involved with contracting, outsourcing, or franchising.
  • The DOL may become less aggressive in litigation and settlement, less frequently demanding liquidated damages and issuing penalties.
  • Trump has proposed a 20 percent budget cut for the DOL.
  • On May 2, the House passed a Comp Time bill that would allow private employers to give employees paid time off in lieu of cash for overtime, where employees voluntarily agree in writing.

(3) The EEOC

Trump chose Victoria Lipnic, another pro-employer pick, to chair the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In terms of possible changes for this agency, it is notable that:

  • Lipnic was one of two commissioners to vote against the EEOC’s 2015 decision that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes gender discrimination. 
  • Lipnic opposed the EEO-1 pay data report proposal, stating that it “was past its prime and should be relegated to the heap of bad policy ideas once and for all.” 
  • Lipnic has noted in presentations that she would like to see more EEOC involvement in litigation decision, instead of delegating these decisions to the general counsel.
  • Trump’s proposed budget calls for the EEOC to absorb the OFCCP, which enforces anti-discrimination laws that apply to federal contractors, at the end of FY 2018. Despite its increased scope, the EEOC would see a slight reduction in its budget.

(4)  Paid Family Leave

Trump allocated $20 billion in his proposed budget toward a new national paid leave program. The administration has not provided details, but the concept would be to provide up to six weeks of paid leave for new parents through states’ unemployment insurance agencies. The budget also includes a line item for $13 billion in new unemployment insurance revenue, suggesting that states may need to increase unemployment insurance taxes.

(5) Rollback of the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces Executive Order

This Obama Executive Order, referred to as the “Blacklisting Rule,” would have required federal contractors to disclose alleged labor violations for the prior three years and to give wage statements detailing pay and hours of employees and independent contractors. Through a review procedure, Congress rolled back this rule in the early days of the Trump administration.

(6) Withdrawal of OSHA’s Union Representative Walk-Around Letter

On April 25, OSHA rescinded its 2013 letter of interpretation that gave unions a greater opportunity to use an OSHA inspection as an organizing tool. The Walk-Around Letter gave a single employee in a non-union workplace the right to select a union organizer to act as an “authorized employee representative” during an OSHA inspection. OSHA’s April 25 memorandum came as part of a settlement of a lawsuit in (you guessed it) conservative Texas.

(7)  The Invisible Wall: Trump Uses Employers to Crackdown on Unauthorized Workers.

Trump seeks to extend the wall not just along the border, but also into the workplace. A favorite enforcement tool of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) is the Form I-9, which employers must complete and maintain to verify the identity and employment authorization of employees. Trump’s immigrant agenda, which includes a plan to hire an additional 10,000 ICE officers, should increase workplace audits and site visits, and may reinstitute raids of employers. He also has pushed to require more employers to sign up for E-Verify, where employers submit employees’ personal information from the Form I-9 to be checked against the Social Security Administration’s and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) databases. Not only does this system assist employers in determining whether an employee has work authorization, but it may open employers to new risks for discrimination claims by data mining the information submitted.

(8)  There’s a New Justice in the House

On April 7, Congress confirmed Neil Gorsuch for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Overall, his opinions as a judge on the Tenth Circuit tend to favor employers. One upcoming pivotal case is Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis,[8] which will determine whether a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement in the employment setting violates the NLRA. Given Gorsuch’s conservative leanings, many anticipate that he will favor arbitrability.

Gorsuch’s textualist approach to statutory construction and reluctance to apply Chevron[9] deference (the doctrine that courts largely defer to government agency interpretations of federal statutes unless deemed unreasonable) may also lead to significant developments. For instance, the Seventh Circuit recently held in an en banc decision that Title VII prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, leading to a circuit split. In the past, the EEOC has championed this interpretation. However, Justice Gorsuch’s past adherence to textualism and questioning of Chevron deference could reject this view.

 

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow.
-- Macbeth,
Act 5, Scene 5

We can be sure that Trump’s tweets will continue to be “full of sound and fury,” but will they “signify [ ] nothing?”[10] Will Trump be “hoist with his own petard” in the Russia investigation?[11] We can expect a number of significant changes in employment law, but, as the health care repeal efforts have shown, nothing is easy or a sure thing.

________________________

BRADFORD HARVEY is a member of Miller & Martin at its Chattanooga office. Brad received his J.D., Order of the Coif, from Vanderbilt University School of Law in 1995. He concentrates his practice in labor and employment law and class and collective action defense. He may be reached at 423-785-8210 or brad.harvey@millermartin.com.

MEGAN WELTON is an associate of Miller & Martin at its Chattanooga office. She focuses her area of practice on labor & employment law. She received her J.D. from the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law in 2015. She may be reached at 423-785-4326 or megan.welton@millermartin.com.


[1] Twelfth Night, Act 2, Scene 5.

[2] Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.

[3] Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 4.

[4] Browning-Ferris Industries of California d/b/a BFI Newby Island Recyclery, 362 NLRB No. 186 (Aug. 27, 2015).

[5] 357 NLRB No. 184 (2012).

[6] NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA, 808 F.3d 1013 (5th Cir. 2015), cert granted, No. 16-307 (Jan. 13, 2017).

[7] C.f. Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1.

[8] 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016), cert. granted, No. 16-285 (Jan. 13, 2017); see also Ernst & Young v. Morris, 834 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. Aug. 22, 2016), cert. granted, No. 16-285 (Jan. 13, 2017) (agreeing with NLRB’s position that waivers in mandatory arbitration agreements restrained employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity).

[9] Chevron, U.S.A.v. National Res. Def. Council, 467 U.S. 837 (1985).

[10] Macbeth, Act 5, Scene 5.

[11] Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4.

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Letter from the Editor

Here’s the latest newsletter from TBA’s Labor and Employment Section. I want to thank this issue's authors for their insightful articles -– Brad Harvey, Megan Welton, Greg Grisham (a regular contributor), Caraline Rickard and Josh Sudbury. If you have an article, I invite you to e-mail me at bbuchanan@sblimmigration.com
 
Bruce Buchanan
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Corporate Counsel: Recent Developments in Employment Law

Corporate counsel attorneys, what do you need to know about changes in employment law? Attorney Stacie Caraway appears in a CLE available on the TBA website to give an overview of recent developments. Topics include court, agency and legislative developments.
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Turn Your Expertise into a Magazine Article

It’s no surprise that some of the best articles in the Tennessee Bar Journal have come from TBA section members. Your membership in this section shows that you have a keen interest in trends, developments and case law in this practice area. Sharing this knowledge with your colleagues is one of the best traits of the profession.

How can you become a Journal author? Think of and refine your topic. It should be of interest to Tennessee lawyers, which is a broad criteria. This could mean you might explain a new state law, explain a complicated area of law, or take a larger issue and connect it to what it means for Tennessee attorneys and the justice system. Find a global issue within your particular experience or knowledge and tell about it and how it affects Tennessee law. Then take a look at the writer’s guidelines at http://www.tba.org/submit-an-article, which will tell you about length, notes and other details. Once it’s in the proper format, send it in! It goes to the editor, Suzanne Craig Robertson, who will then get it to the seven members of the Editorial Board for review.

If you are published, you may apply for CLE credit for your work under Supreme Court Rule 21 Section 4.07(b). For details on claiming the credit, check with the Commission on CLE & Specialization at http://www.cletn.com/.

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TBA Convention in Kingsport is Just Around the Corner

Registration is open for the 2017 TBA Annual Convention. This years programming offers plenty of opportunities to make new friends and renew acquaintances with colleagues from across the state. The highlight comes Thursday night with the Kingsport Karnival at the downtown Farmers Market. Along with fabulous food and drink, there will be live music from two bands, an aerialist, juggler, magician, body and face painters, caricaturist and more. Plus, you'll have access to the fabulous Kingsport Carousel, the delightful project of community artisans. Special thanks to Eastman for support of this event! 

This years convention also offers 12 hours of CLE programming, highlighted by sessions on the Hatfields and McCoys, The Neuroscience of Decision-Making, and the popular Better Right Now wellness program. It is all set at the beautiful MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort & Convention Center. To receive the TBA $129 room rate, you must book your reservation by May 23. Book your room online now or call 423-578-6600.

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Call For Submissions — Law Practice Pointers

One of the benefits of being a TBA Section Member is having access to information from experienced practitioners to assist in your day-to-day practice. The sharing of this information amongst colleagues is one of the best traits of the profession. It is also a way of helping each other to maneuver the evolving legal market and strengthen your legal practice.

How can you help your fellow Section Members?  If you have some Law Practice Pointers you would like to share with your fellow section members, write an article between 300-500 words and submit it to the Section Coordinator for review and approval. These Law Practice Pointers can be related to a court opinion, piece of legislation, or current event or industry trend that affects the practice of law as it relates to the specific Section. The main requirement is to make sure the article gives lawyers practical tips, based on experience, to include in their day-to-day practice.

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Nashville Parks Department Faces Discrimination Lawsuit

A longtime Metro Nashville Parks employee has filed a suit alleging gender discrimination under former director Tommy Lynch, the Tennessean reports. Sally Davis, an employee of more than three decades, claims that Lynch took deliberate steps to keep Davis from getting promotions. Davis is asking a judge to order Metro to stop discrimination within the department, order training to prevent discrimination, pay her back wages and benefits and award her at least $300,000 in compensatory damages.
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MPD Officers Claim They Were Denied Promotions Due to Military Service

Three Memphis Police Department officers have filed a lawsuit against the city for not allowing them the opportunity to reschedule a promotional test that they missed due to their military service, the Commercial Appeal reports. The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court Western Division and claims that about 20 officers experienced this problem. They are seeking an order to require the city to promote them or else offer a make-up test.
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Survey to Come on Performance of Workers' Comp Judges

The Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims will soon be conducting its annual judicial performance survey, Chief Judge Ken Switzer writes in the Court Blog. Each of the 12 judges will be listed individually for respondents to provide a rating on nine categories, ranging from the judge’s understanding of the case to their punctuality in conducting their hearings.

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Get Details on Wage Litigation, Gender Issues at Labor and Employment Forum

The TBA’s 21st annual Labor and Employment Forum will be held May 8 at the Tennessee Bar Center in Nashville. Sessions will cover the latest federal and state developments, with separate emphasis on the expansion of labor laws in non-union settings, emerging gender-related issues, and the continued explosion of wage and hour litigation. This year’s list of presenters include judges from each of the Tennessee’s federal districts and a former member of the National Labor Relations Board. Read more and register here.

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Court Holds Death Not Compensable in Workers' Comp Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that based on the testimony regarding Charles Kilburn’s death, his death is not compensable as a direct and natural consequence of his original compensable injury from a motor vehicle accident. Kilburn died from oxycodone toxicity a little over a year after an on-the-job accident. His surviving spouse sought workers’ compensation death benefits, and the trial court concluded that the death was compensable. The Supreme Court unanimously opined, however, that a subsequent injury is not compensable if it is the result of an independent intervening cause, such as the employee’s own conduct.
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Federal Court: Civil Rights Act Protects LGBT employees

A federal appeals court on Tuesday ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, the ABA Journal reports. The majority of the 8-3 decision ruled on behalf of a former math teacher at a community college in Indiana who said she was denied promotions because she is a lesbian. 
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Court: Employment-at-Will Doctrine Applies to Judge's Assistant

The Tennessee Supreme Court has ruled that the position of trial judge secretarial assistant is subject to the employment-at-will doctrine that generally applies in Tennessee. The court’s holding means that either the trial judge or the person employed in the secretarial assistant position may terminate the employment relationship at any time during the trial judge’s tenure, according to a news release. If the employment relationship is not terminated earlier, then the employment relationship ends automatically when the trial judge’s tenure ends. The unanimous opinion in Judith Moore-Pennoyer v. State of Tennessee, et al., was authored by Justice Cornelia A. Clark.

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Discrimination Against Gay Employees Not Prohibited, Court Rules

An Atlanta-based appellate court ruled that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not prohibit discrimination against gay employees, the ABA Journal reports. The three-judge panel ruled 2-1 in the case of Jameka Evans, who said she was forced out of her job because of her orientation. The court said it was bound by precedent via 1979’s Blum v. Gulf Oil Corp., which said Title VII doesn’t prohibit “discharge for homosexuality.”
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Seymour Appointed to Workers' Compensation Court

Deana Seymour has been appointed as a trial judge on the Court of Workers’ Compensation Claims by the Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. Seymour is currently a partner with Rainey, Kizer, Reviere and Bell in the firm's Jackson office. She will sit in Memphis after her April 5 swearing-in.

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Court Dismisses Tip Suit; Says Server Not Allowed to File

The Tennessee Supreme Court has held that a Memphis food-service employee may not file a lawsuit against her employer for distributing tips in a way that violates Tennessee’s tip statute, because the law does not allow a private party to file suit for a violation. Kim Hardy filed the suit against the Tournament Players Club, claiming the business owed her damages because it had distributed tips to employees who were not entitled to receive them. 
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Next Week: Corporate Counsel Forum

Join your colleagues March 3 for the 2017 Corporate Counsel Forum, with topics ranging from technology's influence on the modern law practice to recent developments in employment law. Speakers will address cyber security and privacy, as well as productivity tools for the present-day corporate counsel. Another session covers the EEOC's new rules on what incentives employers may provide to employees who provide medical information as part of a wellness program under the Americans with Disabilities Act. 
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TBA Mashup and Mini Legal Hackathon this Friday

In conjunction with the Law Tech UnConference CLE this Friday, the TBA is also offering a variety of free events and programs for lawyers we’re calling a Mashup. One program will teach you about Legal Hackathons and see one in action. A Legal Hackathon is a collaborative effort of experts in the legal profession collaborating with a computer programmer to find a technology assisted solution to a problem in the legal industry. Join the TBA Special Committee on the Evolving Legal Market for a mini legal hackathon that will demonstrate the power of collaborative minds at work. We will have tasty beverages and snacks to help you get your collaborative juices flowing.  
 
Other programs that will be a part of the Mashup include Pro Bono In Action which will show you various pro bono programs you can participate in to help your fellow Tennesseans and Member Benefit Programs that will provide you information on  Fastcase 7, health insurance options for small firms, ABA retirement funds and professional liability insurance.
 
Please sign up now to let us know you are coming.

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Crime Victims’ Private Records, Elder and Labor Law in This Issue

The Tennessee Supreme Court’s majority opinion in The Tennessean v. Metro last year was a victory for law enforcement and a significant setback for the state’s news media, writes Daniel Horwitz in this month's Tennessee Bar Journal. How the ruling will affect crime victims’ ability to protect their private records from public disclosure after criminal proceedings have concluded is uncertain. Also in the February Journal, Monica Franklin writes about The Special Needs Trust Fairness Act of 2016, Edward G. Phillips and Brandon L. Morrow’s column discusses times when protected activities provide a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for termination, while Bill Haltom enumerates the reasons why your valentine should be a lawyer. Read the entire issue.

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Chattanooga VW Employee Files Brief Against NLRB Decision

A Chattanooga Volkswagon employee is asking the U.S. Court of Appeals D.C. Circuit to overturn a National Labor Relations Board decision that allows the United Auto Workers to bargain on behalf of maintenance employees at the plant, Nooga.com reports. A spokesperson from the National Right to Work Foundation, which provided free legal help to the employee, said the decision forced workers “into a monopoly union.”
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Investigation Called for Full-time Pay for Part-time Attorney

A probe has been called for in the case of an attorney employed by Shelby County who also runs a law practice in Mississippi, with fellow county workers complaining that the lawyer is getting paid a full-time salary for part-time work, the Commercial Appeal reports. The complaint alleges that Martin Zummach earns a salary of $80,000 per year and receives benefits as a public information officer and legal adviser to Juvenile Court Clerk Joy Touliatos, but doesn’t maintain an office at Juvenile Court. A complaint was filed on Jan. 13 and a local attorney is looking into the matter, with a report expected as early as this week.
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Harassment Suit Seeks $9.3 Million from Knox County

A Knox County woman is seeking $9.3 million in a suit filed today that claims her boss at the county procurement office sexually harassed her, Knoxnews reports. Janice Orr originally filed a formal harrassment complaint against her boss, Hugh Holt, in August of last year. After a series of interviews with county employees, the investigative body recommended Holt be terminated in October. Holt was then immediately hired by the Knox County Sheriff’s Department at a higher salary.
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Winfrey Merges Firm with Morgan and Morgan; Will Lead Employment Practice Group

Brian Winfrey, founder of The Winfrey Firm, is merging his firm into the Nashville office of Morgan and Morgan, where he will launch and lead a statewide labor and employment practice group, the Nashville Post reports. Winfrey will also work with Morgan and Morgan attorneys in other states in the employee rights group. Winfrey is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and currently serves as secretary of the Tennessee Bar Association.
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Lawmaker Requests AG Opinion on Parks Privatization

Tennessee Sen. Janice Bowling, R-Tullahoma, has requested an opinion from Attorney General Herbert Slatery III on whether Gov. Haslam’s plans to privatize hospitality services at parks violate state procedures. The Times Free Press reports that Bowling, whose district includes the Falls Creek Falls state park, asked for the opinion at the request of park employees.
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Tennessee Supreme Court Rules in Teacher Tenure Case

The Tennessee Supreme Court yesterday ruled against Rogelynn Emory, a former tenured Memphis teacher who was fired in 2005, the Tennessean reports. The case centered on whether the Memphis City Schools Board of Education (now Shelby County Board of Education) had potentially violated the Tennessee Teacher Tenure Act by holding Emory’s appeal hearing more than 30 days after her suspension. The court’s ruling didn’t address whether the law requires, or merely recommends, that a termination hearing should be held within 30 days after termination proceedings begin. Rather, the court said that because Emory didn’t raise concerns about the timing during her hearing before the Memphis school board, she was barred from arguing it on appeal. 
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