Guest Post

  • July 18, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Arthur Bryant, Chairman, Public Justice

    *This piece was originally posted in Public Justice's blog.

    An eye-opening piece by Stephen Davidoff Solomon in The New York Times highlights a huge, unappreciated danger of corporations requiring employees to sign mandatory arbitration “agreements” to get or keep their jobs – hiding outrageous misconduct, including sexual harassment. 

    Solomon demonstrates that mandatory arbitration isn’t just bad because it bars workers from having their day in court. It also keeps misconduct – including extensive sexual harassment – secret from investors, customers, other workers and the public, so bad behavior and actors can thrive.

    Dov Charney, the CEO of American Apparel, was unanimously fired by the company’s Board of Directors late last month. Charney was dramatically over-the-top and openly publicized his sexual focus. In 2004, a female reporter from Jane magazine watched him engage in oral sex and then wrote about it. The article was full of quotes from Mr. Charney like, “Masturbation in front of women is underrated.”

    When a series of sexual harassment charges were made, Charney continued with his Board’s full support. After the company’s financial performance decreased, however, and an arbitrator issued a finding of sexual harassment, American Apparel let him go.

    Charney got away with it for so long, at least in part, because employees were required to sign agreements to have all disputes handled through arbitration. As a story in the New York Times explains:

    Arbitration hearings, unlike trials, are usually closed, and any filings are more likely to be sealed, often enabling defendants to avoid embarrassment and maintain their powerful positions.

  • July 17, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Jin Hee Lee, LDF Senior Counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund

    *This piece was originally published in The Courier-Journal

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    Jin Hee Lee wrote a special introduction for ACSBlog:

    The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a remarkable legislative achievement during a period of time in our Nation’s history when brave men and women literally risked their lives in pursuit of justice.  In the face of violence from white supremacists and segregationist mobs, civil rights heroes like Medger Evers and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., demanded that the United States fulfill its constitutional promise of equality for all Americans.  Yet, despite tremendous progress over the past 50 years, we still have a long road ahead in order to achieve the Civil Rights Act’s vision of equality.  Racially segregated schools continue to plague our public school system, and mass incarceration has wreaked havoc in the lives of too many African American families.  The catastrophic effects of the Great Recession have been felt all across the country, but have been particularly devastating to African Americans, who encounter even more barriers to gainful employment.  And, just last year, a deeply divided Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that had been instrumental in protecting minorities’ right to vote.  As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act, we must also honor its legacy by continuing the struggle for freedom and equality so that, one day, racial justice can truly be achieved.  

    The passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 years ago was a monumental feat of bipartisan legislation during a crucial phase of American history. Only 10 years earlier, the United States Supreme Court denounced state-sanctioned racial segregation in the landmark decision Brown v. Board of Education. In the following years, untold numbers of American heroes risked their lives to end Jim Crow laws, with the moral conviction that "equality" is not a mere abstract term, but must necessarily be a lived experience. The Freedom Riders, the bus boycotters, the sitters in lunch counters — black and white, young and old — all were bonded by a common vision of an America that could, despite its flawed origins, embrace the equality and humanity of all its citizens.

    The implementation of this vision came at a heavy cost, especially in the years leading up to the Civil Rights Act.

  • July 16, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Estelle H. Rogers, Legislative Director, Project Vote

    *Noting the 50th anniversaries of Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, ACSblog is hosting a symposium including posts and interviews from some of the nation’s leading scholars and civil rights activists.

    I turned 16 in the early summer of 1964. I was anxious to drive, and I did. But what I really wanted to do was go to Mississippi. An older friend who was already in college—I had only finished my junior year of high school—planted the idea in my head. My parents quickly put the kibosh on it. It was Freedom Summer, and I would not be there.

    My parents’ disapproval was not ideological. I was raised by progressive, Jewish intellectuals who had a keen sense of justice. But they also feared for the safety of their elder child, who was trying to carve out a freedom of her own. The arguments we had in those days were reminiscent of the summer before, when I wanted to go on a bus to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  There was too much risk of violence, they said. Their fear would prove to be unfounded. Not so in Mississippi in the summer of 1964.

    The recent anniversaries of the civil rights movement have left me awash in memories, some of adolescent disappointment and impatience to make my own decisions, some more poignant. When the four little girls died in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in September 1963, civil rights leaders in Baltimore called for a silent march through the streets of the city. I wanted to go—feeling vindicated that I had tried so hard the month before to go to Washington to express my beliefs about racial equality—and asked my parents. My father, a state court judge at the time, said he’d go with me. On my first civil rights demonstration, I was accompanied by my father.

  • July 16, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Anita Sinha, Practitioner in Residence, Immigrant Justice Clinic, American University, Washington College of Law

    *This piece is cross-posted in The Huffington Post

    Children have been all over the news, and for the wrong reasons. Three missing Israeli teens were found dead in the occupied West Bank, sparking the reprisal killing of a Palestinian boy who was burned alive. Reports of tens of thousands of unaccompanied children arriving into the U.S. from Central America have dominated the media as politicians and the public grapple with how we as a nation should respond.

    I did not make the connection between the two sets of tragedies until I read a short piece entitled "The New Way of War: Killing the Kids." The notion that children are increasingly not only collateral casualties but also targets of war was amongst the findings in the annual report, "Children and Armed Conflict," recently released by the United Nation. Examples provided in the U.N. report include the kidnapping of schoolchildren in Nigeria, children being used as human shields in Syria, and the killing and maiming of youth in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    The Central American countries from where most of the recent unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. began their arduous journeys -- El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala -- are not in the U.N. report. But there is ample evidence to support that many of them are in a similar situation of targeted violence. First, mainstream mediaand human rights organizations report that children from these countries are on the front lines of gang violence. Gangs are in schools and on the streets, targeting boys for recruitment and girls for "sexualized killings." A Washington Post article quoted a young boy interviewed by the Women's Refugee Commission: "In El Salvador, there is a wrong -- it is being young... It is better to be old."

  • July 14, 2014
    Guest Post

    by Geoffrey R. Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor, The University of Chicago

    *This piece is cross-posted at Huffington Post

    A recent Washington Post article reported that the state constitutions of eight states -- Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas -- expressly prohibit individuals who do not believe in God from holding public office.

    The Arkansas constitution, for example, provides that "no person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in... this State," the Mississippi constitution stipulates that "no person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this State," the Tennessee constitution states that "no person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishment, shall hold any office in... this state," and so on.

    Are such provisions constitutional? The history of such laws goes back to the very founding of our nation, for a central question facing the Framers of our Constitution concerned the appropriate role of religion in government. For more than a thousand years, it had been the norm for Christian societies to have an established religion. At the time of the American Revolution, nine of the 13 colonies still had an established church, and most colonies expressly limited the right to hold public office to members of their established church. Over the next decade, though, Americans increasingly questioned the appropriate role of religion in the affairs of government.

    A critical debate occurred in Virginia, where a lengthy struggle culminated in the adoption in 1785 of Thomas Jefferson's Statute for Religious Freedom. The preamble of Jefferson's bill condemned those "legislators and rulers" who have "assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as... true and infallible," and then "endeavored to impose them on others."