ACSBlog

  • 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

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Eighty-three percent of American “voters believe police should get a warrant before searching personal information on someone’s cell phone,” Microsoft General Counsel Brand Smith notes in a post on Digital Constitution.

    The survey conducted by the research firm, Anzalone Liszt Grove, following the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous opinion in Riley v. California, also reveals that 86 percent of respondents “believe police should have to follow the same legal requirements for obtaining personal information in the cloud as they do for personal information stored on paper.” In Riley, the high court found that police need warrants to search mobile devices of people they arrest.

    Smith says that while the Riley decision can be viewed as a “historic first step,” it only addresses “one of many questions that the growth of technology is posing for our privacy laws. We’ve raised another unresolved question in a case in federal court in New York in which we’re challenging a search warrant seeking customer communications stored in our data center in Ireland.”

    He continued that Microsoft believes it is a “problem for governments to use a warrant to reach across international borders and search a person’s email without respecting local privacy laws.” Smith then cites the survey that says a majority of Americans agree.

    Seventy-nine percent of those polled believe the “federal government should have to respect local privacy laws when searching through people’s personal information like their email accounts.” Moreover, the survey found 56 percent of respondents are “worried” that if the federal government demands “information in other countries without going through their governments, then other countries will follow suit and force companies to turn over Americans’ private information.”

    Smith concludes that the polling, all of which is available here, “suggests” Americans understand “what’s at stake for technology and the future of privacy.”

  • July 17, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    In another victory for equality, Florida’s ban on same-sex marriage was invalidated this afternoon. Monroe County Circuit Judge Luis Garcia overturned Florida’s 2008 constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage and ordered that two Key West residents be allowed to wed, but not before Tuesday.

    According to the Miami Herald, Aaron Huntsman and William Lee Jones, who met at a gay pride celebration and have been a couple for 11 years, sued Monroe County Clerk Amy Heavilin in April for a marriage license. There is a similar suit pending in Miami-Dade County, in which six same-sex couples and LGBT advocacy group Equality Florida Institute sued County Clerk Harvey Ruvin for the right to marry.

    In both cases, Florida Assistant Attorney General Adam Tanenbaum argued that Garcia and Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel should not dismiss Florida’s constitutional gay marriage ban, which passed in 2008 with the support of 62 percent of voters.

    LGBT rights advocates continue to ride a wave of success since last year’s landmark Supreme Court decisions striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and putting an end to California’s Prop. 8. Just last week a judge struck down Kentucky’s marriage ban. Earlier this month, Justice Samuel Alito, Jr. rejected a county official's bid to suspend a ruling that overturned Pennsylvania's same-sex marriage ban. In Colorado, a District Court judge declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriages unconstitutional and the Utah attorney general announced he would appeal a court decision in favor of marriage equality in the state to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Wisconsin, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen appealed a federal judge's ruling from June striking down the state's ban on same-sex marriages. The case now heads to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.

    According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are over 70 court cases challenging discriminatory marriage bans across the country in 30 of the 31 states where such a ban exists, plus Puerto Rico. Cases from twelve states are currently pending before six federal appeals courts. The Sixth Circuit holds the distinction of being the only federal appeals court to date that will consider marriage cases from all states within its jurisdiction.  In total, 33 states either have marriage equality or have seen state marriage bans struck down as unconstitutional in court.  Since the Supreme Court’s historic marriage rulings last year, there have been 16 consecutive federal court decisions that bans on marriage equality are unconstitutional.  These rulings have come from judges appointed by both Democrat and Republican presidents.

  • 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 17, 2014

    by Paul Guequierre

    Fifty-four law professors from across the country, including several ACS members and contributors penned a letter to President Obama this week urging him not to cave under pressure from anti-equality conservatives by including religious exemption language in any executive order providing nondiscrimination guarantees for LGBT employees of federal contractors.

    The letter comes on the heels of the Supreme Court’s decision in Hobby Lobby, which gave closely held corporations the freedom to discriminate by invoking religious beliefs and not offering contraceptive care to female employees, despite the fact that such coverage is mandated under the Affordable Care Act. The law professors emphasize that the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby and order in Wheaton College do not compel in any way the inclusion of religious exemptions language in an executive order, and that both actions were predicated on the Court’s belief that the government could fully realize its compelling goals of furthering women’s health and equality through other means.

    The signatories also note the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in no way affects the promulgation of an executive order that establishes the conditions under with taxpayer dollars can be expended to subsidize the work of a private organization and that the federal government is free to require that government contractors adhere to government standards.   

    Read the full letter here.