Murderer Cites Workplace Bullying in TV Shootings

Flanagan

Update: As information has developed, it is apparent that Flanagan filed an earlier lawsuit  alleging race discrimination against a Florida television station in 2000. This appears to be the lawsuit that he refers to as having been settled out of court.  The Tallahassee Democrat reports that Flanagan complained that he and another black employee were referred to as “monkeys” by a producer and that a supervisor told him he was  an exception among blacks who are “lazy and do not take advantage of free money.” Flanagan’s former boss in Tallahassee is quoted as stating that Flanagan had “threatened to punch people out and he was kind of running fairly roughshod over other people in the newsroom.” 

Legislation to stop workplace bullying came from an unusual source this week – a man who filmed his fatal shooting of a TV journalist and camera operator while they were conducting a live interview in Roanoke,Virginia.

Vester Lee Flanagan, 41, was an ex-reporter at the station, WDBJ7 TV,  which employed two of his three victims, reporter Alison Parker, 24,  and Adam Ward, 27, a camera operator. Professionally known as Bryce Williams, Flanagan was fired after about a year in 2013 and escorted out of the building by police, reportedly over angry outbursts.

In a 23-page manifesto faxed to ABC, Flanagan, who was gay and African-American, claims he was bullied  and the victim of racism and homophobia during his year at the station.  The case was dismissed by a judge in July 2014.

“I don’t need to deal with workplace bullies anymore,” wrote Flanagan, “THAT is what lawmakers need to focus on.”  

Flanagan killed himself about five hours after the murders –  which he filmed using his telephone camera and  posted on Twitter. He fatally shot himself after crashing his car while fleeing police.

Obviously a deeply disturbed man, Flanagan also states the horrific attack on Parker and Ward was intended to avenge the Charleston shootings earlier this year in which a white gunman killed nine parishioners at an African-American church.

Was He Bullied?

Whether Flanagan was bullied (or a bully) raises questions about how employers should deal with  bullying, harassment and problem employees.  Did his employers offer staff diversity training or provide Flanagan with the opportunity for coaching or psychological help? Could the tragic shootings have been averted?

The BBC quotes Jeffrey Marks, WDBJ7’s general manager, as describing  Flanagan as unhappy, difficult to work with and always “looking out for people to say things he could take offence to.”

Flanagan admits that he made mistakes while employed by WDBJ-7, adding that he “should not have been so curt” with photographers in Roanoke ” but you know why I was? The damn news director was a micromanaging tyrant!!” [Read more…]

Appeals Court Says Inequality Should Not Bar Justice

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There is a persistent myth in America that our adversarial court system gives every litigant an equal chance for justice.

In fact, research overwhelmingly shows that federal courts are like casinos where the government and big business usually have the edge by virtue of their greater resources. They can easily drive individual plaintiffs out of the courthouse through the use of technicalities, strategic delays, and procedural sleight of hand. Meanwhile, the supposed “leadership” of the federal court system has shown little willingness to innovate or experiment  to improve the judicial process or even to engage with the public!

So it is refreshing that a panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago recently acknowledged the bleak circumstances of an Indiana prisoner who filed a federal lawsuit after being denied timely access to a prescription drug to treat gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), which can lead to esophageal bleeding or ulcers, chronic scarring, and increased risk of esophageal cancer.

A prison physician in 2009 ordered inmate Jeffrey Allen Rowe to take an over-the-counter strength Zantac pill twice a day. However, after two years, Rowe’s pills were confiscated and he was told he could only take a pill if he bought it or when it was dispensed by a prison nurse at 9:30 a.m. and at 9:30 p.m.  His prescription was dropped altogether for a month in 2011 on the theory that he had a chronic condition that did not warrant the continued use of the drug. He contended the prison doctor and nurse eliminated the prescription in retaliation for his complaints.

Rowe alleged he suffered extreme pain because he couldn’t afford to buy the drug and was forbidden to take the prison-dispensed medication with his meals. He filed a lawsuit charging the prison with deliberate indifference to a serious medical need in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

U.S. District Court Judge Sara Evans Barker summarily dismissed the Rowe’s lawsuit because he failed to present an expert witness to dispute an affidavit submitted by the prison in which a doctor  who was not a gastroenterologist stated that Zantac was effective for 12 hours after it was taken.  The appeals court noted  the manufacturer of Zantac states the drug can be taken at any time to relieve symptoms but it must be taken within 30 to 60 minutes of eating food or drinking beverages that cause heartburn “to prevent symptoms.”

Circuit Judge Richard A. Posner wrote the 2-1 ruling, which states: “It is heartless to make a fetish of adversary procedure if by doing so feeble evidence is credited because the opponent has no practical access to offsetting evidence.”

Posner notes that Judge Barker denied Rowe’s requests for appointment of counsel or to hire an expert witness to assist him in the four-year litigation battle, leaving Rowe at a “decided litigating disadvantage” and unable to offer evidence beyond his own testimony.

 “Shall the unreliability of the unalloyed adversary process in a case of such dramatic inequality of resources and capabilities of the parties as this case be an unalterable bar to justice?” asked Posner.

The majority cites  research from “highly reputable medical websites” on the Internet to support its conclusion that Rowe had raised a significant issue of material fact that warranted going forward in the case. By conducting independent research, the majority acknowledged that “we may be thought to be ‘going outside the record’ in an improper sense.” However, the panel noted that Rule 201 of the Federal Rules of Evidence permits a judge to consider certain facts without requiring the testimony of an expert witness. The panel did not accept its research as “true” but construed it to be sufficient to raise a question of fact that barred dismissal on a motion for summary judgment. The panel said that it is appropriate for a judge to do research when it is conducted “with circumspection. In particular, it must not be allowed to extinguish reasonable opportunities for rebuttal.”

The dissent criticized the majority for essentially expecting Judge Barker to challenge an unquestioned expert affidavit and to conduct independent factual research instead of relying solely upon the official record.  The majority disagreed, stating that Judge Barker had failed to “recognize the existence of a substantial issue of material fact, barring summary judgment. Rowe’s evidence of pain contradicted (the prison doctor’s) affidavit.”

The case is JEFFREY ALLEN ROWE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. MONICA GIBSON, et al., No. 14-3316 (August 19, 2015).

Amazon’s Brutal Conditions No Suprise to Warehouse Workers

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Amazon has come full-circle. Not only is Amazon a harsh and stingy place for low-paid hourly warehouse workers, it is also a  Darwinian nightmare for white-collar workers.

The New York Times recently outlined Amazon’s assault on the respect and dignity of  its white-collar workers, who are encouraged to inform on each other and are pushed out  if their performance flags due to a family tragedy or health crisis (i.e. miscarriage, cancer).

Bezos on Monday issued a statement expressing shock about the Times expose, stating he won’t tolerate these “shockingly callous management practices.” He encouraged workers who are victims of this kind of treatment to contact him personally.  “The article doesn’t describe the Amazon I know or the caring Amazonians I work with every day.” Jeff Bezos

However, Amazon has a history of poorly treating its low-paid   hourly workers at Amazon “wish-fulfillment” centers in Nevada. These workers are subject to  relentless schedules for unpacking and repackaging of goods, constant electronic surveillance, and a system of demerits designed to weed out”weak” performers. They also are forced each workday to donate a half-hour of their personal time to Amazon.

Amazon pays a company called Integrity Staffing Solutions to operate two warehouses in Nevada that serve as storage and order-filling facilities. Integrity has an anti-theft screening procedure that requires workers to wait in line at the end of their shifts, empty their pockets, and walk through metal detectors.  However, Integrity refuses to pay workers for the time it takes to complete this mandatory screening process.

After two hourly workers filed a lawsuit, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in San Francisco ordered Integrity to pay the warehouse  workers overtime because the time spent for anti-theft screening was a job requirement that benefited only the company.

Integrity took the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year reversed the 9th Circuit court and ruled the screenings were “noncompensable postliminary activities.” In other words, the nation’s highest court said the workers weren’t entitled to be paid for the time it took to undergo the mandatory screenings because it wasn’t technically “work.”

All of this is a legal shell game; Amazon  dictates the slim profit/loss ratio that determines the working conditions and pay for warehouse workers.

Amazon’s market valuation is $250 billion and Bezos’ net worth is estimated at $47.7 billion, making him the 15th richest billionaire in the United States.

In his statement to Amazon workers on Monday, Bezos said Amazon is not a “soulless dystopian workplace where no fun is had and no laughter heard … Hopefully, you’re having fun working with a bunch of brilliant teammates, helping invent the future, and laughing along the way.”Does Bezos really think that Amazon warehouse workers who are forced to donate a half-hour of their workday to Amazon for anti-theft screening are “laughing along the way”?  One can’t help but think that if Bezos really cared about his workforce, he would not cheat already under-paid workers who labor in his warehouses out of a few bucks for time they are forced to spend at work.

If all of this isn’t pathetic enough … Forbes published an article on Monday by Oliver Pursche stating that investors shouldn’t worry about the Times’ depiction of Amazon’s brutal working conditions for white-collar employees, including long hours, infrequent vacations, and a data-based evaluation system some describe as unfair. He contends these conditions technically are not illegal, and the “reasoning behind the company’s corporate culture should be taken as a positive for investors. Amazon’s practices increase efficiency–a plus for a company that reinvests so much that its profits are, at best, razor-thin–and encourage innovation.”

 

White House Summit For ‘New Generation’ of Workers

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U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez announced this week that the White House will hold a “Summit on Worker Voice” on October 7 to “energize a new generation of Americans to come together and recognize the potential power of their voice at work.”

That’s great but … what about the “older generation” of  American workers?

The Obama administration is currently engaging in the most outrageous assault on the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 since  2009. That’s the year that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Gross v. FBL Financial Services that made it far more difficult to win a lawsuit alleging age discrimination than discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin and color.

Obama signed an executive order  in 2010 that permits federal agencies to discriminate against older workers.

More recently, Perez endorsed  the 100,000 Opportunities Initiative,  in which America’s leading corporations (Walmart, Starbucks, Microsoft, etc.) have announced plans to discriminate against older workers and hire ” youth”  aged 16 – 24 for tens of thousands of part-time and full-time jobs.  Neither Perez nor Starbucks, the main organizer of the initiative, have explained what legal justification exists for violating the plain the plain language of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967.  Good intentions cannot justify violating federal discrimination laws.

Reach for American Dream

Perez applauds early labor advocates  for the eight-hour work day and the weekend, noting these benefits were not inevitable but were “demanded by the working people of this nation … who wanted their chance to reach for the American dream.”

How can Perez and Obama justify making it more difficult for older workers to ‘reach for the American dream’?

[Read more…]