The Veil over the U.S. Supreme Court

In Cleveland, puppets are being used by a TV station to reenact excerpts from a political corruption trial that is closed to the public … Why not have puppets reenact  U.S. Supreme Court hearings?  Big Bird could play Chief Justice John G. Roberts and Abbie Cadabby could play Elena Kagen. PGB

 

Our society is increasingly divided between the “haves” and the “have nots,” with the vast majority of Americans now strongly disapproving of the way that government is operating.

The President and the U.S. Congress receive much of the blame because they are seen fumbling in prime-time under glare of the television spotlight. But there is another equally or even more powerful branch of government that manages to stay out of the spotlight – the judiciary, led by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you think that corporations have disproportionate influence in American government, you need only look to the Court’s 5-4 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, 558 U.S. 08-205 (2010), holding that corporate funding of “independent” political broadcasts in elections is protected speech under the First Amendment. That ruling alone has spurred a tsunami of money into partisan election politics from corporations seeking to advance their interests.

Most people today “watch” their news on television or the Internet. Refusing to be televised is akin to insisting in 1440 that the bible be penned in ink by monks, longhand, rather than printed on the newfangled Gutenberg printing press. However, federal judges are elected for life and if they don’t want to be televised then who’s going to make them?

Now the Court is getting another opportunity to affect the balance of interests between corporate America and the average American. The Court has agreed to review the constitutionality of President Obama’s health care law, which is being challenged by 26 states and the National Federation of Independent Business.

A recent USA TODAY/Gallup Poll found that 72% of the people surveyed think the Court should allow cameras to televise oral arguments on the health care law, which are scheduled to be held in March.

Courts in the United States generally are unsympathetic to issues surrounding workplace abuse and unfair dismissal,  especially when compared to courts in many other industrialized societies.  Last summer, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to certify a class action involving 1.5 million workers at Walmart who allege sex discrimination in violation of Title VII. The Court’s ruling will have an enormous  impact upon the ability of workers to secure fair treatment in the workplace.

Unfortunately, most non-union workers are clueless about how few  protections they really have until  they are escorted from the building with their possessions in a cardboard box.  Televising the proceedings of the U.S. Supreme Court is important to the goal of having an informed and educated public. Or is that what the Court is afraid of?

U.S. Secretary of Labor Sleeping on the Job?

With America’s workplace anti-bully movement seemingly stuck in the trenches, perhaps it is time to follow the example of  America’s neighbor to the North.

The Canadian province of Quebec amended its Labour Standards Act in 2002 to ban non-discriminatory workplace harassment and bullying. The law, which went into effect on June 1, 2004, also imposes a duty on employers to prevent and stop bullying.

According to one observer, the law was the result of  a sustained campaign by Quebec unions, as well as by a non-profit advocacy and resource group for non-unionized workers, “Au bas l’echelle” (in English, “Rank and File”).

This effort resulted in the establishment  in 1999 by then Minister of Labor, Diane Lemieux, of an Interdepartmental Committee on Psychological Harassment at Work.  The committee in 2001 recommended the government take legislative steps to prohibit psychological harassment.

It is time for unions and workplace anti-bully advocates to call upon the U.S. Secretary of Labor  to empanel a commission to study the problem of workplace bulling in the United States and recommend new legislation to Congress.

There is overwhelming research that the problem of workplace bullying is epidemic in the United States, affecting at least one in four workers, and that workplace bullying destroys lives and costs American employers billions every year.

Efforts began in the United States almost a decade ago to pass a so-called Healthy Workplace Bill on a state-by-state basis.  Thus far, no state has adopted the bill, which is much weaker than Quebec’s legislation.

Meanwhile, the worsening economy has left more and more workers vulnerable to bullying. Not only are there fewer jobs, but the nature of the workforce is changing. More workers today are categorized as “independent contractors” who receive no benefits and low pay. These include  home-workers, tele-workers, piece-workers.

Even if one state does step up and adopt a workplace anti-bully bill, it will take decades, if ever, before all of the states do.

*** See Debra L. Parkes, “Targeting Workplace Harassment in Quebec: On Exporting a New Legislative Agenda” (2004) 8 Empl. Rts. & Employ. Pol’y J. 423.

Then the “Law is a Ass”

“If the law supposes that,” said Mr. Bumble,… “the law is a ass—a idiot.” –  Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist.

A federal judge in New York earlier this week threw out a pregnancy discrimination case against Bloomberg, L.P.,  holding that it is not the court’s job to “tell businesses what attributes they must value in their employees as they make pay and promotion decisions.”

Chief U.S. District Judge Loretta A. Preska, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, essentially says pregnant women who take maternity leave are making a choice which may leave them in a  disadvantageous position at the workplace. She says it’s not against the law  because … hey, it was their choice wasn’t it?

The EEOC alleged that 49 of the 78 claimants in the lawsuit were demoted once they announced their pregnancy and/or returned from maternity leave in terms of a diminished title and the number of employees directly reporting to them. Not only were their responsibilities diminished but their responsibilities were handed off to junior male employees.  Also, the EEOC alleged, 77 of 78 of the claimants had their total compensation decreased after becoming pregnant or returning from maternity leave.

Bloomberg is an international financial services and media company based in New York City that provides news, information, and analysis. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg owns the majority of the company, which he founded in 1981

Judge Preska writes:

“ … women who take maternity leave, work fewer hours, and demand more scheduling flexibility likely are at a disadvantage in a demanding culture like Bloomberg’s … The law does not require companies to ignore or stop valuing ultimate dedication, however unhealthy that may be for family life.”

She goes on to write:

“The law does not mandate “work-life balance.” It does not require companies to ignore employees’ work-family tradeoffs — and they are tradeoffs — when deciding about employee pay and promotions. It does not require that companies treat pregnant women and mothers better or more leniently than others. All of these things may be desirable, they may make business sense, and they may be “forward thinking.” But they are not required by law.”

Judge Preska granted Bloomberg’s request for a summary judgment to dismiss the EEOC’s complaint, finding that a  reasonable jury could not conclude that Bloomberg engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination against pregnant women who took maternity leave. Judge Preska said the “anecdotal” evidence provided by the EEOC was insufficient in light of  evidence produced by Bloomberg.  Judge Preska’s decision means the case cannot proceed to a jury.

Judge Preska acknowledged that compensation “growth” for workers who took maternity leave was less than for those who took no leave but she said it is legal to discriminate “between those employees who take off long periods of time in order to raise children and those who either do not have children or are able to raise them without an appreciable career interruption.”

The EEOC also presented examples of alleged bias. One class member, for example, “reported to the CEO in 2003 that the head of the News division made some negative comments about women taking paid maternity leave but then not returning to the company, the CEO said, “Well, is every fucking woman in the company having a baby or going to have a baby?”

According to Judge Preska: “Isolated remarks by a handful of executives — or one specific executive, the head of News, which EEOC focuses on heavily here — do not show that Bloomberg’s standard operating procedure was to discriminate against pregnant women and mothers.”

Finally, here’s what Judge Preska has to say about the fact that only women bear children:

“To be sure, women need to take leave to bear a child. And, perhaps unfortunately, women tend to choose to attend to family obligations over work obligations thereafter more often than men in our society. Work-related consequences follow. Likewise, men tend to choose work obligations over family obligations, and family consequences follow. Whether one thinks those consequences are intrinsically fair, whether one agrees with the roles traditionally assumed by the different genders in raising children in the United States, or whether one agrees with the monetary value society places on working versus childrearing is not at issue here. Neither is whether Bloomberg is the most “family-friendly” company. The fact remains that the law requires only equal treatment in the workplace. Employment consequences for making choices that elevate non-work activities (for whatever reason) over work activities are not illegal.”

Judge Preska was nominated by President George H. W. Bush on March 31, 1992.

It is not clear whether or not Judge Preska has any children.

Wisconsin Supreme Court Judge Out of Order?

Places Chokehold on Fellow Justice

Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Ann Walsh Bradley has accused fellow Justice David Prosser of putting her in a chokehold during a dispute in her office on June 13, 2011,  a day before the Court’s decision upholding a bill to curtail the collective bargaining rights of public employees.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Bradley said:  “The facts are that I was demanding that he get out of my office and he put his hands around my neck in anger in a chokehold.”

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the story is not the alleged assault but the fact that an incident pf workplace violence was shrouded in secrecy for almost two weeks, until  Wisconsin Public Radio and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism published a story based upon anonymous sources.  Why was it necessary for  anonymous sources to disclose that one of Wisconsin’s high court judges had allegedly assaulted a fellow justice?  Where is the transparency?

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism  on June 25, 2011 quoted “at least three knowledgeable sources” who declined to be named but said, “other sources have offered a conflicting account.  Justice Prosser has declared that the claims, once investigated, will be ‘proven false.’”

There are competing versions of the incident. The Journal also quoted   a source who said Prosser made incidental contact with Bradley’s neck as he put up his hands in a defensive posture as Bradley rushed toward him “with fists up.”

The Wisconsin Judicial Commission, which  is charged with investigating allegations of misconduct involving judges, was informed of the alleged assault. However, a spokesman for the Commission said he could neither confirm nor deny whether the commission, which was informed of the incident, will investigate.

Judge Prosser’s judicial temperament was called into question earlier this year:

 In March, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that, in a disagreement over a case last year, Justice Prosser, 68, had called Chief Justice Shirley Abrahamson a “total bitch” and threatened to “destroy” her. Prosser, the paper reported, confirmed making the remarks, saying he “probably overreacted” while accusing Justices Abrahamson and Bradley of being “masters at deliberately goading people into perhaps incautious statements.”