U.S. Dept. of Justice Seeks Prosecutor Volunteers

(* Note: See Part 2 of this story, How the Justice Department Gets Away with It.)

 Are they kidding?

 The Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut is seeking applications from attorneys “who are willing to accept an unpaid temporary position” for up to a year doing legal research, drafting briefs, conducting hearings and trials, and attending judicial proceedings.  In other words, they’re seeking volunteer prosecutors who will work alongside paid prosecutors for nothing.

Only applicants with “outstanding academic records” will be considered.  Oh, and applicants must have at least one year of post J.D. experience.

 In what world is it ethically or morally sound to ask a law school graduate who is admitted to the bar of a state and experienced in the practice of law to work for up to a year gratis?

  It’s one thing to be an unpaid intern for a few weeks during the summer while attending law school to get experience and a line for the resume. It is quite another thing to be asked to labor alongside attorneys who are being paid, doing the same work, and meeting the same expectations. The word that comes to mind is exploitation.

One wonders what the U.S. Department of Justice would think about a large farming corporation that invites “volunteers” to work in the fields for a year for little or no pay?  (Is that legal?)

 These attorney volunteers are called “Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys (SAUSA).” They might as well be called “law-unteers.”

Connecticut is not alone in its quest for law-unteers. It’s a trend. Similar ads are posted by the U.S. Attorneys in Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Ohio, Michigan, Tennessee, Illinois, etc. (see http://www.justice.gov/careers/legal/attvacancies.html)

 The sad fact is that this “job” will appeal to  many recent law school graduates who cannot find anything better to do, after being sold a bill of goods by their law schools about a fictional legal job market with six-figure jobs aplenty for newly minted lawyers.

 According to the National Association for Law Placement, only about two-thirds of spring 2010 graduates had jobs requiring law licenses nine months later, a 15 year low. Overall, 87.4 percent of the class of 2010 had any sort of job nine months after graduation, including 11 percent who were working part-time or holding temporary jobs.

 Meanwhile, the typical student leaves law school nearly $100,000 in debt.  The situation is so bleak that the word is out and law school applications have dipped by about 10 percent.

Of course, there are young lawyers with rich parents who will gladly subsidize their offspring for a year of law-unteering at the U.S. Attorney’s Office. However, many lawyers who had to scrape through law school and are burdened with crushing debt will have to work a second or third job so they can law-unteer.

 The unstated premise of all of this is the dream – of a secure position in a respected profession that pays a decent salary and benefits and/or of working as a federal prosecutor on behalf of the United States of America.

 In its advertisement, the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office says: “The SAUSAs will not be hired by this office as Assistant U.S. Attorneys at the conclusion of the SAUSAs’ terms. However, SAUSAs may apply for AUSA positions in the office after completing service as a SAUSA.”

 One might translate this to mean that any lawyer who fails to take advantage of  the incredible opportunity to work for nothing for a year will be at a disadvantage when competing for a full-time position because s/he will lack the experience of the law-unteer.

 And then, the coup de grace. The Connecticut U.S. Attorney states that the “preferred qualifications” for this law-unteer position are: “Prior litigation experience is preferred, but the positions are open to lawyers who are finishing judicial clerkships and to highly qualified lawyers who have recently graduated from law school.”  (Emphasis added).

The vast majority of recent law school grads and lawyers finishing judicial clerkships are under the age of 40. Suppose a retired attorney would like the opportunity to work for the Justice Department without salary? If you happen to be an older (egad!) attorney who is highly qualified it, forget it. Apparently the U.S. Justice Department does not feel compelled to follow the nation’s anti-discrimination laws, including the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, which prohibits discrimination against qualified applicants who are over the age of 40.  But maybe you can discriminate if the “job” is a mirage or a fallacy.

 This is an inside peek at government that Upton Sinclair would appreciate. Speaking about hogs and making sausage. “They had done nothing to deserve it; and it was adding insult to injury, as the thing was done here, swinging them up in this cold-blooded, impersonal way, without pretence at apology, without the homage of a tear. “

(Note: See follow up article written Sept. 14, 2011, How the Justice Department Gets Away With It)

Federal Discrimination Laws

Most workplace bullying falls outside the parameters of federal discrimination laws. However, workplace abuse may be the result of illegal discrimination and, if so, you may be able to file a lawsuit seeking damages from your employer. Federal laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, genetic information, pregnancy, race/color, religion and sex. These laws generally cover employees, applicants for employment, former employees and applicants to, and participants in, training and apprenticeship programs. An employer may include private sector and state and government entities, depending on the law. These laws also make it illegal to retaliate against a person who has complained about an equal employment opportunity violation, or participated in filing a charge, testifying, assisting, or participating in any manner in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the applicable statute. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces most of these laws (Go to: www.eeoc.gov). Here is a list of major federal laws relating to employment discrimination: RACE AND COLOR, RELIGION, NATIONAL ORIGIN, OR SEX

  • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII) makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex. It is also illegal to harass a person because of that person’s race, color, national origin or sex. Harassment goes beyond simple teasing or an offhand comment; it generally must be severe and frequent, creating an hostile or offensive work environment or resulting in an adverse employment decision (such as being fired or demoted). The law also requires that employers reasonably accommodate applicants’ and employees’ sincerely held religious practices, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.

PREGNANCY

  • Title VII was amended by The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 (PDA), which makes it illegal to discrimination against a woman because of pregnancy, childbirth or a medical condition related to pregnancy or childbirth.

EQUAL PAY

  • The Equal Pay Act of 1963 (EPA) makes it illegal to pay different wages to men and women if they perform the same work in the same workplace. The jobs must be substantially equal and all forms of compensation are covered, including salary, overtime pay, bonuses, stock options, etc. The EPA protects both men and women.
  • Title VII, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) also prohibit compensation discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age or disability. Unlike the EPA, there is no requirement that the jobs be substantially equal.  The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 establishes that each paycheck that contains discriminatory compensation is a separate violation regardless of when the discrimination began.

AGE DISCRIMINATION An egregious double standard exists for older workers in federal discrimination law. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act,  29 U.S.C. §§ 621 et seq., makes it “unlawful for an employer . . . to discharge any individual . . . because of such individual’s age. Id. at § 623(a).” With any other type of discrimination lawsuit, it is enough to show that you were the victim of illegal discrimination.  But not so with age discrimination claims. To prevail on an ADEA claim, the U.S. Supreme Court saysyou must establish that “that age was the ‘but-for’ cause of the employer’s adverse action.” Gross v. FBL Fin. Servs., Inc., 129 S.Ct. 2343, 2351 (2009).  In a Title VII discrimination lawsuit – when the grounds are discrimination on the basis of  sex, race, color, national origin or religion – it is enough to show the discrimination was a motivating factor for the adverse job action (i.e. demotion or dismissal). So … In an ADEA claim, if your employer can point to any other reason for termination– and who hasn’t been late or disagreed with their boss – your lawsuit may be thrown out of court by a judge before it even gets to a jury.  This, despite he fact that you can show that you were the victim of blatant and reprehensible age discrimination. Why are older Americans treated like second class citizens?   I suggest you ask your Congressional representative and U.S. Senator.  Personally, I can’t think of one good reason except, perhaps, that big business has better lobbyists. DISABILITY

  • Title I and Title V of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (ADA),  prohibit employment discrimination against qualified individuals with disabilities in the private sector, and in state and local governments. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Employers are required to reasonably accommodate the known physical or mental limitation of an otherwise qualified individual with a disability who is an applicant or an employee, unless doing so would impose an undue hardship on the operation of the employer’s business.
  • Sections 501 and 505 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 make it illegal to discriminate against a qualified person with a disability in the federal government.

GENETIC INFORMATION

  • The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), which took force on November 21, 2009, makes it illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. Genetic information includes information about an individual’s genetic tests and the genetic tests of an individual’s family members, as well as information about any disease, disorder or condition of an individual’s family members.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT

  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission promulgated guidelines (Sec. 1604.11) pursuant to the adoption of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that make sexual harassment illegal. This includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:  made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting the individual, or; such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment. With respect to fellow employees, an employer is responsible for acts of sexual harassment in the workplace where the employer (or its agents or supervisory employees) know or should have known of the conduct, unless it can show that it took immediate appropriate corrective action.

CITIZENSHIP STATUS AND NATIONAL ORIGIN

  • Claims of discrimination based on citizenship status and national origin are covered both by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA).
  • The IRCA states that employers cannot discriminate because of national origin against U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and authorized aliens. Also, employers cannot discriminate on the basis of citizenship status against U.S. citizens, U.S. nationals, and the following classes of aliens with work authorization: permanent residents, temporary residents (that is, individuals who have gone through the legalization program), refugees, and asylumees. For example, citizenship verification must be obtained from all employees, not just “ethnic” looking employees.The IRCA is implemented by the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Office of the Special Counsel for Immigration Related Unfair Employment Practices.
  • Title VII prohibits discrimination on the basis of national origin. It bars discrimination against an individual because of birthplace, ancestry, culture, or linguistic characteristics common to a specific ethnic group. This law is administered by the EEOC.