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The Blog of the The National Law Review
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New York City Mayor Signs “Ban the Box” Law

Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed a bill (Int. No. 318) that amends the New York City Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”) to further restrict employers (with four or more employees) from inquiring into or otherwise considering an applicant’s or employee’s criminal history in employment decisions.  The new NYC law will take effect on October 27, 2015.

As we detailed in our prior post, the new NYC law prohibits employers from asking about criminal history on an initial employment application (“ban the box”) and at any time prior to extending a conditional offer of employment.  The new NYC law also forbids employers from stating on any job advertisement or other solicitation or publication that employment is conditioned or limited based on an applicant’s arrest or conviction history.

For years, before an NYC employer could take adverse action on the basis of criminal history, it had to first engage in a multi-factor analysis under Article 23-A of the New York State Correction Law to determine whether a sufficient nexus exists between the offense and position sought.  Now, under the new NYC law, before taking adverse action the employer also must:

  • furnish a written copy of the criminal history inquiry to the applicant in a form determined by the New York City Commission on Human Rights (“NYCCHR”);

  • provide a written Article 23-A analysis to the applicant in a form determined by the NYCCHR, together with “supporting documents” setting forth the basis and reasons for the adverse action; and

  • after providing the applicant with the required documentation, allow him or her at least three business days to respond and, during that time, hold the position open for the applicant.

To redress violations of the new NYC law, aggrieved applicants and employees may file a complaint with the NYCCHR or in court, with the promise of lucrative remedies under the NYCHRL.

The new NYC law does not apply where the employer must take action pursuant to any federal, state, or local law that requires criminal background checks for employment purposes or bars employment based on criminal history.  For purposes of this exception, “federal law” includes the rules or regulations of a self-regulatory organization as defined by the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 (like FINRA).  The new NYC law also excepts various public employment positions.

NYC now joins a growing number of jurisdictions across the nation that have “banned the box” and otherwise regulated employer use of criminal history in hiring and other personnel decisions.  To ensure compliance with the new NYC law, employers should start to review and, where necessary, make changes to their background check procedures and forms.

President Obama Makes Announcement on Overtime Regulations

On Monday, June 29, President Obama announced a change in rules that would expand overtime eligibility to millions of Americans.

CHARLOTTE NC - SEP 21: Democratic nomonee Barack Obama makes a campaign stop in Charlotte NC on Sept 21 2008Beginning with the observation that “It’s been a few good days for America,” Obama announced the salary threshold where workers wouldautomatically qualify for time-and-a-half overtime wages would be raised from  $23,660 to $50,440.  This change in regulation can be made by the Administration, with no need for Congressional approval. The announcement came through a blog post written by the President for the Huffington Post, you can read it here.

President Obama argued that by failing to change the regulations, they had modified their original intentions–instead of highly-paid white collar workers being exempt from overtime, this was negatively impacting workers making as little as $23,660 a year, no matter how many hours they put in during the week. He asserted that “A hard day’s work deserves a fair day’s pay,” and that’s “how America should do business.”  This study, published in late 2013 by Jared Bernstein and Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute, increased the momentum for movement on this issue.

Conservative and Retail groups oppose this idea, claiming it will cost jobs and negatively impact the industry, including negative impacts on customer service.  The National Retail Foundation argues against the measure, saying their research indicates, “overtime expansion would drive up retailers’ payroll costs while limiting opportunities to move up into management. Most workers would be unlikely to see an increase in take-home pay, the use of part-time workers could increase, and retailers operating in rural states could see a disproportionate impact.”

Observers don’t expect this rule to be set into motion until 2016.

Read more at the New York Times here.

Copyright ©2015 National Law Forum, LLC
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Supreme Court to Again Review Higher Education Affirmative Action Case

In a week full of front-page news, the United States Supreme Court has agreed to again review the appropriateness of the University of Texas at Austin’s race-based admissions process in the case of Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

The Supreme Court first reviewed the school’s consideration of race as a component of its admission process almost a year ago and remanded the case back to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration.  Upon re-review the Fifth Circuit again held the University’s practice of using race a factor in its admissions decisions was constitutional. Fisher filed an appeal arguing the Fifth Circuit did not follow the Supreme Court’s direction when conducting the subsequent review.

While the ultimate outcome of this case will certainly impact affirmative action programs of institutions of higher education, its effects on other types of non-admissions affirmative action programs, such as though enforced by OFCCP, remains unknown.

ARTICLE BY Laura Mitchell of Jackson Lewis P.C.
Jackson Lewis P.C. © 2015
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US Supreme Court Ruling Impacts Jail Operations

On June 22, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued an important decision for all North Carolina counties operating county jails in which individuals are held detainees awaiting trial. In Kingsley v. Hendrickson, No. 14-6368, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 opinion authored by Justice Stephen Breyer, ruled that in excessive force claims brought by pretrial detainees, the plaintiff need only show the force used against him was objectively unreasonable, not that the officer subjectively intended to injure him. This case is important because the court had never before articulated what standard applies to the excessive force claims of those individuals charged, but not yet convicted, of crimes. For private citizens not charged or convicted of a crime, the standard is one of objective reasonableness (someone being arrested). For prisoners who have been convicted of a crime, the standard is higher and requires the plaintiff to show the officer subjectively intended to cause the harm. As accused but not convicted individuals, pretrial detainees fall somewhere between these two categories, and the court determined the standard applicable to their excessive force claims should be the lesser showing of objective unreasonableness.

Kingsley involved the claims of Michael Kingsley, an individual who was arrested on a drug charge and detained in a Wisconsin jail. He failed to make bail, so he was housed in the jail waiting for his trial.  One day, an officer noticed a piece of paper covering a light fixture in Kingsley’s cell.  Kingsley was ordered to remove the paper, but he refused. The officers then handcuffed him and forcibly removed him from the cell. The parties disagreed over what happened next, with Kingsley claiming the officers slammed his head into a concrete bunk and the officers claiming Kingsley resisted their efforts to handcuff him.  Everyone agreed, however, that one officer deployed his Taser to stun Kingsley for approximately five seconds. The officers left Kingsley in the cell for fifteen minutes, then returned and removed the handcuffs. Kingsley filed a lawsuit alleging the officers’ use of force was excessive.  At trial, the jury found in favor of the officers, but Kingsley appealed, arguing the jury was instructed on an incorrect standard – that of subjective reasonableness.

The Supreme Court agreed. The divided court held a jury must consider whether the force was objectively reasonable, a determination that turns on the “facts and circumstances of each particular case,” taking into account the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, not with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The jury should also consider the legitimate interests a jail has in maintaining internal order and discipline. But to find an officer liable for excessive force under the U.S. Constitution, a jury need not find an officer maliciously and sadistically intended to punish or injure the detainee. Rather, the question for a jury in a pretrial detainee’s excessive force claim is simply whether the officer’s use of force was objectively reasonable, without considering the officer’s intent. This will likely lower the bar for Plaintiffs bringing 1983 claims because the jury instruction for subjective reasonableness required them to prove the officer acted maliciously and sadistically, which is often very difficult to prove. Jurors should still be instructed that 20/20 hindsight can’t be used to decide this issue, but defendants may now have a harder time presenting these cases to juries.

© 2015 Poyner Spruill LLP. All rights reserved.
Wedding and engagement rings

Same-Sex Marriage Equality: What Employers Need to Know After Obergefell

Same-sex couples have a Constitutional right to marry and have their marriages recognized nationwide. In a 5-to-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court concluded that states are required to license a marriage between two people of the same sex under the Fourteenth Amendment. Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015). As a result, same-sex couples may now legally marry in all states. This ruling has massive implications, as rights and benefits extended to opposite-sex spouses will be available to same-sex spouses across the United States.

Marriage Equality Prevails

In an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the Court recognized that same-sex couples were not seeking to devalue the institution of marriage, but instead sought for themselves the respect, rights, and responsibilities that accompany a legal marriage. The Court held that under both the Due Process and the Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment, same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marry.

The Due Process Clause provides that no state shall “deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” The Court determined that same-sex couples may exercise the right to marry under this Clause for four reasons:

  1. the right to make the personal choice of who to marry is inherent in the right of individual autonomy; choices concerning family relationships, whether to have children, and whether to use contraception are protected intimate decisions that extend to all persons, regardless of sexual orientation;
  2. the right of couples to commit themselves to each other and enjoy intimate association extends to same-sex couples just as it does to opposite-sex couples;
  3. protecting same-sex marriage safeguards children and families because without the recognition and stability of marriage, children of same-sex couples suffer harm and humiliation as well as material costs because of the stigma attached to “knowing their families are somehow lesser” than families of opposite-sex couples; and
  4. marriage is a “keystone” of our country’s social order and national community; governmental recognition, rights, benefits and responsibilities depend in many ways on marital status and same-sex couples should not be denied the benefits that accompany marriage.

The Court also ruled that the right of same-sex couples to marry is a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws. The Court admonished that state laws that ban same-sex marriage deny same-sex couples the benefits afforded to opposite-sex couples, disparage same-sex couples’ choices, and diminish their personhood. The Equal Protection Clause prohibits such “unjustified infringement of the fundamental right to marry.”

Recognition of Marriages Performed in Other States

The Court also ruled that a state may not refuse to recognize the same-sex marriages lawfully performed in another state. The result is that any lawful marriage that has already taken place in the United States, whether same- or opposite-sex, must be recognized in all 50 states.

What This Means for Employers

Multi-state employers that have been dealing with state-specific policies that were dependent on state-law recognition of same-sex marriages may now want to implement a uniform policy that applies to all locations. Here are steps you should consider in light of the legalization of same-sex marriages nationwide:

  • FMLA leave: Same-sex spouses will be deemed spouses under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) no matter where the marriage took place or where the employee resides. This means that you need to permit eligible employees to take FMLA leave to care for their same-sex spouse with a serious health condition, for qualifying exigency leave if the spouse is being deployed and other qualifying reasons. Update your FMLA policies, forms and practices to permit this leave.
  • Bereavement and other leaves: If you offer bereavement leave for the death of a spouse or in-laws, you should update your policy to reflect that this leave includes same-sex spouses and relatives of the same-sex spouse. If you offer any other leaves that define immediate family or extend to familial situations, such as non-FMLA medical leave or military leave, update those definitions as well.
  • Marital status discrimination: If you operate in states that prohibit discrimination based on an employee’s or applicant’s marital status, you will be prohibited from discriminating based on same-sex marriages.
  • Emergency contacts and beneficiaries: Employees with a same-sex spouse may want to update their emergency contact or beneficiary information listed on group life insurance or retirement plans. Be prepared to administer these changes.
  • Employee benefits: Group insurance, retirement and other employee benefit plans will need to be reviewed and updated. Be certain to consult your benefits attorney and plan administrators for advice on required changes.
  • W-4 Forms and tax updates: In light of potential income tax implications for newly recognized same-sex spouses, some employees may want to change their tax withholding information. Be prepared to update W-4 and state withholding amounts upon request.

These and additional policies and procedures impacted by the Court’s ruling may require that you update your employee handbook, policies on your intranet, plan documents, forms, beneficiary designations and other personnel documents. Be sure to notify and train your human resources professionals and supervisors on all changes.

The Court’s landmark decision grants “equal dignity in the eyes of the law” to same-sex couples. Take this opportunity to review your employment policies and practices so your company does the same.

Copyright Holland & Hart LLP 1995-2015.

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