In civil lawsuits, we do these things known as “depositions.” We depose a witness with no judge present. The depositions usually occur in lawyer’s offices, but they can take place anywhere. The two warring sides meet up and the only brake on poor behavior are social norms. In a deposition in Las Vegas, a lawyer was deposing the person who had accused him of defamation. The lawyer, James Pengilly, was sued for defamation. Mr. Pengilly represented himself in the lawsuit. He was deposing the person who had filed the lawsuit. He used various vulgar terms, interrupted the witness and his attorney, made inappropriate statements and was generally aggressive.

Then, apparently not liking an answer by the witness, he move this hand near a pistol he wore on his belt and asked the witness if he was “ready for it.” The witness left the room. When he returned, Mr. Pengilly displayed his weapon to the witness and the opposing attorney. The two were frightened by this odd conduct and called the police.

The Nevada Supreme Court has suspended Mr. Pengilly. It said there was serious risk of harm to all who were present. Interviewed by the local newspaper, Mr. Pengilly said he always carried a weapon, because his father had worked at a law firm in San Fransisco where a gunman killed eight people. He has the pistol with him everyday, he explained. “I always carry a gun because I’m attorney and people don’t like me.” See ABA Bar Journal news report. I suppose they don’t…….

In your average lawsuit, this is not supposed to happen. Key witnesses are not supposed to suddenly recall something they have previously denied. Yet, that is what happened in the 2020 Census lawsuit. Wilbur Ross, the head of the Commerce department, now suddenly does recall conversations with then advisor Steve Bannon and Attorney General Jeff Sessions about the citizenship question. The Commerce department is responsible for the census in 2020. Secretary Ross added a question asking whether each person is a U.S. citizen. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit contend the question is designed to intimidate persons into not completing the census.

Earlier, when he testified before Congress, Secretary Ross denied any such conversation. The Department of Justice said it could neither confirm or deny involvement by AG Sessions. But, now he remembers. Secretary Ross says he recalls a phone call from Steve Bannon in March, 2017 asking him to speak with Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State of Kansas, and immigration hard-liner. Mr. Ross also now remembers speaking with AG Sessions in the Spring of 2017 and later. See Politico news report here.

The Secretary has been resisting attempts to take his deposition. This latest court pleading apparently seeks to prevent the depositions by admitting to some things the plaintiffs might ask. We can see why he would prefer not to remember these discussions with Mr. Bannon and Mr. Kobach. If this decision to ask about citizenship was based solely on best practices, why would he need to discuss the question with a political advisor like Steve Bannon?

Now, suddenly he remembers things he did not recall months ago. Typically, the memory works in just the opposite way. Usually, we recall things better when asked closer to the event. But, in Mr. Ross’ case, he remembers things better the further away he gets from the event. Uh huh. That’s the ticket…….

The Americans with Disabilities Act provides that a person is entitled to an accommodation if needed. But, sometimes the need for accommodation is not so apparent. Back injuries are notorious for being unpredictable. Russell Holt applied for a job with BNSF railway. He received a job offer conditional on passing a physical exam. Mr. Holt had a history of back surgery. His medical doctor and medical information supported a positive result. But, the employer’s doctor, Dr. Jarrard, refused to certify the applicant unless he received an MRI. Mr. Holt could not afford an MRI. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit, alleging that requiring the job applicant to pay represented discrimination against a person with a disability. That lawsuit became EEOC v. BNSF Railway Co., No. 16-35447, 2018 WL 4100185 (9th Cir. 8/29/2018).

The applicant’s insurance company would not pay for the MRI, because he was not in any pain, at present. The MRI would then cost over $2500.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals asked the question, who must pay for a medical exam. The court viewed the claim as a “regarded as” disabled claim, noting that Mr. Holt suffered from permanent disc damage. BNSF tried to argue that it did not consider him impaired. It just wanted to be “sure.” The court was not persuaded. The employer pointed to a case that was in effect overruled by the ADA Amendments Act. But, more importantly, in requesting more information about Mr. Holt’s back condition, BNSF had made an assumption that the applicant had a back condition which prevented him from performing the duties. That presumption would persist unless the applicant could overcome it. The employer, said the court, cannot hide behind the level of uncertainty about the precise nature of his back condition. A “perceived impairment” is consistent with the ADAAA’s broad coverage.

The court then addressed the requirement that the applicant pay for the physical exam. The court had no trouble in finding that requiring a job applicant to pay the cost of a physical exam is a condition of employment which is based on a perceived impairment. An employer can only impose a condition of the job if it imposes the same requirement as all applicants. BNSF, however, only imposed this requirement to pay for an MRI on the job applicant who was perceived as impaired. That condition amounts to a violation of the ADA. And, noted the court, if the employer was not required to pay for such tests, then the test would act as a screening criteria for persons with a disability. That would also amount to a violation of the ADA. The court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff.

See the decision here.

Every discrimination case involves some amount of he said/she said. Most acts of discrimination occur behind closed doors. So, the testimony will be all about a swearing match. But, that does not mean the two stories cannot be confirmed or denied. In a discrimination case, we would want to know, for example, the circumstances behind a demotion or a firing. Does the story make sense? Do the surrounding details support or undermine the main story line?

It is the same with Judge Brett Kavanaugh and Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The fact that no witness appears able or competent to confirm or deny their respective stories does not mean either story is false. The details become more important in such situations. Dr. Blasey Ford remembers very few details, other than the actual assault. She does recalls, however, that she saw Mark Judge at a nearby Safeway grocery store weeks after the incident. When we look at the book written by Mark Judge, we do indeed see that he worked at a Safeway in the Summer of 1982. Mark Judge wrote a book about his recovery from alcohol abuse. It goes into great detail about his excessive drinking in high school.  So, again, Dr. Blasey Ford’s story is confirmed in another respect, that a young Brett Kavanaugh drank a lot. And, in another important detail, Mark Judge mentions that he and his friend, “Bart O’Kavanaugh” partied hard in high school. See Rolling Stone news report here. “Bart” appears several times in Mark Judge’s book.

That is how a discrimination story is confirmed or denied, on the edges, around the periphery. It is circumstantial proof. But, sometimes circumstantial proof is more trustworthy than someone’s hazy memory.

In another case about immigrants, Pres. Trump’s racist remarks about immigrants were used as evidence against him. This judge, Edward Chen in San Fransisco, ruled in favor of the immigrants partly based on the President’s comments about Mexican immigrants, about Muslims and about immigrants from some African countries. Judge Chen ruled that to the extent the President had influence on the head of Homeland Security Department may have implemented certain restrictions due to the President’s wishes.

The lawsuit seeks to stop Homeland Security from ending provisions allowing immigrations from from El Salvador, Sudan, Nicaragua, and Haiti. Judge Chen found there was evidence that Pres. Trump harbors animus against non-white, non-European immigrants.  See CBS news report here.

I previously wrote about Pres. Trump’s racist comments here. It is exceedingly unwise to make comments like that. Some court decisions have chosen to overlook his comments, finding most of them were made during the campaign. But, in every lawsuit about immigration, those comments become key issues.

Those racist comments may help his election chances, but they undermine his immigration policies. But, I suppose he knows all this and has chosen to emphasize election viability.

 

College football players are the very definition of the “Big Man on Campus.” But, some football coaches do not want their players thinking they are so big. At Texas Christian University, a football player wanted to cut in line at the on-campus Chick-Fil-A, saying he was a football player. The student tweeted about it. Tasla said she and Lexee did not care and did not let him cut in line. “do we LOOOOK like we care???” she said. Tasla tweeted about it on a TCU twitter feed. Head Coach Gary Patterson saw the tweet and responded, “I agree! Who was it?” See  Ft. Worth Star Telegram report here.

Coach Patterson is known for being strict and for preferring his players conducting themselves accordingly. My guess is some player is running wide sprints after practice today. Probably a freshman player……..

English-only policies are acceptable if they are related to safety concerns. Otherwise, they are generally viewed by most courts as evidence of discrimination. English-only policies are also rare as hen’s teeth in San Antonio. Yet, according to a recently filed lawsuit, La Cantera imposed an English-only work rule for its workers. But, if the allegations are to be believed, the policy only applied to Spanish speakers. Farsi  speakers could speak in Farsi at work.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed suit against La Cantera alleging the resort imposed the policy and then fired some employees when they violated the new rule. One worker of 12 years was fired after he complained about the rule against speaking Spanish. One worker who spoke Spanish at an orientation meeting was escorted rom the room after he spoke Spanish.

One supervisor poked fun at a Spanish accent. One worker was fired with a notation in his personnel file that he spoke Spanish while using his personal cell phone.

In October, 2014, a worker went to Human Resources to complain and was told, “This is America, so speak English! What’s the problem?” When even HR does not see a problem with that sort of rule, then the employer has a serious problem. See the San Antonio Express News report here. And, imposing a rule like that in the San Antonio area suggests management is simply tone deaf.

Why is it so hard to speak up at a toxic work culture? The Harvard Business Review described what occurred at Nike when some women informally surveyed other female employees and found a problem. As a result, top male executives are having and bias training has ben instituted. The real problem started long before those women started their own survey. It started when some female em-loyees went to Human Resources and found no assistance.

As the HBR article points out, is is hard to challenge the status quo. Some workers see abuse occurring, but believe it is not their place to intervene. Or, they fear the consequences of intervening. In one study, actors played a man harassing a female worker. In the first scenario, the male actor was smaller and less threatening in his appearance. If a bystander was present, 50% of observers would help. If there was no bystander, only 5.9% of participants would help the woman. When the male actor was larger and more fierce looking, the numbers dropped considerably.

When I was in the Army, every Army unit took a “climate survey” every few years. The survey asked on an anonymous basis how the soldiers viewed the leadership. But, after a few years in the military, I did not need a survey. I felt I could visit a unit and know within minutes whether the climate was good or bad. If soldiers would talk to me as a captain or major who they had never met, then I knew the unit was functional. But, if the subordinate soldiers avoided engaging me in conversation, then I knew these were soldiers who did not believe they were supported by their chain of command. They feared to make a mistake.

People in general are more likely to conform to certain behavior if they know others were also conforming. For example, one study found that hotel guests were more likely to re-use their towels if they knew that most guests re-used their towels – as opposed to otherwise simply hearing a message about protecting the environment. The level of re-use rose 26% if the guest knew other hotel guests had also re-used their towels. And, if the guests knew that the very persons who had been in that same room also re-used their towels, they were 33% more likely to re-use their towels. That is the power of following behavior displayed by others.

Yes, but what happens in a hierarchical situation? What happens when persons outrank other persons? That is the employment situation. In the Army, the message was clear: the leader must set the example. The HBR article makes the point that organizations need to covey a message that some behaviors will not be tolerated. In doing so, the mistreated persons will find their voice. Yes indeed. See the Harvard Business Review article, “Why Its So hard to Speak Up Against a Toxic Culture” here.

One huge problem with Pres. Trump is his apparent inability to tell the truth. Bob Woodward’s book recounts the story that to prepare the President to be interviewed by Robert Mueller, his attorney staged a mock interview. John Dowd wanted to prepare his client, so he put together a mock interview. The President could not get through without telling some obvious lies, according to the book. Mr. Dowd was quite frustrated. Not the least because as a lawyer, his license is at risk if he allows a client to testify about lies. It violates ethical rules in every state for a lawyer to knowingly allow a client to tell a falsehood.

Andrew Hall discusses this dilemma regarding Mr. Dowd. Andrew Hall once represented John Erlichman, the former Watergate defendant. As Hall points out, any attorney who represents the President knowing he will lie or might lie puts his license at risk. See The Hill report here. That risk may explain why John Dowd resigned form the President’s defense last March. What many of us have forgotten is that after Watergate, many lawyers lost their licenses to practice law.

That was an unwise decision by the U.S. Supreme Court a few weeks ago. In the case of Janus v. American Federation of State and County Municipal Employees, No. 16-1466 (6/27/2018), the court ruled that employees who are not members of a union cannot be compelled to pay reduced dues, even though they accept the benefits of the union bargaining. See the Janus decision here. It was a legal theory that had kicked around for decades. If a non-member is compelled to pay dues at a reduced rate, is the non-member being forced to support activity for which s/he does not believe? Over time, unions dealt with that concern by reducing the dues for non-members and by ensuring the money devoted to political advocacy came from a different pot of money. Even so, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Janus that compelling dues violated the First Amendment.

I say the decision was unwise, because that same reasoning has permeated groups and associations for decades. The U.S. Supreme Court did not just overturn decades of precedent, but it also unsettled accepted norms. Now, just a few weeks later, two members of the Oregon Bar Association have filed suit arguing that being forced to pay dues to a state bar association violates their First Amendment rights, as well. The bar association, the plaintiffs say, advocates for political and ideological speech with which they disagree. There is probably some truth to that argument. Every state bar association advocates for some political goals, even if the goals are generally accepted. They advocate for goals like maintaining a bar association, for preventing unlawful practice of law, and more. While most of us see the benefit of preventing non-licensed persons practicing law, some may not. Yet, every state requires bar membership. The plaintiffs point out in their lawsuit, however, that while state licensing is necessary, state bar membership need not be necessary. See ABA BarJournal report about the Oregon lawsuit here.

And, of course, a few months ago, the Oregon Bar Association published a statement accusing Pres. Trump of catering to white nationalists and a second statement which condemned white nationalism. The bar association refunded the dues for members who requested a refund. One of the plaintiffs in this lawsuit did receive a refund, while the other did not seek a refund. But, even apart from those political statements, every bar association engages in some small measure of political advocacy. What happens when some members disagree? When a boy joins the boy scouts, is he required to agree with every political view taken by the Boy Scouts of America?

The Supreme Court may have opened a Pandora’s box. We will see how this evolves.