Paid Family Leave Without Worries?

–by Nicole Macris

Citations: Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, et seq. (2017); FAMILY Act, S.337, 115th Cong. (2017), https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/senate-bill/337; Wendy McElroy, The FAMILY Act is Smart Politics, but Bad for Business, The Hill (Oct. 14, 2014, 6:00 AM), http://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/healthcare/219766-the-family-act-is-smart-politics-but-bad-for-the-economy; Claire Zillman, Kirsten Gillibrand is Giving Her Paid Family Leave Proposal its First Trump-Era Test, Fortune (Feb. 7, 2017), http://fortune.com/2017/02/07/trump-paid-family-leave-gillibrand/.

Abstract: United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced a bill that would revise the paid-leave system developed under the Family Medical Leave Act. It establishes an insurance-based program for paid-leave. There are concerns regarding how this legislation, if enacted, would affect employees, employers, and the federal government.

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Enacting the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) in 1993 provided up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to those in need of an excused leave of absence. However, under FMLA, many employees were unable to afford leave without pay, and unable to take the full leave. The FAMILY Act will work in conjunction with FMLA to construct an affordable safety net for employees who need to care for themselves or family members.

United States Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) introduced multiple bills to revise the FMLA. Her latest attempt began by introducing the FAMILY Act, her first try during the Trump Administration and 115th Congress in Senate Bill 337, on February 7, 2017. The FAMILY Act is modeled after the paid family leave statutes in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, which increased the number of people in the workforce who were eligible for paid leave insurance based on a particular set of standards. Senator Gillibrand’s bill sets forth eight objectives:

  1. centralize the policies within FMLA to the federal government and, subsequently, establish a new division within the Social Security Administration (“SSA”): Office of Paid Family and Medical Leave, to oversee the entirety of the insurance program;
  2. set forth the criteria by which individuals are eligible for benefits of the program, prohibitions, and violations;
  3. entitle individuals to the insurance if the person (a) is insured for disability insurance under SSA when the application is filed, (b) earned twelve (12) months of income from employment, (c) filed an insurance application pursuant to the bill, and (d) is engaged in either caring for or anticipates to be engaged during a 90-day period, either before filing the application or within 30 days of filing;
  4. create a formulaic determination of the benefit which the individual will receive monthly, including the maximum and minimum amounts per month;
  5. coordinate the Family and Medical Leave Insurance benefits with any benefits received from other insurance programs via state law, local government, or disability insurance or family leave insurance programs;
  6. create a fund, from which the payments will be made;
  7. protect SSA from the insurance being paid from other programs within the agency; and
  8. amend the Internal Revenue Code to finance the program by imposing taxes on individuals, employers, the self-employed, and all railroad employees, railroad representatives, and railroad employers.

Thus, the FAMILY Act develops a system similar to an unemployment insurance program, but on a federal level, which gives employees a fallback plan when they need to take on the role of caregiver.

There are concerns as to how this legislation will affect individuals, employers, and the government. Individuals will have to pay into the system; the amendments to the Internal Revenue Code will impose taxes on individuals in order to fund the program. This safeguard has both negative and positive effects. The amount taken from paychecks will increase, but, on the other hand, there is a safeguard set in place for those eligible for the program, and in need of assistance. Employers will also incur a tax expenditure, but will be held to minimum FMLA standards, and may actually benefit from the insurance program established by the FAMILY Act. However, the effects facing the government could be substantial. The FAMILY Act will require the federal government to allocate resources to the program, which, in turn, removes resources from other federally funded programs or agencies. Programs such as this also place further obligations on the federal government to protect the American people.

The objectives of the bill, and insurance program, are wonderful in theory. Having a safety net is comforting, especially for those with aging parents, sickly family members, etc., especially when financial security is of concern when determining how to care for family members. Previous bills, with little to no amendments between introductions, have been killed in Congress several times already. Furthermore, it is unlikely that a new office within the SSA will be established while there is a hiring freeze. There must be revisions to the bill in order to facilitate a smooth transition from the current to proposed programs, along with provisions as to how resources will be properly allocated.

The NFL’s New Application of the Rooney Rule

— by Ben Cranston

Abstract:

If the statistical evidence of success of the NFL’s “Rooney Rule” is any indicator of future increased diversity, we will be seeing significantly more female executives working for NFL franchises in the coming years. The NFL has recently decided to apply the Rooney Rule to open executive-staff positions, requiring teams to interview at least one female candidate for the position. While this new implementation of the rule will likely draw criticism from various sources, challenges to the rule will likely fail in an increasingly open and diverse sports industry.

Articles used:

Brian W. Collins, Note, Tackling Unconscious Bias in Hiring Practices: The Plight of the Rooney Rule, 82 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 870 (2007).

Jane McManus, Rodger Goodell: Women Will Interview for Open Executive Jobs, ESPN (Feb. 4, 2016), http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/14714784/roger-goodell-says-nfl-establish-rooney-rule-women-executive-positions.

 

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On Thursday, February 4, the NFL announced that they will be applying the “Rooney Rule” to female candidates for open executive-staff positions. The NFL’s Rooney Rule was first applied in 2002 to require NFL teams to interview at least one minority candidate for any open coaching position in response to the small percentage of minority head coaches in the NFL. In the wake of the Arizona Cardinals’ hiring of Jen Welter as an assistant coach, making her the first woman to hold a coaching position in the NFL, and the Bills’ hiring of Kathryn Smith as the first full-time female coach, the NFL intends to further the goal of making coaching and executive staffs not only racially diverse, but diverse across gender lines with the new application of the Rooney Rule.

Many authors have explored the nature of the Rooney Rule and why its implementation has been a great success in the NFL, even though it has faced many forms of criticism in its early stages. Brian Collins of NYU, in his article Tackling Unconscious Bias in Hiring Practices: The Plight of the Rooney Rule, argues that the Rooney rule “travers[es] the line between ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ variants of affirmative action.” He argues that the Rooney Rule is an effective policy to avoid the unconscious bias involved in the hiring practices of the NFL. His article explores the legality of the Rooney Rule and how it may be susceptible to attack on the grounds of reverse racism. The article has particular relevance now, as the Rooney Rule could possibly be attacked again in the wake of its new application to female executive candidates.

In the wake of the Griggs v. Duke Power Company Supreme Court decision, many private employers began implementing affirmative action hiring programs as to avoid liability under Title VII. However, many professional sports leagues implemented “soft” affirmative action techniques, like recruiting and outreach practices, rather than “hard” affirmative action techniques, like quotas and numerical requirements. While leagues like the NBA have been significantly more successful in creating diverse coaching staffs throughout the league by using “soft” techniques, the NFL trailed other professional sports leagues before the implementation of the “hard” Rooney Rule.

While Collins does argue that the Rooney Rule is susceptible to attack under title VII in a reverse discrimination claim by a Caucasian coach who is denied a job, he argues that with some slight changes to the rule, it would be very difficult for that challenger to succeed. The worries about the rule’s applicability and ability to survive a challenge are now even more topical with the application of the Rooney Rule to female candidates. The NFL should be, and is likely, aware of criticism and a possible challenge to the rule now that it has a broader scope. However, the NFL can easily point to the statistics that show a significant increase in minority coaches since 2002 as an indication of the success of the Rooney Rule.

The new application of the Rooney Rule in the NFL will likely draw criticism from many critics of affirmative action practices. However, if the post-Rooney statistical data involving racial diversity in the NFL coaching staffs is any indicator of future gender diversity in executive positions, it will be hard for critics to argue that this rule does not work and does not create more diversity. While the NFL should be prepared for potential attacks on the rule, it is unlikely that such an attack will be successful, nor will an attack find much support in an increasingly open and diverse industry.

 

Former Employee who was Fired for Falling Asleep at Work Alleges Discrimination

by Adam Kuhn

 

Singh v. Covenant Aviation Sec., L.L.C., 131 A.D.3d 1158 (N.Y. App. Div. 2015).

Abstract: A former employee alleged that he was wrongfully terminated on the basis of race or national origin. The Appellate Division affirmed defendant employer’s summary judgment on New York State Human Rights Law but struck the defendant’s summary judgment on New York City Human Rights Law.

 

Plaintiff, an Indian, was employed by the defendant as an airport security guard. He fell asleep on duty and his tour supervisor reported him to the defendant’s higher-level management. The supervisor’s report resulted in the plaintiff’s firing. The plaintiff alleged that he was wrongfully terminated from employment on the basis of his race or national origin in violation of New York State Human Rights Law and New York City Human Rights Law. The Supreme Court, Kings County granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Plaintiff appealed to the Appellate Division. On appeal, the issue was whether the Supreme Court correctly granted defendant’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the cause of action for (1) violation of New York State Human Rights Law and (2) violation of New York City Human Rights Law.

The New York State Human Rights Law (Executive Law § 296) provides that it is an unlawful discriminatory practice “for an employer … because of an individual’s age, race … [or] national origin … to discharge from employment such individual.” A plaintiff has the burden of showing that “(1) he or she is a member of a protected class; (2) he or she was qualified to hold the position at issue, (3) he or she was terminated from employment, and (4) the termination occurred under circumstances that give rise to an influence of discrimination.” The defendant can successfully establish a motion for summary judgment if the absence of any of these elements is proved. The defendant showed the absence of the fourth element because the plaintiff admitted he was asleep while on duty, which is a violation of company rules. He showed no evidence that his race or ethnicity played a “motivating or substantial” role in the defendant’s decision to terminate his employment. Therefore the Supreme Court properly awarded summary judgment to defendant dismissing the cause of action alleging a violation of New York State Human Rights Law.

The New York City Human Rights Law (Administrative Code § 8-107) says “it shall be an unlawful discriminatory practice … for an employer or an employee or agent thereof, because of the actual or perceived … race, creed, color, [or] national origin … of any person … to discharge from employment such person” (emphasis added). Unlike the State Human Rights Law, the City Human Rights Law says an employer may be liable for the conduct of an employee or agent when the employee or agent exercised supervisory responsibility. Compared with the State Human Rights Law, the City Human Rights Law is interpreted more broadly in favor of the plaintiff. The plaintiff wanted to hold the defendant liable for the discriminatory conduct of an employee (the tour supervisor). The City Human Rights Law requires that unlawful discrimination play “no role” in an employment decision. If the supervisor’s decision to report the plaintiff was motivated by racial or ethnic hostility, even in part, the defendant may be held liable.

The evidence showed that the defendant fired the plaintiff for falling asleep, in violation of company rules. However, the plaintiff presented evidence that his supervisor reported him to management in part out of racial hostility, and did not report other, non-Indian employees who were found sleeping while on duty. Therefore, the plaintiff raised a disputable issue as to whether his supervisor’s unlawful discrimination, which was to be imputed to the defendant, played a role in the termination of the plaintiff’s employment. Therefore, the Supreme Court incorrectly granted the defendant’s summary judgment motion dismissing the cause of action alleging a violation of the City Human Rights Law.