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Labor of Law

Erin Mulvaney

Jan 18, 2018

Welcome back to Labor of Law. This week we're looking at National Labor Relations Board nominee John Ring, and we'll delve into the latest on discrimination claims targeting big firms.

Got any workplace distractions? My colleagues and I were exploring this new Google app that compares your face to any number of thousands of museum portraits. (Yes, there are privacy concerns.)

Thanks as always for reading. And please send me any feedback, story ideas or just say hi. I'm at emulvaney@alm.com and @erinmulvaney on Twitter.

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What We’re Hearing About John Ring

➤➤ Morgan, Lewis & Bockius partner John Ring is the latest nominee to the National Labor Relations Board. Ring is poised to be a solid pro-management vote. Ring decried actions taken during the Obama administration—calling the NLRB an “activist” board. Still, former Democratic NLRB member Wilma Liebman, who worked with Ring during his stint in the 1980s at the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, says he won't be an “ideologue.”

>> Morgan Lewis chair Jami McKeon says in a statement: “John’s unflappable integrity and skill in balancing legal and business concerns will be an asset to the National Labor Relations Board.”

>> Michael Lotito, head of the Workplace Policy Institute with Littler Mendelson, predicts Ring will not need much time to understand the substance of the issues and what the board has been up to in recent years. Lotito tells me: “He’s a well-prepared person who is willing to step in and do the job responsibly and ethically and very professionally.”

Republican leaders and pro-business groups cheered Ring's nomination. Workers rights groups and Democratic leaders say the rhetoric from the business community of “balancing” the board could be a disservice to workers.

>> Marni von Wilpert, associate labor counsel for the Economic Policy Institute, says she fears the Republican-controlled board will leave workers behind. She adds: “Ring was nominated to an agency that is supposed to enforce workers’ rights. It appears he has only represented employers rights in his career at Morgan Lewis."

➤➤ Big Law's discrimination woes mount. Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart faces a suit seeking $300 million in damages and class action status for alleged gender discrimination. Shareholder Dawn Knepper’s case is the latest filed by David Sanford of Sanford Heisler Sharp, who has sued a string of large firms under similar premises, as my colleague Ben Hancock in San Francisco reported.

>> Some firsts for a discrimination suit against a firm. The case is similar to others filed but has some distinct differences, my colleague Scott Flaherty writes.

Ogletree Deakins specializes in labor and employment and typically defends employers in gender bias cases. Earlier cases took aim at general service law firms. Knepper’s complaint says: “The firm has shirked its obligations under the law through its ‘do as I say not as I do’ practices.” Sanford Heisler says it estimates about 100 women are members of the proposed class.

From Jill Sanford, Knepper's counsel:

“We are at a cultural tipping point where women in the workplace will no longer tolerate unfair treatment, whether it comes in the form of sexual harassment or, as seems true at Ogletree, discriminatory pay and promotion practices that disadvantage women.”

 

'Upended Workplace Power Dynamics'

➤➤ Here are some takeaways from The New Yorker's deep dive into Glassdoor.com—the hiccups, legal fights and upended workplace dynamics. (I spoke with Glassdoor general counsel Brad Serwin last year for The National Law Journal. Check it out.)

>> Transparency is particularly important for social change, experts say. Women make 80 cents on the dollar to men in comparable positions. The goal to increase gender equality makes open dialogue about salary levels and expectations that can create smoother negotiations for fair pay.

>> What happens when reviews get dicey? When threats of violence or descriptions of crimes are reported, Glassdoor contacts the authorities. For sexual harassment, there should be channels in the workplace as well but the company’s leaders think the site can be a tool for the #MeToo movement to avoid a veil of secrecy protecting such behavior.

>> Can you always trust the reviews? Employers sometimes try to inundate their page with positive reviews—but Glassdoor is monitoring. There’s a fraud team and a team of moderators that reviews comments, even for statements that may be discriminatory. Employers are the most frequent users of the site.

 

Around the Water Cooler

A roundup of headlines and happenings.

➤➤ More on the class action against Sterling Jewelers. "The Sterling case could be one of the last big, classwide employment arbitrations ever to be litigated. So it’s important to understand how Sterling’s women employees wielded their power to act in concert against their employer."[Reuters]

➤➤ Peter Robb, the NLRB general counsel, "wants to launch a major restructuring of the National Labor Relations Board’s field office operations." [Bloomberg Law]

➤➤ Jenny Yang has a new gig. The former chair of the EEOC started a new job this month at the George Soros-funded Open Society Foundations, where she will focus on the position of contract workers who are victims of sexual harassment or assault at work. [Bloomberg Law]

➤➤ Rundown of ban-the-box laws for 2018. New compliance rules in New Jersey and Spokane, Washington, mirror the movement to void the criminal background box frequently used in hiring. [Littler Mendelson]

➤➤ Kate O'Scannlain starts this week at the Labor Department. The former Kirkland & Ellis partner takes over as the Labor Department's top lawyer. [BNA]

➤➤ Pay equity at Citi. The company looked at all their employees around the world and adjusted the salaries to make pay equal for women and minorities, compared to white male counterparts, the company announced. [Citi Blog]

➤➤ Companies are slow to reveal pay data in U.K. Fewer than 600 of the 9,000 companies required to report have done so as many seek to avoid scrutiny, arguing aggregate data won’t reveal accurate numbers. [Bloomberg]

➤➤ The EEOC says it might “wait and see” on crafting any new wellness rules. The agency argues it should not be required to follow a timeline set by a judge after losing a challenge brought by the AARP. [National Law Journal]

That's all for this week. Thanks for reading. Send me your story ideas and tips on what's happening to emulvaney@alm.com

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