Saturday, August 25, 2007

Legal Blog Watch

Legal Blog Watch

Everyone May Be a Winner at Nixon Peabody, but Do They Have a Sense of Humor?

When David Lat of Above the Law received a copy of Nixon Peabody's theme song, "Everyone's a Winner," he did what any snarky, clever "legal tabloid" blogger would have done: He posted it. And predictably, rather than keep a sense of humor about the incident, like some bloggers or lawyers, Nixon Peabody reacted the way any humorless, stuffed-shirt stereotype of a Biglaw firm would: It demanded to know who sent the song to Lat, asserted copyright protection and asked Lat to remove the song from his site and from YouTube. As Denise Howell points out here, it's hard to understand why the firm chose this approach instead of simply "celebrating the high camp and silliness." 

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 24, 2007 at 04:28 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

Are Reality Shows Subject to Child Labor Laws?

Producers of a new reality show, Kid Nation, due to air on CBS in mid-September, are facing complaints that the show -- in which children ages 8 to 15 try to create a functioning town with minimal adult supervision -- violated child labor laws. See news stories from Variety (8/24/07) and NYT (8/17/07). The Attorney General's Office in New Mexico, the state where the show was filmed, is reviewing the complaints to determine whether further action is warranted. Among other things, children worked for 14 hours a day without pay; they were also unsupervised, so four accidentally drank bleach while another suffered a burn from hot grease while working in the kitchen. Paul Secunda comments here at Workplace Prof Blog that given the level of abuse reported in the news, criminal child neglect charges might be more appropriate. However, CBS denies the allegations, claiming that it consulted with New Mexico officials while filming the show and that a state labor inspector visited the set. 

But is CBS alone to blame? What about the children's parents? Yesterday's Smoking Gun reported here that participants' parents were required to sign agreements with CBS, in which they waived their rights to sue the network even if their child died, was injured or contracted a sexually transmitted discease during the show's taping. (There's a link to the agreement in the post). Perhaps CBS wasn't as careful with the children as it should have been, but parents also took huge risks for their children in signing the agreement, which was fairly explicit in stating that children would be sent to remote locations, that producers could not guarantee the safety of children and that there were risks involved (see page 2 of agreement). Should CBS receive full blame for injuries to children when their own parents were willing to endanger them?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 24, 2007 at 03:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

A Cell Phone Saves the Day

In today's high-tech society, most of us can't imagine surviving without a cell phone. And for one criminal defendant, a cell phone -- or at least cell phone records -- spared him a conviction and jail time, as reported in this article, Cellphone Records Help to Clear a Murder Suspect (8/24/07). In July 2006, Eric Wright was arrested and charged with fatally shooting Tyrell Pope in east New York in Brooklyn. Wright told his lawyers that he'd been in New Jersey at the time of the shooting (and, indeed, claimed that he heard the shots being fired while on his cell phone with a friend who was in east New York). Wright's attorney obtained a copy of the cell phone records, which, sure enough, showed that he'd been in Newark, N.J., at the time of the shooting. Initially, the prosecution minimized the significance of the cell phone records, arguing that there was no proof that Wright was using the phone. But when other evidence emerged that called Wright's involvement into question, the prosecution dismissed the case. 

Of course, as with other potentially exculpatory evidence, like DNA, there's also a downside to cell phone records: Just as they may exonerate defendants, cell phone records can just as easily implicate them as well.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 24, 2007 at 03:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

If Your Boss Is a Jerk, Should You Be Able to Sue?

If your boss is a jerk, you may soon have other options besides quitting or extracting revenge like this. As this article, Is the boss a real piece of work? (LA Times 8/21/07), reports, at least four state legislatures are considering legislation that would allow workers to sue their superiors for bullying or an abusive work environment. From the article:

The ranks of bullying bosses are growing, some experts contend, as short-staffed companies tap managers with lousy people skills. Others point out that though mean and dimwitted supervisors have been around since work was invented, baby boomers on the cusp of retirement and restless younger employees are more likely to complain or quit than suffer in silence. It's easy to decide against taking the latter tack, thanks to the proliferation of venting websites, among them www.ebosswatch.com.

According to the article, the proposed legislation currently lacks important details such as what would constitute an abusive work environment. A sampling of complaints submitted in a recent Bad Boss contest sponsored by the AFL-CIO included bosses who kept the office so cold that ink in pens froze up; a boss who took employees to lunch at a discount warehouse and told them to eat the freebies; and a boss who mocked a cancer patient when her hair fell out after chemotherapy. 

At the same time, there's some concern (e.g., as expressed here) that the proposed legislation may lead to a rash of new lawsuits and create a new burden for management, which are already subject to myriad anti-discrimination laws.

Martha Neil of the Statutory Construction Blog argues that that bad behavior doesn't justify new laws. She writes:

Of course, it doesn't take a law for a company to enact a policy requiring bosses not to abuse employees. And workers have other ways, besides litigation, to make known their feelings about unpleasant supervisors. Today, for instance, the AFL-CIO, one of the country's biggest and best-known unions, will name the worst boss in the country, based on the results of an Internet contest. One entry, the Times reports, "is about a lawyer who called the office every morning to give instructions as he brushed his teeth and conducted other business in his bathroom."

Initially, I agreed fully that there ought to be better ways to force bosses to improve their conduct than the threat of litigation. After all, we read so much about how positive employee morale boosts company profits -- and you'd think that these economic incentives would suffice to keep bad bosses in line without the threat of litigation. But perhaps that's not an accurate assumption. As Lisa Fairfax of The Conglomerate posts here, a recent study shows that bad bosses get promoted rather than punished. According to the study, approximately 64 percent of the 240 people surveyed said domineering bosses were actually promoted for their conduct despite its negative impact on the workplace environment. If this survey has any scientific accuracy (unlikely, given the small sampling size) and it's true that nastiness gets you ahead in the workplace, then perhaps there is a need for legislation to give bosses incentive to behave -- because apparently, the workplace provides incentive not to.

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on August 24, 2007 at 03:54 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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