Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Factories in Juarez

The final presentation got me thinking about this. I have actual been to a factory in Juarez, I went in the summer of 2006. Family friends of ours own a fairly large company and one of their headquarters is down in El Paso. I went down there to golf and they asked me if I wanted to visit their factory in Mexico and with this sparking my interest I said yes. When I visited this factory I could not believe my eyes. Now what I saw was nothing like what was talked about in class today but the siutation was dire.

There were 100's of people sit in dark damp rooms manually counting and recording different items. It was hot and there were very few windows, it was something I never thought I could experience in my life. Obviously I was in state of shock that people would work under theses conditions but something suprised me even more. Our family friends were so proud of their operation, they had only been in Juarez for a couple years and told us they were saving millions of dollars a year in labor. Of course the business person in me thought yes that is a great move but still the situation was not good at all. I asked how they could have people work in these conditions and their respons was go look at other factories and these people live like kings. This is was made me think of my experience in class. The people involved with these factories do not feel like they are doing anything wrong and until there is a legal ramification for what they do nothing will be changed. Like they said in class this issue has not been very public lately but it is a very real problem that needs to be addressed sooner than later.

And Scene!

And so goes another semester of blogging on the Work/Life/Law Blog.

Have a good summer.


Monday, April 28, 2008

Affirmative Action

I promise I will stop talking about Minority Programs, but I am really interested and curious to see what everyone thinks about them...especially if you disagree with them.

This sort of leads into my next comment about universities advertising that their campus is diverse. They demonstrate this by placing a group of students each being from a different ethnicity on the cover of their ads. (There was even a joke about this exact topic at Bear's Place: Comedy Caravan a few months ago.) Do you feel it is "bad" for non-diverse universities to advertise similar to that?

Back to IAT

Looking back at the topics we discussed this semester, Implicit Associations Test (IAT) was the most interesting for me. Actually in my LAMP X333 class this semester, we had a group presentation over the book "Blink." I was hoping to post my Power Point from this presentation to this post to inform everyone of the additional information that our group found. However, I do not think attachments are possible on Blogger. If you know how to do that, please let me know.

Anyway, here are some of our findings:

1. What does the IAT mean? If you test poor, are you a bad person?
Absolutely not. It is important to note that our attitudes on certain topics operate on two levels. First, we have our conscious attitudes. This is what we choose to believe. Second, our attitude on an unconscious. Like a giant computer, our unconscious silently crunches all the data and it forms an opinion. This is what is coming out of the IAT.

2. Does this matter?
It is debated, but according to our L416 class discussions, it matters in interviews if your potential employer has biases that they are not aware of. Everyone has to critical and knowledgeable of social constructs and media influence.

3. What can we do about our unconscious discrimination?
a. We first have to be aware of our bias/prejudices/stereotypes.
b. Is it ethical or moral for an employer to be required to take the test?
c. Our impressions are generated by our experiences and our environment - which means we should change our impressions. It requires that we change our life. This is similar on how to make IU more diverse. Surround yourself with a culture your not familiar with. Put yourself in the minority in counter-bias situations. It is important to change the way you think!

Just to end with, I think it would be fantastic if an individual from another culture or another country took this test...just to see the differences they have. How di

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Applying What We've Learned...

I felt the fruits of my labor come into play the other day when I received a letter in the mail from my soon-to-be employer. It was a summary of my rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Luckily, I knew this act fairly well because it was part of my presentation for Surveillance in the US and UK. The FCRA basically promotes the accuracy, fairness, and privacy of information in the files of consumer reporting agencies. It was pretty cool to be able to know what I was reading and be able to follow it all.

Another case similar to this was when I received my formal offer letter—which included the term “at-will employment”—something I wouldn’t have known about (or even heard of, for that matter!) had it not been for this class. As a result, I feel that we’ve all been lucky to take this class because the content is so practical to all of us. I’ve learned a ton of information about business law and applying it to real-world companies, and for this, I am grateful. I certainly feel like I am well-informed, and thus I can be more confident in the workforce.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

G.I.N.A. passed in the Senate

Hey everyone. Sorry I've been M.I.A. for so long; as I'm sure you all are aware, these last few weeks have been incredibly hectic to say the least. Anyway, as I was picking my roommates up from the bars late Thursday night/early Friday morning, NPR made me aware that the senate finally passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimnation Act! Whoo hoo! Now it is up to the House to take a final vote on it, and then onto President Bush (the House has approved it before, as it is GINA's 3rd time in this Congressional "limbo" where either the House or the Senate has granted approval, and the other has failed to act). This Act virtually mirrors the protection under Title VII discrimination from employers, and prohibits insurers from raising or setting premiums unjustly based on one's genetics. This is great news for people with unfortunate genetic predispositions, and is a great step towards finally putting the Act into effect. Appropriately, April 25th also marks the anniversary of James Watson (an IU alum) and Francis Crick's announcement of DNA's helical structure. Also the 25th also marks the anniversary of the completion of the Human Genome Project: both of these events are landmarks in the history of human genetics. Back in February, I wrote a long post about genetic discrimination and its relevance to our class, and now I just wanted to update everbody on the progress. If you'd like to listen to the NPR broadcast, just follow the link here. Good luck to everyone with finals this week - coffee and optimism is all you need :)

Friday, April 25, 2008

Bridging the gap of work/life balance

I ran across an article today that discussed how bringing children to work helps balance the work/life conflict that many employees face today. The article sparked my attention because in class we never really discussed this "solution". Should bringing a child to work effectively solve the problem?

It is a widely known fact that finding acceptable childcare is a job all by itself. Some companies offer childcare service within the facility. Others may not. However, when the burden is heavily weighed on employees themselves, some employees feel the pressure mount. Not only is the childcare usually expensive, the quality of childcare can become sketchy.

Some companies offer the ability to bring children into the workplace. In this particular article, the woman did not really ask if it was okay to bring her son into work. Since the employer did not offer maternity leave, the woman used her seven weeks of unpaid leave to substitute. Once the seven weeks passed, the woman had to return to work. Bringing her child to work was the only option that would allow her to return. Is this fair? Presuming that the employer does not care if the child comes to work, where are the boundaries? At what age should this policy be terminated?

The overall issue I find with bringing children to work is the effectiveness and fairness of the situation. Can an employee truly focus on work while also taking care of a child? In addition, can other employees? My first instinct would be no. But if an employee, like the one in this article, can balance the two, who can argue against it? Also, does bringing a child to work really help balance both work and home life? I would say no because it actually links the two together. Many employees truly like differentiating work and personal life. I think separating the two is essential to actually finding that work/life balance.


Illegal Immigrants in the Workforce

A topic that we might not focus on too much here in the Midwest is that of illegal immigrants, which is a major problem in Western states such as Arizona, and much of Northern California. In the United States, illegal immigrants number about 12 million and make up an estimated 5 percent of the civilian workforce, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Much of the nation is puzzled on how to handle this situation. Do we make it easier for them to get green cards, or just make restrictions even tougher, making their lives so hard that they are forced to move back to their home nation: Many times this is Mexico.

In this class we have discussed a lot on how we should all be treated in our professional careers, and how we are going to make life choices based on goals, families, and other decisions that require a balance of work and life. However, for illegal aliens working in the United States, there is no room for any of these choices to be made. With the Bush Administration tightening restrictions on employers’ responsibilities to make sure their employees are legal, illegal immigrants are living in fear of being deported, not whether or not they will have enough time to make dinner for their families after work. In the article, Illegal Immigrant’s Choice: Work Underground or Leave by Tyche Hendricks in the San Francisco Chronicle, one immigrant worker, and California resident said, “"I know a lot of people who live in constant fear that they'll be deported," he said. "They're all honest people who work very hard, as I did when I came here. After 18 years here I employ three people every day, I have my own business, my own house. I consider that I've been successful. And I know that these people, if you give them the opportunity, they will be successful, too." So I wonder whether these people should be given a chance to continue to work hard and stay in America, where they want to be. What will the impact be in places such as California where so many illegal immigrants are responsible for critical jobs in the environment and beyond?

Leave well enough alone.

RFID tags have been extremely valuable as a business aspect. They provide a faster, more accurate, and reliable way to track production, shipping, and purchasing than any other technology we have to date. The impact they have made on operational management alone is staggering.

And while I think it is admirable California has put legislation in place banning forced implantations of RFID tags, I don't think there is a judge in the country that would set a precedent making a forced surgery ok. And that is what I really want to talk about.
Is it necessary to put legislation in place before any incidents have occurred? Rather than rushing to place restrictions on every possible scenario we have or can imagine, shouldn't we let the scope of the law and our judges follow the direction of society's values without the executive branch's intervention?

It is a basic question of balance of power, and I just feel like the excess laws that are put in place will begin to restrict our freedoms rather than grant them. A judge that sets a new precedent is a very different scenario than getting a law repealed.

California proves me wrong... thank god

So I've continued to read about these RFID chips since my group's presentation on Monday. After some more recreational research, it turns out I was wrong about there being no legislation on RFID technology. California seems to have stepped up once again before anyone else. I came across a story that was aired on NPR about RFIDs and a new law in California. Just visit and then click "Listen Now" at the top of the page to listen to the story if you're interested.

A new California law, effective since January 1st of this year, says it is illegal to force someone to have an RFID chip implanted in their body. This is a pretty straight-forward law and it seems to solve a lot of the ethical issues connected with these implantable RFID chips. It was a little upsetting to see I totally missed this before our presentation, however the significance of the law has put a lot more worries to rest.

If other states follow California's example on this matter I think it would put a lot of minds at ease over these sub-dermal RFID chips. Because the implications of implantable chips are probably the scariest, I would not be surprised to see other states, or event he country, passing similar legislation. The implications of RFIDs for other employment uses, such as ID cards and products, are a little more vague and probably more difficult to set legal rules and standards for. In the end, we may avoid the worst-case sci-fi scenarios regarding these chips. However, there is still a whole sea of murky water that we are just stepping into.

Now to start my next Google search: California jobs for soon-to-be graduates

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Can you believe what you see?

The discussion in class of surveillance in the UK reminded me of an incident that happened in London a few years ago.  In 2005, a man from Brazil was shot 8 times by police officers in the middle of a crowded tube station as a result of mistaken identity.  The officers caught him on surveillance cameras, mistook him for someone else whom they believed to be a terrorist threat, and followed him from his flat to the station.  If it was this easy for London police to make such a large mistake using video surveillance, it makes me wonder how full-proof surveillance is within the workplace.  Should there be legal protections for employees who feel they are misrepresented by surveillance evidence, such as video?

Signing means...

In todays presentation, I think it was Aubrey who mentioned that India was the only country that had not signed an agreement against the worst types of child labor, which included slavery. This initially struck me as pretty awful. Well, it still does, however, after thinking about a situation that my good friend experienced in India, I thought a little more in depth about the situation.

So, a good friend of mine, Alex, spent last summer in a fairly conservative part of India on an internship. He lived with a host family who he described as very kind and caring. He told me they always provided more than he needed even though they could not be considered above middle class. They were always concerned about my friends well being and were very accommodating. He said that he never had any complaints about the family... except that a young boy lived with them who was, as my friend described him, essentially a slave. Apparently this young boy lived with the family and had no family of his own. My friend's guess was that he had been bought by the family as a slave. The boy cleaned, cooked and did random household chores. My friend guessed he was maybe 8 or 9 years old.

Alex told me he spoke with the father of the family and asked him about the boy and told him he questioned whether it was ok for them to have the boy working in their home. The father explained that there was nothing wrong with it and that it was very common. Apparently the boy was in a much lower class according to the local society and this was accepted as normal.

So, according to various societies around the world, there are clearly different views on expectations and acceptable actions. That is partly why it is valuable to be doing the research and the presentations we are doing now. However, we all seem to be focusing primarily on actual law and policy and while I think these things tend to reflect the views of different cultures, there is much to learn about what different cultures feel at very basic levels.

While slavery is clearly immoral and wrong in the view of the vast majority of people around the world, there are still some cultures who view it as acceptable. So, how do we go about changing things? Do we change the law first? Do we try and make societal changes first? Do we outlaw certain immoral practices before people realize they are wrong? In the U.S. during the civil rights movement it seems people had to be made aware that segregation and discrimination were wrong before laws were enacted. My final question is, would laws protecting human rights even work if they are enacted before the society itself accepts them?

You all might find it uplifting after this to know that my friend Alex coordinated with another family who understood the unfortunate situation and agreed to take the boy in and care for him. All of this was without the knowledge of the original host family. I found it quite courageous of my friend to take action. Perhaps this is would be a message to the original family they would not have received or been able to understand otherwise.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Child labor or child prostitution?

Hey all! The presentation on child labor reminded me of a discussion I had in another class. It is not directly related to employment law, but I thought that if any of you were interested in what happens to children in impoverished countries, I would share this info with you.

Aubrey mentioned in his presentation today that often times when children have been removed from factories that are employing child labor, they are returned to the streets, and prostitution is their only way of making money. The link below is a documentary, "Born into Brothels," about a photo journalist who went to Calcutta to research the red light district. However, what she found was the children of prostitutes and how dim their future looked. Inspired to help the children, she taught them how to take photographs, in hopes of liberating them from their circumstance. The documentary is very touching and inspiring. I encourage all of you to watch a few minutes of it because it opens our eyes, as Americans, to some of the struggles of other countries, particulary the reality of child prostitution.

One really interesting thing that the video points out is the difficultly in adopting or taking a child out of Calcutta. It is so difficult that it is much more realistic that a child must figure out a way to make a suitable life in his own country. Does knowing that the children have no escape change our minds on child labor? What about when the only other option is prostitution? I am by no means endorsing child labor, but I just wonder if sometimes, we don't see the whole picture. What do you think?

Seriously, check out the video! It is something else!

The UK's DNA Database

Since a few people seemed interested in the DNA Database during our presentation today, I found this article, which highlights the errors found in the UK's DNA Database. The article says that the DNA contains that of children and individuals who have been arrested. Couldn't this very DNA be misused to implicate someone who is not guilty? In one of my other classes, we discussed how in our culture we view science as truth and system built upon these as truth too, although they are man-made, and as a result subject to error. Someone in the article refers to the DNA database as a joke, as "a system worthy of the Keystone Cops" but it is hardly a joke! While there are advantages to the DNA database such catching criminals who were once arrested by identifying their DNA at a crime scene or having children's DNA to identify a kidnapped person but do these outweigh the potential the system has for misuse?

Are Employers Taking Monitoring and Surveillance Too Far?

In our presentation concerning employment privacy, more specifically employee monitoring, I touched on how employers have the ability to monitor anywhere in the workplace with the exception of employers in California. I mentioned how I read a case where an employee wanted to make a claim against his employer for installing hidden cameras behind the mirror in the bathroom. Here is a little more information about the case, “Consolidated Freightways ("Consolidated"), the defendant in this action, is a large trucking company.1 It concealed video cameras and audio listening devices behind two-way mirrors in the restrooms at its terminal in Mira Loma, California, ostensibly to detect and prevent drug use by its drivers.” Furthermore, the case states, “Employees at the terminal discovered the surveillance equipment when a mirror fell off the men's restroom wall, exposing a camera with a wire leading out through a hole in the wall behind it. Subsequent investigation revealed a similar hole in the wall behind the mirror in the adjoining women's restroom.” The California law states, “Under California Penal Code § 653n, "[a]ny person who installs or who maintains . . . any two-way mirror permitting observation of any restroom, toilet, bathroom, washroom, shower, locker room, fitting room, motel room, or hotel room, is guilty of a misdemeanor." Thus, Consolidated's installation of the two-way mirror was a direct violation of California criminal law. Soon after discovery of the camera, truck driver Lloyd Cramer, an employee at the Mira Loma terminal, brought a class action suit in state court alleging invasion of privacy on behalf of all "individuals lawfully on the premises . . . who had a reasonable expectation of privacy while using [Consolidated's] restrooms." Guillermo Alfaro, another Consolidated employee, and 281 others brought a separate suit seeking damages for invasion of privacy and infliction of emotional distress. They also sought injunctive relief to end the use of the surveillance devices.”

After reading this short excerpt from the case, I was wondering how you feel about employers across the country, potentially your future employer, installing hidden cameras behind the mirrors in bathrooms, locker rooms, ect? If you recall from the presentation, 75 percent of employers monitor without any individualized cause whatsoever, which means they can or may be watching internal bathroom activity and in my mind, this is not okay. I was hoping to spark any additional comments or opinions on the subject.

If you wish to read the case go to this website [], scroll down to selected cases, and click the first one, it is Cramer v. Consolidated Freightways (PDF), No. 98-55657.

Work/Life Balance

After our class discussion about work/life balance I was talking to my parents about it. They informed me that Cincinnati passed a law that companies had to stagger when employees arrived and left the office. This was enacted to lessen the amount of traffic employees endured to and from work. Companies not have 7-3, 9-5, and 10-6. This has cut down commute time by a third. While this seems like a very radical way that law can enter the workforce it has seemed to work and make employees happy. I think it is a great idea but it is very limited on what type of cities could utilize it. Besides the mid-sized cities like a Cincinnati or Indianapolis this might not work. Major cities like LA, Chicago, or New York would have too many commuters I think to makes this a feasible option. I wondering what other people thought of the process Cincinnati has in place and if you had any possible alternatives that would be applicable in larger cities?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Don't Worry, Be Happy

As we enter into the final weeks of the semester, and, for some of us, the final weeks of our tenure at IU, I thought it would be fitting to find an article related to workplace stress. As this article reveals, if you are stressed out right now, you are not alone. According to the American Psychological Assocation, "1/3 of Americans are living with extreme stress, and nearly 1/2 of Americans say their stress has increased over the past five years."

I find it interesting to note that stress is a natural reaction of your body. Essentially, stress releases hormones invoking the body to be turned on to full alert. Historically, the article claims, stress has helped us survive by increasing our own sense of awareness of certain challenges of life, ranging from wild beasts all the way up to technological advances.

I would like to wish everyone the best of luck throughout finals week, and, as this article depicts, you are not alone if you are stressing out!

Problems with Vacation

I found the Tuesday presentation by Buff, Aaron, and Sarah over vacation discrepancies in different countries extremely interesting. I never realized how little vacation time Americans receive in comparison to other countries. I decided to do a little of my own research on the topic and found the following article

As the group presented, the article confirms that over half American workers do not take their full vacation time. I personally find this a huge problem considering that Americans already have significantly less vacation time than other countries. More than even increasing the number of vacation days, I think that companies should focus on getting their employees to take all of their allotted days. In a lot of instances, employees do not take vacation time because the company does not look favorably on it and sadly, 27% of managers return from vacations more stressed than ever. With the negative factors that result from taking time off, it is easy to understand why employees do not take their entire time off.

I have recently experienced this issue first hand with my dad and his company. He recently took a position with a different function and they have various big projects that pop up throughout the year. Since he has been with the company a long time, he has a significant amount of vacation. My parents went to Florida a couple weeks ago and we are going to Italy this May. His company was very upset about his trips and gave him a lot of grief about going. When he did go to Florida, he had to take his laptop and phone and call in daily for updates; I hardly call that a vacation. With the increased technology of laptops and Blackberrys, it is easy for employees to stay connected while away. I do not think that this should be encouraged by companies. Employees already work hard while at work and their vacation should be their own time to relax and reenergize. I think that the employee on vacation should ONLY be contacted if there is an emergency at work. Employers need to recognize the importance of the work life balance and not impede on the employees vacation time.

To combat the problems of employees not taking their full vacation time and of employees being bothered with work while on vacation, companies should set vacation policies in place that limit the company from disrupting the employee’s vacation. I think there could even be a law set in place that punishes companies who put pressure on employees to keep working and not take their allotted vacation. I do see the downside of this being that employers would give less days of vacation so their employees cannot take as many. Does anyone else have thoughts on how to resolve these issues???

Monday, April 21, 2008

Where do we draw the line?

The past few classes have really gotten me thinking about work/life balance. I recently read an article that was giving tips to IT professionals on how to achieve a work/life balance, and it got me thinking about jobs that don't have the boundaries of an office. I have been wondering if the reason why people work so much, and therefore are so successful at a young age, is because there is not definative line of when work is done for the day. The technology industry is particulary subject to being taken advantage of becuase there are no limitations on where and when work can be completed. The article specifically noted that IT employees work at least 50 hours a week, and many are on call 24/7. This, to me, does not suggest a balance. IT, though, is not the only industry with liquid lines of where work ends and life begins. Technology has enabled employees of many industries to be reached and to reach others at any time. Because of this ability, while employers may "say" that they limit hours worked, there is both an expectation from the employer and a sense of obligation from the employee to never stop working. Is this fair?

A recent post about Google's benefits for its employees struck a nerve in me, and has spured my interest on this topic. (Note to the author of the blog: you did not strike a nerve in me, the Google article did! You are great!) The Googleplex has every amenity possible for its employees. A hair salon, gym, gourmet chef, even an in house physician. This is not only a home away from home, but a life away from life. It is in this example that we see a perfect demonstration of work boundaries being erased. It seems that it would be impossible for employees to escape the pressure of work, as well as for employers to have any other expecatation of an employee. Now I realize that Google is a mega corporation, and not all careers are like this, but a standard is being set. A standard is being set that many will not want to live up to.

How far is too far with benefits that erase a life outside of work? How long is too long for hours to be worked simply because technology enables constant communication? Is a standard being set that requires all employees of all professions and industries to erase lines between work and life? I fear that being a work-a-holic will no longer be looked at as bad, but the norm. Where should the line be drawn?

Sunday, April 20, 2008

To Be or Not to Be? (A Working vs. Stay-at-Home Parent)

I was giving some more thought to the discussion we had in class on maintaining a work/life balance. The conversation was really interesting, because everyone seems to have their own unique view of whether or not to work if and when they start a family. I mentioned this in class, but at the risk of sounding repetitive, I think it’s important to realize that we often emulate what our own parents did. If your parents worked during the day and came home and had family time at night, that’s likely what you will want to do with your family (assuming you had a good experience with that). Similarly, if your mom or dad was around during the day to take you to soccer practice, pick you up from piano lessons, and having dinner prepared when you got home, then it isn’t surprising if that’s what you want to do, too. (By the way, this is an interesting link to tips for balancing work and family:,,nxjr,00.html).

I’m a psychology major, so it’s not surprising that I attempt to relate everything to a psychological theory. I found it particularly interesting when the class started justifying their parents work/life balance. At one point, someone argued that they didn’t think stay-at-home parents represented a very balanced lifestyle. This was a very interesting point, but if I remember correctly, it was made by someone whose parents both worked (?). Either way, it made me think of something called the “Social Desirability Bias,” which is the tendency to present oneself in a manner that will be viewed favorably by others. I bring this up because I feel like it came into play in our conversation. It seemed that at times, social desirability was used in justifying individuals’ parents choice to work or stay at home. We all (for the most part) want to defend what our parents did, because we are proud of them.

My mom was a stay-at-home mother. She worked part-time, but for the most part, she dedicated herself to being a mom to my brother and me. I personally loved having her around. Granted, I have an excellent (and very rare, from what I can tell) relationship with both my parents, and unlike most of my friends, I love spending time with my parents. Just as my mom did, I want to stay at home and raise my kids, whenever the time comes. This isn’t to say that I want to give up my entire career and devote my every waking moment to my children, but I do want to be involved in their lives and in actively raising them. And I have no doubt that this propensity to do so comes as a direct result of the way my parents raised me. To me, part of my career IS my family, and I don’t think I’d be happy if I couldn’t be fairly involved.

I suppose what is the most important thing is that there is no “one right answer.” Everyone has their own preferences and desires in how they want to live their lives. For some people, working full time as an investment banker and seeing their family during the weekends only is fine. It works for them. For others, working during the day and seeing family in the evening and weekends is what works best. Either way, I think that each person ultimately discovers what works best for them, and this turns into their work/life balance. We all have different goals and desires, and what works best for me is not going to be best for the next person.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Whistle Blowing (a little late)

I forgot all about a story that I heard a couple of weeks ago during March Madness. It was about the mens basketball coach at Tennessee, Bruce Pearl. He was a rising star of an assistant coach at the University of Iowa. When in 1989 he blew the whistle on Illinois and their recuiting violations similar to the ones that Kelvin Sampson and IU had. Pearl did all the right things first going to the head coach then the athletic director and finally bringing the accusations to the NCAA.

However, instead of being praised for calling out the school on their violations he was "black-balled" from Division I basketball. He got fired from Iowa and even though he was a worthy assistant coach, he was unable to find a job. No one wanted him. He finally got a job for the University of Southern Indiana a far stretch from Big Ten and Division I basketball. He won the Division II championship in his second year at USI but still only 1 team in division I even bothered to interview him. It was 9 years until he got a serious offer from a school. And now he has coached Tennesses into a national power but was hardly given the chance because he decided to blow the whistle on Illinois and their recuiting tactics.

The Case for Weight part 3

As the last and final post in this series, I would like to acknowledge the counterarguments that are often advanced against making body size a protected characteristic. First, should employers be obligated to be liable if an obese or overweight employee incurs high cost for a company for insurance coverage or medical expenses? Should an employer have to spend the money to change the workplace environment?

On this website, one individual makes that argument, stating, “…does not the employer have a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for not wanting over-weight individuals on their payroll who will make health insurance likely more expensive for everyone. And don't obese individuals tend to be, on average, more absent from work because more frequent health problems?”

I would also argue that there are certain diseases attributed to people of a particular gender (breast cancer in women), a particular race (sickle cell anemia in African Americans), and national origin (Tay Sachs in Eastern Europeans). Would an employer be able to discriminate against these individuals as well? The counter argument for this as well would be that these diseases are not as common as obesity. I would question if empirical research exists that proves that obese employees tend to miss more work than other employees due to their obesity and as a result make health insurance more expensive. I think, as in other Title VII cases, applying the undue burden standard, as in cases with religion and disability, would be able to make compromises for employers and overweight or obese employees.

If an employer can discriminate against an overweight or obese person for the likelihood of being unhealthy, could an employer discriminate against an extremely thin person on the likelihood they could be unhealthy also?

Although there has been research that suggests that obesity is correlated with heart disease, there have also been findings that obese and overweight individuals suffer from things like stress and depression from the way they are treated by others. Could it possibly be that the way they are being treated by others continues to be perpetuated and contributing to their physical state?

There has been research suggesting that overweight women endure weight discrimination. This MSNBC article notes that, “In a recent Yale University survey of about 2,000 overweight women, 53 percent of those polled said co-workers stigmatized them, and 43 percent said their employers stigmatized them. Being stigmatized translated into not being hired, being passed over for promotions, losing a job, or being teased or harassed because of their weight.” However, does the same occur to overweight men in the workplace?

Additionally, if body size became a protected characteristic, a BFOQ defense would still be applicable to those jobs in which it is necessary to be a certain body size.

Although body size is not a protected characteristic now, there have been some ways that overweight individuals are taking this to court. For example, some individuals could sue on the basis of gender discrimination. As Laura Kipnis in her article Fat and Culture takes note, “…it’s safe to say that any issue of physical appearance affects women far more disproportionately than men,” (218).

Another argument supportive of individuals of a particular or perhaps bigger body size is to sue on the basis of disability in which for some have been able to argue that obesity or being overweight is a metabolic disorder, as mentioned in the MSNBC article, but has not been quite successful.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Activities "Outside" Work

Someone mentioned in class today about their problem with work activities because you are actually spending your off time with co-workers. I never REALLY thought about that, which is interesting. This reminded me of when Dylan told me about the benefits that Google employees have and it seems outrageous. Basically a home away from home. Literally.

Here is the link:

I am really interested to hear what you think.

P.S. Thanks Dylan

Is there a real balance?

I found class today to be extremely interesting and it raised important issues. It was apparent that individuals were persuaded on whether they wanted to stay-at-home with their kids if their parents had and vice versa. This holds true in my life. Both my parents worked and while I was in middle school my mom actually went back to school to get her masters degree while working full-time and raising three daughters. If that is not balance, I am not sure what else is. My mom is amazing and because of her, she has taught me that I can achieve whatever it is I want - as long as I prioritize and use discipline.

I actually called my mom after class and asked her if she ever considered being a stay-at-home mom and she said, "No, but I did take an extended maternity leave. I had my usual 6 month maternity leave and then I got an extra 3 (paid) weeks only because I did not take any days off. I saved all my vacation days so I could use them later. Then, I convinced your dad (my dad was worried about money) that she was going to take an additional month off (unpaid) to spend more time with the girls."

After speaking with my mom, I believe the government should intervene with regulations (assistance programs/paid time off/something similar) that help parents . My mother should not have had to save all of her vacation days to use that...even though it was her choice. I understand that many believe that you would not have the work ethic that you have now, but that assistance would allow your mother/father to be rewarded in some way for the work they constantly do. Comments?

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Judith Klein v. Trustees of Indiana University

I decided to google Title VII and Indiana University in the news and to my amazement I found this case!

Judith Klein was a psychiatrist that worked in the Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) unit of the Indiana University Health Center. Judith Klein also conducted a private practice three days a week outside of her University employment. In 1976, Klein was announced as an Associate Director of Psychiatry at the Health Center. Later, in 1979, Dr. Foster was made director and Klein's associate director position was eliminated (but Klein still remained on staff as a practicing doctor). Judith Klein filed a complaint with the EEOC claiming she was discriminated against based on gender. Klein allowed the 90 day period to pass without filing suit.

Later, in 1981, Nancy Buckles replaced Dr. Foster as the director of CAPS. Buckles attempted to change Klein's private practice times which were non-accommodating for her. When Klein consistently did not show up to her new hours at CAPS, she was discharged from the university.

Klein again filed a claim with the EEOC, claiming she was wrongfully discharged as a result of retaliation for filing a sexual discrimination suit in the first place. It was noted that Dr. Foster left "lukewarm" evaluations for Klein.

In the end, the Court ruled that Klein failed to fully present material evidence towards her case. A pendent state law claim was also made, however, this the Court ruled that the Trustees of Indiana University were immune to Federal court on state law claims under the Eleventh Amendment.

I invite you to check it out! The case is very interesting and there is much more detail inside!

Minimum Wage and Today's Financial Markets

In class the other day we talked a lot about the labor market at the macroeconomic level. A comparison was made between raising the minimum wage and the current status of the US financial markets. In both cases, jobs are being lost because of financial obligations (or lack there of). If we were to raise the minimum wage, firms would no longer be able pay as many employees and jobs would essentially be crowded out. Similarly, the credit crunch which the US economy is in the midst of experiencing has caused many firms to cut back on spending, resulting in them not hiring as many undergraduates as they have in recent years.

I found this article in the Wall Street Journal which I think is very interesting as well as applicable to not only this situation, but many professions that students in the business school will most likely pursue. The article emphasizes the poor status of the market and how 2008 undergraduates are simply not getting the offers they are expecting. The jobless rate is now at an astounding 5.1%, a figure that hasn't been reached in three years.

Although most of these firms are paying well above minimum wage, the article also highlights that firms are not increasing salaries at their typical rates.

I know this topic has been touched by discussions regarding Bear Sterns and friends that have unfortunately lost their jobs before even starting. That said, I would like to commend all of our 2008 graduates in our class that have in fact landed full-time jobs in this tough environment.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Reflection of Monday's Class

After class on Monday, I started thinking about how our campus tries to promote diversity. I thought of all the different multicultural clubs on campus, the different classes that offer an inside look at different cultures, and well…that was all I could come up with. But when we look for diversity among the students in many of our classes we see that this is not the case.

In the School of Journalism, for example, the dominate group is white females. If a male is in the class, or anyone of a different race, we all get excited. This sometimes means we are able to actually have a "real discussion" about topics that sometimes the dominate class doesn't really know a lot about. We are able in a way to get more sides to each story, and cover things that might not be looked at, especially if their opinions were not there.

I came to Indiana University in hopes of finding diversity among the long stalks of cornfields and tractors. To my disappointment I found the same diversity (or lack there of in this case) as I did at home.

I feel cheated in a way. I was hoping for a life changing experience in college, and making connections with people of all different walks of life. Instead, I get the same thing, day in and day out. I go to events that try to promote diversity on campus, but there seems to be a lower turn out rate because many students don't really know about it.

What do you guys think about this? How do you think the school should promote diversity, in order to get different students of all different walks of life to come here? Do you think if that happens that it would make for a better learning environment?

Sunday, April 06, 2008

The Case for Weight part 2

Another reason I believe that body size should be a protected characteristic is because it is unlike religion or sexual orientation, which can superficially be concealed. An individual's body size, much like one's race or gender is there upon first impression, and exists immediately and provides that individual with the basis to be discriminated against, much like an individual’s race or gender.

For this reason, I think body size is a characteristic deserving of protection.
I would further argue that the pervasiveness and normalization of thinness and demonization of fatness in our society, specifically by the media, perpetuate biases and further warrant discrimination against individuals with a particular body shape and size. When I took the IAT, was I surprised to have a bias against fat people? Absolutely not, because every time we turn on the television or look in a magazine we are conditioned to accept and therefore normalize the images we see which are typically not of people. These biases are clearly absorbed and taken into the workplace and one study even found that this kind of discrimination is as common as racial discrimination:

Discrimination against overweight people—particularly women—is as common as racial discrimination, according to a study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. "These results show the need to treat weight discrimination as a legitimate form of prejudice, comparable to other characteristics like race or gender that already receive legal protection," said the study's lead author.

These biases exist in the workplace, and they have real consequences.

According to this MSNBC article, “Obese men and women can expect to earn on average anywhere from 1 to 6 percent less than normal weight employees, with heavy women being the biggest losers when it comes to their paychecks, according to a study by Tennessee State University economists Charles Baum and William Ford.”

I am not arguing that obesity is a good thing and something to strive for, but should these individuals be prevented from making a living or be penalized because of their weight?

**My last and final post in this series will look specifically how the law does help to protect this in some ways in addition to addressing counter arguments, which some of you have already been active in addressing already.

Innocent and Unemployed

Last week in one of my other classes we watched a video about people who had been convicted of crimes, had spent extended periods of time in jail, but were later proven innocent. We learned of several men who had even been sentenced to death or life in jail when in reality, after DNA testing was conducted, were actually innocent. How does this topic relate to employment law? Each of the men expressed their frustrations and struggles with finding employment after being released from jail for a crime they didn't commit.

As many of you know, employment applications ask whether or not you have ever been convicted of a crime. Obviously, these men had been convicted of a crime. Now, some applications allow for the applicant to explain their circumastance, but it seems to me that if one were to write "I was convicted, but I'm innocent" the validity of that statement may be questioned by the employer. As the men in the video revealed, employers are not very open to hiring someone who has been convicted even though proven innocent by federal government.

This poses several questions for me. One being, is the employment system set up to trust people and allow each person an opportunity to present their true self? It seems that with some applications not even allowing for an explanation space and others only providing enough for minimial explanation, individuals are not able to convey who they truly are enough to get invited to an interview where further explanation can be given. My second question then becomes, is the system set up to discriminate against people who have a criminal history? Honestly, I am not suggesting that employers welcome criminals with open arms, but in the case of those who were wrongfully charged, it doesn't seem fair to discriminate against them or make assumptions about their case or abilities.

I am aware that many states have Fair Employment Acts which are meant to protect against such discrimination, but is there anything at a federal level? And even if there was, should there be, or should it be left to each state to decide whether or not individuals with criminal history have equal opportunity? Thoughts?

Friday, April 04, 2008

Criminals have a right to low prices too!

Back to the issue of privacy and the grocery discount cards that we talked about earlier in the semester. So, on Tuesday, April Fools Day, my roommate mentioned to me how someone saran wrapped his car. This is simply when someone takes a role or more of saran wrap and covers an entire car with it so doors can't be opened, and windows can't be seen out without removing it. I later noticed the evidence in our parking lot later that day. Anyway, it was a pretty harmless prank, and he wasn't really angry, but regardless, he wanted to find out who did it. Whoever it was had left the used rolls, boxes, and Kroger grocery bag on the ground near my roommate's car. I guess when my roommate picked up all the trash and was getting ready to throw it away he noticed the receipt was still in the grocery bag from Kroger. Apparently the receipt also displayed the Kroger card number used to save the assailant a few extra cents on the saran wrap. In what I thought to be a quite resourceful move, my roommate called Kroger and asked if they could tell him the owner of the card number. Unfortunately, Kroger said that in order to release that information they needed a police subpoena, of which my roommate obviously did not have.

Anyway, this just made me question the whole privacy issue concerning businesses and what they do with your personal information once again. While Kroger did keep the saran wrapper's identity private, it's still questionable in my mind that a consumer's actions can be logged and traced at the will of businesses and the authorities. Perhaps it serves a legal purpose and is actually a good thing, allowing the police one more method to track down criminals.

On the other hand, even though they held the information from my roommate, can these stores always be trusted to keep our information private? I would imagine that our privacy cannot always be guaranteed by these businesses.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Whistle Blowers in the Airline Industry

I came across this article talking about all the maintenace problems with commercial airliners. Found it interesting how these workers experienced the negative effects of whistleblowing. Their jobs were threatened and reports of problems with the planes were never addressed. Seems unbelievable after all of the issues with corporate scandals in the last decade. Here is the article for whoever is interested.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Stray remarks - what ever happened to "at will?"

Today in class, we spent some time arguing about when stray remarks should or shouldn't be taken into legal consideration. It appears to be a very gray area of law that deserves protection under the 1st ammendment, yet also merits scrutiny in employment law - especially in discrimination cases. In Professor Prenkert's explanation, a stray remark is any statement made outside the actual employment decision's parameter. So, unless an employer says, "I'm firing you because you're an old fart," any derrogatory statement directed at age, sex, etc. made out of context is therefore a stray remark. The question, however, is how much legal gravity should these statements hold when a court hears a discrimination case? Do "innocent" jokes pose a threat to a comfortable work environment, or do plaintiffs who use them as evidence against employers present a situation similar to what we read/saw in Oleanna? I'm not sure if there's any right answer, but a few articles I found online help to shed light on the issue.
In judging the relevance of a stray remark, a statement must be considered in whether or not it is "substantially outweighed by the risk of unfair prejudice." Therefore, a remark needs to judged upon whether or not a statement is (1) made by the decision maker or agent of the company, (2) isolated, (3) timely in terms of the decision, and (4) ambiguous or clearly reflective of a discriminatory bias (Krohn v. Sedgwick James of Michigan, 2001 ). Taking these factors into consideration, it appears as though a standard of discernment can be implemented in cases where stray remarks arise. Does everyone think that this standard accounts for all the right criteria, or are there stipulations that need be added/discarded?
Putting all this into perspective, however, another article from Phelps Dunbar shows that stray remarks can significantly alter the outcome of certain cases. The case outcomes go to prove that stray remarks (which cover the criteria above) provide ample evidence that a decision is discriminatory. Although this clarifies some of the confusion discussed in class today, the standard isn't necessarily complete, and may or may not hold relevance to the entire realm of jokes and anecdotes. I'd like to hear what everyone thinks on the issue, and maybe how it affects the nature of the at-will contract?

Where do you draw the line?

There have been a few posts regarding height and weight discrimination in the workplace in response to the bill that Massachusetts State Representative Byron Rushing is trying to make into law.  Along those lines, I found this very interesting article from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis regarding the relationship between physical characteristics of employees and their wage.  According to the article, "The average CEO is approximately 3 inches taller than the average American man, who stands 5-foot-9.  Further, 30 percent of CEOs are at least 6-foot-2; the corresponding percentage for American adult men overall is only 3.9 percent."  The article also gives some pretty clear evidence that factors such as beauty, height, and weight do affect an employee's wage.

I understand the desire to create law protecting employees from discrimination based on height and weight...but what about beauty?  Where should the line be drawn as to which groups get legal protection and which group do not?  Should the law continue to set out regulations and protections for characteristics not covered by Title VII, or is this opening the door to too much government interference in the workplace?

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Have a Blessed Day"

When we had our class discussion about religious discrimination, I remembered a case that my dad had discussed with me about a woman being banned from telling people to, "Have a Blessed Day," at work. I decided to look it up and found that it there was such as case, Anderson vs. U.S. F Logistics, that came from the 7th Circuit. Elizabeth Anderson, a follower of the Christian Methodist Episcopal faith, would tell people to "Have a Blessed Day" when signing off to correspondence or as a way to end a telephone conversation. She did not say this all of the time but did say it when signing off with Microsoft. Microsoft said that they did not mind the phrase. Anderson however was reprimanded by her supervisor for saying this a few times and then filed a claim for religious discrimination. Anderson lost the case because the court said that the phrase was not required by her religion and U.S.F Logistics made an accommodation by letting her say the phrase to fellow employees.

Now while I do understand the court's ruling of the case, I sometimes wonder if companies sometimes go too far in restricting their employees. The phrase is a harmless one and does not impose any specific religious beliefs upon others. Further, Microsoft openly expressed that they did not mind the phrase. If the phrase was harmless and she said it to be nice and courteous to others, why did U.S.F take such measures to restrict her from saying it? Going into the workplace next year, I feel as though I am going to have to watch every little thing that I say. It appears to me that people are being restricted and sued for all sorts of little things. I guess I just wonder where companies draw the line... Thoughts???

Weighing In on Title VII

My mind has sparked a flare of inquisitiveness after Reading the previous blog “The Case for Weight (part 1),” concerning prohibiting body weight discrimination. When considering gender stereotypes and the weight restrictions placed on both men and women, I wonder if the law should protect both overweight and obese applicants and employees from employment discrimination, specifically through Title VII. When an employer, male or female, chooses or declines to hire, fire, or promote an individual based on either preconceptions about a male or female’s ideal physical appearance or on stereotypes of overweight and obese men and women, one would think believe the employment decision would constitute sex discrimination. In a weight-sex discrimination context, a legal reason for an adverse employment decision (weight) only arises due to an illegal stereotype of an individual’s desired appearance by today’s society. In order to reach this kind of hidden stereotype and bias through law, one must explore the statistical analysis within the context of Title VII Discrimination claims. To me, this stands as a direct parallel tying back to the Social and Cognitive Theory and Anti-Discrimination Law we discussed last week when reading the article by Krieger. I wonder if the Social/Cognitive Theory could be applied to the bias buried within gender stereotypes as a means to make a claim within Sex Discrimination under Title VII?

The Case For Weight (part 1)

I know Ashley's post began to touch on this, but I wanted to make a case that body size should be a protected characteristic under Title VII or at least have some policy to prevent discrimination on the basis of body size. Because this is something I've been thinking about for awhile now and have read a lot about in other classes, I would like to discuss this topic in a series of posts.

To begin this series of posts, I would like to start by providing one reason why body size should be a protected characteristic and speculating why currently body size is not a protected characteristic.

I have also read articles about how particular biases are formed regarding body size and how these biases are perpetuated by societal norms and media One argument that was brought up in class regarding the differences in discrimination on the basis of race and gender as opposed to the basis of religion is choice. I think most people would agree that most people regard religion as a choice. But what about body size? Do people choose to be the size they are? I would argue that many people cannot simply choose their body types, and therefore, body size should be a protected characteristic because it is not necessarily a mutable characteristic, at least not simply mutable as we discussed in class about dress code and appearance (in which an individual can remove a hat or change a hairstyle quite easily).

I would argue that body size is not a protected characteristic because people think that you choose the size of your body by working out, dieting, or overeating, and in general people have a tendency to ignore the genetics side of it. In her article, Fat and Culture, Laura Kipnis mentions that, “Recent studies in Scandinavia have indicated that fat women actually live longer than thin women, and there’s a preponderance of evidence that weight and distribution of body fat are for the most part genetically determined. A recent National Institute of Health study concluded, There is increasing physiological, biochemical, and genetic evidence that overweight is not a simple disorder of will power, as is sometimes implied, but is a complex disorder of energy metabolism” (Kipnis, 205).

Kipnis further outlines in her article that society as a whole does not view weight or body size in this way. Society tends to think more along the lines that further perpetuate the idea of the American Dream: that if you work hard enough, you can succeed or achieve anything. With this idea, if you work hard enough (by dieting, working out, etc.) you can be thinner, and we are bombarded with weight loss products (Hydroxycut, Alli, etc.) or weight loss reality shows (The Biggest Loser, Celebrity Fit Club) that prove this to be true.

Should an employer be able to choose not to hire you because you are not a size you genetically would and could never be without surgery?

**I intend to follow up this post with additional posts discussing other reasons to "make the case for weight" and also ideas on how the case for weight can be made today without it being a protected characteristic.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Size Discrimination

I don't think we cover size discrimination in class this semester, so I thought maybe this would be good for the blog. I came across an article this morning that talked about size discrimination in Massachusetts. Many people wanted to see height and weight added to the current accommodations on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, and sex. To me, this seems similar to what we talked about in class last week about appearances. I know that companies cannot discriminate a person because of what they look like, but I feel like that happens a lot in our society. One of the people that was interviewed for the article talked about how just because she was overweight doesn't mean she wasn't capable at doing her job. More and more people in the United States are becoming clinical obese every day. Wouldn't this law just promote people that may have been slightly overweight to continue only to become so heavy that their lives are in danger? (I'm not saying this would happen just giving you guys something to think about.)

What about those people who are very underweight, or too tall do you guys feel like they have it any easier than those that are over weight and too short?

What do you guys think about this topic? Do you guys think that maybe this should be handle under disability discrimination? Or do you think it should be added to the race, gender, religion, national origin discrimination claims?

Here's the link to the article:

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Mason v. Avaya Communications, Inc.

I was really intrigued by the case we are to have read for Monday entitled “Mason v. Avaya Communications, Inc.” While I agreed with the ruling that Diane Mason’s request for an at-home accommodation was unreasonable because it eliminated an essential function of the job (Mason’s physical attendance in Avaya’s administration center), I felt that the initial part of the case was not dealt with properly. That is, the incident involving Kevin Lunsford, a co-employee of Mason’s who worked with her in Avaya’s Oklahoma City administration center.

Apparently, in March of 2000, Lunsford pulled out a knife during a verbal confrontation with a coworker at the administration center. In addition to this, Lunsford had at one point threatened to “go postal,” and it was discovered that he kept a supply of weapons, along with a “hit list.” Following the knife incident and verbal confrontation, Lunsford was suspended from work for a week, but returned thereafter. I was completely surprised by this because, for one, it seems like a very short punishment for someone who seems to be, potentially, very dangerous. Of course, I lack many of the details of the case, so it’s difficult for me to speak about the intricacies of such.

Mason was upset by the fact that Lunsford was allowed back to work so quickly, but Avaya assured her that it had conducted a “fitness-for-duty” exam on Lunsford and determined that “he could safely return to the workforce.” A few things surprise me about this case. It’s interesting that there were no other complaints from coworkers about Lunsford. I know that if I had been at work and had witnessed my coworker pull a knife on someone, I’d be pretty distressed (regardless of whether or not I had experienced post traumatic stress disorder in the past). It just seems so odd to me that there wasn’t more of a stir regarding the issue of Lunsford’s return. (It also makes me wonder if Mason was overreacting to the situation.)

Based on our reading in Muir and according to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer can take action if a disabled individual represents a current and real threat to others in the workplace. I suppose that Lunsford was not considered “disabled,” which is why this didn’t apply to him. But it seems to me that his behavior was inappropriate, despite his physical or mental condition, and should have been punished more severely.

Overall, while I do think that Mason’s request to work from home was unreasonable, I do think that there were other more appropriate steps that could have been taken to assure a safe and comfortable working environment for everyone involved. For example, perhaps Lunsford could have been transferred to a different department or even a different branch. After all, since it was he who caused the altercation, it seems reasonable that he should have to take whatever steps necessary to fix it (even if it’s somewhat inconvenient for him). I know I have completely derailed the case from its primary objective, but I am just wondering if anyone felt similarly?

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Hoping Wal-Mart does the "right" thing

I came across this horrific story on CNN earlier today:

I, as I am sure anyone who reads the article, initially felt utterly appalled at how Wal-Mart is choosing to proceed with this case. With so much pain and agony that this family has gone through, how could Wal-Mart choose to respond in this manner? It is widely known that one must become completely literate in contracts that require signature and authorization, including such documents as health plans that truly affect one's well-being. But many employees skim over such documents without ever really reading the fine prints on those contracts.

Like many others before, the Shanks fell into the trap of another corporate giant's fine print health plan policy stating that Wal-Mart has the right to recoup medical expenses if an employee collects damages in a lawsuit. This policy seems like a fair compromise for the employer-employee relationship. However, in the Shanks situation, many could argue that Wal-Mart should deem the situation as an exception to the policy. But is that fair? Should the Shanks be considered an exception to the Wal-Mart policy? Is this a matter of ethics or legality?

Initially I became truly angry with the corporate giant ability Wal-Mart is allowed to exercise. A family who has given so much is receiving almost nothing in return. In fact, this family in some ways is being punished. Now maybe I'm being too sentimental here. However, on the other hand, maybe the Shanks have been dealt some unfortunate cards and should just somehow learn deal with them. And if so, Wal-Mart is a business that can not and should not have to try to fix and accommodate their employees' unfortunate occurrences in life.

Monday, March 24, 2008

How safe is a job offer

Many of you probably know about the acquisition of Bear Stearns by JP Morgan. What is not being discussed is the impact this is going to have on students graduating in May. There are currently eight students from Indiana University that between August and October 2007 received and signed job offers from Bear Stearn. When they signed, Bear was the fifth biggest investment bank in the country and their careers seemed limitless. Now, just over a month before they graduate college they do not know what their status as employees is. The company they signed with no longer exists and JP Morgan has not publicly announced what they are going to do with the hundreds of new hires Bear had lined up to start work in July. Along with this of the 14,000 employees Bear had they owned over a third of the companies shares. When this merger was approved they lost 85% of their wealth over night.

It is scary thought that just before graduation when you think the only thing left to do is finish school, you could potentially lose everything you have worked for over the last four years. I was wondering what people thought about this situation and also if you think there should be some sort of protection or type of severance if you have signed an offer and then lose your job before even starting.

Also in the News.. Whistle Blown on Famous Lawyer

I was recently informed that Dickie Scruggs, a famous lawyer, has pleaded guilty for bribing a judge. For those of you that don't know, Dickie Scruggs is the attorney which fought against tobacco companies in the 1990's that awarded settlements close to $250 million from the industry. Currently, Scruggs is in the midst of another large case where he is representing many Katrina victims in their fight against large insurance companies. Once again, millions of dollars are at stake (yet the future of this case is unkown due to Scruggs' current situation). Scruggs is politically active and well-known in the law community.

However, this once hailed good guy has now lost his credibility. Scruggs is accused of conspiring to bribe a judge for $50,000 to influence the judge's decision on how to split $26.5 million in attorney's fees. The judge, Circuit Court Judge Henry Lackey, is reported to have blown the whistle from the start. He reported the bribery to federal officials when it was first announced, then went undercover to help expose the master plan. Now, Scruggs and others have been accused and admitted to their guilt.

I highly recommend reading this article which accounts for the detailed information which I provided on this post.

I think this is a great example of a true whistleblower and I commend Judge Henry Lackey for his actions.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Interesting Race Bias Studies

In an attempt to respond to Ashley and Katie's blog posts about the doll experiments, I stumbled upon some very interesting studies about the origins and effects of the implicit biases discussed this week in class. I've provided short synopses of the experiments below, along with links to the studies themselves. I hope this sheds some light on what an implicit bias truly entails.

1) This study experimented with expressed steretype inhibition (or lack thereof) when affected with alcohol. The results go to show that as more alcohol gets consumed, the more adamant individuals get about their stereotypes. This gives credit to supporters of the IAT by offering evidence that biases, however repressed, still exist. Moreso, alcohol's ability to relieve the mental barriers of biases offers insight into the extent and passion that one can hold for a certain stereotype, providing some quantitative information that may, or may not, be relevant in potential legal cases that may arise due to implicit discrimination.

2) This next study offers insight into the mental activity as one attempts to control his/her biases. The frontal lobe, which is largely responsible for cognitive control, "lights up" when biased individuals are presented with a stereotypical situation. The study goes to describe that the presence of implicit biases, when activated by an activity that employs that bias (the students taking part in the study went through an interracial interview), is mentally draining and exhausting to the biased individual's brain - affecting intellectual performance after the study. Cool, huh?

3) This next article, I believe, really gets to the heart of what we were discussing this week. In a Harvard study on race biases, a hypothetical scenario was presented to a group of physicians in which the subject in question had a life-threatening case, yet was white in some scenarios, and black in the others. Accompanying the study was a short survey to assess the respective doctor's implicit biases. The results go to show that the probability of a black person recieveing the potential life-saving remedy decreased as the doctor's respective biases increased. Though the results seem obvious yet disturbing, the article has a great take-home message which one of the doctors expressed; "It's not a matter of you being a racist. It's really a matter of the way your brain processes information influenced by things you've seen, things you've experienced, [and] the way media has presented things."

I hope that these articles provide some insight into what governs all of our biases, however (un)aware we truly are of them. Thanks to Ashley and Katie for making me look these up.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Should We be Held Responsible for our Brains?

While Brad has briefly touched on this subject in his post, there seems to be a lot more involved in the debate about psychology and law. In class the question was: should a person be held legally responsible for their implicit thoughts of discrimination even if the direct or circumstantial evidence did not support the claim? In a discrimination case, it is difficult to know exactly what distinguishes the facts of the case from the thoughts, emotions or assumptions of the parties involved. Because of this, psychology seems to play an integral role in determining the outcomes of cases, not just in employment, but in criminal cases as well. It takes a logical and critically thinking jury and judge to decide what evidence is true and what parties are credible or trustworthy. All of these metal processes are surely very related to psychology and our ability to effectively categorize, process and retrieve important information.

In class we spoke about the confirmation bias, its relation to stereotypes and information processing. We touched on how a person who has a racial stereotype against Hispanics, like in Krieger’s article, may attribute any negative action by a Hispanic person to that person’s disposition, or personality, thus confirming their stereotype and causing them to pay specific attention to that action. That same biased person might attribute any positive action by a Hispanic person to the situation, seeing it as a rare or unique occurrence, and soon forgetting about it. These mental processes are often done implicitly and without thought. So, the question remains, can we hold people legally responsible for these unconscious thoughts?
What if the crime was more seriously than discrimination? What if the crime was murder?

Recall the IAT tests about black stereotypes and guns, (Kyle mentioned that he took the test and associated black faces with guns). In another class I read an article where a group of all white policemen repeatedly shot and killed a black man they thought to be holding a gun. It turns out the gun was a wallet, the black man was unarmed and the officers were found innocent. The article then continued with an implicit association test that showed subjects frequently mistook everyday objects as guns when they were first shown a picture of a black man’s face as opposed to a white man’s face.

Ultimately, why did the officers go free? Because the jury found that they had reason to believe, in that situation, that the black man had a gun. Now what if the jury and judge held the same implicit stereotypes against blacks as the officers might have held? Did they sympathize with the officers because they would have also believed the black man to have a gun? Did the jury use their implicit attitudes to confirm parts of their racial stereotypes and ignore other valuable information in the case?

After all of that, I still do not have an answer to the question but I believe that these implicit thoughts should at least be taken into account and the juries and judges should be made aware of the defendant’s, as well as their own, implicit attitudes, letting the subsequent verdict decide responsibility.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Continuation of Monday's Discussion on Psychology and the Law

In Monday's class we had a great discussion regarding whether Psychological tests, factors, and influences should be taken into legal consideration. In every Psychology class that I've taken, one of the most heavily stressed comments made my Professors is that much of what we know is all based on theory and correlated data. Considering the fact that the law and jury trials are based on strict FACTS, I think it would be irrelevant to present Psychological theories as determining factors.

Although I find the self-fulfilling prophecy and theories towards biases and preferences interesting, I think that Psychology and Law should remain distinguished.

A Girl Like Me

Here is the link to the post on The Situationist Blog that contains Kiri Davis's video "A Girl Like Me," which we watched in class yesterday (and to which SFlohr refers below).

Monday, March 17, 2008

Is it more than the doll?

Class today got me thinking about the doll experiment that was presented in the YouTube clip. I was afraid this post might come off the wrong way, however I definitely think it is something to consider.

When the children were picking 'good' and 'bad' dolls, the decision was made very quickly, however when they were forced to pick the one that most resembled them, they were hesitant and it took some more time to figure out. This made me think that perhaps race is not the most prevalent issue here. It looked as though they were not picking good and bad because of the skin color of the doll. Instead I thought these children could have been picking on color of the toy alone.

Often times children are more drawn to bright colors and discouraged by dreary colors. This is often ingrained by the way we treat children as infants. We paint our children's room with light colors that we see as happy and uplifting. I've never seen a child's room painted black or dark gray or parents buy toys that are dark in color. Therefore I could see the children picking the doll because of the positive feeling that is reinforced to them, and not necessarily because of the race of the doll or because they think that black people are 'bad'.

I just feel like the fact that the children are picking toys should be taken into consideration. Perhaps the experiment would be different if they were picking a different set of objects.

New Technological Advancements: HR Practices changing. . . Discrimination?

I came across two articles:

This one is from Financial Week

This one is from Daily News

These articles discuss how employers are starting to use Technology and social networks such as Facebook to deploy their hiring practices in order take up minorities, homosexuals, and other members of protected classes. Generally, the articles agree that while these practices are being done, there is no official "law" that states that companies are risking an unnecessary liability in an ambiguous are of HR until the Supreme Court can have word on it.

What do you guys think about this? I mean, people do put out public information for everyone to see, however it is another thing to state that employers conduct searches to PRE-SCREEN job applicants before an interview. This is the same reason we have stopped sending pictures (the little passport style ones) alongside resumes because it gives employers an edge to screen out, for example, those applicants who are members of a protected class.

At the very least, companies should at least put a disclaimer that the individual may be background checked on any public information available at their disposal.

Is this stretching the limit? Or, is it a fair practice to allow this? I am curious to hear some of your opinions.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Physical Attractiveness Bias in Oleanna

I apologize if everyone is through with discussing Oleanna. I hate being the one to admit this and hope that no one find me “shallow” for it. As I have been doing research for the rough draft of my project, I came across this article (click on full PDF to read) and couldn’t help but acknowledge that physical attractiveness bias may have been at least partially affecting my perception of who the victim is in Oleanna. I, like most of the class, strongly sympathized for John, and despite some of Professor Prenkert’s arguments and showing of scenes in the film that can be read in Carol’s favor, I found myself very adamant in my opinion that John was the victim. That is not to say there weren’t good reasons for finding John the victim and as Professor Prenkert mentioned in class today, it was probably the way Mamet intended. I do not want to assume that everyone has the same perceptions on beauty ideals or what those perceptions are, but I must admit I did think Carol was unattractive and wondered had she been attractive if I would have perceived her more as a victim.

As we discussed a little in class today, Mamet’s play is highly interpretive and ambiguous. In class we had mentioned John’s character could act more “pervy” and Carol’s character could act more innocent. I have never seen a live performance of Oleanna, but I wonder if Carol on stage had the same appearance as Carol in the film? I would also like to investigate if Mamet had an idea of what these characters should look like. Although this would not affect our reading of the play, I think it partially persuaded me in John’s favor after seeing the film. Would we as an audience feel differently about who the victim is if Carol was played by Pamela Anderson? Jennifer Aniston? An Olsen twin?

I particularly find this issue interesting because we tend to look at aspects of the law to be so objective, but it’s easy to see how something unconscious such as physical attractiveness bias might persuade a jury’s position in a sexual harassment case.

New Indiana Law Requires Accommodation of Nursing Mothers at Work

Check out the details here.

It covers employers of 25 or more employees and requires them "to provide a private place for an employee to express breast milk for her child and to provide some form of refrigeration to store the milk." The language of the act requies the provision of that private place, which must be a location other than a toilet stall, when "reasonably possible."

The press release makes the claim that the rate at which mothers nurse their infants falls by half after three months, due to the return of women to the workforce. That's a stark statistic if accurate.

But what of these new requirements? I'm sure any one of us could spin a hypothetical in which these requirements are pretty onerous (e.g., an workplace that is just a series of desks or cubicles on an open floorspace, so that the provision of a non-toilet stall private space would require the acquisition of additional space or the installation of walls). So, the rubber will hit the road in the interpretation of what is "reasonably possible."

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Job offers and the Military

My friend ran into this particular situation and we could not find any information on a result. I was curious what others thought about how people in the military are being treated. My friend was given a job offer to start work this summer for a sales company. After receiving his job offer he found out his National Guard unit was being deployed. Upon hearing this news, the company that gave him an offer took it off the table. They said because he could not begin employment as stated in the offer they could not honor it. Now there is protection if he had already started the job and then was deployed. The lack in protection is if you have not started your position yet. Personally I can not believe that people serving our country are being treated this way. There should be protection in place that when they return from service they can start work in a deferral program. I am curious to hear other people's thoughts on this issue.

Monday, March 03, 2008

MORE on Privacy...

I was reading the IDS last week and came across a really interesting article about some new monitoring software that Microsoft is in the midst of developing. The new software (unnamed as of right now) will allow employers to monitor employees’ body temperature, heart and respiration rates, brain signals, blood pressure, and facial expressions. WOW. Microsoft explains that they are developing this software in order to alert managers if an employee seems to be depressed, over-worked, or stressed. Well, okay… but I’m sure that there are plenty of individuals in the corporate world that are depressed, over-worked, or stress. Does this mean that they can’t do well at their job, that they’re not going to function at maximum capacity?

Maybe, but not necessarily. How about the fact that just over a quarter of all Americans over the age of 18 suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year?* This is a lot more prevalent than a lot of people might think, and thus to have an employer be able to monitor some of your most personal information and find out if you’re suffering from depression may not be in anyone’s best interest.

One opponent of the monitoring software stated: “I can see how some employers might want to know their employees’ stress levels or something like that, but a good company would already have policies in place (to deal with those issues).” I just can’t imagine a workplace in which all of my biometric data was measured and monitored. Often times, if I’m having a bad day, I’d rather keep it to myself. I understand the idea that managers want to be alerted if their employees are over-worked or stressed, but I feel that these issues are something that each employee should take care of him/herself. If there is a problem, it should be up to the employee’s discretion to decide whether or not he/she wants to make an issue of it. Each company needs a structure where the employee is going to come and talk to you directly.

The article stated that this technology won’t appear in the workplace anytime soon, and IU law professor Fred Cate explained that the critical issue is how the software is going to be used. He makes a good argument: “It’s clear that it could have enormous potential for invading privacy, but so does lots of other technology that we use.”

So, any thoughts?


Opposite of discrimination

An acquaintance of mine was telling me a story about his company and discrimination. I'm not sure if there will be any comments but I wanted to tell the class because I thought it was quite unique

He was working for a large consulting firm that would often hire minorities and seemed to be a company that was against discrimination. He told me that they had hired a black man to work on his team and upon working with the new guy, he said "it wasn't hard to tell that he was homosexual."

After a few months of good work from the black homosexual, the company was given word from a client that one of the new guys reports had been plagerized. He had copied part of a competing firms report and given it to the client as his own.

This put the company in a sticky situation because of the employee's race and sexuality. Instead of firing the employee for plagerizing a report that was given to a client, they did nothing. They told the employee that it is illegal to plagerize and let him continue his responsibilities, I'm sure that they didn't take further action against him because of a potential lawsuit that could have stemmed from the employee being fired or repremanded.

Now is it not discrimination that this employee was given special consideration because of his race and sexual orientation? Has the law gone too far when an employee that has very obiviously done wrong and deserves to be fired or at the least be repremanded receives no such actions because of his race and sexuality?