State Bar President and California Bar Associations Call on President and Senate to Heed the Constitution and Fill SCOTUS Vacancy

State Bar President and California Bar Associations Call on President and Senate to Heed the Constitution and Fill SCOTUS Vacancy

 

Today, bar associations from across the state of California sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Senate leaders urging them to heed their constitutional duty to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court. The bar associations, representing more than 30,000 lawyers throughout the state, called on the president to quickly nominate a qualified candidate to the Supreme Court, and for the Senate to consider that nominee without delay. The effort, spearheaded by the California Employment Lawyers Association, brings together the Los Angeles County Bar Association, the Alameda County Bar Association, the Lake County Bar Association, the Yolo County Bar Association and more than a dozen other statewide and local bar associations.  California State Bar President David Pasternak also signed on to the letter in his individual capacity.

Within hours of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death, Senate Republican leaders stated that they would refuse to even consider the president’s nominee. Nearly a month later, Senate Republican leaders have held firm to the position that they will refuse to hold hearings or a floor vote for any nominee put forward by this president. With few exceptions, Senate Republicans support this position.

“The implications of this course of action would be significant, subjecting people in different regions of the country to different legal standards on matters of constitutional importance and leaving open the specter of an unresolved constitutional crisis,” the letter warns.

“[T]he framers placed in the hands of the executive and legislative branches of our government a duty to ensure that the third pillar of our democracy, our courts, would be protected from entanglement in partisan politics,” the letter explains.  “While careful evaluation and reasoned debate regarding the qualifications of the nominee are central to the Senate’s role to advise and consent, it would undermine the rule of law and risk nullifying the Supreme Court’s power to serve its constitutional role as arbiter of disputes, were the confirmation process to be delayed until a new president is inaugurated.”

Bar associations representing the two most populous cities in the United States have now called on the Senate to consider a nominee to the Supreme Court without delay. The letter, sent today, comes on the heels of similar calls by the New York State and New York City Bars respectfully requesting the Senate to reconsider its refusal to consider a nominee put forward by the president.  Constitutional law scholars at universities around the country have also weighed in via a joint statement, pointing out that the Constitution “has no exception for election years.”

The letter signed by the California bar associations does not mince words. “We ask that you carry out your constitutionally prescribed roles with full fealty to the oaths you have taken so that our Supreme Court is returned to its full membership,” the signers write.

Jean Hyams

About Jean Hyams

Jean K. Hyams is a founding partner of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, a Bay Area boutique law firm focused on representing employees in employment disputes. She left a career as a manager in high-tech companies to pursue her dream of becoming a civil rights lawyer. She has been named by Northern California Super Lawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Northern California for the past five years and her firm has been rated one of the Best Law Firms (Tier 1 – Employment Law) by U.S. News and World Report. After almost a quarter-century in practice, she now also serves as a court-appointed and private mediator of employment disputes. Jean is Co-Chair of the CELA VOICE.

It’s time to proclaim your own “Ed Roberts Day”

It’s time to proclaim your own “Ed Roberts Day”

EdRoberts

Most of us did not observe “Ed Roberts Day” on January 23rd, but we should have.  Roberts, one of the founders of the independent living movement, lived a bold life “out-loud,”as one of a cadre of activists who catalyzed the movement for disability rights. That movement empowered people with disabilities to take control of their own lives and demand a world free of barriers to access and opportunity.  In public spaces and workplaces, all of us have benefitted from the philosophy and practice of universal access and inclusion advanced by Roberts and the disability rights movement.

The short film “Free Wheeling” tells the story of Ed Roberts’ evolution as a trailblazing disability rights activist.  After contracting polio when he was fourteen, he became paralyzed and lived from then on with technical assistance from an iron lung and, eventually, a power wheelchair.  When, after graduating from UC Berkeley in the 1960’s, Roberts sought help finding employment from the California Department of Rehabilitation, the counselor told him that he was “too disabled to work.”

Thirteen years later, Governor Brown (then in his first term) appointed Roberts to head the very agency that had sent him packing.   Governor Brown’s appointment of a person with severe disabilities to head the Rehab Department was considered by many a radical act.

In fact, Roberts was an avowed and proud radical.  He was on a mission to force a paradigm change in both how people with disabilities viewed themselves and how we as a society view people with disabilities.

Most people never thought of independence as a possibility when they thought of us. But we knew what we wanted, and we set up CIL to provide the vision and resources to get people out into the community. The Berkeley CIL was also revolutionary as a model for advocacy based organizations: no longer would we tolerate being spoken for.

The Berkeley Center for Independent Living, founded by Roberts and other activists in the 1960’s, is now housed within the ultra-accessible, and aptly named, Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley.   This magnificent building is the epicenter of disability activism, housing, under one roof, many of the most important disability rights organizations in the country, if not the world, including the World Institute on Disability (co-founded by Roberts) and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

Last week I served as a volunteer attorney at the Ed Roberts Campus, staffing the workers’ rights disability law clinic offered by the Legal Aid Society of San Francisco-Employment Law Center.  People with disabilities often seek help from the legal clinic because, like Ed Roberts, someone in power thinks that they are too disabled to work.  And when they walk or wheel through front doors, they enter a place that embodies the vision of the independent living and disability rights movements of which Roberts was so much a part.

ramp-up-3.ed robertsThe Ed Roberts Campus exemplifies the concept of “universal design,” the idea that what designers refer to as the “built environment” should be “more usable by as many people as possible at little or no extra cost.” Barriers have fallen away as curving ramps offering smooth travel from the first to the second floor and elevators can be called with the press of a wheelchair footrest.  The Ed Roberts Campus is a beautiful symbol of how far we have come in the struggle for a barrier-free world. The work that happens in that beautiful space is a reminder of how far we have yet to go to achieve Robert’s goal of a barrier-free world.

The Ed Roberts campus is a place where people with and without disabilities are inspired to action.  It is a fitting tribute to the man who inspired a movement to get us there.   And really there’s no reason to wait until Governor Brown issues next year’s “Ed Roberts Day” proclamation to move from inspiration to action.

 

Jean Hyams

About Jean Hyams

Jean K. Hyams is a founding partner of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, a Bay Area boutique law firm focused on representing employees in employment disputes. She left a career as a manager in high-tech companies to pursue her dream of becoming a civil rights lawyer. She has been named by Northern California Super Lawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Northern California for the past five years and her firm has been rated one of the Best Law Firms (Tier 1 – Employment Law) by U.S. News and World Report. After almost a quarter-century in practice, she now also serves as a court-appointed and private mediator of employment disputes. Jean is Co-Chair of the CELA VOICE.

Senate Bill 292 would restore protection for hostile work environment sexual harassment

For victims of sexual harassment,  whether the harasser is motivated by lust or hostility, or a combination of both, makes no difference.  However, one California Appellate Court departed from that traditional wisdom and ruled that in order for conduct to be sexually harassing, it must be motivated by sexual desire.

In his recent article for the Los Angeles Daily Journal, CELA VOICE contributor James DeSimone explains how Senate Bill 292 would restore protection to California employees who experience hostile work environment sexual harassment.

Jean Hyams

About Jean Hyams

Jean K. Hyams is a founding partner of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, a Bay Area boutique law firm focused on representing employees in employment disputes. She left a career as a manager in high-tech companies to pursue her dream of becoming a civil rights lawyer. She has been named by Northern California Super Lawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Northern California for the past five years and her firm has been rated one of the Best Law Firms (Tier 1 – Employment Law) by U.S. News and World Report. After almost a quarter-century in practice, she now also serves as a court-appointed and private mediator of employment disputes. Jean is Co-Chair of the CELA VOICE.

Recent Supreme Court ruling on class action waivers in arbitration agreements draws fire

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court issued an opinion with a far-reaching impact on employees and consumers who sign mandatory arbitration agreements.  When those agreements include class action waiver provisions, victims of unfair business practices can no longer band together to seek redress.  In his post — Why Regular People Need to Pay Attention to the Supreme Court’s Arbitration Obsession: American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant Cries for Amending the Federal Arbitration Act – lawyer and blogger Bryan Schwartz covers the history of this issue at our nation’s highest court and sums up the holding like this –

Today, the Supreme Court (as Justice Elena Kagan’s dissent explains) held as follows, with respect to the fact that arbitration agreements with class action waivers effectively deprive victims of all legal recourse: “Too darn bad.”

The Atlantic Wire article — The Problem with the Supreme Court’s AmEx Decision, Class Action, and You —  summarizes the case and offers reaction from the author of an amicus brief arguing against class action waivers on behalf of an association of professional arbitrators.

Jean Hyams

About Jean Hyams

Jean K. Hyams is a founding partner of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, a Bay Area boutique law firm focused on representing employees in employment disputes. She left a career as a manager in high-tech companies to pursue her dream of becoming a civil rights lawyer. She has been named by Northern California Super Lawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Northern California for the past five years and her firm has been rated one of the Best Law Firms (Tier 1 – Employment Law) by U.S. News and World Report. After almost a quarter-century in practice, she now also serves as a court-appointed and private mediator of employment disputes. Jean is Co-Chair of the CELA VOICE.

Welcome to the CELA VOICE!

Welcome to the CELA VOICE!

CELA VOICE is a project of the California Employment Lawyers Association.  Our goal is nothing short of changing the discussion about issues of importance to California employees.  Our method is simple.  We will amplify the voice of worker advocates on issues that are vital to our economy, our way of life, even our health.

The contributors to the CELA VOICE bring a unique perspective to understanding what is working and, too often, what isn’t working in California workplaces.  Because we are attorneys who represent employees in lawsuits, we spend our professional time probing how employment practices and management decisions can go so far awry that loyal employees feel they have no recourse short of the courtroom.  Working up our cases often takes us to the top levels of management and always requires us to learn about industry practices.  Over time (and many of us have been practicing for decades), we cannot help but recognize the trends.

Why is this perspective needed when plenty of bloggers are already out there ready to offer their opinion on controversies in the workplace?  After all, almost anyone who blogs or writes opinion pieces is a worker.  The answer is this — very few journalists or bloggers have the depth of access to information and the insider view that we gain every time we take a case on behalf of an employee.  (And, let’s face it, journalists can’t put their sources under oath.)  That being said, we share the journalists’ fealty to facts.  In trial, lawyers are forced to focus on the evidence and drop the speculation.  We have tasked our contributors to do the same, so that our readers can count on solid information and evidence-based opinions that should stand the test of cross-examination.  Indeed, not all of our contributors share the same perspective on all issues, so what you are reading is not any sort of “party line.”

Which are the industries where sexual harassment is commonplace?  How are employers using the “exempt” designation to force their employees regularly to work 80 hours a week without overtime?  What is being done to protect farmworkers from exposure to pesticides?  When whistleblowers step forward to report illegal practices, what really happens to them?  If you want to know the answer to these questions, just ask the lawyers who represented the workers.  Or, better yet, subscribe to the CELA VOICE!

Jean Hyams

About Jean Hyams

Jean K. Hyams is a founding partner of Levy Vinick Burrell Hyams LLP, a Bay Area boutique law firm focused on representing employees in employment disputes. She left a career as a manager in high-tech companies to pursue her dream of becoming a civil rights lawyer. She has been named by Northern California Super Lawyers as one of the Top 50 Women Lawyers in Northern California for the past five years and her firm has been rated one of the Best Law Firms (Tier 1 – Employment Law) by U.S. News and World Report. After almost a quarter-century in practice, she now also serves as a court-appointed and private mediator of employment disputes. Jean is Co-Chair of the CELA VOICE.

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