It’s sometimes easy to forget that the government shutdown has very real-world implications. Case in point? The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

As of now, it’s closed.  The agency has even posted a notice about it on its’ website. 

That doesn’t mean that the time limits for filing a charge have been extended.   Generally, federal claims must be filed within 300 days of the alleged discrimination. As noted by the EEOC, “These time limits may not be extended because of the shut-down.”

The EEOC thus encourages employees considering filing claims “within 30 days of your time expiring” or unsure “your time expires”, to not wait to file.

For employers with matters at the EEOC, mediations have been cancelled.  It is unclear from the shutdown notice whether the EEOC will continue to press the time frames for submitting position statements, but given the lack of action on anything pressing, the agency would certainly seem amenable to having those deadlines extended.

Employers with specific questions though should certainly check with their counsel to see if their particular case warrants action.

The bottom line is that the backlog that existed at the EEOC will continue to grow because of this delay; mediations are going to get rescheduled and action is just going to take longer.

Stating the obvious: The longer the shutdown, the longer the delays.

The holidays are here and you know what that means: New Year’s Resolutions. I recently caught up with Attorney Sarah Poriss who I’ve known for many years and realized she had an interesting perspective for employers and how to start the year off right. Sarah runs her own small firm focusing, in part, on foreclosures for individuals.  Recently, she’s been handling matters for homeowners impacted by the crumbling foundation crisis happening in eastern Connecticut.  What follows is an edited online conversation we had following my meeting with her and continues a long-running (if rarely repeated) series I’ve done conducting interviews with people outside my firm.  I hope you enjoy.

Dan: So, before we talk about crumbling foundations, you had mentioned that you’ve gotten a great appreciation for an employer’s perspective by running your own business. What have you seen?

Sarah: Now that I am an employer, I have begun to appreciate the value of a focused and efficient staff.  It can be distracting enough when something good or exciting happens in the life of one of my staff; it’s even worse when they experience something stressful or tragic.

My goal is to provide a workplace that allows time for their family and personal needs, but I can only go so far when it comes to ensuring they are not distracted by the stress of financial issues.

I’ve had staff with debts in collection, or who are working on their credit with a goal of buying their first home, or who have unexpected expenses due to illness of a parent or child or unemployment of a spouse.

Dan: With that in mind, what’s do you try to achieve?

Sarah: Whenever I’m dealing with my staff (and clients) who present with these issues – I really do try to work with the aim of providing some peace of mind so we can all get back to work (I actually feel like I’m more of a sleep specialist than a lawyer at times).

Dan: For those of us used to paying a mortgage each month, I confess it’s tough to know what to say to someone (like an employee) who is facing not being able to make their mortgage payment.  What’s some general recommendations you make to those people?

Continue Reading Five Questions With… Sarah Poriss: Crumbling Foundations and Employers

The CHRO is screaming for a reboot - like Star Trek
The CHRO Complaint Process is screaming for a reboot – like Star Trek

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights & Opportunities from both attorneys and clients. And I’ve come to one conclusion:

The CHRO Complaint Procedure needs a reboot.

Now, before you dismiss this as a critical column – let’s be clear. I like many reboots.  Sure, the Superman Returns movie paled in comparison to the Christopher Reeve version, but I thought the new Star Trek reboot was pretty snazzy.

Why do movies go through reboots? Because the formula that had worked for the movie series for so long has just stopped working.

Think George Clooney in Batman & Robin and then the reboot with Christian Bale.

And right now, the process that the CHRO has created is just not working. It’s not working for individuals, it’s not working for companies and, I believe, it’s not really working well for the agency itself.  (And note too that I’m not suggesting the agency itself needs a reboot — though some have argued for that — rather, it’s the process as mandated by the law that this post is addressing.)

A reboot doesn’t mean failure; it doesn’t mean to throw out the entire formula. The agency has made some good strides on public outreach, for example, under the new leadership team.  It is closing cases at a good clip and the mediation process seems better than in years past with dedicated staff just for mediations.

And I wouldn’t go so far as to say we live in a post-modern age where it has completely outlived its usefulness.

But the complaint procedure which was reworked a few years ago just isn’t working for anyone. Here’s why:

Continue Reading The CHRO Complaint Process Needs A Reboot

James “Larry” Foy passed away earlier this week.  (His memorial service is scheduled for tomorrow in Southwick, Massachusetts.)

For those of us in Connecticut that were blessed with having had a case with him as an arbitrator or mediator — and there were many — his death will leave a substantial void.

Indeed, Larry was a labor arbitrator and mediator for so long that it’s hard to realize there was a time he wasn’t a fixture in Connecticut.

Here’s the telling statistic from his obituary:

Since 1979 Larry has privately arbitrated over 2,000 grievance arbitrations in the public and private sectors throughout New England. He has arbitrated over 400 municipal, teacher and state employee interest arbitration disputes. Larry has mediated over 1,000 collective bargaining contract negotiations between boards of education and bargaining units of certified teachers and/or administrators. – See more at:

So what happened in the year prior to 1979? Well, one of my partners kept documentation that.  And so, with the permission of Brian Clemow, we thought we’d relay a letter that Brian wrote about Larry way back in 1978.

Back then — when gas was just 63 cents a gallon and the Bee Gees were over the airwaves — Brian wrote a recommendation letter to the American Arbitration Association on behalf of Larry.  While he noted that as a representative of management, “Larry does not always view things in the same light as I view them”,  he suspected that union representatives would say the same thing.

Brian suggested that Larry would have a “high level of acceptability as an arbitrator in the eyes of both labor & management.”

Decades later, that prediction came to fruition time and again.  Larry became one of the area’s most well-regarded arbitrators.  I have no doubt that I speak for my colleagues and those around the state in saying that Larry will be sorely sorely missed.


Your former employee files suit against your company in federal court in Connecticut claiming that she is entitled to overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.   You go to a settlement conference before a magistrate judge. After a few hours of back and forth negotiation, you reach a settlement with the ex-employee.

Is judicial approval of the settlement necessary?

It’s clear that in discrimination cases, the answer is no. Parties settle such claims all the time without judicial intervention.

But, federal judges in Connecticut are noting that there is a developing split of authority on whether judicial approval is needed to settle FLSA claims.

On the one side, there are cases like Socias v. Vornado Realty L.P. (E.D.N.Y. 2014), from earlier this year, which requir a fairness hearing prior to voluntary dismissal of a FLSA action.

On the other, there are cases like Picerni v. Bilingual Seit & Preschool Inc. (E.D.N.Y. 2013) which hold that no judicial approval is required prior to settlement of FLSA lawsuit.

Who’s right? That issue will eventually have to be decided by the Second Circuit and perhaps even the U.S. Supreme Court if a circuit split develops.

In the meantime, companies and their lawyers should be prepared for courts to bring this issue up on their own (the latin phrase is sua sponte).  If so, there are a number of factors that the court may look too, as outlined in one case, Lliguichuzhca v. Cinema 60, LLC (S.D.N.Y. 2013).

As the court noted, in “scrutiniz[ing] the settlement agreement to determine [whether] the settlement is fair and reasonable[,]” the court must look at the following factors: whether there was “overreaching” by the defendant-employer, whether plaintiff was represented by “competent” counsel; whether there were “legitimate concerns about the collectability of any judgment against defendant[]”; and whether the “proposed settlement [was] . . . the product of negotiation between represented parties following extensive litigation[,]” especially because “[a]rm’s length bargaining between represented parties weighs in favor of finding a settlement reasonable.”

This “fair and reasonable” standard may not be terribly difficult to satisfy, but for parties who believe that the settlement they reached on their own should be enough, it can still be a bit nervewracking.

For employers, be mindful of your settlements of FLSA claims.  As the saying by Yogi Berra (and the song by Lenny Kravitz) goes, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

Earlier this week, I wrote about the perception among some that the CHRO has been retaining more cases for investigation by letting more cases through the Merit Assessment Review.  These cases that used to be dismissed — mainly “frivolous” ones as  I’ve collectively termed them — mean more headaches for employers who have to spend time and money defending against them.

(To simplify the blog post for readers, I labelled all these cases that had been dismissed at MAR together as “frivolous” even though there are technically different reasons why the CHRO may dismiss a case on Merit Assessment Review, including that there is “no reasonable possibility” that an investigation will lead to a reasonable cause finding of discrimination. )

In response to my blog post, CHRO Principal Attorney Charles Krich crafted a reply. While it is attached to the original blog post, I thought it notable enough that it warranted its own blog post.   While he indicated that there were no statistics yet available, he “would not be surprised if fewer cases are being dismissed for no reasonable possibility” under the Merit Assessment Review.

Here’s his reply in full (my further comments are below): Continue Reading CHRO Attorney Agrees Emphasis at Agency “Has Shifted From MAR to Mediation”

 

State Law Changes To CHRO

As I’ve noted before, the CHRO procedures were changed effective October 1, 2011.  One question that we had at the time was whether the CHRO would be retaining more discrimination claims by employees for investigation — getting past the Merit Assessment Review stage.

Previously, employers have had at least a little luck getting plainly frivolous claims thrown out at MAR.

If the reports I’ve been getting from multiple reliance sources are true, then it appears those days are over.

I’ve spoken with several people this month about cases that they are seeing at the CHRO.  Universally, the reports are that the CHRO is retaining nearly every case for a fact-finding and mandatory mediation, even the blatantly frivolous ones.

This has a few implications for employers:

1) First, employers may want to consider whether it is worthwhile preparing a long position statement and response to the initial complaint. If the case is going to move forward anyways and there is no hope of getting the case dismissed early, then what is the benefit to spelling out the entire case?

2) Second, this also means that cases at the CHRO are now going to be even more expensive.  Even the frivolous cases will have some nuisance value attached to them now because the employer will have to be involved with a full investigation if the case doesn’t settle early on.

3) Third, employers should now respond to the allegations with the idea that the case will virtually always go to investigation. That may schange the strategy and the time expended.

The CHRO has yet to publicly release any statistics about this (they still haven’t even released their FY 2010-2011 statistics; indeed, minutes from the CHRO’s meeting in October reveal only that “With the New Public Act #11-237 the cases should be moved along quickly. Agency training has started, which wilil produce more closures with less people.”  While that may be a long term trend, it is just as important to understand when the case will close.

So readers, what have you been seeing at the CHRO? Any trends over the last quarter?

 

 

The CHRO — the state agency responsible for investigating discrimination complaints in Connecticut — is going to a time of profound change. But it is also going through a period of stagnation. Where and when things will settle down remains a good question.

Why is it stagnating? Well, the agency has been without Human Rights Referees to oversee public hearings since July 1st. As a result, any case that has been certified to a public hearing (namely, those employment complaints where “reasonable cause” has been found during the investigation) is in a holding pattern. At a bar association meeting last night, there was no update as to when this situation would be resolved and whether new referees will be appointed anytime soon.

Why the profound change? Because effective October 1st, all cases will be undergoing a new procedure, including early mandatory mediation.  It is unclear whether the CHRO will implement these changes for current cases, though the indications from the bar association meeting last night was that they will try to do so where feasible.  Public Act 11-237 contains all the changes.

I’ve previously recapped the changes here. But if you’re looking for more information, the CHRO will be holding an informational session on October 20th at 10 a.m. at the state capitol.  You can download the flyer here.

In the meantime, if you’re an employer who has to deal with complaints at the CHRO, it’s time to brush up on your knowledge. It’s a whole new world starting October 1st.