Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Eat your heart out, ladies...

News out of Denver this morning: Outback Steakhouse will pay $19 million to settle a major class lawsuit alleging sexual discrimination at its hundreds of restaurants nationwide.

According to the Denver News, the suit, filed in September 2006, alleges that managers made comments that disparaged women workers.

Tom Flanagan, a joint venture partner, allegedly said female managers had "let him down" and "lost focus" when they had children. He also allegedly said women managers had trouble "saying no" and that he wanted "cute girls" to work in the front as servers. Ben Martinez, a managing partner, allegedly told another female employee she should be a teacher instead of working in the restaurant business.

The $19 million will be paid to female employees at Outback who have worked from 2002 to the present, and who have worked there for at least three years.

And a woman lawyer helped to make this happen. Stephanie Struble, an associate at a Denver law firm, was one of the lead attorneys on the case.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Gift (or Conflict?) of Romance

The Texas Supreme Court has set forth changes to the state's attorney discipline rules, changes which all lawyers in the Texas bar will vote on next June. The majority of the changes surround conflicts of interest, such as those rules surrounding arbitration agreements and scienter.

Although fascinating topics, there is another proposed rule change that could directly display how greater numbers of women lawyers are influencing the bar.

The Texas Supremes proposed a rule that would prohibit sex between a lawyer and his or her client unless they were already involved in a sexual relationship. This is not a new rule: several states have such a rule. It was strongly recommended by the ABA's ethics committee back in 1992, where they said the clients are often emotionally vulnerable, and that sexual relations can cause serious conflicts of interest.

And interestingly, the rule has been vetoed twice in the past by the Texas bar's board of directors. As this is the first time it will be voted on by all lawyers, some commentators say that the increasing number of women lawyers may influence how the vote turns out.

Monday, December 14, 2009

You've Got Mail

In the season of holiday cards and social gatherings galore, the November/December issue of the New York State Bar Association Journal reminds us about the importance of keeping our correspondence in line an article called E-mail Netiquette for Lawyers.

The article is helpful in a way that other e-mail etiquette articles are not: it recognizes that not all e-mails are equal. There are different levels of formality. But no matter what level of formality, conciseness is key. And errors should not be acceptable. Although it feels more informal, it is still a written communication that is demonstrating your level of care.

My favorite tip: never forward without permission, but always assume others will forward without your permission.

And for once, my love of exclamation points in e-mails is validated (otherwise e-mails are completely emotionless!)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Next chapter of Equal: Using Civil Rights to Combat Violence

22, Using Civil Rights to Combat Violence

Following the passage of civil rights legislation after the Civil War, the Supreme Court had adopted a narrow jurisprudence based on states rights – a jurisprudence that had resulted in Plessy v. Ferguson. These precedents would create difficulties for the civil rights laws passed in the 1960s as well as the Violence Against Women Act.

However, the right of a victim to sue her attacker had survived. Under VAWA, a civil action would exist, based on the Fourteenth Amendment.

Biden was supported by the NOW Legal Defense Fund, and its staff attorney Sally Goldfarb. They drew on evidence gathered throughout the country from task forces on gender bias in the courts.

A Minnesota judge [Ed. Note: Kathleen Sanberg], chair of the state's gender bias task force, said, “'Acquaintance rape' promises to be one of the major upcoming issues with which the legal system must learn to deal effectively and with fairness to the victim.”

A task force was created from diverse women's groups throughout the country to vigorously debate the issues and came up with a consensus that VAWA should include a civil rights section.

Pat Reuss, of the now folded Women's Equity Action League, became a grassroots organizer. She saw VAWA as a civil rights law that belonged to women everywhere, not just litigants at the Supreme Court. By early 1992, 50 percent of the senators and 40 percent of the representatives had become VAWA co-sponsors. “The prospects for VAWA seemed too good to be true.”

Sunday, December 6, 2009

For the Public Good

The MWL Professional Development committee is hosting an important program this upcoming Thursday, December 11. Titled "For the Public Good: A User's Guide to Pro Bono Work," the event is being hosted at Lindquist & Vennum. The event goes from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m., it's free, and there is lunch served. (Attendees are asked to bring an item for a food shelf.)

The panel of speakers could not be more experienced in this area:

Moderator: Nicole Siemens, Attorney, Lindquist & Vennum
Karen Canon
, Associate General Counsel/Chief Regulatory Counsel, US Bancorp
Janine Laird, Executive Director, Minnesota Justice Foundation
Sandra Smalley-Fleming, Attorney, Lindquist & Vennum

If that isn't enough to convince you, I'm not above throwing out a small reminder that it is the season of giving...what could be more valuable than your time and professional skills, given towared a good cause? Registration can be found here.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rally today to stop abortion-coverage ban

This post comes courtesy of Susan Burns:

Dear friends:

Please take time out today to read the [below] article about Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), Rep. Debbie Wasserman (D-FL) and other strong, wise and courageous women who are fighting to preserve the reproductive health rights of our daughters. Then, please give serious consideration to joining other strong, wise and courageous leaders tomorrow at the State Capitol at noon for a rally for reproductive rights. Exercise your voices and express your deep compassion and concern for future generations of young women, who deserve no less than the choices we have had in our lifetime.
Please join the Minnesota Choice Coalition on Wednesday, December 2 at 12:00 p.m. and demand that our lawmakers defend women’s reproductive health while passing meaningful health-care reform!
What: Rally to Stop the Abortion-Coverage Ban
Where: Minnesota State Capitol Rotunda
When: Wednesday, December 2 from 12-12:30 p.m.
Who: You and the pro-choice community
Why: Because we cannot allow anti-choice legislators to use health reform to take away our reproductive freedoms!

We had a good and informative conference call on November 20th with Beth Sousa of the National Women’s Law Center. She relayed background information on the perils of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment and offered thoughts on where to focus our energy to make sure the amendment does not carry through as part of the final bill on health care reform. Stupak Pitts stands as an unprecedented limitation on reproductive rights. It is not just a grafting of the Hyde Amendment onto health care reform. It is a de facto elimination of health care coverage for abortion.

Here’s how it works:

• Women who receive any federal subsidies or tax credits for the purchase of health care coverage will be prohibited from purchasing policies that cover abortion. Otherwise stated, no policy that provides coverage for abortion may be offered to any purchaser who receives federal subsidies or tax credits for health care coverage.
• Women may use personal funds to purchase a rider that covers abortion, but only if such riders are available.

• The number of people expected to receive some form of federal support for health care is significant. A family of four earning up to 400% of the federal poverty level, which is $88,000, will be eligible to receive federal support to purchase health care. Imagine how many Americans will belong to this insurance pool.
• The net effect is that insurers will write few, if any, policies that put at risk the ability to serve this huge pool of potential customers.
• Real world example: North Dakota already has in place a program requiring separate rider coverage for abortion. Blue Cross has 91% of the market share in North Dakota, and it does not provide any abortion riders.

Sadly, the bill contains special provisions to protect companies who are unwilling to provide riders, but contains no provisions to protect abortion providers.

What can we do?

• Support the Caps Amendment (Rep. Louise Caps. D-Ca)

The Caps Amendment is a viable compromise position that prohibits the use of federal funds for abortion (essentially Hyde), but allows women receiving federal subsidies for health care to segregate those subsidies and use private dollars to purchase the premiums for abortion coverage. The Caps Amendment was moving smoothly through the House until the 11th hour attack by a group of anti-abortion Congressmen and Catholic bishops resulted in the removal of the CAP insertion of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.

• Attend the rally, Weds., Dec. 2, 12:00 p.m. at the Capitol

• Contact your Representatives and Senators

Rep. McCollum deserves our gratitude and support for speaking out against the Stupak-Pitts Amendment. See here for the text of her statement.

Sen. Franken has also made clear his position in support of reproductive rights.

Sen. Klobuchar is perceived as less clear in her position. Her position paper on health care reform makes no mention of the issue and there does not appear to be anything on her website addressing the Stupak-Pitts Amendment.


New York Times________________________________________November 28, 2009
WASHINGTON — In the early 1950s, a coal miner’s daughter from rural Kentucky named Louise McIntosh encountered the shadowy world of illegal abortion. A friend was pregnant, with no prospects for marriage, and Ms. McIntosh was keeper of a secret that, if spilled, could have led to family disgrace. The turmoil ended quietly in a doctor’s office, and the friend went on to marry and have four children.
Today, Louise McIntosh is Representative Louise M. Slaughter, Democrat of New York. At 80, she is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus — a member of what Nancy Keenan, president of Naral Pro-Choice America, calls “the menopausal militia.”
The militia was working overtime in Washington last week, plotting strategy for the coming debate over President Obama’s proposed health care overhaul. With the Senate set to take up its measure on Monday, a fight over federal funding for abortion is threatening to thwart the bill — a development that has both galvanized the abortion rights movement and forced its leaders to turn inward, raising questions about how to carry their agenda forward in a complex, 21st-century world.
It has been nearly 37 years since Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that established a right to abortion, and in that time, an entire generation — including Mr. Obama, who was 11 when Roe was decided — has grown up without memories like those Ms. Slaughter says are “seared into my mind.” The result is a generational divide — not because younger women are any less supportive of abortion rights than their elders, but because their frame of reference is different.
“Here is a generation that has never known a time when abortion has been illegal,” said Anna Greenberg, a Democratic pollster who studies attitudes toward abortion. “For many of them, the daily experience is: It’s legal and if you really need one you can probably figure out how to get one. So when we send out e-mail alerts saying, ‘Oh my God, write to your senator,’ it’s hard for young people to have that same sense of urgency.”
Polls over the last two decades have shown that a clear majority of Americans support the right to abortion, and there’s little evidence of a difference between those over 30 and under 30, but the vocabulary of the debate has shifted with the political culture. Ms. Keenan, who is 57, says women like her, who came of age when abortion was illegal, tend to view it in stark political terms — as a right to be defended, like freedom of speech or freedom of religion. But younger people tend to view abortion as a personal issue, and their interests are different.
The 30- to 40-somethings — “middle-school moms and dads,” Ms. Keenan calls them — are more concerned with educating their children about sex, and generally too busy to be bothered with political causes. The 25-and-under crowd, animated by activism, sees a deeper threat in climate change or banning gay marriage or the Darfur genocide than in any rollback of reproductive rights. Naral is running focus groups with these “millennials” to better learn how they think.
“The language and values, if you are older, is around the right to control your own body, reproductive freedom, sexual liberation as empowerment,” said Ms. Greenberg, the pollster. “That is a baby-boom generation way of thinking. If you look at people under 30, that is not their touchstone, it is not wrapped up around feminism and women’s rights.”
Abortion opponents are reveling in the shift and hope to capitalize. “Not only is this the post-Roe generation, I’d also call it the post-sonogram generation,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, who notes that baby’s first video now occurs in the womb, often accompanied by music. “They can take the video and do the music and send it to the grandmother. We don’t even talk anymore about the hypothesis that having an abortion is like having an appendectomy. All of this informs the political pressures on Capitol Hill.”
The pressures relating to abortion had seemed, for a time, to go dormant. Mr. Obama, who campaigned on a vow to transcend “the culture wars,” even managed to win confirmation of a new Supreme Court justice, Sonia Sotomayor, without the usual Washington abortion uproar. Most of his political energy around abortion has been spent trying to forge consensus on ways to reduce unintended pregnancies.
The quiet was shattered this month, when the House — with surprising support from 64 Democrats — amended its health care bill to include language by Representative Bart Stupak, Democrat of Michigan, barring the use of federal subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. Lawmakers like Ms. Slaughter, who advocate for abortion rights, found themselves in the uncomfortable position of voting for the larger health bill even though the Stupak language was in it.
Proponents of the Stupak language say they are simply following existing federal law, which already bars taxpayer financing for abortions. Democratic leaders want a less restrictive provision that would require insurance companies to segregate federal money from private premiums, which could be used to purchase plans that cover abortion.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Democrat of Florida and chief deputy whip of the House, blames what she calls the complacency of her own generation for the political climate that allowed Mr. Stupak to prevail. At 43, the mother of three children, she has taken up the abortion rights cause in Congress, as she did as a state legislator.
But if she had to round up her own friends “to go down to the courthouse steps and rally for choice,” she said, she is not certain she could. When older women have warned that reproductive rights are being eroded, she said, “basically my generation and younger have looked at them as crying wolf.”
That is not to say all younger women are indifferent. Serena Freewomyn (a name she adopted to reflect the idea that “I don’t belong to any man”) is a 27-year-old administrative assistant at an H.I.V. service provider in Tucson who was inspired, she said, by reading “The War on Choice” by Gloria Feldt. When George Tiller, a doctor in Kansas who performed abortions, was killed in May, she started a blog, Feminists for Choice.
“I think that a lot of younger women do take for granted the fact that they’ve come of age in a time of post-Roe v. Wade, where they have access to lots of different birth control options,” Ms. Freewomyn said. “But I don’t think it’s fair to say younger women are not engaged; I think younger women are mobilizing in different ways than what people in current leadership positions are used to.”
On Wednesday, a coalition calling itself “Stop Stupak” will hold a “National Day of Action” to lobby lawmakers. It will include abortion rights advocacy groups that have sprung up in recent years to reach out to younger voters. Law Students for Reproductive Justice, founded in 2003, will host an Internet seminar to educate law students on the fine points of the House and Senate bills. There’s also Choice USA, which targets people under 30. Kierra Johnson, the group’s executive director, is pairing up with counterparts in the immigrant rights and gay rights movements — tactics she says are necessary if young people are to be drawn in to the reproductive rights cause. “The same young people who are fighting to keep anti-abortion language out of the health care bills are also fighting to insure that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender people fit in to broader health care reform, making sure that immigrant women don’t fall through the cracks,” she said. “They’re coming at these issues in a much more complex way.”
The question now is whether the Stop Stupak coalition can succeed. Ms. Wasserman Schultz sees the debate as a chance to rouse women of all generations, and Ms. Slaughter warns that if Mr. Obama signs a bill including the amendment, it will be challenged in court. She says she has worried for years about what would happen “when my generation was gone.”
At the moment, her concern has diminished. “Right now, I’ve never seen women so angry,” Ms. Slaughter said. “And the people that were angriest with me were my three daughters.”