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As part of our big, new redesign of the Alliance for Justice website, the Justice Watch blog has moved. To be sure you're getting all the latest news about the fight for a fairer America, visit us at www.afj.org/blog

Thursday, March 26, 2015


How Spotify Lets Your Rights Get Lost in the Fine Print - and What You Can Do About It

March 26, 2015

Nan Aron | President, Alliance for Justice
The moment you sign up for the music streaming service Spotify, you lose some very important rights - and Spotify wants to bury what you're losing in the fine print.
Spotify specifies that when listeners click "sign up," they agree to its terms and conditions - found on a separate page of the Spotify website. Buried in the fine print of those "terms and conditions of use" is a forced arbitration clause. As the ad says, that means if you have a dispute with Spotify, you have to take your case to a decision-maker at a firm they choose - not a judge or jury. In addition, if Spotify violates the rights of thousands, even millions of its listeners, they can't band together to seek justice.

Interested in learning more, see the full text of Nan's piece at the Huffington Post.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

GUEST BLOG: The Supreme Court should protect Muslim worker from job discrimination for wearing a headscarf


The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments tomorrow in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc., a case testing the rights of job applicants who need a religious accommodation from their would-be employer.


The plaintiff is a 17-year-old Muslim woman, Samantha Elauf, whose job offer to work at an Abercrombie & Fitch store in a mall in Tulsa, Oklahoma was revoked when managers discovered that she intended to wear a religious headscarf while at work.  Doing so, they said, would violate the corporate “look policy” for employees.
A federal district court ruled in Samantha’s favor, finding that she had been subject to illegal discrimination because of her religion in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the federal statute that bars employment discrimination.  The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, however, reversed this ruling.  It found that, even though she had worn her hijabto the job interview, she had not explicitly told Abercrombie that she wore a headscarf for religious reasons and expressly requested an accommodation under Title VII.  The Tenth Circuit’s ruling on this issue differed from other federal appeals courts, which have found that the notice element of a plaintiff’s prima facie claim is met if the employer has actual knowledge of a job applicant’s religious practice even if an express request for an accommodation is not made.
The particular issue raised on appeal in the Supreme Court is not the underlying substantive one of whether Samantha has the right to an exception from Abercrombie’s dress policy for religious reasons under Title VII, though her case is a strong one.  Employers are required to “reasonably” accommodate an employee’s religious practices, meaning that they must do so when it does not impose an “undue burden” on them.  The expense associated with allowing an employee to wear a headscarf (i.e. the harm created by a slight deviation from its dress code) is minimal, and her practice would not impose on burden on her co-workers.
In this case, however, the Supreme Court is considering the narrower issue of whether “explicit notice” should be required.  Samantha did not expressly request an accommodation in part because she had no idea she would need one.  After all, it is employers, not job applicants, who know what corporate policies the employer has established governing employees.  How was she to know that she would need an exception to a rule that she didn’t know even existed?
For that matter, how can Abercrombie plead ignorance of Samantha’s need for an accommodation that was as plain as the scarf on her head?
As the Supreme Court hears arguments, the justices should focus on the difficult situation that job applicants would be placed in if it adopts the Tenth Circuit’s explicit notice rule.  In a job interview, a moment when the employer has the upper hand, an applicant should not be forced to raise the issue of a need for special treatment.  Employers would be tempted simply to hire someone without any such needs, leading to increased illegal discrimination against religious minorities.
The Supreme Court should not permit an employer to discriminate against a job applicant on the basis of her religion without legal consequence just because the applicant does not expressly state her need for a religious accommodation and is unaware of employer policies that would require it.  When an employer actually knows someone will need an accommodation, the applicant should not be punished for failing to say the right magic words.
William Burgess is the Senior Staff Attorney at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court in this case in support of the EEOC.  CAIR’s Oklahoma chapter assisted the plaintiff in this case in preparing her complaint to the EEOC. 
CAIR is the largest American Muslim civil rights organization in the country, dedicated to protecting the civil rights and liberties of all Americans and fostering a greater understanding of Islam in the U.S.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Benched! The more things change…


In an interview with Iowa Public Radio, shortly after being named chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said, “I have no reason to believe that the future is any different” for the committee.
He was righBenched!t. Even with Senator Grassley as chair, Republican obstructionism continues in the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In a previous edition of Benched!, we explained how, when Democrats controlled the Senate,  Republicans would routinely and needlessly “hold over” judicial and executive nominees rather than allowing the committee to vote at the first opportunity. This procedural tactic, normally reserved as a courtesy to senators who need more time to examine a candidate’s record, allowed Republicans to take an extra week before sending nominees to the Senate floor.
But now it’s the Republicans, not Democrats, who are setting the committee schedule. And while it might be reasonable in some cases for the minority party to need more time on a nominee, it is plainly a pretext for the majority party to claim it needs more time than it has given itself. Paul Gordon at People for the American Way explained this yesterday, writing that today we would find out “whether Republicans will continue one of the indefensible forms of obstruction that they engaged in for six years while in the minority.”
This morning, we got our answer. Without explanation, Senator Grassley held over the nominations of four federal judges and Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.
All four of the judicial nominees are uncontroversial. They would fill district court seats in Utah and Texas, and have the support of their home-state Republican senators on the committee. Lynch has the support of many Republicans on the committee, including Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who told reporters “I’m ready to vote.”
For no apparent reason, Texans will now have to wait an extra week until two vacancies deemed “judicial emergencies” by the U.S. Courts—seats that have been empty for over 700 days each—will be filled. The country will have to wait an extra week for a new attorney general, whose confirmation has already taken the longest of any attorney general nominee in the past 30 years.
Republican obstructionism stays the same.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Abe Lincoln in a skirt; Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a beard

Michelle D. Schwartz
Director of Justice Programs

As I read Mike Sacks’s piece in the National Law Journal yesterday on Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, I was struck with a bout of déjà vu.
It hit me when I saw this gem from Gun Owners of America president Larry Pratt:
“She’s kind of like Eric Holder in a skirt.”
Where have I heard that before?
Ah, yes. In November 2013, Ed Whelan of National Review Online had this to say about then-D.C. Circuit nominee (now D.C. Circuit Judge, thanks to Senate rules reform) Nina Pillard:
“[F]olks who know Pillard well have described her to me as ‘[Ninth Circuit Judge Stephen] Reinhardt in a skirt but less moderate.’”
It’s a safe bet that neither Pratt nor Whelan meant these comparisons as compliments. Pratt’s group calls Holder “a committed anti-gun radical” and Whelan calls Reinhardt an “arch-activist.” Nor can I recall a time when I’ve seen the “in a skirt” construction used with a name the speaker revered. “That talented female debater is like Abe Lincoln in a skirt,” said nobody ever.
But even if you do like Eric Holder and Stephen Reinhardt (and I do), these statements are insulting, not only to Lynch and Pillard, but to all women. They demean women by implying that they do not have thoughts, ideas, or accomplishments of their own, but are merely dressed up versions of men. They focus on women’s appearance and dress rather than their experiences and intellect. In short, they seek to put women in their place.
For those who think I’m being overly sensitive, I challenge you to come up with a single example where a man has similarly been compared to a woman (“Ruth Bader Ginsburg with a beard”?). Until then, please stop skirting the issues and start judging women on their own merits.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Benched! Keeping Credit 
Where Credit is Due

January 13, 2015
A little over a week into the new Congress, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, has already begun laying the groundwork to limit the number of President Obama’s judicial nominees the Senate will confirm.

Sen. Charles Grassley has  his own version of "new math."As we detailed earlier this week, presidents have historically continued filling judicial vacancies even with an opposition Senate in their final two years of office. On average, 20 percent of a president’s total judicial confirmations—which would be 76 judges for President Obama—are confirmed in the final two years of office.

The Senate has not yet confirmed any nominees this year. Nonetheless, in a recent article, a Grassley spokeswoman said that the Senator has already started tallying his confirmations for the 114th Congress, presumably to limit the number of additional nominees the Senate will confirm.
Under Grassley’s version of new math,  the current Senate has already confirmed 11 judges.  Grassley counts these judges even though they were reported out of committee and confirmed not in the current Senate, the one in which Republicans are in the majority, but by the last Senate during its “lame duck” session.
Of course,  these confirmations were not the accomplishments of Senator Grassley or Senate Republicans. In fact, Senator Grassley delayed the confirmations for which he now seeks credit and opposed confirming any nominees reported out of committee during the lame duck session. Senate Republicans even blocked their own states’ nominees and forced Democratic leadership to file cloture motions on uncontroversial judges, all while many argued that confirmations should be shut down entirely during the lame duck.
Manipulating confirmation numbers and claiming credit where it isn’t due does nothing to fill the 44 current judicial vacancies and many more (25 already announced) that will open in 2015. It does nothing for people living in Pennsylvania and Texas, where numerous, longstanding vacancies and rising caseloads have left individuals waiting in line for justice.
Iowa’s largest newspaper has called on Senator Grassley to end obstructionist policies and confirm qualified judges to the bench, and Grassley himself has promised to hold hearings soon on pending nominees. We hope he chooses to do so.