THE ROLE OF LAWYERS IN CHANGING THE LAW
May 14, 2022
Laws at both the federal and state level aim to protect employees at work from wrongful acts, including discrimination, harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation, and many other abuses that, despite legislative efforts, seem to persist in workplaces across the nation.
Many abuses and wrongs done to employees, however, go unreported because the victims are afraid to speak up, or because when they do, supervisors and others above them ignore their voices, or worse, try to turn the tables on them. Sometimes, the system seems stacked against employees.
If you’re a victim at work, you can report your abuse to federal departments such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the Department of Labor (DOL), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and even the Department of Justice (DOJ), but investigations can drag on for months while you continue to suffer at work.
What can you do if well-intentioned laws fail to provide you the protections you need to pursue a living? You can and should enlist the help of an experienced employment law attorney.
Can this attorney help you change a law or create a new one? The answer is “yes” if you take into consideration that case law – what judges and juries decide – can go a long way in determining how existing laws are implemented and adjudicated.
If you’re the victim of wrongful or abusive acts at work in or around Louisville, Kentucky, or anywhere in the state, contact me immediately at Chris Sanders Law PLLC. I am dedicated to preserving and advancing the rights of workers to feel secure and treated fairly in their occupations – and to advocating for changes to existing laws and the creation of new ones.
CASE LAW EXAMPLE
One of the most famous examples of case law changing how existing statutes are enforced involved an employee who suffered from depression and needed time off from her job to deal with it. In Marshall v. The Rawlings Company LLC, the plaintiff’s lawsuit for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) retaliation resulted in a three-part test for employer decision-making by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In this case, plaintiff Gloria Marshall was first demoted on the recommendation of her two supervisors for being absent from work excessively – while on FMLA leave. The division president agreed with the supervisors without undertaking an independent investigation.
Matters escalated after that, and Marshall claimed to have been harassed by one of her supervisors. When Marshall complained, the division president then recommended to the company’s owner, George Rawlings, that she be terminated. After meeting with Marshall, Rawlings fired her for excessive absences and making false accusations of harassment.
The theory behind the court’s ultimate decision and reversal of the original court’s findings gets a bit complicated, but the bottom line is that even if the employer has an honest belief that he has a nondiscriminatory reason for firing an employee, that belief is irrelevant if the decision has been influenced by the bias of subordinates (Marshall’s supervisors and division president).
All this came about because of Marshall’s attorneys and their dogged pursuit of justice.
HOW ATTORNEYS CAN
Even after the emergence of the #MeToo movement highlighting sexual harassment in the workplace, women were too often forced into arbitration to resolve their complaints. That denied victims the justice they deserved. Just recently, Congress passed a major change in the law to allow victims to have their day in court.
The Gillibrand-Graham Bill – named after sponsoring Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D.-N.Y.) and Lindsey Graham (R.-S.C.) -- gives sexual harassment and assault victims the option to take their claims to court, as opposed to going through forced arbitration. Arbitration is a form of mediation held outside the judicial system. The arbitrators are often employer-biased.
This legislation was another example of laws being changed because plaintiffs and their attorneys kept pressing the issue until politicians were forced to listen and take action, which in this case took almost four years, but it all came together at last.
Another example is an executive action by President Biden that restricts the use of non-compete clauses in employment contracts. Non-compete clauses aim to restrict the movement and employability of former employers by forbidding them to work in a competing company in a given geographic area for a stated number of months or years.
The executive order tasked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with curtailing the use of non-compete clauses and “other clauses or agreements that may unfairly limit worker mobility.”
COMMITMENT TO CHANGE
I have built my legal practice around the concept of change in the workplace and throughout society. I practice in a unique field based on employment law that reaches into not only for-profit business practices but also relies on working with others of a like mind, including those in non-profits, churches, and community organizations seeking to make an impact.
Employment lawyers can be significant contributors to statute change due to the variety of work they do in this field by learning different clients’ operations, business models, company practices, and policies and then advocating for change. I am committed to this path because I believe that change is needed, and time is of the essence.
LET’S WORK TOGETHER
If you have an issue at work that needs addressing, contact me immediately at Chris Sanders Law PLLC. I will fight aggressively for your rights. If you have a social or economic issue that you want to address and seek change, let’s work together.
I am active in the community and can help you build a coalition for change. Remember, through our actions, laws can be changed, improved, and even initiated. Let’s be agents of change. I proudly serve clients in Louisville, Kentucky, and throughout the state.