Tag Archives: Lawsuits

Massey to Pay $209 Million for Mine Explosion; Families of 29 Dead Get $47 Million

In the largest ever settlement of a mine disaster, Alpha Natural Resources agreed to pay $209 million in restitution and penalties for the role of its subsidiary, Massey Energy, in a 2010 mine explosion that killed twenty-nine men in West Virginia.

That amount includes $46.5 million allocated to the families of the victims and those who were injured in the blast.

The settlement includes terms that protect Alpha, but not individual Massey executives, from prosecution.

The settlement, first reported by the Charleston Gazette, follows months of investigative work by officials from the Departments of Justice and Labor and an independent commission appointed by the former West Virginia governor. The findings placed the blame for the blast squarely on Massey and its reckless disregard for safety standards.

Today’s announcement, which will be made public after federal investigators meet with families of the victims, will detail criminal responsibility, that Alpha and Massey accept.

Massey, which Alpha purchased in June, dismissed charges that its actions led directly to the disaster.

The settlement does not protect Massey managers. Eighteen executives refused to be interviewed by federal investigators, invoking their Fifth Amendment rights.

In addition to the $46.5 million payout to victims and families, the agreement includes $80 million to bolster safety and infrastructure in underground mines owned by Alpha and Massey; $48 million to set up a foundation to be used to finance academic research on mine safety; and about $35 million in fines and fees that Massey owed to the Mining, Safety and Health Administration, a branch of the Department of Labor.

Alpha also must put in place enough safety equipment, ventilation, and methods of clearing explosive rock dust out of all its underground mines within ninety days.

The company will be required to build a state-of-the-art training facility in West Virginia, including a mine lab where it will be able to simulate mining disasters.

A report released in March by the team appointed by former Governor Joe Manchin III determined the disaster could have been prevented if Massey observed safety standards. The report accused Massey of a pattern of negligence, which allowed a “perfect storm” of poor ventilation, non-functional safety mechanisms, and combustible coal dust.

The investigators dismissed Massey’s claims that the blast had occurred because a sudden burst of methane bubbled from the ground, saying evidence contradicting that theory included the bodies of the miners found near the main explosion.

Federal officials have said that in the year prior to the explosion, safety inspectors cited Upper Big Branch 515 times and ordered it to shut down operations fifty-two times. Federal investigators have also said that Massey kept two sets of books so that accounts of hazardous conditions in Upper Big Branch would be kept hidden from inspectors.

Via The New York Times.

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Virginia Legislators Jump Aboard Personhood Train

Pro life legislators in Virginia think it would be a dandy idea to declare that life begins at conception and that fertilized eggs are people.

Undaunted by the Personhood Movement’s overreach in Mississippi, Republican delegate to the Virginia legislature Bob Marshall introduced a bill to the assembly that would redefine life as beginning at conception. The law reads, in part,

unborn children at every stage of development enjoy all the rights, privileges, and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of the commonwealth, subject only to the laws and constitutions of Virginia and the United States, precedents of the United States Supreme Court, and provisions to the contrary in the statutes of the commonwealth.

As with other personhood laws (like the one that failed in Mississippi in November and the one introduced in Wisconsin), Virginia’s proposed measure would make all abortion illegal and threaten birth control and some methods of IVF. Unlike the other measures, which were introduced as constitutional amendments, this one is a bill in the legislature, which means the people have no say in whether it becomes law.

This law looks like it has a good chance of passing; Virginia’s legislative branch is heavily Republican.

Even if it does pass, it’s unlikely the law will take effect. Someone will file a lawsuit challenging it, a judge will issue an injunction barring enforcement of the law until the trial, the verdict will be appealed no matter what the outcome, and this will continue until some court refuses to hear it or the law is repealed by a new set of legislators.

When all is said and done, Virginia will spend a ton of money on something that amounts to a source for sound bytes for politicians who want to show their pro-life constituents that they love pre-babies so much and they’re willing to prove it.

Via Jezebel.

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Sins of the Parents Keep American Students out of Florida Schools

In the race to see which state can provide the most degraded and dehumanizing environment for undocumented immigrants, Arizona and Alabama have grabbed the headlines. Largely unnoticed is Florida, home to nearly one million Cuban refugees and their descendants, which has come up with the most bizarre anti-immigrant policy of all.

Beginning last year, Florida’s higher education authorities have treated American citizens born in the U.S. as non-residents for tuition purposes if they can’t demonstrate that their parents are in the country legally.

The government can’t single out citizens for disfavored treatment without a good reason. The Supreme Court even ruled unanimously that an Illinois village violated a homeowner’s Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection by demanding from her a bigger easement than it required of her neighbors as the price of connecting her home to the municipal water supply.

A few feet of land may not have made a life-changing difference to the plaintiff, but consider the difference between in-state and non-resident tuition at the University of Florida: $5,700 a year versus $27,936. It is the difference between a college education and none.

It seems unfair, as the Supreme Court acknowledged 30 years ago in Plyler v. Doe when it held that Texas could not deprive undocumented children of a free public K-through-12 education, to blame children for the wrongdoing of their parents. As Justice Lewis F. Powell Jr. observed in his concurring opinion, it is also self-destructive, creating a permanent underclass of uneducated people.

The Supreme Court has never extended Plyler to give undocumented children rights to higher education. Alabama and South Carolina bar them entirely from its public universities and colleges. Other states let them enroll; a dozen states, including Texas, treat them as residents, entitled to in-state tuition rates.

The Florida situation is worse. Its victims are, after all, American citizens, as American as Rick Scott, Florida’s governor, who said that the state’s universities should focus on “practical” subjects, not on political science, psychology, or anthropology. (“We don’t need them here,” Governor Scott said of anthropologists. University students in Florida are circulating petitions to have the governor’s name kept off their diplomas.)

The students who filed a lawsuit last month challenging the policy are as American as Senator Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who is leading a campaign to amend the Constitution. He would repeal, for the children of undocumented immigrants, the Fourteenth Amendment’s grant of “birthright citizenship”. The Florida policy (it’s not a statute, but a rule adopted by the state’s Board of Education and its University System) amounts to repeal of birthright citizenship by regulation.

“Corruption of blood” was a familiar feature of the common law in England. A person found guilty of treason would be barred from passing his estate on to his children, who would inherit nothing but the corrupted blood line.

The framers of the United States Constitution considered and rejected the concept. Article III, the judiciary article, contains this sentence: “The Congress shall have power to declare the punishment of treason, but no attainder of treason shall work corruption of blood, or forfeiture except during the life of the person attained.” As James Madison expressed the thought more directly at the time, the purpose was to prevent Congress “from extending the consequences of guilt beyond the person of its author.”

Nor were the founders content to leave the matter there. Congress enacted a law in 1790 to provide that “no conviction or judgment . . .  shall work corruption of blood or any forfeiture of estate.” Although not in so many words, the principle that guilt is not inheritable lay behind the modern Supreme Court’s gradual recognition of rights for children born out of wedlock, deemed by society to be “illegitimate.”

The lawsuit filed last month in Federal District Court in Miami by the Southern Poverty Law Center asks the court to do the obvious: rule that Florida’s “policy and practice of classifying dependent United States citizen students who reside in Florida as ‘non-residents’ based on their parents’ federal immigration status denies these United States citizens equal protection of the laws in violation of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

The lawsuit, which seeks class-action status on behalf of “all past, present, and future United States citizens” affected by the policy, names five individual plaintiffs. Two were forced for financial reasons to withdraw from Miami-Dade College when the policy took effect. Two others can’t afford to take all the credits necessary to complete their degrees on time, and one, who would have received a full scholarship as a resident, couldn’t enroll at all. Four were born in Miami and one in Los Angeles. All are eligible to be President of the United States.

It’s not clear what defense Florida will come up with. Bills to overturn the policy were filed within the last few weeks in both houses of the Florida Legislature. If the state is lucky, one will pass. The State Senate sponsor, Rene Garcia of Hialeah, is a Republican and chairman of the Florida Hispanic Caucus. “When you’re an American citizen, you’re an American citizen,” he said.

Via The New York Times.

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Herman Cain Settled a Case (or Two or More) for Sexual Harassment

Herman Cain

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Last evening, Politico published a report that reveals that Herman Cain was accused of inappropriate sexual behavior by at least two female employees when he was head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s. Both women, whose names haven’t been released, signed agreements with the group that gave them financial settlements in return for leaving the association and agreeing not to talk about the circumstances of their departure. Politico has pieced together the nature of the allegations:

The sources – which include the recollections of close associates and other documentation – describe episodes that left the women upset and offended. These incidents include conversations allegedly filled with innuendo or personal questions of a sexually suggestive nature, taking place at hotels during conferences, at other officially sanctioned restaurant association events and at the association’s offices. There were also descriptions of physical gestures that were not overtly sexual but that made women who experienced or witnessed them uncomfortable and that they regarded as improper in a professional relationship.

One woman is said to have received an “unwanted sexual advance” from Cain at a hotel where an association event was held. Other anonymous sources say they were troubled by the effort to keep the women quiet and not addressing the allegations.

Mr. Cain’s response to the allegations has been as eloquent as you’d expect. First, his campaign ignored Politico’s request for comment for four days. Then, his spokesman J.D. Gordon said:

These are old and tired allegations that never stood up to the facts … This was settled amicably among all parties many years ago, and dredging this up now is merely part of a smear campaign meant to discredit a true patriot who is shaking up the political status quo.

Later, Mr. Gordon amended the statement, saying he meant the matter was “resolved,” not “settled” in a legal sense. This week, he told Politico that Mr. Cain was “vaguely familiar” with the situation.

When a Politico reporter approached Mr. Cain on the sidewalk, he avoided answering the questions, saying he has “had thousands of people working for me” throughout the years and couldn’t comment “until I see some facts or some concrete evidence.”

He was then asked, “Have you ever been accused, sir, in your life of harassment by a woman?”

He breathed audibly, glared at the reporter and stayed silent for several seconds. After the question was repeated three times, he responded by asking the reporter, “Have you ever been accused of sexual harassment?”

Well deflected, Mr. Cain! Well deflected.

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Discrimination Case against Wal-Mart Refiled in California

A protest in Utah against Wal-Mart

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On Thursday, four months after the Supreme Court tossed out their class-action lawsuit, lawyers representing women claiming that Wal-Mart discriminated against them filed a new lawsuit that narrowed their claims to the California stores of the chain.

The lawyers promised an “armada” of other lawsuits making discrimination claims in other regions of the country. “The case we are starting today is the first of many,” said Brad Seligman, one of the lead plaintiff lawyers.

In rejecting the earlier lawsuit, the Supreme Court found that the plaintiffs, who sought back pay for 1.5 million women nationwide, failed to prove that the legal and factual issues involving those women had enough in common to be examined as a single class.

The new suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, contends that discriminatory practices on pay and promotion affected 90,000 women employed at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club stores in California and neighboring states.

Wal-Mart dismissed the lawsuit as more of the same.

In its June ruling in Dukes v. Wal-Mart, the Supreme Court did not decide whether Wal-Mart discriminated against women. Instead, the Court concluded the suit did not satisfy requirements that the people in the class had questions of law or fact in common.

Joseph M. Sellers, one of the plaintiffs’ lawyers, said the new lawsuit was tailored to discuss the Supreme Court’s concerns.

The lawsuit describes Wal-Mart’s California region being governed by a “good old boy philosophy” where job opportunities were passed along word-of-mouth, usually to men. One California regional vice president, for instance, suggested that women did not seek management positions because of their “family commitments,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit suggests that such attitudes were pervasive company wide.

The origins of the suit date to 1999, when Stephanie Odle was fired after complaining that she was discriminated against because of her sex. She discovered that a male employee with the same job and less experience was making $23,000 a year more than she was.

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Alabama Law Creates “Chilling Effect” on Education

The champions of Alabama’s immigration law say it is intended to drive illegal immigrants from the state but promise that “[n]o child will be denied an education based on unlawful status.”

It is, however, a first step in a strategy to topple a Supreme Court ruling that all children in the United States, regardless of immigration status, are guaranteed a public education.

Section 28 of the immigration law requires schools to record the immigration status of incoming students and pass that data on to the state.

Critics say it is trying to scare immigrants away from school. Weeks of erratic attendance and a spike in withdrawals show that this has worked.

Michael M. Hethmon, general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, who wrote the provision, insists that its goal is much more ambitious.

The target, he said, is the 1982 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe. The case concerned a Texas statute that withheld funds for the education of illegal immigrants and allowed districts to bar them from enrollment. The court ruled that this violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause, saying that the statute “imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable” for their immigration status. The court also said that the state had not presented evidence showing it was substantially harmed by giving these children a free public education.

Over the decades, measures have been passed in defiance of this ruling but have been struck down in the courts.

The Alabama law directs schools to learn the immigration status of incoming students, through a birth certificate, other official documents, or an affidavit by the child’s parents.

That information is passed to the State Board of Education to prepare a report with the data and to find the costs, fiscal and otherwise, of educating illegal immigrants.

Because no one is barred from attending school, and the data is not passed to law enforcement, the provision passes constitutional muster, Mr. Hethmon said.

Critics dismiss this as a ruse. They say that it instills fear in immigrant families, leading to such erratic attendance that it belies any claim that the state is seriously attempting an accurate measurement.

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AT&T Settles Age Discrimination Suit

Seal of the United States Equal Employment Opp...

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AT&T has settled a lawsuit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) accusing it of age discrimination for refusing to rehire tens of thousands of workers who retired from the U.S. telephone company. It requires AT&T to end prohibitions against rehiring workers who left under retirement programs between 1998 and 2001 and one related to SBC Communications Inc’s 2005 purchase of the former AT&T Corp.

AT&T must update its databases to make sure former workers are not “blocked” from being rehired and certify annually in writing it is complying with the decree.

The EEOC accused AT&T of having no legitimate reason not to rehire workers who retired under the programs, a number it estimated as exceeding 50,000.

AT&T did not admit the allegations in the EEOC complaint, and maintained it had “legitimate and nondiscriminatory business reasons” for its earlier policy.

The EEOC brought the case for John Yates, who was fifty-seven years old when AT&T turned him down for employment.

The case is EEOC v. AT&T Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 09-07323.

Via Cleveland.com.

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Supreme Court Decides Whether “Right to Sue” Means “Right to Arbitration”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, U.S. Supreme Court justice.

“The statute is meant to apply to ordinary people, and if an ordinary person not schooled in the law read ‘You have a right to sue,’ wouldn’t they understand that to mean: I have a right to sue in court?” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked. Image via Wikipedia

When Congress writes legislation that says, “You have a right to sue,” why doesn’t that mean that consumers have a right to file a lawsuit in court?

That is the question before the United States Supreme Court.

The case is about whether customers unhappy about hidden costs of the credit cards they received from CompuCredit can sue the company in court, or whether they must abide by the fine print in their contracts that said all disputes must be handled by arbitration.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said the cardholders could sue after discovering their Aspire Visa cards came with a $300 credit limit — and $257 in fees.

The court agreed with cardholders that the Credit Repair Organizations Act explicitly says that consumers have the right to sue.

The Stanford University law professor representing CompuCredit, said that arbitration satisfies that right. His argument launched the Justices into rounds of questioning on the same point.

“The statute is meant to apply to ordinary people, and if an ordinary person not schooled in the law read ‘You have a right to sue,’ wouldn’t they understand that to mean: I have a right to sue in court?” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. added: “If somebody, you know, hits your car and you jump out angrily and you say: ‘I’m going to sue you.’ You are not likely to say: ‘I’m going to bring a cause of action against you.’ ”

The attorney representing cardholders agreed that Congress made its intentions clear. The statute does not mention arbitration.

The case is CompuCredit Corp. v. Greenwood.

Via The Washington Post.

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Federal Judge Upholds Alabama’s Strict Immigration Law

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On Wednesday, a federal judge upheld most of Alabama’s far-reaching immigration law that the Obama administration had challenged.

The decision by Judge Sharon Lovelace Blackburn makes it more likely that the fate of the recent state laws against illegal immigration will be decided by the Supreme Court. It also means that Alabama has the strictest immigration law in the country.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction against several sections of the law, agreeing they preëmpted federal law. She blocked a provision that outlawed harboring or transporting illegal immigrants and one barring illegal immigrants from enrolling in or attending public universities.

The governor, in a statement, said he believed even the sections that were temporarily enjoined would eventually be upheld.

Judge Blackburn, who was appointed by  President George H. W. Bush, disagreed with the Justice Department’s arguments, including those successful in challenges to laws in Arizona and Georgia.

The judge upheld a section that requires state and local law enforcement officials to try to verify a person’s immigration status during routine traffic stops or arrests, if “a reasonable suspicion” exists that the person is in the country illegally, rejecting the reasoning of district and appeals courts that blocked similar portions of Arizona’s law. Legal experts expected the Justice Department to appeal.

The Alabama law was the latest and broadest of the state laws against illegal immigration.

Alabama has a small population of people in the country illegally, but the numbers are growing.

Acting on a pledge to crack down on illegal immigration, Republicans passed the bill when they won a supermajority in the State Legislature in the 2010 elections. Mr. Bentley signed it into law in June.

Farmers and the state agriculture commissioner raised concerns about the law’s effect on farms, sheriffs condemned it as too financially onerous, and others worry it could seriously hinder the state’s efforts to rebuild after last April’s tornadoes.

The law’s backers argue that most concerns arose out of an intentional misreading of the law.

Among the other sections Judge Blackburn upheld:

  • one that nullifies contracts entered into by an illegal immigrant;
  • one that forbids transactions between illegal immigrants and any division of the state, which led to the denial of a Montgomery man’s application for water and sewage service; and,
  • one that requires public schools to determine the immigration status of incoming students.

Via NYT.

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North Carolina Sued Over “Choose Life” License Plates

North Carolina is the latest state to issue “Choose Life” license plates, and the American Civil Liberties Union is suing to stop them.

The plates will cost $25, with $15 going to the Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, which “exists to offer help and encouragement to those God calls into pregnancy care ministry” and operates crisis pregnancy centers throughout the state.

Attempts to introduce alternative plates that read “Respect Choice” or “Trust Women. Respect Choice” failed to gain traction with the Republican-controlled North Carolina legislature, so the ACLU is suing for a group of “pro-choice automobile owners” who say the state is endorsing one viewpoint.

Katherine Lewis Parker, legal director of the ACLU’s North Carolina branch, explains:

The state is opening up a forum to one side of the argument. When they do that, they are constitutionally obligated to open to the other side.

She adds that “this is a free speech case — not an abortion case,” and that the ACLU would also challenge a state that produced only pro-choice plates.

State Rep. Mitch Gillespie, the plates’ Republican sponsor, says the suit is merely an effort by “an evil liberal organization to try to appease its liberal base.” He also says he thinks it will fail.

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