JGSPL's Bi-Weekly Blog
March 5, 2010

Lawsuits
Wal-Mart Settles Sex Discrimination Case
Justice Department Files Lawsuit Alleging Racial Discrimination at Ann Arbor Apartment Complex
S.D.N.Y. Rejects Sexual Discrimination Case Against U.N.
Los Angeles Lawsuit Challenges Local Medical Marijuana Law

Legislative Developments
Obama Signs One-Year Extension of Patriot Act
Unemployment Extension Passes
Bill to Repeal "Don't Ask Don't Tell" Introduced
New York Assembly Approves Transgender Protections
Maine Considers Transgender Student Rights

Around the District
Roberts Denies Stay; D.C. Begins Licensing Same-Sex Marriages
Gay Marriage Supporters Use D.C. Momentum, Look to Maryland
Maryland Proposes Reduced Burden for Domestic Violence Protective Orders

Other News
Report Released on Washington's Death With Dignity Act
U.K. to Disclose Child Sex Offender Lists
U.N. Chief Urges Gender Equality on International Women's Day
Harper Seeks Gender Neutral Version of Canadian National Anthem

LAWSUITS

WAL-MART SETTLES SEX DISCRIMINATION CASE

On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. agreed to pay $12 million in wages and damages as well as hire more female applicants for warehouse jobs to settle a sex discrimination lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Wal-Mart's London, Ky., distribution center denied jobs to qualified female applicants from 1998 through February 2005, and regularly hired male entry-level applicants for warehouse positions, the EEOC said. Executives with hiring authority told applicants that order-filling positions were not suitable for women, and that they hired mainly 18 to 25 year-old men, the EEOC said. Excluding women from employment or excluding them from certain positions because of gender violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.


DOJ ALLEGES RACIAL DISCRIMINATION AT ANN ARBOR APARTMENT COMPLEX

On Wednesday, March 3, 2010, the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division filed a lawsuit against the owner and property manager of a 48-unit apartment complex in Ann Arbor, Michigan, alleging that the defendants discriminated on the basis of race or color in the rental of apartments. The complaint seeks a court order prohibiting future discrimination by the defendants, monetary damages for those harmed by the defendants' actions and a civil penalty.

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Detroit, alleges that Acme Investments Inc., d/b/a Ivanhoe House Apartments and Laurie Courtney, the apartment complex's property manager, engaged in a pattern or practice of discriminating against African-American prospective renters. The allegations in the lawsuit are based on evidence generated by a series of fair housing tests conducted at Ivanhoe House Apartments by the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan, a private non-profit organization located in Ann Arbor. Testers are individuals who pose as applicants for housing and report on their interactions with housing providers to determine the providers' compliance with fair housing laws.

SECOND CIRCUIT REJECTS SEXUAL DISCRIMINATION CASE AGAINST U.N.

The U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rejected a sexual discrimination lawsuit brought by two United Nations staff members against the United Nations and three top former officials. The court upheld a lower court ruling that American courts had no jurisdiction in the case because the defendants had diplomatic immunity.

Cynthia Brzak, an American, and Nasr Ishak, who has dual French and Egyptian citizenship, worked for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva. They sued on the grounds that their careers suffered after Ms. Brzak accused Ruud Lubbers, the former head of the refugee organization, of sexual harassment, with Mr. Ishak encouraging her to speak out. Mr. Lubbers resigned in 2005 over the allegations, which he denied. The suit named Mr. Lubbers and his former deputy, Wendy Chamberlin, as well as former Secretary General Kofi Annan.

To read the opinion, please click here.


LOS ANGELES LAWSUIT CHALLENGES LOCAL MEDICAL MARIJUANA LAW

On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, a filed lawsuit challenges Los Angeles' crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries. Los Angeles has been struggling for years with the issue of controlling dispensaries. The ordinance that the mayor signed last month caps the number of dispensaries in the city at 70. City officials have estimated there could be as many as 1,000 outlets in the city and that some sell pot as a business.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court claims the pot ordinance is unreasonable. It says dispensaries have only seven days after the measure takes effect March 14 to find a new location if they are within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, parks or other "sensitive areas." T he ordinance also bars dispensaries from locating near homes and apartment buildings. The suit also accuses the city of violating the state constitutional rights of pot clinic operators and violating due process by forcing the vast majority of medical marijuana collectives to close.

To view the ordinance that becomes effective March 14, 2010, please click here.

LEGISLATIVE DEVELOPMENTS

OBAMA SIGNS ONE-YEAR EXTENSION OF PATRIOT ACT

On Saturday, February 27, 2010, President Barack Obama has signed a one-year extension of several provisions of the Patriot Act. Provisions in the measure would have expired on Sunday, February 28, 2010 without Obama's signature. Three sections of the Patriot Act that stay in force will:

  • Authorize court-approved roving wiretaps that permit surveillance on multiple phones.
  • Allow court-approved seizure of records and property in anti-terrorism operations.
  • Permit surveillance against a so-called lone wolf, a non-U.S. citizen engaged in terrorism who may not be part of a recognized terrorist group.

Obama's signature comes after the House voted 315 to 97 Thursday to extend the measure. The Senate also approved the measure, with privacy protections cast aside when Senate Democrats lacked the necessary 60-vote supermajority to pass them. Thrown away were restrictions and greater scrutiny on the government's authority to spy on Americans and seize their records.


UNEMPLOYMENT EXTENSION PASSES

Unemployment benefits will now continue without interruption. On late Tuesday night, March 2, 2010, President Barack Obama signed a stop-gap bill. The ten billion dollar bill had been held up by Senator Jim Bunning from Kentucky, who objected to the bill because it adds to the deficit. Without the extension, roughly 200,000 unemployed Americans would have lost their benefits in the first week of March alone. The Senate will now consider a long-term bill that extends benefits through the rest of the year. It also includes other tax cuts and would cost more than $100 billion.

BILL TO REPEAL "DON'T ASK, DON'T TELL" INTRODUCED

Senator Joseph I. Lieberman (I-CT) introduced a bill on Wednesday, March 3, 2010, to repeal the ban on openly gay service members in the military, but at a hearing later in the day Republican lawmakers questioned why lifting the ban was necessary. It is unclear if his bill will get the 60 votes needed for repeal, so Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who heads the Armed Services Committee, said Wednesday that a more politically palatable alternative might be a moratorium on discharges under the existing law. More than 13,000 members of the military have been discharged since the law was enacted in 1993, including much-needed Arabic translators.

Both Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have called for repeal of the law, but have advocated starting with a slow, careful Pentagon review of the issue. The chairmen of that review - Jeh C. Johnson, the Defense Department's top legal counsel, and Gen. Carter F. Ham, the commander of the United States Army in Europe - told the House panel that they would complete their study by December 1, 2010.

To view the Lieberman bill, please click here.


NEW YORK ASSEMBLY APPROVES TRANSGENDER PROTECTIONS

On Tuesday, March 2, 2010, the New York Assembly approved a bill that bans transgender discrimination. The chamber approved the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which would ban discrimination based on gender identity and expression in the areas of housing, employment, credit and public accommodations. While a final vote count has yet to be released, previously a large majority (70% and higher) of members voted in favor of the measure. The bill now heads to the less liberal Senate.

New York Governor David Paterson signed an executive order in December that protects transgender state employees from discrimination. Only 12 states and the District of Columbia have comprehensive laws outlawing transgender discrimination. Amongst the District of Columbia's comprehensive laws: D.C. Code § 2-1402.41 (2001) and D.C. Code § 2-1401.02 (2001).

MAINE CONSIDERS TRANSGENDER STUDENT RIGHTS

The Maine Human Rights Commission drafted guidance to interpret the section of the Maine Human Rights Act dealing with sexual orientation in schools. The draft of that guidance states that transgender students must be allowed to use the bathroom that corresponds with the gender that they identify themselves as. Those students would also be allowed to play on the sports teams of their gender identity and be provided with locker rooms that meet their needs. The commission met with educators and advocacy groups when drafting the guidance.

On Monday, March 1, 2010, the Commission held a public meeting to discuss the draft. While there was no public comment allowed, the commissioners decided that more public input was needed before they could make a decision on whether to make any alterations to the draft.

AROUND THE DISTRICT

ROBERTS DENIES STAYS; D.C. BEGINS LICENSING SAME-SEX MARRIAGES

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. denied a last-minute request Tuesday afternoon to stay the District's same-sex marriage law, ruling against opponents of the measure who had wanted to bring it before city voters in a referendum. The decision apparently cleared the way for the District to begin allowing gay couples to apply for marriage licenses Wednesday morning.

A group led by Bishop Harry Jackson, pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, has wanted to stop the law from going into effect, but the effort has been stymied by decisions in lower courts. The group has also been unsuccessful in its attempt to repeal the D.C. Council's decision on same-sex marriages through the ballot initiative process. It wants to propose a law establishing that marriage is between a man and woman.

In a three-page opinion, Roberts said that although the D.C. Charter provides for referendums, the group has been blocked because the D.C. Council disallowed any referendum on an issue that would violate the D.C. Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination. The Petitioners argued that this action was improper, because D.C. Council legislation providing that a referendum is not required cannot trump a provision of the D.C. Charter specifying that a referendum is required. However, Roberts said that the issue is still being considered by the D.C. Court of Appeals and that it is not the time for the Supreme Court to get involved - "It has been the practice of the Court to defer to the decisions of the courts of the District of Columbia on matters of exclusively local concern," Roberts wrote.

He also said the same-sex marriage statute could have been blocked by a joint resolution of Congress, "but Congress has chosen not to act." And he said that although the time for a referendum on the law will have passed, the group can still pursue a ballot initiative. Roberts denied the stay request on his own without referring it to the full court.

For the opinion, please click here.


GAY MARRIAGE SUPPORTERS USE D.C. MOMENTUM, LOOK TO MARYLAND

Gay marriage advocates in Maryland urged state lawmakers on Wednesday, March 3, 2010 to follow the lead of nearby Washington, D.C., where same sex couples were applying for marriage licenses for the first time. The Maryland Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee had hearings scheduled on one bill that would legalize gay marriage in Maryland and another that would invalidate a recent attorney general opinion and prohibit the state from recognizing same sex marriages authorized by other states. Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler said last week in a long-awaited opinion that state agencies must now recognize out-of-state gay marriages until the Legislature or courts decide otherwise.

MARYLAND PROPOSES REDUCED BURDEN FOR DOMESTIC VIOLENCE PROTECTIVE ORDERS

A proposal that would relax standards for obtaining protective orders is being debated in the Maryland General Assembly. The House and Senate are considering bills that would change the standard of proof needed to grant a final protective order. The bills, H.B. 700 by Del. C. Sue Hecht (D-Frederick) and S.B. 823 by Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Montgomery), would replace the current standard of "clear and convincing evidence" codified in MD. CODE ANN., FAM. LAW § 4-506 to a "preponderance of the evidence." Maryland is the only state that uses this higher standard when victims - and generally they are women - seek orders to protect themselves from their alleged abusers. In all other civil matters, Maryland courts require only a preponderance of evidence.

OTHER NEWS

REPORT RELEASED ON WASHINGTON'S DEATH WITH DIGNITY ACT

Sixty-three suicide prescriptions were dispensed during the first nine months of Washington State's "death with dignity" act (WASH. REV. CODE § 70.245) and at least thirty-six people used that lethal dose of medicine to end their lives, state officials said this Thursday, March 4, 2010. The Washington Department of Health said in its first annual report on the law that took effect in March 2009 that the statistics show that use of the program has been similar to the first year of Oregon's assisted suicide law. Oregon adopted the nation's first "death with dignity" law in 1997 and Montana recently became the third state to allow assisted suicide at the end of 2009 after the Montana Supreme Court ruled that nothing in state law prevents patients from seeking physician-assisted suicide.

Of the sixty-three people who received lethal doses of prescription medicine between March and December 2009, forty-seven are known to have died. Thirty-six of them died after taking the medications and seven most likely died from their ailment. The agency said it does not know the details of the other four because the death certificate or death report hasn't been filed. Under the Washington law, any patient requesting fatal medication must be at least eighteen years old, be declared mentally competent, and a resident of the state and have a terminal condition and six months or less to live. For the report, please click here.

U.K. TO DISCLOSE CHILD SEX OFFENDER LISTS

A scheme to allow anxious parents to check whether people with access to their children are child sex offenders is to be rolled out across Britain. A year-long pilot scheme in four counties saw one in ten calls to police uncover evidence of a criminal past. Out of 315 applications for information, details of 21 pedophiles were revealed. Information regarding 11 other individuals who had committed different criminal offences, often violent, was also divulged. The scheme will go nationwide in March 2011.

U.N. CHIEF URGES GENDER EQUALITY ON INTERNATIONAL WOMEN'S DAY

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked International Women's Day Wednesday, March 3, 2010 calling for gender equality and the empowerment of women, saying that until women and girls are liberated from poverty and injustice; peace, security and sustainable development stand in jeopardy.

International Women's Day will be marked around the world on Monday, March 8, 2010, but the United Nations has begun official observances on the sidelines of the Commission on the Status of Women conference, which has brought more than 2,000 women together from around the world at U.N. headquarters. The Commission is reviewing progress on women's rights in the 15 years since the so-called Beijing Declaration platform of action was agreed. The Declaration sets out the framework for advancing equality, development and peace for the world's women.


HARPER SEEKS GENDER NEUTRAL VERSION OF CANADIAN NATIONAL ANTHEM

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper may seek to change the country's national anthem "O Canada" by reverting to an older "gender neutral" version. The government will ask Parliament to examine the original gender-neutral English wording of the national anthem, according to the text of the so-called Throne Speech given this week to open a new legislative session.

The present lyrics to the anthem include the line "True patriot love in all thy sons command," while a 1908 poem on which it's based has the line "True patriot love thou dost in us command," according to the country's Heritage Department.