April 2020 Legal Report
Print Issue: April 2020
Sex discrimination. The BBC was unable to prove that a pay gap between peers was not based on sex discrimination, leading the United Kingdom’s Employment Tribunal to unanimously rule in favor of presenter and journalist Samira Ahmed.
Ahmed alleged she was paid £700,000 less ($904,550, roughly) than a male counterpart. Ahmed hosts an audience feedback show called “Newswatch” for the BBC News Channel and BBC Breakfast. The court found that her work was similar to Jeremy Vine’s work on the BBC One show “Points of View.” While Vine was paid £3,000 for each episode of “Points of View,” Ahmed was paid £440 per episode of “Newswatch.”
Legal representatives for the BBC claimed that Ahmed’s salary was equal to that of her predecessor on the show, adding that he was considered her male equivalent—not Vine.
The court disagreed with the BBC’s argument, noting that although the subject matter of the shows differed, “they were minor differences and, more importantly, had no impact on the work that the two presenters did, or the skills and experience required to present the programmes.”
The court did not detail if Ahmed would be financially compensated for the difference in wages, although a representative for the National Union of Journalists said in a BBC article that it would be seeking full backpay on her behalf.
The BBC is dealing with dozens of other similar allegations and cases. Radio show host Sarah Montague disclosed in January 2020 that she reached a £400,000 settlement with the BBC over similar claims that sex discrimination had led to a pay disparity. (Samira Ahmed v. BBC, United Kingdom Employment Tribunals, No. 2206858/2018, 2020)
Terrorism. The United Kingdom amended existing law to change prison sentencing and monitoring for terrorism offenders.
Previously, persons convicted of terrorist activities can qualify for automatic early release, typically halfway through their prison sentence. The Release of Prisoners (Alteration of Relevant Proportion of Sentence) Order 2019 amended the law to require serious offenders serving prison terms of seven years or more be held in prison for at least two-thirds of their original sentence. The law also creates minimum sentences for some serious crimes, including preparing a terrorist act or directing a terrorist group.
The amendment also ensures that these changes also apply to offenders serving consecutive sentences.
The amendment was proposed after a convicted terrorist killed two people in a London knife attack in November 2019. The man had been released from prison early after serving roughly eight years of a 16-year prison term for terrorism offenses.
The U.K. Home Office also announced that it will increase funding for counter-terror police by £90 million (approximately $117 million) for 2021.
The Home Office, responsible for immigration, security, and law and order in the United Kingdom, added that other measures will be considered with the amendments, including doubling the number of counterterrorism probation officers, boosting how many specialist psychologists and imams will work to deradicalize terrorists, investing £500,000 for supporting terrorism’s victims, and increasing the police’s ability to monitor people convicted of terrorism during the first weeks after being freed from jail.
Equal rights. Virginia became the 38th U.S. state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
With the state legislature’s approval, the amendment could be added to the U.S. Constitution.
U.S. constitutional amendments must first be validated by 75 percent of U.S. states, or 38 states; but the U.S. Congress established a deadline of 1982 for ratification of the ERA, so it is unclear if the amendment can go into effect.
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a memo in January, explaining that because the deadline has passed, the ERA is “no longer pending before the States. Accordingly, even if one or more state legislatures were to ratify the proposed amendment, it would not become part of the Constitution.”
The DOJ said that the only way for the ERA to become part of the Constitution is to start the process over.
Originally proposed in 1923, the ERA would ensure stronger Constitutional protections for victims in cases regarding sex discrimination and a more concrete foundation for future anti-discrimination laws.
Ransomware. The U.S. state of New York is considering legislation that calls for a ban on using taxpayer funds to pay ransomware demands.
One of the bills—S.7246, proposed by State Senator Phil Boyle (R-4th District)—would limit the state’s access to taxpayer funds when hackers demand ransoms from a city with a population less than 1 million residents.
The other bill—S.7289, introduced by State Senator David Carlucci (D-38th District)—would direct funding for updating cybersecurity infrastructure to fortify local and state systems against such attacks.
Currently, municipalities can use tax revenues and municipal budgets to pay for ransoms to recover data held hostage by cyberattackers. It is not unusual for such attacks to target a local or state government’s critical infrastructure or information.
According to security firm SentinelOne, the average ransom payment increased by 13 percent in Q3 of 2019 to $288,000.
Racial discrimination. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) issued a $50,000 fine against Delta Airlines for discriminating against Muslims.
In two separate incidents, a total of three Muslim passengers—previously screened and cleared by the Transportation Security Administration and corporate security—were removed from Delta flights. The airline claimed the passengers were removed because of reports about their behavior and were not discriminatory.
During a DOT investigation, the department found that two of the passengers—a married couple traveling home from Paris, France, to Cincinnati, Ohio—were removed after a passenger complained they made the passenger “very uncomfortable and nervous,” and a flight attendant saw that the man was texting “Allah” several times on his cell phone. The plane’s captain ejected the couple, even after Delta’s corporate security repeatedly informed the pilot that they raised no concerns.
The third passenger, flying from Amsterdam, The Netherlands, to New York City, was removed from the plane after other passengers claimed he spoke with and accepted a small package from someone “of similar ethnicity in the gate area.” Flight attendants on the plane also said that “he moved from a non-window seat to a window seat, looked outside the window constantly, and appeared to be perspiring.” As with the other Muslim passengers on the Paris to Cincinnati flight, the plane’s captain ultimately dismissed the input of the company’s corporate security team and had the passenger removed from the flight.
Based on these actions, the DOT determined Delta discriminated against the passengers and ordered the airline to pay the $50,000 fine. It also required Delta flight and cabin crew members, along with customer service employees, to undergo civil rights training and cultural sensitivity training.
The civil rights training “must make clear that, in the absence of a valid safety or security concern, passenger or crew discomfort is not an acceptable basis to deny transportation,” according to the DOT.
Additional stipulations include revisions to Delta’s security and secondary screening protocols, which will include clear procedures to allow passengers to re-board the plane if and when security staff find no safety or security concerns and if the aircraft is still at the gate.
Transportation safety. The U.S. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced that implementation of national standards for training professional drivers will be delayed until 2022.
The Entry-Level Driver Training (ELDT) rule—originally slated to take effect 7 February 2020—will be pushed back to February 2022, delaying ELDT requirements almost 10 years after the U.S. Congress instructed the FMCSA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Transportation, to act.
The regulation requires new drivers to meet certain minimum training standards prior to receiving their commercial driver’s license (CDL), upgrading their CDL, or receiving a hazardous materials, passenger, or school bus endorsement on their CDL for the first time.
ELDT regulations apply to interstate and intrastate commercial drivers, both of which need a CDL. Acquiring a CDL requires specialized training and education, as well as registering with the FMCSA.
The delay will provide additional time to finish developing the Training Provider Registry, which the FMCSA said will allow trainers to self-certify that they meet the requirements and will also store information on entry-level drivers.
The delay will also give U.S. state licensing agencies more time to update their systems and procedures in anticipation of coordinating with the Training Provider Registry.
Sexual harassment. California enacted new laws that require state departments and agencies to log all sexual harassment and discrimination claims into a centralized system.
Monitored by the California Department of Human Resources, the $1.5 million tracking system was developed in response to an investigation by The Sacramento Bee that found that while state government sexual harassment lawsuits cost California roughly $25 million over three years, the alleged attackers kept their jobs despite repeated claims against them.
The system will collect allegations from the state’s approximately 150 departments and agencies, allowing the Human Resources Department to view all the information submitted. Such data includes the names of those under investigation, updates on the cases, and allegation outcomes like settlement payments.
Elsewhere in the Courts
Espionage. U.S. federal authorities are looking into multiple separate but related instances where people connected to Boston-area universities may have illegally provided scientific aid to China. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed criminal charges against Dr. Charles Lieber, chair of Harvard University’s Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, for making a materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statement to federal agents. Lieber allegedly failed to disclose significant financial conflicts of interest. The DOJ also charged two Chinese national scientists with multiple criminal offenses, including visa fraud and attempting to smuggle biological research to China. (United States v. Lieber, U.S. District Court for Massachusetts, No. 1:20-mj-02158, 2020)
Age discrimination. Restaurant chain Seasons 52 will pay $2.85 million to settle a class age discrimination lawsuit. Filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the suit alleged that multiple Seasons 52 restaurants denied front-of-house and back-of-house positions to applicants more than 39 years old. The EEOC said that more than 135 job applicants reported that managers asked them their age or made age-related comments during interviews. The settlement mandated that the restaurant significantly change its recruitment and hiring processes, partly with an injunction against future age discrimination, and requires a the use of a decree compliance monitor. (EEOC v. GMRI, Inc., U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida, 2020)
Fraud. A former executive of an air cargo company pleaded guilty for participating in a price-fixing conspiracy. According to the U.S. Justice Department, Maria Christina Ullings, former senior vice president of cargo sales and marketing for Martinair Holland N.V., was a fugitive for roughly 10 years prior to her capture and extradition to the United States. Ullings was sentenced to a 14-month prison term and a $20,000 criminal fine for conspiring to eliminate competition by fixing and coordinating certain surcharges to U.S. customers from 2001 to 2006. Besides Ullings, 21 executives and 22 different airlines, including Martinair, were charged by the Justice Department after an investigation into price fixing in the air transportation industry. So far, the U.S. government has levied more than $1.8 billion in criminal fines and sentenced eight executives to prison. (United States v. Maria Christina “Meta” Ullings, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, No. 1:10-cr-406, 2010)