September 2020 Legal Report
Print Issue: September 2020
Discrimination. The U.S. Supreme Court found that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects gay and transgender employees from sexual orientation discrimination.
The 6–3 decision officially expands protections to the LGBTQ community, prohibiting employers from discriminating against a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
“An employer who fires an individual for being homosexual or transgender fires that person for traits or actions it would not have questioned in members of a different sex. Sex plays a necessary and undisguisable role in the decision,” wrote Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch in the majority opinion. “An individual’s homosexuality or transgender status is not relevant to employment decisions. That’s because it is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating against that individual based on sex.”
The decision will allow people who believe they have been discriminated against in the workplace because of their sexual orientation or gender identity to file lawsuits.
Prior to the formal ruling, more than half of U.S. states gave no such protections for employees. (Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Supreme Court of the United States, No. 17-1618, 2020)
Disaster relief. Xavier University of Louisiana agreed to pay $12 million to settle charges that it submitted false claims of damages caused by Hurricane Katrina to U.S. relief programs.
Xavier University—which also agreed to cooperate with a U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation into other parties involved—was accused of using an architecture and engineering firm to improperly access U.S. federal relief funds for its facilities, including the gymnasium, student center, and electrical grid, according to the DOJ.
The school allegedly exceeded the amount it should have received as part of the rules of the Federal Emergency Management Agency ’s (FEMA’s) Public Assistance (PA) program. The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act gives FEMA the power to approve PA program funds to schools and universities, allowing the institutions to restore their facilities to a pre-disaster condition.
A whistleblower filed a lawsuit alleging that the university’s architecture firm, AECOM, submitted false and misleading claims on behalf of other applicants seeking funds to repair or replace facilities damaged by the 2005 Category 5 storm. From 2005 through 2019, AECOM received more than $300 million from the PA program while working as a technical assistance contractor for the university, responsible for site evaluations and preparing repair estimates.
AECOM is also accused of inflating estimates, providing FEMA with inaccurate information on facilities’ pre-disaster status, and using other false information to increase the funds its clients were awarded from the PA program. The lawsuit claims that certain applicants were jointly liable for these exaggerated estimates, signing off on or supporting the AECOM reports. (United States ex rel. Robert Romero v. AECOM, Inc., et al., U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, No. 16-cv-15092, 2020)
Terrorism. Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte signed legislation into law that allows terror suspects to be held without charges or arrested without a warrant for a longer term.
The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 allows terror suspects in the Philippines to be held without charges or arrested without a warrant for up to 24 days. The country’s constitution currently limits detention without specific charges to three days. The legislation also removes an existing fine—up to 500,000 pesos ($10,000 USD) per day of detention—for wrongfully holding a suspected terrorist.
Additionally, the law created a new Anti-Terrorism Council, which has the ability to designate individuals or groups as suspected terrorists and place them under surveillance or arrest. Anyone accused of involvement in a terrorist attack could receive a prison sentence of life without parole. Any individual found to have joined a designated terrorist group could be sentenced to up to 12 years in prison.
Opponents of the law, including nationalist groups, religious officials, media watchdogs, and human rights organizations, claim it could be used against the administration’s critics, especially given the act’s broad definition of terrorism. One of the bill’s definitions of the crime of terrorism is “acts intended to cause extensive damage or destruction to a government or public facility, public place, or private property.”
Coronavirus. The United Kingdom instituted new rules for anyone entering its borders, ordering all arrivals to self-isolate for 14 days—the length of time it takes for symptoms of the COVID-19 virus to appear.
Whether tourist or citizen, everyone arriving in the Channel Islands, England, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Scotland, or Wales must provide an address where he or she will be self-isolating for the duration of the two-week period. Anyone found violating the self-isolation rule could be fined up to £1,000 ($1,300 USD), while those failing to provide an accurate address for the site of their isolation could be fined up to £3,200 ($4,200 USD).
If no symptoms of the virus have appeared after the two weeks, the person can stop self-isolating. If symptoms do appear, the government is asking persons to remain in self-isolation—extending the restriction to all others living in the same household.
Some persons are exempt from the new rules, such as those traveling from within Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands to other parts of the United Kingdom; defense personnel; and diplomats, representatives of international organizations, representatives at an international or UK conference with certain privileges and immunities, and their families or dependents.
Fraud. The China Securities Regulatory Commission fined one of the country’s largest pharmaceutical companies for a $4.3 billion accounting scandal, ordering the company to pay roughly ¥600,000 ($86,000 USD).
In late 2018 Kangmei Pharmaceutical Co. came under scrutiny for fraudulent financial reporting. A 2019 investigation revealed that fake bank deposits inflated the company’s cash reserves, while falsified documents were used to transfer company funds that were used to trade in the company’s own stock. The fraud ran from 2016 to 2018 and resulted in overstating the company’s cash position by ¥29.9 billion ($4 billion USD).
The commission also blacklisted six Kangmei Pharmaceutical Co. executives, banning them from participating in the securities market and from working as executives or board members for at least 10 years. Another 22 Kangmei employees were fined a total of ¥5.95 million ($850,000 USD) in 2019 for their involvement in the fraud.
Corruption. Lebanese legislators adopted an anti-corruption law, removing established banking secrecy rules.
Under the new law, special investigators can access the bank accounts of current and former state officials—including cabinet ministers, lawmakers, and civil servants. Any investigations must be limited to the Special Investigation Commission and the National Anti-Corruption Authority, according to Lebanon’s state news outlet, National News Agency.
A Brookings Institution analysis found that, for 100 days in 2019, Lebanese protesters railed against corruption and called for the expulsion of everyone from ministerial posts because of widespread corruption.
The law, which was in development for eight years, was finally pushed to completion by the country’s new government.
Elsewhere in the Courts
Fraud. A former U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) employee pled guilty to charges of defrauding companies by posing as a CIA officer working on intelligence gathering. Garrison Kenneth Courtney, who conned $4.4 million out of roughly 12 companies, faces a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. He told the companies to hire him and pay him a salary as a cover for his CIA operation; he also said that the businesses would be compensated through U.S. government contracts. (United States v. Courtney, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 1:20-cr-00084, 2020)
Discrimination. The Union Pacific Railroad Company agreed to a $260,000 settlement to close a disability discrimination case brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The EEOC said that Union Pacific discriminated against a former employee, who once had a brain tumor, by not providing an individual assessment to determine if he could perform in his current position at a transportation center in Chicago, Illinois. Union Pacific agreed to the settlement but denied the allegations of discrimination. Along with the monetary fine, which will go to the former employee, the company will also train the Chicago service unit employees on protections provided by the Americans with Disabilities Act and will report all future disability discrimination complaints and denials of return to work (after a medical absence) requests to the EEOC. (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Union Pacific Railroad Co., U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, No. 19-cv-6021, 2020)
Espionage. Henry Kyle Frese, a former counterterrorism analyst for the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, was sentenced to 30 months in prison for repeatedly leaking classified information to two journalists. Prosecutors asked the court for a prison term of nine years for Frese’s violations of the Espionage Act. The classified information Frese provided included revelations from several intelligence reports. Frese also conducted searches on classified government systems on behalf of the reporters and orally transmitted information to one of the journalists at least 12 times, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. (United States v. Frese, U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, No. 1:19-cr-00304-LMB, 2020)