April 2012 Court Decisions: Decided
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April 2012 Archives

Non-Jewish Man Can Sue for Anti-Semitic Remarks

A non-Jewish man will be allowed to sue for anti-Semitic slurs he endured from his supervisors.

A New Jersey appeals court overruled a lower court's ruling that held Myron Cowher, 49, couldn't sue for discrimination because he wasn't Jewish. Cowher claimed a "continual utterance of explicit slurs about Jews" was directed at him for over a year, MSNBC reports. Cowher was a truck driver for Carson & Roberts Site Construction & Engineering. He left in May 2008.

While the court's ruling might sound counterintuitive, it gives good reason for why people of any ethnicity should be able to sue for racist remarks at work.

Transgender Workers Now a Protected Class, EEOC Rules

In what some are calling a landmark decision, the EEOC has ruled that Title VII protects transgender workers from on-the-job discrimination. In part, the order states that "intentional discrimination against a transgender individual because that person is transgender is, by definition, 'based on ... sex' and such discrimination ... violates" the law.

Though certainly notable, the EEOC's transgender ruling is not the first of its kind. The courts, which have the final say as to the statute's interpretation, have been protecting transgendered individuals from discrimination for the last decade.

NYC Rent Control Law Won't Go to US Supreme Court

The Supreme Court on Monday refused to hear a challenge to New York City's rent control law. In doing so, the Second Circuit's 2011 decision to dismiss the case has been affirmed.

That suit was brought by James and Jeanne Harmon, owners of an apartment building that is partially subjected to the city's rent stabilization measures. They claim the NYC rent control law unconstitutionally deprives them of their property without just compensation.

They are legally required to rent the apartments at a rate 59% below market value.

Warner Bros. Wins Superman Comics Ruling at 9th Cir.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals handed out a big win for Warner Bros. in its Superman lawsuit against Marc Toberoff. The court ruled that documents stolen from Toberoff weren't privileged and Warner could use them against him.

Toberoff represents the estates of late Superman co-creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Toberoff was accused of tortious interference after he tried to strike a deal with the estates' heirs for Superman's rights. Warner filed suit after learning of the venture when documents concerning the deal were stolen from Toberoff by a former associate and given to Warner.

Warner's victory isn't only bad for Toberoff's defense, but it could also result in stark changes in how people cooperate with police investigations.

A federal court issued a temporary injunction Tuesday, blocking the National Labor Relations Board's new rule to require posters about union activity in the workplace.

The rule was set to take effect nationwide on April 30, the Associated Press reports. But legal questions about whether the NLRB has the power to require the union posters must be answered first, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said in issuing the injunction.

The NLRB rule would require most private employers to display an 11-by-17-inch poster in a prominent place, explaining employees' rights to join a union and take part in collective bargaining, according to the Board.

Political Ads Can't Be Banned from Public Television, 9th Cir. Rules

Political and public issue advertisements may be coming to a public television station near you. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down a federal political ad ban, which had long prohibited the airing of such content on stations like PBS.

Congress had enacted the statute to ensure that the public airwaves broadcast only "high quality educational and noncommercial programming." Two of the three judges agreed that there is no evidence that political and public issue ads would pose a threat to this mission.

Facebooking at Work (Even if Banned) is Not a Crime: 9th Cir.

Ever use Facebook at work even when you weren’t supposed to? You may not have to worry about it — at least not criminally.

The Ninth Circuit has clarified the application of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) to individuals who breach company computer policies. Employees who do so with the intent to defraud may be criminally charged. Employees who breach access policies for nonfraudulant, personal reasons do not violate the law.

In other words, Facebooking at work is not a crime.

Employees Don't Have to Take Meal Breaks: Cal. Sup. Ct.

California employees don't have to take their meal breaks -- but employers still have to pay them if they do work.

The California Supreme Court has answered an important question in the area of meal break and wage law. Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court of San Diego, also known as the lunch break lawsuit, left the court to consider whether employers must ensure that an employee does absolutely no work during his legally-mandated lunch break.

Employers are under no such obligation.

A Native American group will get its day in court, as the Ninth Circuit has revived part of a lawsuit that seeks permission to smoke marijuana for religious purposes.

The Oklevueha Native American Church of Hawaii sued the Justice Department and Drug Enforcement Administration after agents seized a $7,000 shipment of marijuana addressed to the church's founder in 2009, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The church's lawsuit demanded the return of, or reimbursement for, the seized pot, which was intended for use during religious ceremonies. The church also sought a declaratory judgment affirming the legality of its members' religious marijuana use.

Child Porn Suspect Can Refuse to Decrypt Hard Drive: 11th Cir

The government can't force you to decrypt your hard drive -- unless they give you complete immunity, that is.

In a first-of-its-kind ruling in February, the 11th Circuit reversed a lower court order requiring a child pornography suspect to decrypt his hard drives. The man, known only as John Doe, claimed the order violated his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

The court agreed, finding that decryption would be akin to him testifying against himself.

TX Jury Hits TaxMasters with $195M Verdict

A Texas jury has sided with Attorney General Greg Abbot, ordering tax resolution firm TaxMasters to pay a grand total of $195 million in restitution and civil penalties. CEO Patrick Cox, known for appearing in the company's commercials, will be personally responsible for approximately $46 million of the TaxMasters verdict.

Abbot filed the lawsuit after receiving over 1,000 customer complaints. He accused the company of defrauding consumers and lying to them about TaxMasters' policies.

Arkansas Teacher-Student Sex Ban Overturned by State Supreme Court

An Arkansas teacher-student sex ban has been struck down by the state's supreme court. On it's face, it's a strange holding. Read on.

The Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the law after vacating a conviction against David Paschal. Paschal, 38, was a former teacher who carried on a five-month sexual relationship with his 18-year-old female student, Reuters reports.

Jail Strip Searches (Even for Traffic Offenses) Are OK: U.S. Sup. Ct.

Go to jail, get strip searched.

This may soon be the new norm as jails begin to implement the U.S. Supreme Court's Monday ruling in Florence v. Board of Chosen Freeholders of the County of Burlington. The Court has ruled that jail strip searches are legal -- even when an individual has been arrested for a minor traffic offense or failing to pay a fine.

The 5-4 ruling found that a suspect's Fourth Amendment privacy rights are outweighed by jailhouse security concerns.