Civil Rights Law Decisions: Decided

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A Federal judge in Texas is making a big impact from coast to coast on businesses that have salaried employees making less than $45K per year. The overtime pay rules that were slated to go into effect on December 1st have been put on an indefinite hold as the court figures out whether the new rules are legal. The indefinite hold is the result of an emergency preliminary injunction that was ordered at the request of 21 states that have joined together to block the new rules from taking effect.

The challengers to the new rules assert that the Department of Labor overstepped their authority in revising the overtime rules. The new rules would have effectively made all employees who are currently salaried and make less than about $45K per year eligible for overtime pay. Currently, the overtime pay rule applies only if a person's salary is less than approximately $23K per year or $455 per week.

In a decision that was bound to be controversial regardless of the result, a Missouri appeals court ruled that the frozen embryos of a divorced couple are not people, and refused to grant custody of the embryos to either spouse. While this result may seem completely logical, it is seemingly at odds with Missouri law. In Missouri, pretty much any time after conception, an unborn child is considered a human being with protectable rights. The dissenting judge's opinion highlights the decisions conflict with Missouri law.

The case involved a divorce couple that had a few embryos frozen prior to their divorce. After the divorce, the former wife wanted to use the embryos, while the former husband wanted to either donate the embryos to a third party or have them destroyed. The judge basically blocked either from being able to get want they want by ruling that both former spouses had to consent to how and by whom the embryos could be used.

Airbnb, the popular site for short-term lodging, just had a race discrimination case dismissed because of the arbitration clause buried in the site's terms of service. The case alleged that an African American customer was denied accommodations by various Airbnb hosts when using his normal account, but he was allowed to rent when he used a fake account pretending to be white.

While Airbnb has since revamped its anti-discrimination policies and required the hosts to sign a "community commitment," their lawyers are likely breathing a sigh of relief after the federal court ruling. The ruling requires all user grievances against the company, even civil rights complaints and class actions, to be settled via the arbitration process outlined in the website's terms of service.

In what came as a shock to many, a New York Federal Judge rejected the settlement proposed by the attorneys for the NYPD and the group of Muslim plaintiffs that filed a class action lawsuit. The class action lawsuit stems from the post-9/11 actions of the NYPD in conducting undercover surveillance on Muslim communities.

The order rejecting the settlement was actually part of a 45-year-old case that essentially stopped the NYPD from keeping records when conducting suspicionless surveillance, as well as put investigatory guidelines into place. The half-a-century old case did not concern the Muslim community, but rather focused on the NYPD's undercover surveillance of political activities. However, counsel in the old case joined forces with counsel on the new case, and sought to resolve problems with the NYPD together.

The Santa Ana police department recently settled the lawsuit against it alleging that their officers stole product during a marijuana dispensary raid. A secret camera that officers were unaware of caught officers eating marijuana-laced treats that were for sale in the dispensary. Additionally, the video footage captured an officer mocking a disabled woman in a wheelchair.

While the officers who were caught misbehaving have been fired, the department clearly felt compelled to settle the lawsuit as the six-figure settlement implies. Whether or not the lawsuit's larger allegations of corruption were, or could be, substantiated, may never be found out due to the settlement.

While Osama bin Laden is dead, his media secretary, Ali Hamza Ahmad Suliman al-Bahlul, who made propaganda videos, as well as filmed the wills for 9/11 hijackers, just had his 2008 conviction upheld in the DC Appeals Court. Although he had been detained in Guantanamo Bay, then tried and convicted in a military court for conspiracy years ago, his attorney is still fighting the conviction.

Although it is not disputed that the media secretary helped Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda, what is disputed is the propriety of the conspiracy charge brought against him. The media secretary was convicted of conspiracy, which technically is not a war crime, which arguably means that the enemy combatant should have been tried in a regular federal court rather than by a military court. The DC Court of Appeals disagreed and upheld the conviction.

A recent Ninth Circuit decision requires all crisis pregnancy centers to distribute information about publicly funded contraception and abortion services. This is not welcome news for pro-life groups. California's Reproductive Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency Act went into effect on January 1st, 2016 and requires that pregnancy centers and clinics provide a notice to their patients about the available, publicly funded, prenatal, abortion and family planning services.

The National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, a pro-life organization, and two other groups, challenged the act's constitutionality and sought a preliminary injunction exempting them from posting the required-by-law notifications. After the lower court rejected and dismissed their claims, they appealed. The 9th Circuit upheld the act in a decision published last Friday.

In what must be a shock to Mike Pence, Indiana's Republican Governor and Donald Trump's running mate, a federal appeals court confirmed that Pence did in fact discriminate against Syrian refugees. Pence insisted that his action in denying funding to any state agency that assisted Syrian refugees was not an act of discrimination. However, both the Federal District Court and Federal Appeals Court pointed out that Pence's action was discriminatory, and that he is going to lose the underlying lawsuit.

Last year, amid the crisis in Syria causing millions of people to be displaced from their homes, over half of which being children, countries around the world opened their borders and hearts. The United States has only accepted a small fraction of the displaced peoples. In Indiana, Pence wanted to impose an outright ban on refugees. However, in no uncertain terms, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals wasn't buying it.

Last week, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the lower court, stating that they properly denied the preliminary injunction requested by the plaintiffs in the case of Defense Distributed v. Department of State. This is the case involving the infamous Liberator, a 3D printable hand gun that cannot be detected in a metal detector. The design schematics have already been distributed over the internet and downloaded countless times.

The decision itself, while fascinating in its own right, does not even touch the most important and highly contentious questions that the district court must now decide.

Last week, California teachers across 13 districts breathed a collective sigh of relief as a court ruled that standardized test scores of students should not be factored into teacher evaluations. Judge Goode explained that legislative purposes behind the standardized tests are to evaluate students, schools, and even whole local education agencies, and that using the tests to evaluate individual teachers was not envisioned by the legislature.

While the proponents for evaluating teachers based on standardized test results, a group called Students Matter, can still appeal this ruling, the ruling against them clearly explains that the law does not say what they want it to say. This lawsuit was strongly opposed by the California teachers union.