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Supreme Court’s Freedom of Religion Ruling May Create More Questions Than It Answered

Federal employment anti-discrimination laws provide a wide range of protection for employees from adverse employment actions and form a basis of a significant amount of claims and lawsuits.  However, the federal courts have routinely limited the applicability of these anti-discrimination laws when the laws interfered with the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.  In doing so, courts developed a “ministerial exception” to discrimination claims, holding that anti-discrimination laws cannot interfere with a religious organization’s dealings with members of its clergy.  Although this exception was widely accepted in the lower federal courts, the issue had only recently come before the Supreme Court in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, where last week, the Supreme Court formally recognized the ministerial exception.  More significantly, the Court appears to have taken a broad view of who may qualify as a “minister” who would be barred from the protections of anti-discrimination laws. Read more

Football Player’s Estate Sues Fiancee to Get Auto Insurance Proceeds

I read on today that the Estate of former Cincinnati Bengal Wide Receiver Chris Henry has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against his ex-fiancee, Loleini Tonga, as a result of the December 16, 2009 automobile accident that took his life.  If you are a football fan like I am, the name Chris Henry will immediately cause you to shake your head: the classic cautionary tale of a young man who had so much promise in life only to be sidetracked time and time again by his personal problems.  Henry was a talented player at West Virginia University, but he was drafted lower than his talent would have dictated because of character concerns relating to both on and off the field conduct.  His career as a Cincinnati Bengal began in 2005 with promise, but was soon derailed by multiple run-ins with the law, which led to multiple NFL-imposed suspensions and his release by the Bengals in early 2008.  After his release, Henry seemed to turn his life around, ultimately being given a second chance by the Bengals to start the 2008 season.  While his 2008 and 2009 statistics were fairly pedestrian, the larger accomplishment was that Henry had stayed out of trouble and seemingly turned a corner in his life. Read more

Something Special in the Air?

“Life is a journey, not a destination.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Deborah and Matt Lavine had apparently planned on trading in a cold, white Christmas for the warm beaches and picturesque waters of Key West, Florida.  They booked their flights through American Airlines, which required a brief stop in Miami before taking the final, short flight to Key West.  On December 21, 2008, the Lavines arrived at Regan Airport only to learn that their flight had been delayed, which caused concern that they would be unable to make their connecting flight out of Miami.  Rather than changing their flight arrangements, they relied on American Airlines’ representation that they would be able to make their connector and that American would get them to Key West.  When they touched down, the Lavines were told that they had only fifteen minutes to get to their flight, which if you have never been to Miami-Dade Airport, is no small task.  The Lavines ran through the airport, suffering from the inhalation of construction debris and narrowly made it to the terminal only five minutes before the scheduled departing time and….they were not permitted to board.  American could not provide another flight to Key West that evening, so it paid for the Lavines to spend the night in a Miami hotel and provided a free dinner and breakfast stipend.  The next morning, the Lavines boarded a new flight to Key West, preparing to enjoy their vacation and forget all about the previous evening’s experience file a lawsuit against American Airlines. Read more

New York at Christmas – Rockefeller Center, the Nutcracker, Rockettes…and a Large Group of Lawyers!

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend the Defense Research Institute’s (DRI) Professional Liability Conference in New York City.  The Conference ran concurrently with the Insurance Coverage Symposium, which two of my colleagues were able to attend.  Although this seminar did not “reinvent the genre” of the legal education conference, DRI once again put on a first-rate seminar, with knowledgeable speakers presenting on a wide array of topical issues.  Some of my favorite sessions touched on avoiding and defending elder abuse claims against professionals, and how the drafting of good (or bad) engagement and disengagement letters to clients can impact claims against attorneys and other professionals.  I have been a member of DRI for many years, and its seminars are always highly substantive and informative. Read more

Revisiting the Common Law Wrongful Discharge Claim

In my previous post regarding the Maryland Job Applicant Fairness Act, I noted that discharged employees could attempt to bring common law wrongful discharge claims against their employer under the theory that a termination in violation of the Act runs afoul of a clear mandate of public policy.

Maryland generally adheres to the “at-will” employment doctrine, meaning that an employee can be discharged at the will of the employer with or without cause, and the employee may also voluntarily quit at any time.  Notwithstanding the “at will” doctrine, a civil right of action may exist in favor of an employee when the termination was allegedly motivated by an unlawful purpose.  Several anti-discrimination statutes expressly grant a right of action in favor of an employee who believes he or she has been discharged in violation of the statute.  Where no statutory right of action exists, the employer still faces the threat of a common law wrongful discharge claim, which has long been recognized by the Maryland Courts where the discharge violates a clear mandate of public policy. Read more

New Credit Check Restrictions Could Expose Employers to Potential Liability

The Maryland Job Applicant Fairness Act, which recently took effect after being signed into law by Governor O’Malley last spring, now prohibits an employer from using a job applicant’s credit history or credit report in determining whether to hire an applicant, discharge an employee, or to “determine compensation or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment.”  The Act exempts some employers from the prohibition, such as certain financial institutions, companies required by federal or state law to conduct credit inquiries, and entities registered as investment advisors with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Notwithstanding, the vast majority of employers will be required to comply with the Act, which means that any employer who currently utilizes an employee or applicant’s credit history and reports in making employment decisions will have to cease doing so, or ensure that it only uses such information for employees or applicants that fall within the specific exceptions enumerated by the Act. Read more

Maryland Insurers Now Required to Make Pre-Litigation Disclosures of Policy Limits Information to Certain Claimants Involved in Motor Vehicle Accidents

Last spring, Governor O’Malley signed into law new legislation that requires insurers to disclose policy limits information to claimants involved in motor vehicle accidents under certain circumstances prior to litigation being initiated.  It is important to note that the new law only applies to claims involving motor vehicle accidents.  The new law, which is codified in the Maryland Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article, §§10-1101 through 10-1105, took effect on October 1, 2011, but will only apply prospectively to claims filed with an insurer on or after the effective date of the new law.  Now that the law is in effect, insurers need to be familiar with the new law and understand the circumstances under which they will be obligated to make pre-litigation disclosures.  Read more