University of Louisville Law Faculty Blog

"The Law of Termination" and Forums for Dispute Resolution

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To prepare to write an article discussing the debate about litigation, self-regulation, or arbitration as the appropriate forum for resolving employment disputes, I've recently read a series of new articles. 

Jeffrey M. Hirsch, The Law of Termination:  Doing More With Less is an interesting, counter-intuitive, and somewhat provocative article. 

Hirsch advocates replacing all state and federal laws governing termination with one federal law requiring that employees may not be terminated without just cause.  He proposes this as a pragmatic solution to the problem employers have of keeping abreast of and complying with the multitude of laws governing termination.

The details of the proposal include the following.  An employer would need to "provide reasonable notice to the employee [prior to termination] and allow time for the employee to rebut the reasoning or possibly remedy performance problems [that] may lead to termination."  The burden would then be on the employee to show that termination was not "actually motivated by a reasonable business justification."  A claim would be enforced in any court of competent jurisdiction, state or federal.  Hirsch is open to suggestions about the details because his aim is simply to foster a more pragmatic system that "better enforce[s] the goals of the current system of termination rules . . . ."

I have the following thoughts about the article and Hirsch's proposal. 

Hirsch extensively discusses and defends well his choice of enforcement by judges rather than arbitrators.  He, however, discusses labor and employment courts and administrative agencies more briefly.  It seems worthwhile to explore labor and employment courts more extensively even if they are not politically feasible because, as Hirsch recognizes, the proposed termination law is unlikely to be politically feasible anyhow.  Additionally, an administrative agency might provide some of the benefits of arbitration without its detractions.  I hope to write about administrative agencies as a forum for resolving employment disputes.  While extended discussion of these forums may be beyond the scope of Hirsh's article, I will rely on his limited discussion of them as one valuable starting point for my thoughts on the topic.

I also wonder whether terminations based on discrimination on the basis of invidious categories should be lumped in with a just cause standard.  The proposal to treat gender and race discrimination simply as one illegitimate business reason reaches the heart of the dispute over whether laws promoting race or gender neutrality can effectively eliminate discrimination against women and racial minorities.  Because of the systemic nature of these violations, don't we want to discourage and punish this type of unlawful termination even more than other types of terminations that are not for just cause?

Additionally, I hope that Hirsch will reconsider the burden of proof he proposes.  Perhaps placing the burden on the employer to prove the termination was actually motivated by a reasonable business justification makes more sense, even with the proposed notice requirement.  The employer typically has better access than the employee to the information that proves that the given reason was the actual reason for termination. 

I would also like to see more statistics or anectodal evidence supporting the argument that providing employees notice that they are not meeting expectations results in a situation where employees correct the inadequacies and remain employed.  I have lingering doubts that mandating notice instead simply provides employers an opportunity to discover and document some valid reason for terminating an unwanted employee.

Finally, more extensive discussion of the number of employers that employ people in multiple states, for which this proposal would simplify matters, might be helpful to add in support of the proposal.

Legal Injection Case Argued Today

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The latest Kentucky case in the Supreme Court spotlight, Baze v. Rees, will be argued today and the Court has decided to provide same-day (but not live) audio of the of the oral argument. This extraordinary treatment only happens on rarely and reflects high public interest in the case. Recently the Meredith v. Jefferson County Board of Education and Guantanamo Bay cases received this attention.

Supreme Court will release the audio recording of oral argument in the case, scheduled at 10 a.m. today, January 7, 2008, shortly after the conclusion of the argument. The audio recording “will be provided to the network pool, which will in turn provide an offsite, simultaneous feed to member news organizations.” My guess is that it will be available on the websites of 24/7 news channels CNN and MSNBC by this afternoon.

UPDATE: From SCOTUSBlog: The transcript of today’s argument in Baze v. Rees (07-5439) is now available here. I still haven't found an audio feed.

Decanal Legacies

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 The best deans leave enhanced institutions and positive feelings in their wake.  In other words, they leave strong "legacies" on which their successors can build. At the University of Louisville, even though he has been dead for years, many faculty still speak with reverence regarding the deanship of James Merritt. Lots of other deans have left, or are in the process of creating, similar legacies at other institutions.  Don Polden, Tom Galligan, Steve Smith, Ian Holloway, Bruce Elman could be mentioned. 

What do successful deans have in common? Jim Merritt and David Partlett (formerly of Washington & Lee and now dean at Emory) provide good examples. Both individuals display (or displayed) visions for their institutions, tremendous interpersonal skills, a healthy emotional balance, respect for their colleagues, and an ability to build a working consensus among their faculties.

When I arrived at Louisville, my more senior colleagues frequently told me that Dean Merritt was never taken by surprise by a faculty vote. This was no accident.  Jim regarded himself as a "first among equals," rather than as an "emperor" or a "dictator" or a "boss," and was in constant communication with his "faculty colleagues."  In other words, Jim actively sought to work with his faculty to find ways to push the institution forward.   

Of course, an important aspect of all successful deanships is core self-esteem. A dean who lacks self-esteem is more likely to make decisions based on personal, rather than institutional, considerations.  In addition, a dean without core self-esteem is less likely to do what is right for the institution. As a result, relations with "faculty colleagues" (if, indeed, the dean regards his or her faculty as "colleagues") are likely to be strained or dysfunctional.

Dsyfunctional deans ultimately pay the price, as (unfortunately) do their law schools. In addition, they leave a tattered legacy in their wake. Instead of throwing a "going away" party when the dean steps down, the faculty throws a "gone away" party.

At the new dean's workshop, or so I'm told, the following joke was circulating at one point: A faculty member goes to the dean's secretary and demands to see the dean. The dean's secretary expresses sorrow at being the bearer of bad news, but explains that the dean died last night.  The faculty member goes away, but comes back the next day demanding again to immediately see the dean. Even though the secretary is a bit preturbed at receiving the same request, especially in light of the conversation of the day before, the secretary patiently explains again that the dean has died, and that a meeting is not possible. The faculty member goes away, but returns the following day with the same request that is made somewhat more emphatically. In frustration, the secretary reminds the faculty member regarding the prior conversations, and inquires how it is possible to convey the fact that the dean has died. The faculty member responds: "Oh, I got it the first time.  I just wanted to hear the good news again."  

More on Decanal Narcissism

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A colleague at a California law school sent me the following missive regarding his law school's experience with a narcissistic dean:

 

I was reading your missive on decanal values. Quite interesting! I would characterize our former dean's relationship with the faculty as adversarial. In our case, it did not have an appreciable impact on the dean's power. That may reflect poorly on us as a faculty or the downside of a private-freestanding law school that is dominated by a board of trustees selected by the person the board is supposed to oversee. My take on the experience was that it was uncomfortable, but not unbearable. The dean becomes a force opposed to change because he can't lead the faculty to agree to change. Eventually he moves on.

Mental Illness in the Academy

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Next week my review of Professor Elyn R. Saks' acclaimed book The Center Cannot Hold:  My Journey Through Madness will appear in the Hastings Women's Law Journal (it should appear on my SSRN site on my Brandeis School of Law Web page before then).  In that review I discuss my unique perspective on Professor Saks' story, as I am the only legal academic other than Professor Saks to acknowledge having a severe mental illness (in my case, bipolar disorder, formerly known as "manic depressive illness").  Like Professor Saks, I have been hospitalized multiple times for mental illness, take antipsychotic medications (with side effects like tardive dyskinesia, weight gain, sedation, high cholesterol, etc.), and was granted tenure and full professor status by a law school faculty that had no idea I have any mental illness, much less a severe one like bipolar disorder.  A fuller version of my story will appear in an article entitled Walking the Tightrope of Bipolar Disorder:  The Secret Life of a Law Professor which will appear next spring in the Journal of Legal Education.  Going public like Professor Saks was a hard decision, but I believe disclosures like we have made are necessary in the battle to create a world free of stigma and discrimination against those with severe mental illness.

More on Decanal Virtues

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As I mentioned previously, the purpose of this blog is to write about issues related to deans and deaning, and I generally try to avoid writing about individual deans. However, in some instances, individuals are particularly worthy of mention. In a prior posting, I mentioned former Dean Thomas Galligan of the University of Tennessee.

Another extraordinary dean was Tom Read who may hold the modern record for deanships (five). Tom deaned at a large public law school (the University of Florida), as well as at an array of other types of institutions (Chicago Kent, Richmond, S. Texas). 

Tom, who I had the great pleasure to serve under for one year on a visiting basis, used to say that a dean who took two deanships could be referred to as a "recidivist." Tom referred to himself as a "serial dean."

Tom was absolutely extraordinary for a number of reasons.  First, Tom was able to inculcate in his faculty a "rising tide raises all boats" philosophy. As a result, rather than competing against each other, the faculty seemed to be working together towards a common objective.  In a profession like law teaching, where individuals function in some respects so individualistically, this was an extraordinary achievement.  In addition, by his enthusiasm and support, Tom enabled and encouraged faculty to perform to the best of their abilities.

During my visit, I came to understand the regard with which Tom was held, not only by his own faculty, but also the greater law school community. Tom, who attended SEALS (Southeastern Association of Law Schools meetings) as dean at Florida and Richmond, inquired whether South Texas College of Law might be able to join SEALS. My suggestion that Houston and Texas might be more Southwestern looking than Southeastern looking was met with his argument that Houston is only 90 miles from Louisiana.  The long and short of it is that I presented Tom's request to SEALS' membership. Although a number of Steering Committee members had doubts about whether Houston could legitimately be defined as "Southeastern," a large majority were willing to admit STCL and the other Houston schools based on the high esteem in which they held Tom.   

Decanal Narcissism

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In his terrific article, The Seven Deadly Sins of Deaning, Dean Steven Smith identifies decanal narcissism as one of the deadliest of sins.  He refers to it as one of those sins that will rot a deanship and prevent a faculty from moving forward.

In an ideal world, there will be mutual respect between a dean and his/her faculty.  Indeed, the best deans find ways to encourage and promote their faculty, and help them excel.  In a prior posting, I mentioned Dean Tom Galligan (now President Tom Galligan) who was formerly the dean at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Tom was one of these rare individuals who had a strong relationship with his faculty, and who actively promoted the faculty's interests.  

Unfortunately, when a dean suffers from narcissism (obviously not the case with Tom Galligan), there is a significant (and likely) risk that the dean will place his own narcissistic interests above those of the institution.  If that happens, the result can be deadly and the psychology of an institution can be absolutely destroyed. The self-serving narcissist dean can affect both a faculty's morale and productivity.  And, if a narcissistic dean continues in office over a long period of time, the deanship can severely damage the institution.

Of course, institutionally, a narcissistic dean may come with a silver lining.  In some instances, an incompetent or malevolent dean may divide a faculty and create severe schisms or divides.  In a few instances, such a dean may unwittingly help to create a more cohesive faculty. The narcissistic dean may stand as a common enemy for the faculty, and may unify the faculty against that enemy (who actually might come to regard the dean as a "foreign invader" if the dean came from the outside). Under such circumstances, the dean may have the beneficial effect of healing old rifts, and this "halo" effect may continue (in the sense of improved faculty relationships) once the narcissist is gone. 

In my 26 years of teaching law, I have seen a range of deans.  However, almost without exception, one knows that a deanship is in trouble when the dean is no longer the leader of the institution. When a dean is a respected leader, the faculty may follow the dean in a suggested course of action simply because they respect the dean's judgment (even if they may have mild reservations).  In a troubled deanship, the dean's support produces the opposite effect.  Not often, but I have seen situations when the dean's support for a proposition would guarantee a number of votes against the dean's position. I believe that this is what Steve Smith meant when he said that narcissism will "rot" a deanship and prevent an institution from progressing.

As Professor Ron Krotoszynski (Washington & Lee University School of Law, but visiting at Alabama this year) said, a dean can get away with holding her faculty (individually or collectively) in contempt, but she better not show it.  I might add an addendum to this sentiment: a dean might place her own personal interests ahead of the institution's interests, but she had better not reveal that bias either.   

 

"Credentials of Legal Writing Faculty at Hiring Time"

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Susan Leimer and Hollee Temple have recently posted on SSRN their article Did Your Legal Writing Professor Go to Harvard?: The Credentials of Legal Writing Faculty at Hiring Time.  It is forthcoming in our very own University of Louisville Law Review (formerly Brandeis Law Journal).

It was heartening to read about how well-qualified our nation's legal writing faculty is.  Like me, 28% of legal writing faculty hold a degree from a top-twenty law school, 67% were on law review, over a third clerked for a court, over a third practiced in more than one type of law practice, and over half have more than three years of law practice experience.

If you are interested in this topic, see the article to learn more about the methodology used by the authors and about how the credentials of legal writing faculty compare to those of doctrinal faculty.  A follow-up study that uses a large enough random sample of legal writing and doctrinal faculty to ascertain statistically significant differences, delves into more detail on how credentials of legal writing professors compare to doctrinal faculty at schools of comparative rank, and sheds light on the credentials of those legal writing professors who are tenure-track or tenured would be interesting.

Using Editors to Review Legal Writing?

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Here is a question raised by Mister Thorne after reading my article on Editing Tips for the Busy Attorney.

 

Question: why not also advise lawyers to have their work reviewed by 

editors, folks trained to spot those embarrassing (and potentially 

costly) errors that attorneys (like all writers) sometimes make?

 

I am interested in hearing your responses to this question.  I will forward them on to Mister Thorne.

 

I believe that good lawyers are good editors.  Thus, lawyers should be trained to spot writing errors.  And, as suggested by my article, each lawyer should use reliable tactics to edit her own work. 

 

Of course, even a well-trained editor may have difficulty spotting her own writing errors.  This is why I suggest having a colleague or someone else review your legal writing. 

 

I think that if expenses warrant paying someone else to review the work, then an editor could certainly be one of those a lawyer has review the work, especially if the work is of a non-technical nature.  If the editor is not trained in the law, the authoring lawyer can simply review any suggestions made by the editor in the same manner she would review any edits by a non-lawyer.  There are, of course, some legal-writing experts who are in the editing business.  I personally know Kiko Korn  and Cassandra Hill and would certainly consider using their services if expenses allowed. 

Enforcing Forest Protection Laws in Mexico


Last week, Mexican police conducted the largest raid on illegal logging operations in the nation’s history. Raiding 19 sawmills, police arrested 56 people and seized roughly 6,600 tons of illegally harvested timber. The raids occurred around the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve in Central Mexico.

Monarchs migrate to Mexico in winter, where they depend on a forest that has been severely depleted by organized illegal logging. During a cold spell in 2002, more than 250 million monarchs died due, in part, to the dwindling forest canopy.

Illegal logging is a threat not only to the butterflies, but also to the people of the area. International NGOs, such as the World Wildlife Fund, have supported a growing local opposition to the illegal industry. Such opposition can be quite dangerous, however, as the murder of local environmentalist Aldo Zamora last summer demonstrates.

Last week’s raids came shortly after Mexican President Felipe Calderon announced a plan to add over $4 million to efforts that have reduced illegal logging in the reserve nearly 50 percent over the last year. Although just a few years ago residents frequently complained that authorities failed to follow-up on tips of illegal harvesting, it seems that the Mexican government is now taking the threat seriously and realizing ecotourism and other benefits of ensuring the forest remains intact.