Indiana attorney general faces ethics case over abortion doctor remarks
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita has been accused of violating professional conduct rules by making statements about a doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim. The Indiana Supreme Court Disciplinary Commission cited Rokita's comments on Fox News in July 2022, where he referred to the doctor as an "abortion activist" with a history of failing to report child abuse cases. The commission argues that Rokita's statements prejudiced the case and violated rules on public statements by lawyers. Rokita, who opposes abortion, has defended his comments and questioned the commission's authority over him. The case comes as Indiana's highest court recently upheld a law banning almost all abortions in the state.
Michigan State Moves to Fire Mel Tucker Amid Harassment Probe
Michigan State University is in the process of firing football coach Mel Tucker for cause, following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against him. The university said Tucker admitted to making "unwanted sexual advances" and "masturbating on a phone call" with a university vendor. Tucker, who is one of the highest-paid coaches in college football, had previously been suspended without pay pending the investigation.
Walmart ignored rampant sexual harassment at West Virginia store, EEOC claims
The US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has accused Walmart of failing to stop sexual harassment of female workers by a manager at one of its West Virginia stores, and of firing an employee after she complained about the harassment. The EEOC filed a complaint in West Virginia federal court alleging that the store manager had harassed a female employee by making inappropriate comments, offering her money for sex, groping her, and attempting to force her to perform a sexual act. The lawsuit is the fourth the EEOC has filed against Walmart this month, but the first that does not involve disability discrimination claims. The EEOC is seeking an order requiring Walmart to revise its policies on preventing sexual harassment and retaliation, as well as backpay and other damages for the class of women affected.
Fired TikTok Workers Allege Racist Insult by Bosses in Civil Rights Complaint
Former Black employees of TikTok's parent company, ByteDance, have accused the company of racism and retaliation. The employees filed a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, alleging that they were terminated for speaking up against discrimination. The complaint comes as technology companies face criticism over their treatment of women and underrepresented minorities. TikTok has faced concerns about its treatment of Black creators, but the employees say that the company's public commitments did not reflect the reality of their experiences. ByteDance has not responded to the complaint.
Alabama seeks to execute prisoner using nitrogen gas asphyxiation
The Supreme Court of Alabama is considering whether to allow the state to execute a prisoner using nitrogen gas asphyxiation. Kenneth Smith, who was convicted of murder in 1996, would be the first prisoner executed using this method. Smith's lawyers argue that the untested protocol may violate the US Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishments." Death penalty experts also argue that the state has not provided enough information on how it will protect execution officials and others from the invisible, odorless gas. Alabama's proposed method aims to replace the oxygen being inhaled by the condemned person with nitrogen.
Trump-appointed judge won't force Texas university to allow drag show
A federal judge has ruled that an LGBTQ student group does not have a constitutional right to hold a charity drag show on West Texas A&M University's campus, despite objections from the school president. The judge, Matthew Kacsmaryk, stated that it was unclear whether drag shows were protected under the First Amendment's free expression protections. The LGBTQ student group, Spectrum WT, sued the university after the school president barred a charity drag show from taking place. The judge dismissed some parts of the case, including claims against the school president, and said Spectrum WT failed to show it was entitled to a preliminary injunction.
US judge strikes down California ban on high-capacity gun magazines
A federal judge in California has declared the state's ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition as unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez ruled that the ban violated the Second Amendment rights of firearms owners. Benitez stated that the ban went too far in preventing people from using magazines for lawful purposes, including self-defense. The judge cited a recent Supreme Court decision that requires firearms restrictions to be consistent with the historical tradition of firearm regulation. California Attorney General Rob Bonta plans to appeal the decision, stating that Californians need to be kept safe from weapons enhancements designed to cause mass casualties. The judge has delayed enforcing the injunction against the law for 10 days to allow for a possible stay. This decision reflects a shift in the way courts must look at restrictive firearm laws, according to the president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association.
Civil rights groups' power to sue undermined by unusual appellate ruling
The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center does not have the right to bring a race bias suit against an apartment complex because the advocacy group did not suffer any harm or injury. This decision is part of a trend in which courts have set a higher bar for minority groups in anti-bias statutes. The court's ruling is seen as part of a long-running pattern of favoring majoritarian interests.
Southwest Airlines lawyers win reprieve from religious liberty training order
Three lawyers at Southwest Airlines have been granted a temporary reprieve from attending a "religious-liberty training" session ordered by a judge. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has suspended the order while it considers extending the original sanction order. The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit by former flight attendant Charlene Carter, who claimed she was fired for religious reasons after objecting to her union's support of Planned Parenthood. The judge awarded Carter $800,000 in damages and ordered Southwest to reinstate her. The airline has appealed the decision.
Unusual orders sow confusion in case over Biden social media contacts
A court order that restricts the Biden administration's ability to encourage social media companies to remove content remains on hold after a series of unusual orders by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The confusion arose after the court partly reversed a lower court's injunction against the administration, easing restrictions but upholding the finding that the administration's actions violated free speech rights. The Biden administration has argued that it did nothing illegal and was seeking to combat online misinformation. The 5th Circuit has since withdrawn its mandate and granted a rehearing of the case.
US judge throws out Texas ban on drag acts, calls it unconstitutional
A federal judge in Texas has ruled that the state's new law restricting public drag performances is unconstitutional and permanently prohibited its enforcement. The judge stated that the law was discriminatory and improperly vague, and that drag performances are protected by the First Amendment. The law was part of broader Republican efforts to regulate the behavior of LGBT people. Similar drag restrictions in other states have also been blocked by federal judges.
Trump administration officials ordered to testify on family separations
A federal magistrate judge has ordered former Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to testify in a lawsuit filed by migrant parents and children who were separated at the US-Mexico border. The judge said that the depositions were necessary because the parents allege that the officials acted in bad faith by intentionally separating families. The Trump administration separated over 3,000 children from their parents at the border as part of its "zero tolerance" policy. The Justice Department, which represents the government, may appeal the decision.
Hattie McDaniel’s missing Gone with the Wind Oscar is being replaced
Hattie McDaniel, the first Black winner of an Academy Award, will have her missing Oscar replaced by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. McDaniel won the award for Best Supporting Actress in 1940 for her role in Gone with the Wind. She left the trophy to Howard University in her will, but it went missing in the late 1960s. The original location of the trophy is unknown, but a replacement will be housed at Howard University's fine arts college, named after the late actor Chadwick Boseman. The replacement Oscar will be presented in a ceremony on 1 October.
Washington Trust to pay $9 million over discriminatory lending
Washington Trust Bank has agreed to pay $9 million to settle civil rights charges that it discriminated against primarily Black and Hispanic mortgage applicants in Rhode Island. The US Justice Department alleges that the bank engaged in redlining, a practice in which it failed to provide lending services to residents in primarily Black and Hispanic neighborhoods. Despite expanding across the state, the bank never opened a branch in a Black or Hispanic neighborhood and relied on mortgage loan officers in majority-white areas to generate new lending applications. Redlining has been a longstanding issue that has disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic communities.
Biden administration to take new actions against antisemitism
The Biden administration plans to use the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to prohibit certain forms of antisemitism in federally funded programs and activities. Eight federal agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Homeland Security, will clarify that Title VI of the act prohibits antisemitic, Islamophobic, and related forms of discrimination. This move is part of President Biden's national strategy to counter antisemitism, which he has stated has risen to record levels in the country.
'History is made' as Michigan judges are ordered to use lawyers' preferred pronouns
The Michigan Supreme Court has approved a new rule requiring judges to refer to attorneys by their preferred pronouns. The rule allows attorneys to include their preferred forms of address or pronouns in court documents and requires judges to use those terms when referring to them. The rule goes into effect on January 1, 2022. Supporters of the rule believe it demonstrates that Michigan courts are welcoming and inclusive. However, opponents argue that the court should not get involved in such a divisive issue and that existing codes of conduct already require judges to treat everyone with courtesy and respect.
Ex-Levi & Korsinsky partner wins retaliation claim against law firm
Securities class-action law firm Levi & Korsinsky and its founding partners, Eduard Korsinsky and Joseph Levi, retaliated against a former attorney at the firm after she sued them for sex discrimination, according to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska. The judge granted summary judgment on the former attorney's retaliation claims related to the counterclaims filed by the firm and rejected the firm's motion for summary judgment on the former attorney's discrimination claims. The judge also dismissed the former attorney's claims of violations of federal and state equal pay laws. The case will proceed to trial on the discrimination and retaliation claims.
Appeals court upholds Tennessee, Kentucky bans on transgender care for minors
A federal appeals court has ruled that Tennessee and Kentucky can enforce laws banning gender-affirming medical care for minors. The 6th US Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a challenge by families of transgender children who argued that the bans discriminated on the basis of sex. The court cited the potential harm to children as a reason for the ban. This is the second ruling by a federal appeals court upholding such laws, with several district courts overturning similar bans. Medical associations say gender-affirming care is appropriate and potentially life-saving treatment for transgender individuals.
EEOC renews bid to update workplace harassment guidance
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has proposed updating its enforcement guidance on workplace harassment for the first time in nearly 25 years. The guidance, which is not legally binding but can be cited in court, outlines how aggressively the Democrat-controlled EEOC could pursue harassment claims against employers. The draft guidance covers an array of topics related to workplace harassment and reflects significant changes in the law, such as the 2020 Supreme Court ruling that discrimination against LGBT workers is a form of unlawful sex bias. The public comment period on the proposal will end on November 1.
Challenge to Texas A&M workforce diversity policies is moot, judge rules
A federal judge in Texas has dismissed a lawsuit that claimed Texas A&M University discriminates against white and Asian men through its workforce diversity initiatives. The judge ruled that the lawsuit became moot when Texas adopted a law prohibiting public universities from giving race-based preferences to employees and job applicants. The plaintiff, an associate professor of finance at the University of Texas at Austin, argued that Texas A&M's affirmative action policies prevented him from obtaining a faculty job with the university system because he is white. The judge stated that the plaintiff's claims are not ripe because Texas A&M is overhauling its policies to comply with the new law and a recent Supreme Court ruling on race-conscious college admissions policies.