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Wednesday, 17 December 2014 20:54

By: Ashley E. Geno

"Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go... ."  It's a song that evokes memories of my childhood spent travelling through snow to get to my grandparent's house for Christmas celebrations.  However, what happens when one parent is out of the picture and the other set of grandparents want to spend some time with their children.  Fortunately, in some instances Tennessee does allow grandparents some rights in this sort of situation.  Unfortunately, those rights have some limitations.

By way of limitation, as a general rule, parents typically have the right to supervise their minor children and this right stands superior to everyone else, including grandparents.  As part of that supervision, parents get to choose who may and may not spend time with those children.  In a case where a married couple whose fitness as parents is unchallenged and there is not a substantial harm threatening the child’s welfare, the state doesn’t have a sufficiently compelling justification for infringing on the right of the parents to raise their children as they see fit.  See Hawk v. Hawk, 855 S.W.2d 573, 577 (Tenn. 1993).  This means that if parents whose fitness is unchallenged do not wish for a particular person to be around their children, the parents can limit or prevent such person’s interactions with the child or children. 

            Now for the good news for grandparents, this general rule gets tricky when the person the parents want to limit or prevent interaction with is the children’s grandparents.  In  specific situations, Tennessee law allows grandparents to sue parents for court-ordered visitation with a minor child.  To determine whether the grandparents have a right to court-enforced visitation, Tennessee law dictates grandparent visitation must be opposed by the parents and 1) one or both of the child’s parents are deceased; 2) the child’s parents are divorced, legally separated, or were never married; 3) one of the child’s parents have been missing for at least six months; 4) another state with jurisdiction has ordered grandparent visitation; 5) the child lived with the grandparents for at least twelve months and was then removed by the parent(s); or 6) the relationship between the child and grandparent was a significant existing relationship that was severed by the parent for a reason other than abuse of danger to the child and that by severing the relationship, the child will suffer substantial harm.  T.C.A. § 36-6-306. 

           One of the more curious issues arises in the context of the requirement that the parent oppose visitation.  If the visitation is not opposed by the parent, the court has no jurisdiction to set a visitation schedule for the grandparent.  See T.C.A. § 36-6-306. As a matter of course, you would expect that if the visitation was not opposed, it would not be opposed because the grandparents would be getting the visitation.  However, proving that this provision has more bite than bark, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a petition for grandparent visitation.

          In In re Landon R.W., the maternal grandparents of the child sued the mother of the child for grandparent visitation after the mother removed the child from the grandparents’ home. See In re Landon R.W., 28 TFLL 9-13, Tenn. Ct. App., M.S., May 2, 2014. As part of the petition, the grandparents alleged the mother only allowed them brief visitation with child.  See id. The Court, however, dismissed the petition because the grandparents couldn’t prove the mother opposed them spending time with the child.  See id.  In making its decision, the Court noted that in a petition for grandparents’ rights, the grandparents have the burden of proving their petition and, as part of that burden, must prove the parent(s) oppose the visitation.  See id.  If there is no parental opposition, the petition must be dismissed.

          While grandparents do have some rights and do have the right for court ordered visitation, those rights have very specific requirements.  Because of these very strict requirements, it is best to go through these issues with an experienced family law attorney.  Tennessee does enforce grandparent rights, but the bottom line is that those rights are enforced only if the strict language of the statute is followed.

Friday, 17 October 2014 14:32

On September 13th, Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was charged with reckless or negligent injury to a child.  As a result of this charge, he was required to submit to a urinalysis to screen for illegal drugs.  He has good attorneys, he gets good advice, he knew the test was coming. However, when Adrian Peterson submitted to the urinalysis exam on Wednesday, October 8th he voluntarily admitted to a lab technician he had “smoked a little weed”.  Mr. Peterson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, later tried to cover it up by saying, it was a joke and to “lighten up”.  Whether he “smoked a little weed” or was just joking, this most recent event underscores the importance of taking these issues seriously and acting responsibly.  In any divorce, child custody or abuse case, these are issues of paramount importance and we see them every day in our Memphis family law practice.

Compounding Mr. Peterson’s difficulties, the NFL has already stated that it expects him to follow its Personal Conduct Policy.  That policy requires that all persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.”   Players, coach’s owners and others must abide by this rule.  So action by the NFL will be taken even if he is found not guilty. However, in all of this, how is his family responding to not only his bad decisions but also the allegations of him getting banned from the NFL.  Another bad decision and now he risks not only his personal freedom with the underlying abuse charges, but continued employment also – even if he is found not guilty.

Everyone makes a bad decision and everyone has their own way of dealing with the discipline of their children. Who says how and what is wrong?  Family Law is always a tough subject especially when it comes to kids.  It is almost impossible to be involved in family law without discovering that when families get into difficulties, rational thought tends to fly out of the window.  Nonetheless that is not a reason to get out of character and turn to making bad decisions when involves the wellbeing of your child, your career, or you being put into jail.

As lawyers representing individuals in divorces, child custody disputes and employment law matters, we never judge our clients as that is not our role.  However, our clients can either make our job easier or much more difficult.

Monday, 13 October 2014 12:32

With much of the issue of social equality in terms of marriage moving towards its rearview mirror, the LGBT movement (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender project) is now pushing for equal employment rights.  Maybe because of what I do, but I thought this would come up as a significant issue much sooner. 

The basic thrust of the issue is it to create a society in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can claim a protected status for purposes of employment decisions.  Right now, this status is enjoyed in some states and municipalities.  If this movement is successful, it would mean that employers across this country could not take an adverse employment action against an individual because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.  Tennessee employment law offers no such protection.

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to not review the appellate court decisions invalidating laws prohibiting same sex marriage, gay people can now legally marry in more states than where they are being legally protected from job discrimination.  While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent federal laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, religion, age, and disability:  no law at the national level forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

An example of this occurred towards the end of July this year.  A church music director was fired after he announced that he was engaged to his male-partner.  Colin Collette of Chicago says it was no secret that he was gay, he had even been living with his partner for five years.  However, when he made his living arrangement public by announcing his engagement, his employer terminated his employment.  Setting aside issues of church doctrine, it is clear that for him the employer is completely within its legal rights. 

For how long though?  With significant changes in this country related to acceptance of same sex marriage, how long will it be until there are similar changes in our employment law structure?

Wednesday, 17 December 2014 20:54

By: Ashley E. Geno

"Over the river and through the woods, to grandmother's house we go... ."  It's a song that evokes memories of my childhood spent travelling through snow to get to my grandparent's house for Christmas celebrations.  However, what happens when one parent is out of the picture and the other set of grandparents want to spend some time with their children.  Fortunately, in some instances Tennessee does allow grandparents some rights in this sort of situation.  Unfortunately, those rights have some limitations.

By way of limitation, as a general rule, parents typically have the right to supervise their minor children and this right stands superior to everyone else, including grandparents.  As part of that supervision, parents get to choose who may and may not spend time with those children.  In a case where a married couple whose fitness as parents is unchallenged and there is not a substantial harm threatening the child’s welfare, the state doesn’t have a sufficiently compelling justification for infringing on the right of the parents to raise their children as they see fit.  See Hawk v. Hawk, 855 S.W.2d 573, 577 (Tenn. 1993).  This means that if parents whose fitness is unchallenged do not wish for a particular person to be around their children, the parents can limit or prevent such person’s interactions with the child or children. 

            Now for the good news for grandparents, this general rule gets tricky when the person the parents want to limit or prevent interaction with is the children’s grandparents.  In  specific situations, Tennessee law allows grandparents to sue parents for court-ordered visitation with a minor child.  To determine whether the grandparents have a right to court-enforced visitation, Tennessee law dictates grandparent visitation must be opposed by the parents and 1) one or both of the child’s parents are deceased; 2) the child’s parents are divorced, legally separated, or were never married; 3) one of the child’s parents have been missing for at least six months; 4) another state with jurisdiction has ordered grandparent visitation; 5) the child lived with the grandparents for at least twelve months and was then removed by the parent(s); or 6) the relationship between the child and grandparent was a significant existing relationship that was severed by the parent for a reason other than abuse of danger to the child and that by severing the relationship, the child will suffer substantial harm.  T.C.A. § 36-6-306. 

           One of the more curious issues arises in the context of the requirement that the parent oppose visitation.  If the visitation is not opposed by the parent, the court has no jurisdiction to set a visitation schedule for the grandparent.  See T.C.A. § 36-6-306. As a matter of course, you would expect that if the visitation was not opposed, it would not be opposed because the grandparents would be getting the visitation.  However, proving that this provision has more bite than bark, the Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a petition for grandparent visitation.

          In In re Landon R.W., the maternal grandparents of the child sued the mother of the child for grandparent visitation after the mother removed the child from the grandparents’ home. See In re Landon R.W., 28 TFLL 9-13, Tenn. Ct. App., M.S., May 2, 2014. As part of the petition, the grandparents alleged the mother only allowed them brief visitation with child.  See id. The Court, however, dismissed the petition because the grandparents couldn’t prove the mother opposed them spending time with the child.  See id.  In making its decision, the Court noted that in a petition for grandparents’ rights, the grandparents have the burden of proving their petition and, as part of that burden, must prove the parent(s) oppose the visitation.  See id.  If there is no parental opposition, the petition must be dismissed.

          While grandparents do have some rights and do have the right for court ordered visitation, those rights have very specific requirements.  Because of these very strict requirements, it is best to go through these issues with an experienced family law attorney.  Tennessee does enforce grandparent rights, but the bottom line is that those rights are enforced only if the strict language of the statute is followed.

Friday, 17 October 2014 14:32

On September 13th, Adrian Peterson, running back for the Minnesota Vikings, was charged with reckless or negligent injury to a child.  As a result of this charge, he was required to submit to a urinalysis to screen for illegal drugs.  He has good attorneys, he gets good advice, he knew the test was coming. However, when Adrian Peterson submitted to the urinalysis exam on Wednesday, October 8th he voluntarily admitted to a lab technician he had “smoked a little weed”.  Mr. Peterson’s attorney, Rusty Hardin, later tried to cover it up by saying, it was a joke and to “lighten up”.  Whether he “smoked a little weed” or was just joking, this most recent event underscores the importance of taking these issues seriously and acting responsibly.  In any divorce, child custody or abuse case, these are issues of paramount importance and we see them every day in our Memphis family law practice.

Compounding Mr. Peterson’s difficulties, the NFL has already stated that it expects him to follow its Personal Conduct Policy.  That policy requires that all persons associated with the NFL are required to avoid “conduct detrimental to the integrity of and public confidence in the National Football League.”   Players, coach’s owners and others must abide by this rule.  So action by the NFL will be taken even if he is found not guilty. However, in all of this, how is his family responding to not only his bad decisions but also the allegations of him getting banned from the NFL.  Another bad decision and now he risks not only his personal freedom with the underlying abuse charges, but continued employment also – even if he is found not guilty.

Everyone makes a bad decision and everyone has their own way of dealing with the discipline of their children. Who says how and what is wrong?  Family Law is always a tough subject especially when it comes to kids.  It is almost impossible to be involved in family law without discovering that when families get into difficulties, rational thought tends to fly out of the window.  Nonetheless that is not a reason to get out of character and turn to making bad decisions when involves the wellbeing of your child, your career, or you being put into jail.

As lawyers representing individuals in divorces, child custody disputes and employment law matters, we never judge our clients as that is not our role.  However, our clients can either make our job easier or much more difficult.

Monday, 29 September 2014 13:07

When it comes to getting a divorce with children it can easily get very messy and complicated.  While no one wants this to happen, each side must balance their emotions as an individual and what how they view the opposing party.  This gets even more complicated when you add the stress inherent in parenting.

As a parent everything you do and every parenting rule you may have is analyzed not just by your divorcing spouse, but will ultimately be judged by the attorney for your ex and possibly a judge.  One of the common questions we get in our family law practice is  what kind of punishments are appropriate for your child.  If you and your spouse have different views of appropriate punishment, this will most likely come up as an issue in court.  When it comes to the types of punishments, corporal punishment can become a major dilemma in a child custody case.  

At the outset, corporal punishment is legal in Tennessee.  In fact, Tennessee is 1 of 19 states that extend the authority to physically punish a child to public school teachers and principals.  As Charles Barkley recently stated, this is very much part of the culture in the South.  But the question we have to answer and advise clients on in our family law practice, is when is the line crossed, when does corporal punishment turn into abuse?

The Tennessee Department of Health defines abuse as the “willful infliction of injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment with resulting physical harm, pain or mental anguish.”  Stepping to the other side of this line will likely result in children being taken away from their parent.  The key point is that to constitute abuse the punishment must result in physical harm.  This means that in Tennessee, not every “spanking” , “whooping”, or even “licks” from a paddle or belt will rise to the level of abuse .  When it comes to defining abuse you must take into consideration the degree of the punishment.  As in are there marks on the child or is the child still suffering from the punishment the next day?  There is a line between corporal punishment and abuse and when it comes punishing your child you should always be sure not to cross it. Recently, NFL player Adrian Peterson is facing criminal charges on child abuse. He is facing the charges in Texas for using a wooden switch to spank his 4-year-old son in May. Adrian Peterson is not being charged because he spanked his son, but because the spanking he gave the child left marks and caused the child to suffer beyond the time of the spanking.  The question is one of degree.

Which brings the question back to how to handle child discipline in the context of a divorce or post-divorce proceeding.  The question is one of degree and the safest course is going to be to not put that question into the hands of your ex-spouse, a lawyer or judge.  Because of this, issues of corporal punishment require careful consideration and advice from your lawyer.

Monday, 13 October 2014 12:32

With much of the issue of social equality in terms of marriage moving towards its rearview mirror, the LGBT movement (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender project) is now pushing for equal employment rights.  Maybe because of what I do, but I thought this would come up as a significant issue much sooner. 

The basic thrust of the issue is it to create a society in which lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people can claim a protected status for purposes of employment decisions.  Right now, this status is enjoyed in some states and municipalities.  If this movement is successful, it would mean that employers across this country could not take an adverse employment action against an individual because he or she is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered.  Tennessee employment law offers no such protection.

In light of the recent Supreme Court decision to not review the appellate court decisions invalidating laws prohibiting same sex marriage, gay people can now legally marry in more states than where they are being legally protected from job discrimination.  While the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and subsequent federal laws prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, religion, age, and disability:  no law at the national level forbids job discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

An example of this occurred towards the end of July this year.  A church music director was fired after he announced that he was engaged to his male-partner.  Colin Collette of Chicago says it was no secret that he was gay, he had even been living with his partner for five years.  However, when he made his living arrangement public by announcing his engagement, his employer terminated his employment.  Setting aside issues of church doctrine, it is clear that for him the employer is completely within its legal rights. 

For how long though?  With significant changes in this country related to acceptance of same sex marriage, how long will it be until there are similar changes in our employment law structure?

Friday, 26 September 2014 08:01

In a recent decision, the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") has continued its trend of significantly expanding employee workplace protections in the area of social media.  In Three D, LLC d/b/a Triple Play Sports Bar, the NLRB ordered an employer to reinstate and pay back wages to two employees who were fired, one for commenting on Facebook that her employer was an "asshole" and the other for liking the post.  The NLRB reasoned that since there were multiple employees involved and the derogatory comment was couched in terms of complaining about a workplace issue, this was a protected concerted activity.

This decision is not really surprising given the expansive reading the NLRB has been giving to the concept of protected activity under the National Labor Relations Act.  What is a little surprising is that this is the first time the NLRB has specifically condoned this type of conduct.  There has been always been a distinction between legitimate protected protests and protests that were not protected because the employee went too far.  Most labor and employment lawyers would expect that calling your boss a derogatory name would result in the activity not being protected and resulting in a termination.  Apparently the NLRB felt differently. 

A second noteworthy part of this decision was its continued cracking down on employer Internet policies.  In this case the employer has a policy that prohibited "inappropriate" Internet use.  The NLRB found that this was too broad and had the effect of "chilling" employee workplace complaints.  Based on the the NLRB forced the employer to change their policy.

The bottom line to all of this is that employers need to take another critical look at their Internet and social media policies.  Until the composition of the NLRB changes, employees will continue to enjoy greater protection of their complaints - so long as they actually reference the workplace.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014 10:59

If your employer is not paying you (say a final paycheck is withheld), who do you see?  If your answer was the U.S. Department of Labor, the answer is maybe.  If your answer was an attorney, the answer is again maybe.  However, if your answer was the Tennessee Department of Labor, the answer is now clearly yes.  The reason for this deals squarely with the limitations that each entity faces in pursuing these claims.

In this example, if you are not paid for work done, the employer clearly violated federal minimum wage laws.  However, under present law, that only entitles you to recover $7.25 per hour.  What about if you were earning $15.00 per hour?  Unfortunately, the U.S. Department of Labor can do nothing for you.  The employer also would have breached his or her employment contract with you.  In Tennessee, every employment is considered to be under a contract, so your employer breached that contract.  Yes, you can sue the employer for this breach, but under normal breach of contract law, you pay your own attorney fees.  Suddenly, this case makes no economic sense to pursue.  

The employer in this example also breached its duty under the Tennessee Wage Regulation Act.  So, you sue the employer, right?  Not so fast.  Until 2013, there was an argument that since the Act did not specifically foreclose the right of private enforcement, the right existed.  On April 23, 2013, the Tennessee legislature amended the Act to specifically provide for enforcement by the Tennessee Department of Labor.  This means that the right to sue the employer (known as a 'private right of action') no longer exists and as the employee the only right you have is to file a complaint with the Tennessee Department of Labor and hope that they pursue it.

This is important because the Act covers much more than just unpaid final wages.  This law also affects the employee's right to breaks and specific pay dates.  It also prohibits some employer wage reductions and withholdings from the employee's wages.  All of this means that many of the specific protections workers enjoy in Tennessee are now enforceable only through the Tennessee Department of Labor.

Thursday, 25 April 2013 08:41

By: Kelsey Walton and James Becker

In the aftermath of the recent bombin in Boston, our country saw an unparalleled manhunt which shut down a metropolis for an entire day. The Boston police along with state and national services eventually found the bombing suspect after a chase that involved heavy gun fire and the suspects hurling explosives at officers. Everyone in the country was on the edge of their seat following the developments of Thursday night to Friday morning.  After officers pulled the suspect from a boat in a residential area, he was rushed to the hospital for gunshot injuries. Boston and America did it; we had caught the bad guy. The question on everyone’s mind then was: Do we treat him as an American citizen that broke the law or an enemy combatant?

While the event certainly brought terror into the streets of an American community and the minds of every American, it is unclear as to if the act qualifies as an act of war or terrorist attack.  As a country, however, we should also look at the deeper question of what it means to be an American citizen.  While we now know that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev will be tried in the civil justice system, as befitting an American citizen, the mere fact of the question means that we should examine where we stand as a people when it comes to questions of terrorism and the treating of people alleged to have broken our laws.

Terrorism, defined by Webster, is “the systematic use of terror especially as a means of coercion”. That is a broad definition, and it can be interpreted in a variety of ways depending on the situation.  Some politicians are calling for Tsarnev to be tried as an enemy combatant because he (along with his now deceased brother) exploded a bomb at the finish line of the Boston marathon.  While I can understand why they see this as an act which caused terror, labelling him as a terrorist and using that label to strip him of his legal rights would likely be entirely against the Constitution and could potentially make our freedoms more limited.

From what we have all read in the reports, Tsarnaev is an average American college kid.  He has friends, goes to the gym, and according to his friends, showed no signs of intent to harm others before or after the bombing.  The older Tsarnaev brother, who was shot and killed by police Thursday night, had been investigated in 2011 for his radical Islamic beliefs by the FBI, but he was never put into custody.  Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, hospitalized for his injuries, is cooperating with the police and has reportedly stated that the two worked alone and were not affiliated with any international terrorist organization.  It is becoming clearer by the day that the Tsarnaev brothers are not working with Al Qaeda and trying to terrorize the United States in the name of a radical Islamic revolution.  We are not dealing with an international terrorist with links to other hostile groups. We are dealing with American citizens that decided to cause destruction and death. It doesn’t take one long to remember this is not the first time American citizens caused domestic terror - it's not even the only time in this decade.

Jared Loughner, the shooter in the 2011 Tucson tragedy, was motivated by politics and insanity to shoot Representative Gabby Giffords severely injuring her as well as killing and injuring others.  He did this at a public gathering at a shopping center.  He certainly caused terror.  James Holmes, the Aurora Colorado shooter, opened fire with multiple assault weapons and high capacity magazines into a crowded movie theatre killing and injuring seventy men, women, and children. He also set explosive traps in his apartment to kill the officers investigating his apartment.  Again, this was a very public display of violence that killed far more people than the Boston bombings did.  James Holmes certainly caused terror.  Adam Lanza brutally and mercilessly murdered twenty children and eight teachers and administrators in a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school.  Again attacking a public place and again causing terror.  There was never a discussion of any of these individuals being labelled as terrorists and neither Mr. Loughner nor Mr. Holmes were suggested to be enemy combatants.

The main point to take away from this is that the labels we apply to people and events have meaning.  The label we almost applied to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev was enemy combatant.  However, American citizens, whatever their brutal crime may be, cannot be detained as enemy combatants not only because of constitutional rights but also due to the implications of labeling citizens as enemy combatants.  Despite our strong emotions towards the victims and wanting retribution, we live in an America where every citizen, born on the soil or naturalized later in life, is innocent until proven guilty and entitled to due process.  While the evidence points to the two suspects of the bombings as the most likely candidates for guilty, we cannot prove that guilt until Tsarnaev is tried in the same court system as every other American criminal.

At the Becker Law Firm, we work with client who have been given labels and those labels are causing some sort of pain.  Whether it is an employee labelled as a slacker because of a worker's compensation injury or labelled with some racist or sexist slur, those labels hury and have to be removed.  Even in the family law area we see the application of labels.  A man might be labelled as the worse parent because he is a man or someone might have made a mistake and be labelled as a cheating spouse.  In each case, these labels are harmful and people tend to use them as shortcuts to pass judgment.  Using labels as shortcuts to pass judgment is not only harmful, but it also is not the way our system of justice (whether criminal or civil) is to work.  As lawyers, we stand at the gates to make sure that labels get removed and do not get used as shortcuts to pass judgment on a person.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013 14:38

Are you unemployed or going through a divorce?  Both of these are situations that we see in our Memphis law practice every day and we have found that finding something to occupy our client's time  not only helps his or her mental state, but also can have multiple beneficial results.

Finding a job these days is harder than it has been due to many factors in and out of a person’s control.  Memphis has a current unemployment rate of 9.3 percent which is well above the national average of 7.7 percent.  While the outlook may be unnerving, some without a job are gravitating towards volunteering to fill not only their time but also their spirit.

Non-profit organizations in the Memphis area need extra hands on a daily basis, and those without a job can help fulfill that need.  The concept of working for free while not having a job seems preposterous to some while others find giving up their free time to help others as rewarding as a pay check.

One young Memphian decided to quit her job and build something bigger than a career.  Sarah Petschonek, a PhD in industrial organizational psychology, started a blog in late 2012 about mission to volunteer for thirty days in the Memphis area.  Petschonek started ”Thirty Days of Mission Memphis Line Up” in an attempt to encourage those unemployed to volunteer at various Memphis organizations.  Her blog can be found at http://confessionsofavolunteer.com/to-do/

Petschonek’s commitment to volunteerism inspired others to do the same.  Four Memphis bloggers began a volunteer placement organization called Volunteer Odyssey.  Volunteer Odyssey places enthusiastic volunteers into a specifically preferred non-profit organization for a seven day period. Volunteer Odyssey is open to anyone willing to give up seven days to volunteer, but it is targeted towards those in the job searching process.  The program gives those without a job a step up in the job search as well as experience.  Volunteering for the unemployed is a win-win for everyone and a sustainable process for those in need, both of basic necessities and a job. Volunteer Odyssey’s webpage can be found here: http://volunteerodyssey.com/

There are plenty of volunteer organizations that desperately need help from those willing to work.  Are you passionate about helping abandoned animals?  There’s a volunteer organizationa for that.

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Friends-of-Memphis-Animal-Services/73650772780?sk=info

Are you sympathetic to the homeless and feel the need to do something more than hand a guy on the corner your change from your $5 latte?  There are volunteer opportunities for that.

http://www.memphisunionmission.org/

There are non-profits for that. Are you grossed out by the amount of pollution going into the Mississppi River?  There are volunteer opportunities for that, too.

 http://www.livinglandsandwaters.org/get-involved/

While unemployment is no doubt a burden on a person’s life and the overall economy, it doesn’t have to mean a loss of purpose.  In a city like Memphis with recognized social issues such as poverty, crime and pollution, you could easily be a passive citizen simply waiting for a call for a job interview, or you could choose to be an active citizen searching for a job while helping others in the process.  As citizens of the volunteer state, we should not let that reputation die with a high unemployment rate.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012 09:54

Imagine that you work in human resources and  the CEO of your company comes up to you and asks if it's okay to choke an employee with whom the CEO is angry.  What do you tell him?  Sure, go ahead, our lawyers were complaining about the lack of work?  Now imagine that you are the lawyer and the case lands in your lap to defend the CEO who decided that it was okay to choke a subordinate.  That is exactly what is playing out right now in state court in Los Angeles.

The CEO for American Apparel, Dov Charney, is accused of choking a store manager, only stopping when the manager began to gag.  According to the complaint, Mr. Charney called the employee's store initially, yelling at him and calling him a "f-----g long-haired wannabe Jew!"  It is alleged that Mr. Charney went on to tell him to get his "f-----g s--t together" and to "get some f-----g girls to stand [by the road] and have them waive a f-----g American flag."  The choking incident is alleged to have occurred when Mr. Charney met with the manager and got upset about some issue with inventory.  

This same  CEO has previously been sued on other charges of workplace harassment, including complaints of sexual harassment.  Most of these charges were settled out of court.

All of this leads to the question about what is permissible in dealing with employees?  Obviously, choking is not a good answer as it is likely to end up in a lawsuit.  However, what about the verbal tirades that are alleged to have preceded the choking incident?  Under Tennessee law, there is nothing illegal about yelling at or cursing your employees.  While that sort of conduct may not lead directly to a lawsuit, it does set a precedent for the workplace that has a high potential to lead to a harassment lawsuit.  In my Memphis employment law practice, I routinely consult with employees who have worked in this type of environment and are wanting to make some sort of complaint about the conduct.  Sometimes there is nothing in the conduct that is illegal.  However, many times where there is this type of smoke, there is also a fire that results in litigation.  This winds up costing the business not just cash for settlement and attorney fees, but also lost productivity and breeding additional litigation.

Whenever a manager is considering disciplining an employee, the most important part is the "considering."  If you take time, think about the conduct and discipline and then talk over the discipline with either your lawyer or at least a human resources professional, the discipline will take a constructive form.  Constructive discipline, that is discipline which teaches what was wrong and what needs to be corrected is much less likely to end up in litigation.  Given the allegations of the California complaint, this is a lesson from which the CEO of American Apparel could benefit.

Becker Law Firm • 5100 Poplar Ave Ste 2606 • Memphis, TN 38137 • Phone: 901.881.6205
Becker Law Office of Memphis, Tennessee represents clients in the Metro Area and West Tennessee, including Cordova, Germantown, Collierville, Lakeland, Millington, Somerville, Covington, Paris, Nashville, Savannah, Jackson, Union City, Dyersburg, McKenzie and all communities of Shelby County, Fayette County and Tipton County.
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