State Policymakers Battle over Doctrine While Real People Suffer

Toy SoldiersIt is the job of every state policymaker to consider and enact laws and policies that serve the greater good of their constituents. Yet earlier this week a New York Times editorial called out Illinois and Kansas as the leading examples of states where policymakers are doing harm instead of good. Illinois is in a record ten-month budget impasse that is eroding much of its educational and social services systems. Kansas, for its part, has deliberately blown up its revenue system, and thus also its schools and social services infrastructure. 

Governor Brownback has led Kansas into implementing the longtime dream of conservative free market zealots—lower state taxes that will supposedly stimulate business activity, which will in turn increase  state tax revenue. (George H.W. Bush called this “voodoo economics” when he was running against Ronald Reagan.) This economic theory has never succeeded in practice. Sure enough, Kansas is no exception. Reality has stubbornly rejected the doctrine, and Kansas is a mess. Governor Brownback’s Republican allies are increasingly restless as their districts suffer.

Governor Rauner’s approach has been a bit different. He argues that his policy agenda of eroding protections for workers and weakening organized labor will produce a business boom. And he asserts that this boom will drive an increase in state revenues to replace the lost income taxes he insisted on allowing to sunset. He has steadfastly demanded that Democrats enact his anti-labor agenda before he will negotiate with them on needed new state revenues. 

It is not clear whether Governor Rauner, like Governor Brownback, intends to damage the state’s social services infrastructure or whether he regards it as a regrettable but acceptable price to pay for forcing passage of his policy agenda. In either case, at this point, ten months into the budget impasse, Illinois is damaging its systems by default much as Kansas is damaging its systems apparently on purpose.            

Last week Illinois passed stopgap funding for its universities and two- and four-year colleges and their students, and Governor Rauner signed it. So Illinois has temporarily dodged that bullet, and perhaps the agreement on this legislation is a sign of progress towards a responsible budget. 

But there is much more damage being done. In January, the United Way of Illinois (UWI) surveyed 444 social service providers throughout Illinois that rely on state funding, and nearly half of the agencies surveyed reported that they had to make cuts because of the impasse. Of those that were forced to make cuts, an overwhelming majority—85%—had to do so by scaling back on the number of clients they serve. For example, as of March, at least 3,200 homebound seniors had lost home-delivered hot meals statewide.

Service agencies have been forced to lay off many of their experienced and talented staff, perhaps never to get them back. Earlier this year, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI)—the largest social service provider in the state—announced it would cut 750 jobs, 43% of its workforce. All 29 agencies serving sexual assault survivors in Illinois have either instituted furloughs or left unfilled positions vacant—leaving survivors throughout the state without the services that are essential for their well-being. And at least 18 Teen REACH programs—which mentor, tutor and provide a safe place for at-risk children after school—have closed. Thousands of at-risk children and their families have thus lost critical after-school programming.

Much of this is permanent damage, not easily or perhaps ever remedied by an end to the budget impasse. Once a program has been dismantled—its staff reduced, its relationships with clients deteriorated, its sites closed, its cash reserves exhausted—it is incredibly difficult, expensive, and perhaps impossible to put it back together. And this can be said more broadly of the social service delivery system in Illinois; even once full funding has been restored, the State of Illinois won’t be able to simply flip a switch and return to business as usual.

Whether or not Governor Rauner intends it, whether or not he is as ideological as Governor Brownback, the emerging reality is that much damage is already done. Soon the question of whether Governor Rauner merely assigns a very low value to vital social services programs or is actively hostile to them will be solely academic. 

 

Tenants’ Right to Organize in HUD-Assisted Housing Must Be Enforced

Crowd of peopleThe right to organize to improve your community is a fundamental hallmark of American life.  Yet low-income tenants who live in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-assisted properties, and the community organizers who seek to empower them, often face harassment and retaliation for attempting to organize to improve their housing.

Often working in tandem with community organizers, residents of HUD-assisted housing come together to form associations that represent the interests of all tenants in the housing development. Tenant associations play an important role in ensuring that resident voices are included in decision making made about the long-term affordability and quality of their homes.

Unfortunately, too frequently, property owners and managers do not respect tenants’ right to organize. In Texas, community organizers have been threatened with arrest for meeting with tenants on the property. In Michigan, a retaliatory fee was levied for use of the community room because lawyers and organizers sought to use it to work with tenants. In Illinois, a property manager refused to allow tenants to hold a tenant association election.

Perhaps most egregiously, in New York City, a large property management company proudly proclaims its policy of attempting to defuse tenant organizations by “discourag[ing] tenants from organizing into action groups” and ensuring that “such situations are identified early and the leaders are spoken to individually and at length.” This policy calls into serious question the management company’s compliance with, and respect for, HUD’s regulations, which provide for strong tenant participation rights. Yet, even when this blatant policy was brought to HUD’s attention, the online posting—and the property management’s ability to continue to operate in this fashion—remains unaddressed.

HUD regulations, at 24 C.F.R. part 245, recognize the importance of tenant participation in creating and maintaining good living environments. HUD requires owners and property managers to recognize tenant associations and organizing committees and to not interfere with any actions reasonably related to the creation or operation of a tenant association. The regulations specifically allow tenants to conduct protected activities, including canvassing, distributing flyers, and holding on-site tenant meetings without management interference. These protections extend to non-tenant community organizers, as well.

HUD recently published a notice that explains the procedure that HUD officials are supposed to follow when a violation of the right to organize is brought to their attention, including the imposition of sanctions when an investigation shows that tenants’ rights are being interfered with. Yet, HUD has never issued a notice of violation to an owner despite serious and widespread violations, allowing owners to violate the regulations with impunity.

While this is a longstanding issue, a recent HUD-funded program that partners lawyers with community organizers has increased awareness of violations of the right to organize and resulted in more complaints to HUD. The program provides legal and community organizing support to tenant associations to preserve, improve, and maintain their housing. Along with the National Housing Law Project, the Shriver Center has sent a letter to HUD illustrating the variety of violations throughout the country and including recommendations for how to protect the right to organize.

HUD must protect tenants’ right to organize and participate in protected tenant association activities. When owners and management threaten tenants with eviction, threaten community organizers with arrest, and deny access to on-site meeting space, these actions weaken the organizing effort at the building. Too often, when faced with retaliatory actions by management, tenants are afraid to participate because they are fearful of losing their homes. Until HUD begins to hold owners accountable, the right to organize and participate in many HUD-funded multifamily housing developments will remain elusive. 

Why Your ERISA Appeal Is So Important

In a previous blog, we discussed the steps you need to take if you have a long term disability claim through a policy provided by your employer, before you hire an attorney. This blog will piggy back on that one, focusing on why the appeal itself is so important and more, why the quality of the evidence you submit during that appeal will make or break your claim.

Under the federal regulations governing ERISA claims, and the cases that have interpreted those regulations, your appeal is the only opportunity you will have to get evidence of your disability into your claim file. (There are a few exceptions to this general rule but for purposes of most cases, the appeal is it).

While you do have a right to litigate your claim once you have exhausted your administrative remedies under the plan, you do not have the right to testify, call witnesses or present new evidence to the judge. All the judge will see, if your claim goes that far, is the evidence that was submitted during your administrative appeal. Thus, the type and quality of the evidence you submit during your appeal is crucial to a successful claim.

Each case is different but some general guidelines about the type of evidence are:

(1) Submit copies of your medical records – these will help to provide objective proof of your disabling condition;
(2) Submit a letter of support from one or more of your treating physicians – your doctor can best describe your symptoms and their impact on your ability to perform the duties of your own occupation;
(3) Submit objective measures of your condition – depending on the type of disabling condition you have - tests like Functional Capacity Evaluations, X-Rays, MRI’s Neuropsychological Examinations and Vocational Assessments also help to support your claim.

We have posted a checklist on our website of things to consider when handling you own appeal. (Click on the word "checklist" to find it.)

If your disability claim has been denied, contact Kantor & Kantor for a no-cost consultation.

We understand and we can help.
www.kantorlaw.net (800) 446-7529

The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force Recommendations Are Important for Racial Justice Beyond the Criminal Justice System

Police carAlmost two years ago, the Shriver Center pointed to the racial injustice embedded within the criminal justice system and urged that a new understanding of implicit bias could produce reforms that would prevent deaths like that of Michael Brown in a police shooting in Ferguson. Over the past few years we have seen many grassroots movements primarily led by young black organizations draw national attention to this longstanding epidemic. Last week, the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force, formed in response to the similar shooting of Laquan MacDonald, urged the City of Chicago and its police department to “acknowledge the force’s history of racial disparity and discrimination.” In its final report, the Task Force states that racism, which stems in part from our city’s long history of residential segregation, “undermines the Chicago Police Department’s relationship to the community.” The Task Force put forth thoughtful recommendations to reform the current policies and practices that have debilitated the public's trust in police in Chicago and across the country. These included recommendations to:

  • create localized Community Empowerment and Engagement Districts (CEED) that collaborate with local stakeholders to develop tailored community policing strategies;
  • implement a data driven, best-in-class Early Intervention System for the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to identify officers with problems before they become problems for the community; and
  • establish a Deputy Chief of Diversity and Inclusion for CPD.

The task force report echoes community voices that have long been clamoring for such reforms, but have not until now been heeded by policymakers. The findings and recommendations of the Task Force are a call for action not just for Chicago but also for the nation.

Reforming the racially biased and discriminatory criminal justice system is important well beyond law enforcement. Arrests and convictions also sentence people to a lifetime of disadvantages and impenetrable barriers to
housing, employment, public benefits, and voting and derail them from having a fair chance in this country. While our nation has made progress in acknowledging these collateral consequences of involvement in the criminal justice system, there is a long way to go for all of these other systems on the civil side to end blanket reliance on criminal records. Blanket bans based on criminal records are unjust even when the original criminal involvement was a legitimate conviction. They are exponentially worse when the original criminal involvement was the unjust result of a racially biased and discriminatory criminal justice system.   

The actions of law enforcement officials have an important effect on youths of color. The task force describes CPD's relationship with youths of color as “antagonistic to say the least.” By acknowledging the random but pervasive physical and verbal abuse youths in communities of color experience from police, the task force draws attention to aspects of policing that do not make headline news, but nonetheless foster a relationship of distrust between police departments and the people they serve. Many black youths do not see the police as an institution that protects them. High school students on Chicago’s South Side discuss everyday instances of harassment that are too minor to merit the involvement of a civil rights lawyer but substantial enough to illegitimatize the police force collectively as a trusted source of protection. These negative encounters infiltrate every aspect of these students’ day—on their way to school, at school, and even at home. This common experience of youths of color throughout the country leads them to feel dehumanized and singled out as criminals in every aspect of their lives. 

While racial bias has severe implications within every profession, within the police it pulls a lever that starts an assembly line leading toward involvement in the criminal justice system that transforms people of color into second-class citizens. That assembly line is lubricated by a code of silence that prevents good officers from slowing the process down, fixing it, or stopping it. It is not enough for leaders to admit that there is sanctioned racial bias and discrimination within the system, furthered by a code of silence. The department needs to create a professional environment where accountability can thrive and racial bias can be acknowledged and eliminated.

The task force report is a call to action.  Its implementation through effective and sustainable action is an important measure of the commitment of the City of Chicago and this nation to make a fair chance not just a privilege for the few, but a birthright for all. 

 

Life Insurance Companies Investigated for Not Paying Claims

Don't ever assume that you Life Insurance policy will pay benefits to your beneficiaries.

Why? Because so often, benefits are not paid. We know this is true because we are in the business of suing insurance companies when they fail to pay valid claims. But, most people never imagine that a valid life insurance claim won't get paid. Most of the problems we see at our firm involve insurance companies failing to pay life insurance benefits based on allegations of such things as fraud in procuring the policy, or that the policy was not properly applied for through an individual's employer. Insurance companies often make these assertions without good faith, or without having performed a full and fair investigation of the facts. And often, when we challenge the insurance benefit denial, we get benefits paid for our clients.

But, what happens when someone doesn't even know they are the beneficiary of a life insurance policy? Should the insurance company make an attempt to contact beneficiaries when they have knowledge an insured has died? Most state laws say "yes." Should insurance companies continue to collect premiums (from policies with cash value) when they know an insured has died? Common sense, and the law, say "no." Yet many insurance companies have been doing exactly what they should not be doing, and have realized mind-boggling profits by doing so. The television show, 60 minutes, ran a segment last night revealing these unfair practices. Florida Insurance Commissioner, Kevin McCarty, led the national task force investigating the industry. He explains as a result of the investigation, twenty five of the nation's biggest life insurance companies agreed to pay more than 7 and a half billion dollars in back death benefits. For more information on the 60 minutes piece, click here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/60-minutes-life-insurance-investigation-lesley-stahl/

You may be able to check if you are owed any money by an insurance company (or other entity) by clicking here: http://www.unclaimed.org/

If, on the other hand, you have already made a claim for life insurance benefits from MetLife, Prudential, Anthem Life, Transamerica, or any other life insurance company, and your claim is being delayed or denied, call us. We can probably help. Consultations are absolutely free, and we handle matters on a contingency basis everywhere in the state of California and even neighboring states. So, no recovery, no fee. (877) 783-8686

A Reason to Celebrate Tax Day

By the end of the day on Monday, April 18, the federal government will have lifted roughly 10 million people — 5.3 million of whom are children — out of poverty, and made poverty less severe for some 20 million others.

Well, kind of.

April 18 marks Tax Day, the due date for federal tax returns. And while just about all of us grumble about paying taxes, it’s also an opportunity to acknowledge all of the important services that our tax dollars make possible — from public schooling, to consumer protection, to transportation infrastructure, and beyond. And this year, we should reserve special praise for one of our most potent anti-poverty tools — tax credits for working families.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) are refundable tax credits targeted mostly at low- and moderate-income working families. The size of the credits are tied to one’s family size, marital status, and income. These tax credits reduce the amount recipients owe in taxes to the federal government — and, if the credit for which a family qualifies exceeds their tax liability, the difference is refunded to them.

So, by the time tax season has officially ended, over 27 million families will have qualified for an average EITC benefit of $3,074. Even more families will have qualified for an average CTC benefit of $1,016.

Though these tax credits bolster the economic security of millions of working families — above and below the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) — they are particularly important for the working poor. In fact, they have become one of the federal government’s most effective anti-poverty measures. According to a recent U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) report assessing the effectiveness of the social safety net over the last 50 years, these tax credits, among all other programs, did the second most to reduce overall poverty in 2014. For children, they did the most to stave off deprivation.

On top of their immediate anti-poverty impact, these tax credits have also been shown to have various other positive, longer-lasting effects — particularly for children in recipient households. Research has linked income from tax credit benefits to improved infant and maternal health, better academic performance among elementary and middle school students, greater likelihood of college enrollment, and higher earnings in future generations.

The EITC and CTC are, in short, investments that yield returns now and in the future.

But they haven’t always been this effective. In 2009, as part of the economic stimulus package, lawmakers made a few key temporary improvements to the credits that, all told, boosted their anti-poverty reach by 20 percent.

These improvements, however, were set to expire in 2017, when the tax credits would have reverted to their pre-2009 status. Had this happened, over 50 million people, 25 million of whom are children, would have suffered financially. Millions would have been pushed into — or deeper into — poverty.

Recognizing the critical role these provisions play in bolstering the economic security of millions, Congress — in a rare moment of bipartisanship — made these improvements permanent just a few months ago. This marked one of the largest anti-poverty victories in the last 20 years.

While this was a huge step forward for millions of working families, Congress missed an opportunity to fix major flaws in these credits. The EITC, for one, completely misses many low-wage workers without children and does very little for those it does reach. As a result, childless low-wage workers remain the lone group of Americans taxed into poverty by the federal government. Moreover, households with income less than $3,000 annually are completely ineligible for the refundable portion of the CTC. This leaves many families — whose budgets are the tightest — locked out of this critical income support.

Yet despite their shortcomings, the EITC and CTC are incredibly effective. And their success and unrealized potential underscores the role that government has to play in alleviating poverty and promoting prosperity. While these tax credits are particularly powerful, they are only a single part of that broader effort. Other safety net programs and investments are essential, too. The close of tax season should serve as a reminder that, though our tax dollars might support a lot of important efforts, ensuring that everyone has the resources necessary to achieve their full potential is perhaps chief among them.

Trevor Brown contributed to this blog.

 

Kantor & Kantor LLP Files Class Action Lawsuit On Behalf of Chronic Hepatitis C Patients Against Blue Shield of California

On October 30, 2015, Kantor & Kantor LLP filed a class action lawsuit against Blue Shield of California. Later we amended the complaint to include “California Physicians’ Service doing business as Blue Shield of California.” Both Defendants are being sued for their unlawful denial of coverage and refusal to pay for “Harvoni,” an amazing drug that can seemingly cure chronic Hepatitis C (also sometimes referred to as “CHC”). Harvoni, developed by Gilead Sciences, Inc., is now viewed by doctors as a medically necessary treatment for Hepatitis C.

About Hepatitis C and Harvoni

Hepatitis C is a widespread contagious disease that can lead to severe liver damage, cancer, and even death. In October 2014, the United States Food and Drug Administration approved Harvoni for the treatment of Hepatitis C. Harvoni is the first drug approved for the treatment of chronic Hepatitis C that does not require combination with other drugs, and can effectively cure chronic Hepatitis C in 94% to 100% of cases with little to no side effects.

Alleged Unlawful Conduct

Notwithstanding the life-saving treatment offered to CHC patients by Harvoni, Defendants have unlawfully limited Plaintiff’s and class members’ access to this drug by developing arbitrary coverage criteria.

As detailed in the complaint, Plaintiff and class members were diagnosed with Hepatitis C and prescribed Harvoni by their physicians. Defendants then unjustifiably and unlawfully denied coverage of Harvoni for its insureds. As a result, Plaintiff and class members have been and continue to be irreparably damaged by Defendants’ denial of coverage for the Harvoni treatment.

If you or someone you know was denied Harvoni treatment by Blue Shield of California, or by any insurance company or HMO, and would like our help, or just have questions, please contact us today at 877-783-8686 or by email at help@kantorlaw.net.

HUD’s Giant Leap: Secretary Castro Connects Civil Rights, Criminal Records, and Color

Taking the bold action that so many have been waiting for, Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro announced today that criminal records screening may violate the civil rights of racial minorities who are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. This game-changing guidance applies not only to federally subsidized housing, but to landlords on the private rental market as well.

House made of puzzle piecesThe importance of this moment cannot be stressed enough. Up until now, HUD’s discussions about the problems of criminal record screening have been centered on giving second chances and reunifying families. Critical as these reasons are, the elephant in the room has always been race. Given that the vast majority of people involved at all stages of the criminal justice system are overwhelmingly people of color, criminal records screening amplifies racial disparities, which, if unjustified, runs counter to the promises made by the Fair Housing Act. For a long time, HUD avoided this conversation—until now.

HUD should be commended for seizing the opportunity to release this guidance when it would have been politically easier to let this moment to slip by. We have in the past criticized HUD for allowing housing protections to lag behind those in the employment sector, where the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has long held that blanket bans on the basis of criminal arrests and convictions raise serious civil rights concerns. Acknowledging HUD’s steps in this area, such as the 2011 letters from Secretary Donovan, we kept finding ourselves asking for more in our Illinois report, our national report, and various letters to HUD. Fortunately, however, in the past year and a half, the momentum has been steadily building toward HUD’s official policy change.

First, there was the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2015 affirmation of the disparate impact theory as a means of proving discrimination under the Fair Housing Act, followed shortly by HUD’s publication of the final rule on affirmatively furthering fair housing. Giving HUD much of the legal justification for today’s guidance, these important events took place during a time of unprecedented hand wringing over our country’s damaging overreliance on mass incarceration. Reversing the “tough on crime” rhetoric of the 1990s, politicians are now coming together to fix this broken system, and President Obama has been granting clemency to those who have spent too much time in prison. It is only natural, then, that HUD step in to ensure that these men and women end up not on the street, but rather in stable housing that will help keep them from returning to the criminal justice system.

So then how does this guidance protect the fair housing rights of people with criminal records?

First, it makes clear that housing providers commit a Fair Housing Act violation when they intentionally use their criminal records policies to discriminate against people on the basis of race or other protected classes. Examples of such practices can be found in a 2015 report by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Center, which encountered landlords who divulged more relaxed screening policies for white applicants and more stringent policies for black applicants.

The bulk of the new guidance concentrates on how a criminal records policy, though facial neutral may nevertheless violate the Fair Housing Act under the disparate impact theory. This analysis has three steps.

First, the plaintiff must show that the criminal records policy has a discriminatory effect on a protected class, usually through data showing the stark racial disparities present in the criminal justice system.

If the plaintiff proves discriminatory effect, it becomes the housing provider’s job to justify its criminal records policy. It is not enough for a housing provider to simply say that excluding people with criminal records improves public safety; the provider must back up these assertions with evidence. HUD declares:

Bald assertions based on generalizations or stereotypes that any individual with an arrest or conviction record poses a greater risk than any individual without such a record are not sufficient to satisfy this burden.

A housing provider will have a difficult time justifying an arrest record ban under this standard, because arrests provide proof of a person has been suspected of criminal activity, not that the person actually committed criminal activity. Notably, the guidance also stresses that this analysis applies to policies that exclude people on the basis of convictions, even if the policy covers some but not all convictions. Such an analysis takes care and nuance, and HUD’s willingness to highlight these potentially gray areas demonstrates its commitment to ensuring fair policies for people with criminal records.

Finally, if the housing provider has provided a substantial, legitimate, and nondiscriminatory justification for its criminal records policy, then the task falls on the plaintiff to offer a less discriminatory alternative policy. Here, HUD strongly suggests that a less discriminatory alternative to blanket bans is “individualized assessment of relevant mitigating information beyond that contained in an individual’s criminal record” and that delaying such assessments until after an applicant’s other qualifications (e.g., financial) are established will likely save housing providers in terms of the administrative costs of such assessments.

Fifty years ago, Dr. Martin Luther King led the Chicago Freedom Movement to, among other things, desegregate housing in the City of Chicago, and this movement helped spur the Fair Housing Act of 1968. By taking a stand to protect the fair housing rights of everyone, including people with criminal records, HUD has made an important contribution to that legacy today. We thank HUD and Secretary Castro for finally putting words into action. Our nation is better for it.


 

It’s Time to Make the Gender Wage Gap History

Twenty-one cents on the dollar.

This is the striking yet typical disparity in pay, relative to men, that millions of working women faced last year.

This month, as we mark Women’s History Month and celebrate the many strides made towards gender equity, we should renew our commitment to closing the gender wage gap and ensuring that all women are able to achieve their full earning potential.

From the late 1970’s into the early 2000’s, much headway was made in closing the gap in median annual pay between full-time working men and women. But progress on reaching pay equity has all but stalled, and the wage gap has stubbornly endured, at about the same size, since 2005. Gendered pay inequity has indeed remained a fixture of the U.S. economy, persisting in nearly every occupation and at every level of educational attainment. And, as it always has, the gap hits women of color the hardest: for every dollar that a white male earns, African-American women earn only 63 cents, and Latinas and Hispanic women, just 54 cents.

So what continues to drive this disparity?

Certainly, as many rightfully point out, blatant discrimination explains a lot of it. Researchers estimate that sex discrimination could account for as much as 41% of the gap. Many women simply aren’t receiving equal pay for equal work.

But there’s more to the wage gap than just wage discrimination for the same or similar jobs.

For one, adult women, and particularly women of color, are wildly overrepresented in low- and minimum-wage industries. Of the 23 million workers who occupy positions that pay $10.50 per hour or less, two-thirds are women, and just under a third are women of color. These women have suffered greatly from wage stagnation in recent decades, due in large part to an eroding federal minimum wage — which, in terms of purchasing power, has lost a quarter of its value since 1968. Wages for these workers aren’t merely low; they are frankly unlivable.

This heavy concentration of women in low-wage work is indicative of the occupational segregation that pervades the labor market more broadly. While many of the formal barriers that kept women from working in professions traditionally occupied by men have been torn down, stereotypes about jobs at which women and men “naturally” excel still segregate industries by gender at every skill level of employment. Whether it’s driving a truck, laboring in construction, or undertaking a STEM career, women are discouraged, explicitly and implicitly, from pursuing these and other nontraditional occupations — even though they are qualified to do so. Instead, they are concentrated in industries and fill occupations that are important — as home health aides, administrative assistants, registered nurses — but not as remunerative.

But even within relatively integrated industries, men tend to be situated in positions higher up on the pay scale. For example, in the restaurant industry, men comprise 48% of the workforce, but are 54% of the managers and 86% of the head cooks. Women, on the other hand, hold an outsized share of lower-paying, front-line service jobs — like cashiering and waiting tables.

On top of facing a hefty wage penalty for doing “women’s” work, women are also hit with an undue tax on caregiving. In the United States, women shoulder most of the unpaid caregiving labor. And, as a result, they are often forced to leave or spend less time in the labor market — sacrificing earnings, work experience, and even promotions.

While the causes of the gender wage gap might be more pernicious than often acknowledged, the consequences are quite clear: these disparities in earnings undermine the financial security of not only women, but also their families, year in and year out, all the way into retirement.

The effects are particularly deleterious for women in low-wage industries. These workers, in addition to receiving unlivable pay, are less likely to have access to prerequisites that help balance work-family life and are also more vulnerable to pregnancy discrimination. For these women, calling off sick to take care of an ill child or being prematurely forced into unpaid maternity leave can be devastating. As the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) points out, the wage gap and its constitutive elements push millions of these women and their families into, or deeper into, poverty.

So what’s to be done?

The complexity and high stakes of the gender wage gap demand an urgent, multi-pronged policy offensive. They include, strengthening education and training for nontraditional jobs would undermine the negative effects of occupational segregation. Paid sick leave, fair and predictable work schedules, and access to high-quality, affordable childcare would go a long way in ensuring that women aren’t penalized for caregiving responsibilities. Raising the minimum wage and indexing it to inflation would improve the economic security of millions of women. And, of course, policies that demand more transparency from employers and strengthen workers’ ability to raise discrimination claims would help root out discrimination in the workplace.

Women have made significant progress in the workforce in the last half century. Yet, as the persistence of the gender wage gap suggests, there is still much progress to be made. The financial security of millions of workers and their families is at stake. It’s time to make the gender wage gap history.

Trevor Brown contributed to this blog post.
 

ERISA Long Term Disability Victory

Most ERISA disability policies state that the insurer has “discretionary authority” to make all decisions regarding whether to award or deny disability benefits.  If the policy contains this “discretionary authority” provision then the disability claimant can usually only overcome a denial if we are able to prove that the denial was: 1) wrong; and 2) the decision was arbitrary and capricious.  This is an extremely difficult burden to meet.  “Wrong” is not enough.   It has to be wrong, and arbitrary and capricious.

In a disability case we have been handling against Life Insurance Company of North America, the policy stated that LINA had “discretionary authority” to make all decisions regarding whether an insured was disabled.  However, yesterday we were able to convince a federal judge that this reservation of “discretionary authority” was invalid under state law.  Thus, instead of an arbitrary and capricious standard, the standard was much lower.

This is the first time in the country that any lawyer has been able to convince a court to strike the entire discretionary review provision from an ERISA LTD policy.

The Judge then went on to overturn LINA’s denial of LTD benefits for a complete victory for our client.

Obviously, this was a huge victory for our client in this individual case.  But, importantly, this was also a huge victory for all insureds who have LINA policies.

I would like to congratulate my law partner Greg Swartwood on this tremendous victory for our well deserving client.  This case will make a huge difference in the live of many people in the future.