College Football Players on Scholarship Deemed “Employees” With Right to Unionize

College Football Players on Scholarship Deemed Employees With Right to Unionize

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an unexpected decision surprising many, including football fans,  Chicago-area NLRB Regional Director Peter Sung Ohr has determined that Northwestern University football players who receive grant-in-aid are in fact employees of the University with the right to organize and form a union.

College sports programs across the country have for years adamantly asserted that student athletes are students, not employees, and that grant, scholarship, or other financial support is student aid, rather than compensation for athletic services. However, in evaluating the case, Ohr concluded that the Northwestern football program eclipsed the athlete’s other obligations, and that the University exercised enough control over football players to render them employees. Specifically, Ohr pointed to the following:

  • The fact that football players are not considered for admission unless and until they are recruited by the head coach;
  • The control exercised by coaches “over nearly every aspect of the players’ private lives” under threat of losing scholarships if they violate rules;
  • The large number of hours devoted to football related activities, which were approximately 40-50 hours per week during the season and 50-60 hours per week during training camp;
  • The fact that players under scholarship may not miss practice or games to attend class.

The Regional Director found that the players are under the University’s “strict and exacting control” throughout the entire year. He noted that football players are expected to adhere to detailed daily itineraries prepared by the coaches that specify “the location, duration, and manner” in which the players carry out their various football duties. Ohr further concluded that, unlike other students, football players are also subject to special rules, restrictions, and policies, including housing restrictions and mandatory study hall if they fail to maintain a certain GPA.

Northwestern has acknowledged the ruling and says it plans to appeal to the NLRB; their deadline to do so is April 9, 2014. Absent success in this challenge, Northwestern University grant-in-aid scholarship recipients in its football program will be entitled to conduct an NLRB election to determine whether they wish to elect a labor organization to represent them in their relationship with the University.

College Football Players on Scholarship Deemed Employees With Right to Unionize

No Fee Cuts for Consumers & Small Business: U.S. Court of Appeals Refuses to Uphold Consumer Debit Card Fee Cuts Mandated by Congress

The nation’s largest banks and federal reserve were dealt another victory last week when a federal appeals court refused to uphold a lower court decision involving cuts to consumer swipe debit card fees.

No Fee Cuts for Consumers & Small Business: U.S. Court of Appeals Refuses to Uphold Consumer Debit Card Fee Cuts Mandated by Congress

English: Photo of Debit Card swipe machine from Rest Stop in Framingham, MA by Brian Katt. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As part of the financial regulatory overhaul after the economic crisis, Congress included legislation that intended to put a cap on how much banks could charge retailers when consumers made purchases with debit cards. But they left it to the Federal Reserve to write the rules: The fees were ultimately reduced to about 21 cents a transaction, starting on Oct. 1, 2011, from an average of about 44 cents.

On Friday, March 21, 2014, the U.S. Appeals Court for the District of Columbia issued a ruling refusing to uphold a lower court decision that would have reduced swipe fees for consumers.  “The opinion was a multibillion-dollar gift to the hundred or so largest banks in the country,” said Professor Levitin to the New York Times.  According to Senator Richard J. Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois who wrote the debit card fee legislation, called the ruling a “giveaway to the nation’s most powerful banks and a blow to consumers and small businesses across America.”


No Fee Cuts for Consumers & Small Business: U.S. Court of Appeals Refuses to Uphold Consumer Debit Card Fee Cuts Mandated by Congress

Uber Liability? The Insurance Coverage Dangers of Ride-Sharing Services

Uber Liability? The Insurance Coverage Dangers of Ride Sharing ServicesWhose insurance company protects victims of ride-sharing accidents? For the first time in a long time, novel questions of auto liability insurance coverage are being raised through the growth of ride-sharing apps like Uber, Lyft, Sidecar, or other similar mobile services that connect passengers with drivers of vehicles for hire and offer ridesharing services.

For those of us over the age of 25 or anyone (perhaps willfully) ignorant of the latest crowdsourced venture du jour, a brief introduction to ridesharing services is necessary. The original ridesharing service, Uber, started as a venture-funded start-up and transportation network company founded in San Francisco, California that produces a mobile app connecting passengers to drivers for hire. After Uber received nearly $50 million in funding through groups of angel investors and expanded in major cities across the U.S., several competitors sprung up, including  Lyft, Sidecar, and others.

In the past few months, a problem of insurance coverage has come up due to the occurrence of accidents involving ride-sharing drivers. On New Year’s Eve, January, 2014, a 6-year old girl was killed when an Uber-contracted driver collided with her. Uber completely denied liability, stating that they would not provide coverage because a passenger was not in the driver’s car at the time the accident  happened – meaning, it was not an “official” Uber ride. The accident could have happened on the driver’s way to make a pick-up, between pick-ups, or on a personal trip.  The details are yet unknown.

When accidents happen, the insurance company for the at-fault driver usually picks up and pays for the BI (bodily injury) and PD (property damage) claims. But for ride-sharing services, who is really responsible? The answer may come as a surprise.

In 2012, the California Public Utilities Commission gave Uber and similar transportation network companies a break by allowing them to forego requiring drivers to have commercial liability insurance. However, many personal auto policies do not cover claims for accidents when the driver is transporting passengers. Most policies have exclusions for operation of a vehicle if it is being used “as a public or livery conveyance” – meaning, transporting passengers for pay.  So if Uber disclaims coverage, does not require drivers to have commercial auto coverage, and the coverage falls into an exclusion in the driver’s own personal auto liability policies, who is actually providing the coverage for injured victims? Hearing crickets? Perhaps this article should better be entitled, “More Reasons to Max-Out UIM/UM coverage.”

Unfortunately, drivers who sign up to offer ride-sharing services are often not with the financial means to afford commercial general liability coverage, which can be exponentially higher than personal auto coverage.  Although ride-sharing services are supposed to maintain $1 million of liability insurance, per the requirements of the California Public Utilities Commission, this often does not cover damages to drivers’ cars.  This particular risk affects drivers participating in ride-sharing services, because there is basically no source of insurance funds to pay for repairs to their cars or property damage, if they are hit by an at-fault driver with low or no insurance.

For users of ride-sharing services, the risks of an accident could be amplified due to the apparent lack of solid recourse in the event of a catastrophe. After all, for many ride-sharing services, the terms of use require users to “waive” liability claims. For example, Uber, though founded in San Francisco, has cleverly cast itself as a “Netherlands private limited liability company,” and requires users with any claims against it to sue them in Amsterdam by default.  Good luck with that.  Under its terms of service (which you agree to by using their service, whether you like it or not), Uber also states that users limit Uber’s liability to $500 Euros only. Uber also completely disclaims all liability “in connection with and/or arising from the transportation services provided by the Transportation Provider or any acts, action, behaviour, conduct, and/or negligence on the part of the Transportation Provider.”  So much for corporate responsibility.

Moreover, the usual insurance company suspects that frequently provide auto liability coverage to Americans are also coming up short (anyone surprised?). In a filing with the California Public Utilities Commission in 2012, the Personal Insurance Federation of California, an industry group made up of State Farm, Farmers, Progressive, Allstate, Liberty Mutual, Mercury and Nationwide, said it asked its members to determine how they would treat liability claims in ride-service accidents. In a press release after the CPUC ruling, the Association of California Insurance Companies, a trade association and lobbying group, said, “Both drivers and riders must understand that an accident in a ride-sharing vehicle will not be covered under a personal auto insurance policy.”

All of the foregoing, of course, raises other questions. Are the drivers of ridesharing services  independent contractors or employees? Should drivers who are distracted by the sounds, noises, pings, and notifications on their mobile devices while trying to pick up a ride-sharing passenger be deemed negligent, or should the ride-sharing app bear some responsibility for designing a potentially dangerous product/device? Generally, when victims of an accident are injured by commercial drivers, they sue both the driver as well as the driver’s company.  Can victims of auto accidents involving Uber drivers tack responsibility onto Uber, if it turns out their driver has no valid insurance coverage?  

For the time being, there are no clear or easy answers. Drivers and passengers of ride-sharing apps should all exert caution. As with all matters in the insurance coverage world, with new changes in technology and social developments come new risks, and the great fanfare of offering new insurance policies to sell to unsuspecting citizens is surpassed only by the great labor and energy expended to carefully concoct exclusions with which to deny them.




Uber Liability? The Insurance Coverage Dangers of Ride Sharing Services

Foster Farms’ Poultry Plant Suspended after Massive Cockroach Infestation

Foster Farms Poultry Plant Suspended after Massive Cockroach Infestation

AP/USA Today Photo

USA Today  is reporting that on Wednesday, the USDA “suspended processing at a poultry plant in California found to have been infested with cockroaches four times over the past five months.” The piece notes that “the Foster Farm plant is one of three in central California being investigated for an outbreak of antibiotic-resistant salmonella,” which the CDC says “has sickened 416 people in 23 states.”

Adam Tarr, a spokesman for the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, said, “Our inspectors wrote several noncompliance reports for insanitary conditions at the plant and then took the action to suspend today.” Meanwhile, Foster Farms said that the “shutdown would enable the company to mitigate the infestation.”

In October, Foster said “that the salmonella outbreak caused sales to drop about 25%,” and “Foster and other company leaders vowed to make Foster Farms a leader in food safety, with measures that include increased plant sanitation, vaccination of breeder hens against salmonella, and education of consumers about proper handling and cooking.”

by Rabeh Soofi

Toyota Entering Settlement Negotiations Over Sudden-Acceleration Vehicle Injuries

Toyota Entering Settlement Negotiations Over Sudden Acceleration Vehicle Injuries After nearly four years, Toyota is ready to settle the nearly 400 state and federal lawsuits that alleged that Toyota cars suddenly accelerated, causing vehicle deaths and injuries.

Millions of cars have been recalled since 2009. The settlement discussions have ensued after an Oklahoma jury awarded $3 million in damages to the driver of a 2005 Toyota Camry that and to the family of the passenger who was killed.  Prior to that, Toyota had been been absolved of liability in several jury trials held around the country.

Toyota previously agreed to pay more than $1 billion to resolve hundreds of lawsuits claiming that owners of its cars suffered economic losses because of the recalls.

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If you or a loved one has been injured in any type of vehicle accident, contact SOOFI | Legal Counsel for a confidential consultation. (213) 403-0130 (Phone) or

Judge Rules Against U.S Government in First Ruling on NSA Mass Surveillance Lawsuit

Judge Rules Against U.S Government in First Ruling on NSA Mass Surveillance LawsuitA federal judge in Washington, D.C. has issued the first ruling on the issue of mass-surveillance conducted on Americans’ telephone records by the U.S. National Security Agency.

The opinion comprises the first judicial ruling on the issue of the lawfulness of the NSA’s data-collection activities, and represents a significant setback for the NSA and Obama administration’s justifications for the activities.

Kaiser Privacy Breach and HIPAA Violation – Legal Claims for Victims of Anaheim Privacy Breach

Kaiser Privacy Breach and HIPAA Violation   Legal Claims for Victims of Anaheim Privacy Breach

Kaiser’s Anaheim Center was the site of a major data breach.


On December 10, 2013, Kaiser Permanente notified 49,000 patients that some of their personal information was compromised in a September data breach at Anaheim Medical Center in Orange County, California.

Kaiser said a flash drive was reported missing Sept. 25 from the nuclear medicine department of the hospital. Patients were notified of the breach on Dec. 3.

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California Sues Software Company for Failed $250 Million Taxpayer-Funded State Benefits Software Development Project

California Sues Software Company for Failed $250 Million Taxpayer Funded State Benefits Software Development ProjectThe State of California has sued SAP, a software development company, for SAP’s failed payroll software solution that has never worked properly.

The software update project began three years ago, with the state paying $50 million of taxpayer funds for SAP to develop a new payroll and benefits system.

According to the lawsuit papers, the broken system “could not get the payroll right even once over an eight-month period for a pilot group of only 1,500 employees.”

Last February, California Controller John Chiang terminated SAP’s contract alleging that SAP failed to stabilize the system and avoid the return of “significant errors” when payroll runs were conducted on the pilot program.

California taxpayers have thus far funded $250 million has been spent on the system, which is called MyCalPAYS and dates back to 2005. SAP joined the project in 2010 after the original contractor, BearingPoint, was fired.

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UC-Berkeley Sued for Failing to Prevent Death of Alumni

UC Berkeley Sued for Failing to Prevent Death of AlumniWhen should a college or university be responsible for failing to protect its students?

The parents of a UC-Berkeley graduate have sued UC-Berkeley for failing to report domestic abuse that took place on campus.   The lawsuit was filed after student Jose Lumbereras killed the two passengers in his car when driving while intoxicated, including Milanca Lopez and her six month son.

Lopez’s family sued UC-Berkeley, asserting that Lopez previously complained about domestic abuse in her home, but UC-Berkeley campus officials did nothing. They believe that UC-Berkeley could have prevented the accident if it had investigated Lopez’s concerns about Lambreras’ allegedly abusive conduct.

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U.S. Department of Justice Joins Lawsuit Against Lance Armstrong

U.S. Department of Justice Joins Lawsuit Against Lance Armstrong

U.S. DOJ Joins Lawsuit Against Armstrong

There is a new addition to the lawsuit against disgraced athlete Lance Armstrong – the United States Department of Justice.   The lawsuit was originally brought against Armstrong asserting that the seven-time Tour de France winner defrauded supporters, advertisers, and the general public about his use of performance-enhancing drugs, which he always denied.

The DOJ became involved because of the long-time support provided to Armstrong by the U.S. Postal Service.

“Lance Armstrong and his cycling team took more than $30 million from the U.S. Postal Service based on their contractual promise to play fair and abide by the rules – including the rules against doping,” said U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen to the Associated Press. “The Postal Service has now seen its sponsorship unfairly associated with what has been described as ‘the most sophisticated, professionalized and successful doping program that sport has ever seen.’”

According to the Associated Press, Armstrong was the subject of a two-year federal grand jury investigation that the Justice Department dropped a year ago without an indictment. Last October, a report was released including affidavits from 11 of Armstrong’s former teammates, detailing how the U.S. cycling team was supplied with hormones through injections and blood transfusions, and that they were pressured to dope by Armstrong.

The post U.S. Department of Justice Joins Lawsuit Against Lance Armstrong appeared first on Individual Rights Blog – SOOFI | Legal Counsel.


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