Uber Trouble

 

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            The ride-share company Uber is in some – pardon the pun – Uber trouble. Over 20 people were fired after an investigation into harassment claims at the company. Perkins Coie, LLP, the law firm investigating the claims, continues to review about 215 Human Resources claims. An undisclosed number of employees have been fired, 31 employees are in training or counseling, and 7 received written warnings from Uber. Uber has also commissioned a separate investigation, led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

Uber has had its share of controversy over the last year. In a blog post titled, “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber, former employee Susan Fowler blogged about widespread sexual harassment, and about how her complaints to HR were ignored. A video surfaced of Uber CEO Travis Kalanick yelling at an Uber driver. Kalanick has since taken steps to build leadership in the company and hired a search firm to find a chief operating officer. Uber brought in two outside senior executives, both women, to work specifically on leadership and strategy within the company. In addition, Kalanick asked for the resignation of the head of software engineering, Amit Singhal, after a sexual harassment claim at his previous employer came to light. Singhal denied the claims.

This controversy is part of the larger issue of Silicon Valley’s “male dominated culture” Twitter, Google, and other Silicon Valley giants have been accused of poor treatment of women in the workplace. There have been multiple allegations, including those of Ms. Fowler, of male managers propositioning their female co-workers without repercussion. In a very public lawsuit, Ellen Pao sued Kleiner Perkins (a venture capital firm) for gender-discrimination. Ms. Pao lost in court, but the lawsuit prompted a lot of discussion about gender diversity in Silicon Valley. Investigation continues, but Uber certainly has a long road ahead.

If you are going through administrative proceedings or were wrongfully terminated, contact us at LauraLaw to discuss your legal options.

The Tiger Woods DUI Refresher Course

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Most people arrested for a DUI do not wake up the next morning to see their dashcam video all over the news. However, if you are Tiger Woods that is exactly what happens. The championship golfer was arrested last weekend in Florida. Some of the dashcam footage, released by the Florida Jupiter Police Department, shows Mr. Woods standing on the side of the road with two police officers beside him.

One clip shows the officers asking him if he had anything to drink or if he took any medication. Another clip, an officer is waving a light in front of Mr. Woods face and asking him to follow the light. Later, the officer asks him to put his hand behind his back and arrests him. It was reported that he took a breathalyzer test and blew a 0.000.

Since this incident was so widely reported, LauraLaw thought this is a good time to review DUI law. Keep in mind that it is never a good idea to drink and drive – call a friend, take public transportation, or call a taxi/rideshare. However, if you do find yourself in this situation, here are a few things to remember:

1. Carefully and safely pull over to the side of the road. Many people get alarmed when they realize they are about to be pulled over, but don’t panic.

2. You can refuse to take a Field Sobriety Test. If you are asked to take a Field Sobriety Test, you can clearly state that you do not wish to do so.

3. You can refuse to take a breathalyzer. If you are asked to take a breath test, you can clearly state that you do not wish to do so.

4. If you are arrested and charged with a DUI, do not wait to seek out legal representation. Changes in Illinois law led to stricter penalties and punishments for driving under the influence. You may be at risk of suspension, or in some cases, revocation of your driver’s license.

Be safe out on the road, and if you do find yourself in this situation, contact LauraLaw to discuss your legal needs.

Honor Our Veterans!

We here at Lauralaw wish to thank all our current service members and all veterans of past wars and conflicts, and those who gave their lives for America, for their incredible service to our country. We honor their service to the ideals that built this country. It is important to remember that this holiday is not about barbeques, three day weekends, or blowout  closeout sales, but about thanking those who have served, often at the ultimate sacrifice to protect the freedoms we often take for granted. So please take the time out of your celebrations of the unofficial start of summer to thank our Veterans!

Image courtesy of nirots/freedigitalphotos.net

Image courtesy of nirots/freedigitalphotos.net

Victims of Sexual Assault Face Struggle Against School and courts

constitutionIn an important report from the Associated Press, Michelle R. Smith, Reese Dunklin, and Emily Scmall detail the horrible struggles student victims of sexual assault from other students have gone through to get justice. One of the barriers to justice is the schools themselves and the administrations that are more worried about protecting the institution from outside criticism, than seeking justice and protecting victims of sexual assault as Smith explains, “The barriers are formidable, and can lead to long, grueling fights: Public schools in many states enjoy powerful shields, including caps on damages and high legal hurdles to prove misconduct. And a handful of states offer schools complete immunity from lawsuits in state court.” One of the main cases detailed in the report shows this. According to Smith, “A Miami mother sued in 2012 after she said her second-grader was repeatedly abused by an older boy at his charter school. Eventually, the 7-year-old tried to kill himself by walking into traffic with his eyes closed, according to the family’s lawsuit. Two years later, the little boy testified, he still had nightmares his tormenter would crawl in through his bedroom window and kill his mother. His mother came to believe the school put its reputation above her son’s well-being. “You can’t protect the institution and forget about the students,” she said.” The Miami mother( name anonymous for protection) is exactly right and it’s especially heartbreaking to see young children mentally and physically tortured, have to deal with this stuff while the school that is supposedly supposed to protect them just see the kids as pressure and would rather protect the perpetrator and their own reputation.

The mother and her son would eventually have to take them to court to sue, another mentally debilitating and costly expense for families. The details of the story are incredibly graphic so proceed at your own caution. “According to her lawsuit, an 11-year-old boy forced him to perform oral sex in a transport van. The mother said she reported it to the school, which promised to monitor the older boy. Later, he cornered the second-grader twice in a school bathroom, again forcing him to perform oral sex, the lawsuit said. In a videotaped deposition played at the 2014 trial, the boy described feeling the abuse “would happen again and again.” He said the smell of a school bathroom still triggered painful memories, leaving him feeling “very nervous, very upset, very scared.” The school replied that it took reasonable measures to keep the students away from each other, but in light of testimony this is a ridiculously offensive assertion.

As mentioned earlier many of the issues with school reactions are rooted in the complicated burden of proofs and ridiculous cap limits on the amounts that can be rewarded that provide the schools with legal shields as Smith calls them. These sometimes differ from state to state. For example Virginia, and Georgia give their schools an all encompassing immunity from state law suits. Illinois requires that the plaintiff must prove the school was actually demonstrating willful conduct to hurt the child’s ability to attend school rather than just having to prove negligence, and Tennessee doesn’t even allow plaintiffs a jury trial but instead a single judge who is usually incentivized to side with the government. Here’s some more details about the legal difficulties victims go through. “The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1999 that all public school districts can be held liable under Title IX. Victims of sexual assault or harassment must show that school officials with the power to act were deliberately indifferent to known sexual harassment, and that the harassment was so bad it effectively barred a student’s access to an education. That means victims who might find it difficult to sue in state court can often seek justice in federal court, though that’s not necessarily easier.” Many of these suits take years and a lot of money to conduct and victims priorities are many times put behind the priorities of states making sure they don’t look bad or lose much money. Though one advantage to suing in federal court as the report explains is that the case is not in the community which might pressure the victim into remaining silent.

The victims themselves who courageously testify about the horrors want to explain that they not only do it for themselves but also for others and helping to prevent these kinds of things from happening to other students who schools don’t want to protect. “One of the things that kept him going – he didn’t want it to happen to someone else,” Heiss said. That’s often the main motivator to sue, said Adele Kimmel, who specializes in student abuse cases for the Washington, D.C., nonprofit law firm Public Justice. Settlement agreements can require anti-bullying training in addition to money – or sometimes instead of it.” The mother of the victim in Florida says that being able to testify allowed her son to feel vindicated. “It seemed like he was vindicated simply by saying, ‘This happened. It hurt me. I’m still here.”‘ It’s a testament to the courage of the victims and their families that they wish to see change not just for their own situations but to help others. Let’s not fail them

Friday Frolic Away

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If you have traveled anytime in the last 5 years, within the United States or internationally, chances are you have used some kind of home-share website. Sites like Airbnb and HomeAway offer users a chance to experience a city like a local by renting out a private home or apartment. These sites have become quite successful over the last 5 years.

Success isn’t without its problems, however. Landlords and rental management companies across Chicago started to restrict tenants’ abilities rent out their places on home-sharing websites. An official shared-housing ordinance followed to officially impose stricter rules on these sites. The ordinance, passed last summer, imposes a surcharge “and the rate of four percent of the gross rental or leasing charge”, establishment of license fees, and lists specific definitions of a hotel and a bed-and-breakfast establishment. Registration of shared housing units is also required and there is a limit on number of units that can be rented out in a building.

Usually the companies work with large cities like Chicago to draft the city ordinances, but after months of discussions they did not reach an agreement. HomeAway filed suit the U. S. District Court in the Northern District of Illinois, alleging that ordinance violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. City of Chicago Law Department spokeman, Bill McCaffrey says that the ordinance “enables the city to monitor rental activity and take action against hosts who commit violations.”

This author personally knows many people who have used home-sharing sites when visiting other cities or have hosted travelers themselves. For some, these sites provide a cheaper and more meaningful travel experience than the routine downtown hotel. Rental companies, individual landlords and tenants who rent out their properties can earn extra money and put unused space to good use. Unfortunately, extra taxes and registration fees may deter travelers and hosts from using the home-share platform.

Whether traveling to a stranger’s quaint walk-up or staying right here in town, we at LauraLaw wish you a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

Laura’s Life Outside Law – Maine Township Edition

By:  Tim Black

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We are defenders of the criminally and administratively accused – that is our life.  We live the law and we breathe the law.  But every now and again, we each like to dabble in things that aren’t the law.  We have a Life Outside Law.

IMG_1134One aspect of Laura‘s Life Outside Law is her involvement with Maine Township, and her service to its Town Board.  For the past 16 years, Laura has served as a Trustee for her home Township, a Township that includes unincorporated areas of Park Ridge, Morton Grove, Niles, Glenview, Des Plaines, and Rosemont.  Late last year, with the vacancy left by longtime-Supervisor Carol Teschky, Laura decided she would throw her hat in the “race” for Township Supervisor (think Township “Mayor”) in the April 2017 Consolidated Election.  I put “race” in quotations because, the formidable opponent she is, nobody ran against Laura and she was elected unanimously on April 4, 2017.

IMG_1169After the joy of the election subsided, and the anticipation of governance grew, the elected candidates were sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of Illinois in a ceremony on May 15.  Of course we, as members of Laura’s team, weren’t going to miss out on that celebration, so when the day ended on Monday, we shut out the lights to the Law Offices of Laura J. Morask and we all took a field trip to the Maine Township Town Hall.  In a very nice, succinct ceremony – moderated by our very own Supervisor Morask – Cook County Judge James Paul Pieczonka administered the oath of office to the newly-elected members of the Town Board, one-by-one, culminating with the swearing-in of the new Supervisor, our very own Laura Morask.

 

20170515_190446(0)We here at LauraLaw are extremely proud of Laura, and we are excited for the residents of Maine Township.  We know Laura will bring with her to Maine Township the same drive, dedication, and relentless attention to detail that she brings to her law practice.

 

Court is in Session

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised to get tough on crime, and so far he is carrying out his promise. Last week, AG Sessions sent out a memo instructing federal prosecutors to “charge and pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” when charging crimes.

Dirksen_Federal_Building  Although LauraLaw focuses on criminal defense at the state level (where the vast majority of crimes are prosecuted), policy changes on the federal level set the stage for changes in individual states.

AG Sessions’s memo states a policy of strict enforcement and points out that serious offenses generally carry mandatory minimum sentences, which should be followed. This is a notable shift from the position of his predecessor under the Obama Administration, Eric Holder, who encouraged leniency in prosecuting low-level, non-violent drug crimes. Under the strict enforcement policy, a federal prosecutor would need to get approval before charging a lesser crime instead of the most serious offense possible.

So, what does this mean for criminal prosecution in Illinois? Well, first we can expect to see a rise in crimes charged, specifically drug crimes, in federal court. Historically, “tough on crime” or “zero tolerance” policies led to a rise in the prison population. Also, these policies tend to trickle down to a state level.

On that note, it will be interesting to see what specific changes this federal trend brings to Cook County. This author’s main concern is that these strict enforcement policies will change the way plea deals are offered or mitigating circumstances are considered. Of course, that is a conversation for another time.

Nevertheless, if you, a friend, or a loved one are under investigation or have been charged with a crime, contact us here at LauraLaw, before court is in session.

Friday Frolic: A Bit of Strawberry Jam

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For most of us (at least those of us at LauraLaw) jam is just something that British people put on their toast. For plant scientist Douglas Shaw, however, jam and the strawberries that make them is the subject of a lawsuit filed against him by the University of California at Davis. His story has become an interesting example of the lengths that institutions and individuals would go to protect their intellectual property.

Professor Shaw retired from the University of California at Davis before the lawsuit was filed. While working for the school, Shaw and his scientific partner did a lot of research on strawberries and other plants. They retired from UC Davis in 2014 then started a business called California Berry Cultivars. The company develops new varieties of strawberries and works with various growers and nurseries.

The university claims that Professor Shaw and his researchers infringed on a patent held by UC Davis and violated an oath they signed “not to enrich themselves by taking or acquiring plants, seeds and other biological material and continuing their research using descendants of plants they developed at UC Davis. In their own lawsuit, Professor Shaw and his scientific partner allege that UC Davis locked up some of their plants so they couldn’t have access to them; and, that the university wiped out years of strawberry research.

Apparently, the federal judge who is hearing the case has the same thoughts as the rest of of us – It’s really come to this? The judge scolded both parties for the way they have been acting and decided that each side will be responsible for their own costs.

Generally, any research or work created at the university would belong to the institution – not to the scientists. Of course, the scientists are arguing that the intellectual property belongs to them. However, it will be interesting to see what comes out at trial. Maybe Professor Shaw will find his way of this strawberry . . . jam?

All puns aside, Happy Friday from LauraLaw!

“So, how did you get my information?”

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Although we focus on criminal and administrative law, we at LauraLaw like to keep up with all types of news that might affect our clients. This week’s news affects everyone who uses the internet . . . so virtually everyone.

Do you ever get phone calls from random third parties, trying to sell something? I do, and I always wonder how these companies get my information, and if it is even legal for them to do so.

Last week, the Illinois state Senate approved the Right to Know Act. This act requires online companies to tell their consumers what kind of data they have gathered and shared with third parties. The Act includes companies like Amazon, Google, and Facebook. Senator Michael Hastings, who sponsored the bill, called it a “step forward for Illinois in terms of data privacy.”

Not only would companies be required to tell their consumers this information, they have to keep an email address or toll-free phone number available for consumers to request it.

Opponents of the bill think that it should be up to the federal government to make this kind of regulation, and say that this law would place a burden on Illinois business. However, about a dozen other states have or are creating similar laws to protect consumers.

This Act seems like a good idea, but how much is it really doing for Illinois consumers? Sure, we get to demand to know what information is being shared with third parties, but it does not actually stop large companies like Google and Amazon from sharing personal information. It will be interesting to see if this is a step toward true consumer data protection or simply a band-aid on an ever-present problem. Check back in with LauraLaw to find out!

Out on Bond

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Out on Bond

Over the last few years, bond has become a big topic in Chicago. Here at Laura Law, we have written multiple blog posts about bond, the process, and the changes.

Advocates for bond reform say that the system is broken and can trap people in jail. Others say that having bond for certain crimes allows violent criminals to remain on the streets. This is what State Senator Bill Cunningham is saying in his recently introduced bill.

The new bill would allow a defendant charged with certain gun crimes to be held without bail, if, after a hearing, a judge determines that releasing the defendant would create a “real and present threat” to public safety. If it becomes law, this could apply to gang members charged with possessing a gun, violent felons, and armed habitual criminals (someone with a new gun charge who has at least two prior felony convictions for drug or weapons offense, or violent offenses.

Criminal defense attorneys and other advocates point out those charged with a crime are innocent until proven guilty. Serious and violent crimes are often met with high bail amounts. Also, defendants and prosecutors are able to argue for a higher or lower bond, even though the final decision belongs to the judge. If this bill becomes law, it could be yet another way that bond in stacked in favor of the State.

The bill and its focus on public safety is reasonable, but does it violate defendants’ rights? And will it actually deter people from committing gun crimes? The answer will come soon enough, as the bill passed unanimously in the State Senate and is heading to the House.

Nevertheless, defendants still have certain rights under the law when it comes to bond. If you, a friend, or family member need legal representation, contact us at Laura Law.