A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Archive for April, 2011

Transgender Male Sues for Work Discrimination

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By Nadia-Elysse Harris

It’s certainly not the most glamorous job in the world, but urine monitoring is part of the standard procedure at the Urban Treatment Center in Camden, New Jersey.  The drug treatment center hired El’Jai Devoureau was hired to watch recovering addicts in the bathroom to ensure they didn’t switch someone else’s urine for their own during drug testing.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Devoureau was terminated shortly after being hired by the center.  On his second day of work, Mr. Devoureau’s boss approached him and asked if he was male — a requirement of the job, according to the Center’s rules.  When he answered in the affirmative, his boss went on to ask if he’d had any surgeries. “I said that was private and I didn’t have to answer, and I was fired,” said Mr. Devoureau. On April 8, he filed suit in New Jersey State Court.

Mr. Devoureau began the process of becoming male five years ago when he began male hormone treatments and counseling.  He had sex reassignment surgery in 2009.  He also had his driver’s license, birth certificate and Social Security cards changed to indicate that he is male.

The Times article noted that this is the first employment discrimination case in the country to take on the question of a transgender person’s sex, but didn’t explore the legal merits of the lawsuit. Let’s take a look.  (more…)

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Genericide: A Trademark Owner’s Worst Nightmare

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By Jillian Raines
Every year, society loses more and more trademarks to genericide. While trademark owners try to raise public awareness of their unique brand through advertising, attempts usually prove futile. Genericide acts fast—one generic use leads to another until the once-protectable trademarks are wiped out from the market. Could one of Apple’s trademarks be next?

Currently, Apple is embroiled in a dispute about the phrase “App Store” (two words), which the company laid claim to in July 2008 through a trademark registration. In January, Microsoft decided to challenge the validity of Apple’s trademark in the phrase, claiming it has become generic. This hasn’t stopped Apple from attempting to enforce its mark, however; last month, Apple sued Amazon for using the phrase “Appstore” (one word) in relation to Google’s Android.

While media sources have been active in covering the current dispute, they have been pretty quiet when it comes to connecting the “App Store” debate to the long history of trademark genericide. (more…)

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The Tribe Has Spoken

Protestors rally against Democrats' health care reform bill in Washington

The LASIS Staff

A few months back, Russell Smith wrote a LASIS piece about Justice Ginsberg showing her hand on an issue before it was brought to the court.  What she’d said was that the health care bill should follow the standard procedure through the courts, and shouldn’t go straight to the Supremes.

Sure enough, the Court decided today that care bill won’t be getting any special treatment.

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Nobody is Getting Paid for Unpaid Blogging

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By Russell Smith

Nearly one-third of the content on the Huffington Post (or HuffPo, as its users call it) comes from thousands of bloggers contribute stories without pay. So when it was announced that HuffPo would be sold to AOL for $315 million, the Internet exploded with anger and betrayal from HuffPo’s contributors and stalwart fans alike.

Many bloggers, like the Guardian’s Douglas Rushkoff, complained that Arianna Huffington sold out progressives who were only contributing to the site for free because of its liberal spirit. One of these contributors, infuriated that Ms. Huffington “built a blog-empire on the backs of thousands of citizen journalists,” started a twitter meme, #huffpuff, asking bloggers to remove their content from the new AOL/HuffPo conglomerate and boycott the site in the future. Still others, like Dan Gillmor at Mediactive, suggested that Ms. Huffington share the wealth with the unpaid bloggers who helped create it.

On April 12 it was announced that a group of bloggers were backing up their blogosphere bravado by launching a class action against HuffPo, seeking compensation for their work to the tune of $105 million dollars (one-third of the site’s sale price). News of the lawsuit launched an Internet firestorm of its own, the consensus of which is best illustrated by this quote from Hamilton Nolan’s story in Gawker:

“We’re not lawyers, but we’re fairly certain that a group of people that freely and without coercion agrees to write for free cannot simply run to court years later and ask for a hundred million dollars just  because they think they deserve it for blogging so well.”

LASIS looked into the law and it looks like the media guessed this one right. Even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. Here’s why. (more…)

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Are Online Dating Sites Liable for Members’ Safety?

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By Sarah Berent

In the past couple of years, online dating has grown from connoting a not-so-pleasant stigma to a viable, more socially acceptable way to meet a significant other. By now, nearly everyone has at least a second-degree connection to someone who met his soulmate on one of the many available matchmaking sites. According to one source, revenue from online dating sites is growing 10-15% per year and yearly estimates for popular sites Match.com and eharmony.com are a staggering $343 million and $250 million, respectively.

As terrific as the benefits of online dating are, (which of course include being able to shop for a date in your pajamas), there are obvious downsides to the practice, namely the anonymous nature of the Internet. Unfortunately, even the most vigilant online daters can find they weren’t careful enough.

This is exactly what happened last year to L.A.-based entertainment executive Carole Markin, who went out with a man identified as Alan Wurtzel, who she met on Match.com. After an enjoyable first date, the couple went out a second time, and that’s when things turned ugly:  Ms. Markin alleges that Mr. Wurtzel sexually assaulted her. Criminal charges against Mr. Wurtzel are currently pending in California.

Ms. Markin filed a class action in L.A. against Match.com on April 13 on behalf of every fee-paying female member since August 2010. The suit claims that the website endangers its women customers by not instituting screening procedures that weed out sexual predators.

Ms. Wurtzel and her lawyer are arguing that dating sites can help prevent the risk of sexual assaults between member matches.  A public record search of a city database revealed Mr. Wurtzel to be a six-time sex offender.

After the lawsuit was filed, the dating site announced it will begin cross-referencing members with the National Sex Offender Registry. If Match.com makes good on its announcement and follows through, Ms. Markin says she will drop her lawsuit.

While the media has paid great attention to why or why not screening procedures will effectively reduce the risk of sexual assault in the world of online dating, no one has analyzed whether or not Match.com could actually be held liable for the illegal acts of its members.

We will. (more…)

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