6 top legal stories and commentary from around the web

Resume help, opinions on the NFL bounty program, a centuries-old law rears its head and more

Women’s Woes

The recent dispute over contraception and other women's health issues has prompted blustering from both liberals and conservatives, and although it’s easy to start drowning in the discourse that has been proliferating on every corner of the Internet, it’s important not to lose track of the concrete events surrounding the topic. In “Subject for Debate: Are Women People?” Time’s Jessica Winter provides a succinct, insightful and humorous roundup of proposed laws, politicians’ statements and other notable moments in the recent debate over women’s health and status.

Winter’s piece addresses a case that is particularly of note to in-house counsel. In Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Houston Funding II, Ltd, a district judge ruled that firing a woman for bringing a breast pump to work, or for any lactation-based reason, does not count as sex-based discrimination. Read the full piece here.

Ruined Reservation

How do the liquor stores in Whiteclay, Neb., a town of a dozen people, sell nearly 13,000 cans of beer every day? Tribal leaders at the nearby Pine Ridge Indian Reservation say that the merchants sell most of the alcohol to reservation residents, even though alcohol is illegal in Pine Ridge. Now the Oglala Sioux have filed a lawsuit against the stores, Anheuser-Busch and three other large beer distributors, blaming them for the illegal drinking they say is devastating their tribe.

At Pine Ridge, located just over the South Dakota border, tribal police made 20,000 alcohol-related arrests last year. One in four babies born on the reservation suffers from fetal alcohol syndrome, and the average life expectancy is between 45 and 52 years, according to the suit. The tribe seeks $500 million in compensation to offset health care and social services costs.

Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning expressed concern that if Whiteclay’s liquor stores were closed, Pine Ridge residents would simply go farther afield for alcohol, potentially leading to more drunken driving incidents. He reportedly added that tribe members might spend any monetary reward on more beer.

Taboo Tweets

A new study suggests social media is more addictive than alcohol or cigarettes, but some lawyers and judges say that’s no excuse for jurors who log on during trials. A recent Wall Street Journal report details several cases in which jurors have discussed details of trials and verdicts on Twitter or Facebook, sometimes resulting in their dismissal or a mistrial.

In a 2010 Arkansas case, for example, a jury found Erickson Dimas-Martinez guilty of murder only to have the decision overturned when a member of the defense team discovered that a juror had tweeted about the verdict before it became public.

But detecting misconduct is often difficult. In response to a survey by the Federal Judicial Center, 79 percent of judges said they have no way of knowing if jurors are using social media in the courtroom. Joel Brodsky, the defense attorney in the upcoming murder trial of former Illinois police officer Drew Petersen, says he may ask jurors to disclose their Twitter handles for easy monitoring.

Bounty Brouhaha

We reported earlier this week that investigators have accused the National Football League (NFL) of putting secret bounties on star players such as Brett Favre and paying defensive players for injuring them during gameplay. We speculated on the kind of lawsuits that might arise from the bounty system here, but the rest of the Internet has also been atwitter, forecasting the ramifications of the discovery.

Over at Grantland, Charles Pierce predicts that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell will drop the hammer on the New Orleans Saints for this PR disaster, which makes football seem just as bloodthirsty and barbaric as mixed martial arts or any other injury-prone sport. But while the punishment from within will no doubt be swift and merciless, ESPN predicts that actual player litigation stemming from the alleged “pay-for-pain” system is unlikely. Even if a victim did file suit, it’s improbable he would be awarded damages because it would be difficult to prove that the hit he sustained wasn’t part of regular gameplay.

Revised Resumes

In today’s tough job market, an eye-catching resume can be key to landing an interview. The ABA Journal’s Stephanie Francis Ward talked with legal search consultant Joe Ankus and Seltzer Fontaine Beckwith partner Valerie Fontaine about the qualities of a successful resume. Both Ankus and Fontaine cautioned against exaggerating qualifications, with Ankus noting that eventually “a good recruiter is going to drill down and ask the tough questions to figure out whether [an applicant’s] skill set is reflective of what the client needs.”

The legal search professionals also stressed that candidates should keep resumes brief by not wasting valuable space on objective statements, head shots or high-school achievements. Applicants who have been unemployed for any length of time should be honest with potential employers by accounting for all gaps in their resumes. “You don’t want your resume to leave questions unanswered, because a prospective employer might answer it in their own heads to the negative,” said Fontaine.

Finally, although a candidate’s resume is key, both experts emphasized the importance of personal connections. “It’s the fact that the relationship is solid enough and the trust factor is solid enough that we can … convince employers and candidates to get together,” Ankus said.

Foreign Fracas

The Supreme Court will rule on whether a 1789 law allows foreign nationals to sue foreign corporations for foreign crimes in American courts. Several Nigerian citizens are suing the Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., alleging that the oil company worked with the Nigerian government to silence protestors against environmental damage. The law in question is the Alien Tort Statute, which allows U.S. courts to hear cases involving certain violations of international law.

Courts ignored the law for years, until 1980, when a Paraguayan couple successfully used it to sue a former inspector general for the torture and murder of their 17-year-old son in their native country. Now the court will decide whether the statute also applies to corporations.

In a New York Times editorial, Lincoln Caplan wrote in favor of the law, saying that “in a world where multinational corporations are primary actors, the need for a way to hold them accountable for extreme abuses is more urgent than ever.” But a Washington Post op-ed argued that a broad interpretation of the statute would lead to international conflict and diplomatic friction.

Alanna Byrne

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Join the Conversation

Project 5/165 is endeavoring to reach the day when one-third—or 165—of Fortune 500 general counsel are women. We want that day to come in the next five years, thus, 5/165. The programs encompasses various elements we hope will create awareness around this important topic, such as regular messages from the voice of Project 5/165, Stasia Kelly, and networking events around the country. In the meantime, we'll keep you updated on the latest news on women in corporate law with our monthly newsletter, and do our best to promote the advancement of women through in-person workshops.
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