Editorial: There they go again
Our loopy City Council, ostensibly aiming to help unemployed people find work, last week opened up new ground for businesses to be sued. It passed a bill that lets job applicants take employers to court if they think they've been rejected because of their jobless status. Unemployed people deserve a fair shake, of course, but the only jobs the Council's action will create are for tort lawyers—a segment of the economy that hardly needs help. Mayor Michael Bloomberg rightly warned that the measure would make it harder for businesses to hire people and pledged to veto it. But Council Speaker Christine Quinn, a mayoral contender who is trying to signal to left-wing Democratic primary voters that she is not in the mayor's pocket, was apparently in no mood to negotiate. She moved the bill to a vote and declared that the Council would override Mr. Bloomberg's promised veto. Ms. Quinn insists there'll be no flurry of lawsuits, citing the experience of other city laws protecting job applicants from discrimination based on race, religion and such. Well, as the police like to say, if crime is rare but happens to you, the statistics won't make you feel any better. There is an active industry of law firms in this town that hunt for aggrieved workers and deep-pocketed businesses to sue. Ms. Quinn's declaration that employers who do the right thing "have nothing to worry about" is worthless. If an employer were to frown while remarking to an applicant that his résumé showed a long gap since he last worked, that would be enough for the job-seeker to bring legal action. Even frivolous cases demand that the business hire an attorney to defend itself. To avoid the risk altogether, employers might refrain from even interviewing unemployed applicants. The Council's bill could well leave unemployed people sitting by the phone, wondering why it's not ringing. The bill is championed by the National Employment Law Project, which seems to be behind much of the City Council legislation that has been rankling business interests lately. The advocacy group's view is that without the threat of litigation, employers won't take seriously a prohibition against employment-status discrimination. But there is no hard evidence to support that contention. Few jurisdictions ban the practice, so it's presumptuous to assume that only tort lawyers are capable of enforcing it. Washington, D.C., has a statute that allows workers to file a complaint with a city agency, but not to sue. Perhaps the City Council should study how that law is working before rushing ahead with legislation that subjects businesses to the full force of the city's litigating class.
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