Law News Digest – Week of June 14, 2015

Law News Digest

June 19, 2015

EPA proposes new emissions standards for commercial vehicles: The federal Environmental Protection Agency wants to require commercial vehicles to reduce fuel consumption by 24% by 2027. This would affect 18-wheelers, buses, delivery vans, and heavy-duty pickup trucks. The rules would reduce carbon pollution by an estimated 1.1 billion tons. The trucking industry and others are pushing back due to an increase in upfront costs to upgrade vehicles (although they would save $170B in fuel costs by 2027).

$10 bill will likely feature a woman by 2020: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg aka “Notorious RBG” has been floated as a potential figure to be depicted on the $10 bill, except that federal law only allows portraits of deceased persons to be featured on U.S. currency. (Impress your friends with that fact!)

243 people were arrested and charged with over $700M in fake healthcare billings: 46 doctors and nurses are among the people arrested for essentially stealing from the government’s healthcare program for seniors and people with disabilities, Medicare. It is the largest criminal healthcare fraud crackdown in history. In one example, a doctor in California is accused of falsely billing $23 million for over 1,000 expensive wheelchairs and home health services which were medically unnecessary and often not even provided to patients!

Swiss banks no longer a safe haven for wealthy Americans: For years Swiss banks have been a place where wealthy Americans kept their money to avoid paying U.S. taxes. But it’s a crime for banks to help conceal American assets and income, and finally the U.S. government is cracking down. More than a dozen banks have now made a deal to pay penalties to the U.S. government to avoid criminal charges.

June 18, 2015

The government is allowed to reject Confederate flag license plates: That’s what the Supreme Court ruled today. A group that clearly needs to get over the past tried to get Texas to issue license plates with the Confederate flag on them, but the state refused. The group sued the state, saying it violated the 1st amendment right to free speech. The Court said nope, the license plates are actually government expression, and the government can decide what to express or not.

AT&T could face $100M fine for “unlimited plan” not actually being unlimited: AT&T offers cell phone customers an “unlimited” data plan, but once a customer reaches a certain level of data usage, the data speed drops significantly. The government agency that regulates mobile carriers, the Federal Communications Commission, says speeds drop to as much as 20 times slower than advertised. Thus, the FCC believes AT&T is illegally misleading consumers, and is attempting to impose a fine of $100 million, which AT&T says it will “vigorously dispute.” See more on consumer law.

California government will give out $1M to 3 wrongfully convicted people: To compensate (or at least try to compensate) three wrongly convicted people, the state will give $142k to a former football player for serving 5 years in prison for a false rape claim, about $600k to a woman who spent 17 years in prison, wrongfully convicted for murder, and $229k to a man against whom false evidence was used to convict him.

Prison guard gets 5 years for letting inmate die: In 2012, a Rikers Island inmate died after a supervising prison guard refused to seek medical care for him. The 25 year old mentally ill inmate had swallowed powdered detergent, and a pharmacy technician informed the guard that the inmate might die. But when an officer picked up a phone to call for help, the supervising guard ordered him to hang up. The inmate died the next day. The guard will serve 5 years in federal prison.

June 17, 2015

Uber drivers now considered employees, not independent contractors, says CA labor agency: As I discussed below, it’s a big deal whether a business classifies workers as employees or independent contractors. Uber considers its drivers as independent contractors, and sees itself as simply an intermediary between drivers and passengers. Thus it doesn’t provide benefits or reimburse for expenses such as mileage and gas, as it would be required to do for employees. But a recent ruling by the California labor commissioner says Uber is involved in “every aspect of the operation” and thus treats its drivers as employees and in particular is required to reimburse over $4k to a driver who brought a claim. The ruling will likely have an influence on a pending “class action” lawsuit (brought by many drivers) against both Uber and Lyft, but much remains to be resolved.

June 16, 2015

Employee vs independent contractor? Making the wrong choice can cost millions: Businesses often struggle in deciding whether to hire people as employees or independent contractors (also called freelancers or consultants). Using independent contractors instead of employees can save money on taxes and mean less paperwork, but it also means that employers don’t have as much control over the independent contractors. Many employers try to have it both ways, and classify workers as independent contractors but also treat them as employees, setting their schedule and telling them how to do their job. FedEx tried that. Now it has to pay out $227 million to over 2,000 workers because of the “misclassification.”

June 15, 2015

Employees in Colorado can be fired for using pot during non-work hours: That’s what the Colorado Supreme Court said today, and the ruling could influence other states. Story: Colorado state law says employees can’t be fired for any “lawful” activities done outside work. It’s legal in Colorado to use marijuana for recreational or medical purposes. But federal law still says marijuana use is illegal (although the federal government has decided not to prioritize enforcement). Dish Network fired an employee for using medical marijuana in his free time, and the employee sued. The Supreme Court said because marijuana use is illegal under federal law, the firing was lawful. So clearly federal law needs some changing

See last week’s Law News Digest

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