In September, the Department of Education started giving morning-after pills and other birth-control drugs to students at 13 New York area high schools through a program called CATCH — Connecting Adolescents To Comprehensive Health. Now it looks as if the idea is becoming a national agenda.
Wading into the incendiary subject of birth control for young teenagers, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) last week called on the nation's pediatricians to counsel all of their adolescent patients about emergency contraception and make advance prescriptions for it available to girls under 17.
Because current federal policy bans over-the-counter sales of the pills to girls under 17, having a prescription on hand could help younger teens obtain emergency contraception more quickly than if they have to contact a physician only after they need it.
Considering that teenage pregnancy is a huge problem in African American and poorer communities throughout the country, this is a very interesting measure.
“The morning after pill may continue to keep our teens from becoming more knowledgeable and educated because it is a ‘quick fix,’” said Erica Ives, a licensed marriage and family therapist. “They don’t have to think about the potential consequences of their behavior — including how it may affect them two days after, six months after or even years later.”
Ultimately, how will this affect teenage pregnancy? Equally important, how do African Americans and communities across the country feel about such a momentous announcement?
Calling the AAP decision "significant," Susan Wood, former assistant commissioner for women's health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said, "it's not often you see physician organizations saying that their patients are better off without the physician involvement."
Needless to say, the announcement has been controversial with some religious groups.
"Since when should the physicians take over the responsibility of what parents should be doing?" asked Michael O'Dea, founder and executive director of Christus Medicus Foundation.
The nonprofit foundation provides consulting services to health plans which wish to avoid payments to physicians and hospitals for providing abortions, sterilization, contraception and other services it considers inconsistent with biblical teachings.
"Parents are the primary educators of children, not physicians or the government," O'Dea said. "This is a violation of parents’ rights to be the primary educator of their children."
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, which represents the country's Catholic Church leadership, called the recommendation "tragic."
"It is a very sad day when physicians think that ‘good medicine’ is to attack an adolescent girl's healthy fertility with potent drugs just to prevent a possible pregnancy," said Theresa Notare, assistant director for the Conference's Natural Family Planning Program.
"This recommendation becomes tragic when we consider that the recommendation is built upon overriding a parent's rights over their own children," she said.
Whether pediatricians heed the recommendation remains to be seen.
"Some pediatricians are already doing this," said Dr. Melissa Kottke, director of The Jane Fonda Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at Emory University and medical director for the teen services program at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where it is common practice to provide Plan B, "a morning after pill,” in an advanced fashion.
"Pediatricians who primarily take care of adolescents may already be comfortable with it, but what this recommendation does is provide encouragement and support for pediatricians who take care of the full spectrum of pediatrics."
Dr. Cora Breuner, a pediatrician at Seattle Children's Hospital who led the AAP panel that produced the recommendations, said pediatricians in general have preferred not to talk about emergency contraception, let alone offer advance prescriptions.
"We tend not to like bringing up stuff that's controversial," she said.
Emergency contraception for adolescents has been one of the most politically fraught areas in healthcare for almost a decade.
In 2005 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration declined to approve any over-the-counter sales of Plan B, overruling its panel of outside experts as well as its own scientists. Last December the FDA reversed that stance and moved to approve over-the-counter sales with no age limits. But Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius overruled it, ordering that for girls under 17, the pills remain available only by prescription.
"Emergency contraception is an important backup method for all teenagers," says a policy statement issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics. "Advanced provision increases the likelihood that teenagers will use emergency contraception when needed, reduces the time to use and does not decrease condom or other contraceptive use."
Such medications as Plan B and Next Choice work best when taken soon after unprotected intercourse.
“It’s unfortunate that in this country where we have all these contraceptive methods available, unintended pregnancy is still a major public health problem,” said Dr. Kavita Nanda, an OB/GYN and scientist with the North Carolina nonprofit FHI 360, formerly known as Family Health International.
Last December, over the objections of its own Food and Drug Administration, the Obama administration declined to fully overturn a Bush Administration policy from 2006 that limited access to the drugs without a prescription for those under age 18. (In 2009 the age was lowered to 17.)
“If the teenager is only thinking about pregnancy and is clearly aware that she has immediate access to this form of contraception, the mindset is more likely to be…’why should I use a condom or take the pill every day?” said Ives. “Sexually transmitted diseases become secondary.”
Nationally, the teen birth rate fell somewhat less dramatically — 15.5 percent — from 1998 to 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2009, around 410,000 teenage girls, ages 15 to 19, gave birth in the United States. That's a 37 percent decrease from the teen birth rate in 1991. Then, 61.8 births per every 1,000 females was a teen pregnancy. The rate has now dropped to 39.1 births per 1,000 women. Yet according to the United Nations, the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is nearly nine times higher than in the majority of other developed nations.
In a press release attached to the new Vital Signs report, Dr. Thomas R. Frieden, the director of the CDC, wrote that despite the steady reduction in teen pregnancies over the last two decades, "still far too many teens are having babies."
"Preventing teen pregnancy can protect the health and quality of life of teenagers, their children, and their families throughout the United States."
The Vital Signs report looked at data from 1991 to 2009 and found that in addition to the steady decrease in the rate of teen pregnancies, there's also been a decrease in the percentage of high school students even having sex.
Still, roughly 1,100 teenagers give birth every day. According to the CDC, that means one of every ten new mothers is a teenager. The CDC said that the majority of teenage mothers are African-American and Hispanic; with respective birth rates nearly double that of white teenagers. Combined, all teen pregnancies cost taxpayers about $9 billion a year, while 70 percent of girls who get pregnant drop out of school.
“Many young females avoid taking birth control because of lack of education,” said Ives. “Working with so many young women with poor body image, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Many already have difficulty respecting and honoring their bodies. If an individual views the morning after pill as similar to an abortion, the effects could be devastating. Adolescent development, physical, emotional, and psychological, is difficult enough to endure.”
-The Chicago Tribune contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is the Enterprise Writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.
For now, the so-called fiscal cliff hangs over the American economy like the sword of Damocles. The long-term health of the United States economy is at stake when $1.2 trillion in automatic spending cuts kick in, along with a tax hike – if the president and Congress cannot come to some kind of agreement by the end of the year.
“We will make it very clear we will not be supportive of cuts to Medicare and Social Security,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. “It would be a huge shock and disappointment if the president forgot the reality that he just won a major victory.”
And if the country goes off the “cliff,” African Americans will certainly be disproportionately affected.
In a letter sent to President Barack Obama, House Democratic leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi and House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, the National Urban League's president and chief executive officer Marc Morial urged a "fair and sensible fiscal plan."
Morial wrote that he is worried that the fiscal cliff would disproportionately affect African Americans because budget cuts would likely slash jobs in state and local government.
The president may have to decide whether he is willing to break with his liberal allies in pursuit of a bipartisan agreement aimed at avoiding the year-end fiscal cliff. Many economists say if an agreement is not met, it could plunge the nation into an even deeper recession.
African Americans make up a disproportionately large share of the public sector workforce. And according to the Economic Policy Institute, a nonprofit, non-partisan think tank, this has historically been true. The higher number of African Americans working in public sector employment has meant higher rates of job loss due to the economic recession, the think tank reports.
The automatic cuts, due to what is called sequestration, will slash $1.2 trillion in spending over the next 10 years — costing millions of jobs and hurting health care, education, aid to state and local governments and other vital programs.
This would be doubly hard for middle class African Americans, whose unemployment rate remains at crisis levels, and who saw decades of middle class economic gains wiped out by the recent recession.
For example, in states such as California and New York, with some of the largest African-American populations, a five percent cut to Medicaid could result in the potential loss of more than 28,000 jobs in each state, while a 15 percent cut could result in the potential loss of over 50,000 jobs in other states such as Ohio and Pennsylvania, according to a study by the Service Employee International Union. More job losses would do more harm to the African-American unemployment rate, which rose from 13.4 to 14.3 percent in October hitting Black women hardest, with an unemployment rate that rose 10.9 to 12.4 percent.
In August, Obama blamed Black unemployment of nearly 14 percent in part on weak recovery in state and local government hiring.
But the fiscal cliff could impact many more groups than just African Americans. According to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office cited in the Wall Street Journal, the cuts could send the entire country into another recession.
And the Washington Post reports that the middle class in particular will feel an immediate impact from the fiscal cliff through the alternative minimum tax, a tax the Post reports "threatens to tack $3,700, on average, onto taxpayers' bills for the current tax year."
Republicans are demanding entitlement changes as part of any deal to reduce the federal deficit. Top GOP lawmakers have said they could agree to raise fresh tax revenue — taking a step closer to the Democratic position that the wealthy pay more — but only if the White House accepts the type of entitlement changes that many liberals abhor.
During debt negotiations with House Speaker Boehner in 2011, President Obama tentatively agreed to increase Medicare premiums and later boost the eligibility age for the program from 65 to 67. He also was willing to modestly reduce Social Security payments by using a less-generous formula for making cost-of-living increases. After those talks collapsed, the president did not include similar proposals in his debt-reduction plan released last fall.
Now, with negotiations resuming, Obama has not made clear precisely how far he would go on entitlements. But people close to the White House say officials believe the election strengthened their hand and reduced the need to make concessions. The extent of any entitlement changes may depend on how much new tax revenue Republicans are willing to accept.
The White House has suggested that if the talks do not progress as the president wants, he may barnstorm around the country to rally the public behind his position.
Much of the public dispute over the fiscal cliff has centered on the president’s demand that taxes rise for the wealthy. But entitlements are an essential element of the discussion because they are the main drivers of the nation’s borrowing problem over the years to come.
Spending on Medicare and Medicaid is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to equal 10 percent of the economy in 25 years — double the percentage today. Over the same period, Social Security spending is expected to rise from 5 percent of the size of the economy to 6 percent, mainly as a result of the retirement of baby boomers.
“This is year two of a 25-year demographic bubble that wasn’t like anyone couldn’t see it coming,” Boehner said. “This has to be dealt with. So everything, everything, on the revenue side and on the spending side has to be looked at.”
Democratic lawmakers have made clear they will oppose any changes to Social Security. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) told reporters that he is open to a fiscal-cliff deal but that “we are not going to mess with Social Security.”
Obama’s 2013 budget would reduce spending on health-care programs by $360 billion over a decade, in part by reducing payments to drug companies. Obama has also proposed increasing premiums for some retirees starting in 2017.
“There’s a lot of mobilization going on to try to prevent any cuts in social insurance benefits,” said Larry Mishel, president of the liberal Economic Policy Institute. “I’m hoping they don’t go back to what they were offering up in 2011.”
Neera Tanden, president of the Center for American Progress, said liberals understand the need to slow Medicare spending but want to do it carefully.
“But we have to be really mindful of where those savings come from and whether they’re coming out of the pockets of seniors and whether they’re the result of savings in the health-care system,” Tanden said. “Those are two different things, and one progressive can agree with, and one is extremely difficult.”
Other liberals say they will fight against any entitlement beneficiary cuts. The AFL-CIO kept its field organizers active for a week after the election to lobby lawmakers against entitlement cuts, while MoveOn.org is using its e-mail list of 7 million people to mobilize.
The Washington Post and U.S. News & World Report contributed to this report.
Zack Burgess is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.
A 2002 General Social Survey found that 71 percent of the people polled considered whites to be hardworking — just 37 percent thought the same about Blacks. Furthermore, about two in three people believed whites to be “well-educated.” And just a little over one in three believed the same about African Americans.
“Frankly and sadly…affirmative action should be dead for two reasons- 1. Society did its part, but minorities did not do their part,” said political activist Pablo Solomon via email. “The moral fabric of Blacks has continued to tear to the point that they are shooting themselves in the foot, feet, thighs and other body parts. Until the Black community puts an emphasis on education, work, savings, morality, marriage, etc.—why bother?”
A MIT-University of Chicago study that sent resumes to employers who had help-wanted ads in Chicago and Boston gave some participants “Anglo” names, such as Greg; while others were given “Black-sounding” names, such as Tyrone. The resumes with “Anglo” names got 50 percent more callbacks, and well-qualified Black applicants drew no more calls than average Black applicants. Even the lower-skilled white applicants got more callbacks than the highly skilled Blacks.
How can we continue to say that racism is a thing of the past? How can we continue to deride affirmative action measures and turn a blind-eye and muted-voice to these pressing discriminatory practices?
“Without giving people an opportunity to confront differences, we deprive them of crucial growth opportunities as individuals and as leaders,” said Nora Simpson, CEO of the Simpson Strategic Solutions, a business consulting firm, specializing in growing revenue and team productivity. “By building diverse student populations and business teams, we transform historical differences and divisions between demographic groups into sources of human development that benefit the country as whole.”
According to Leon Bynum, a senior official at the Mellon Foundation’s Educational Grant Making program, UCLA, since ending its Affirmative Action program, now has a student population that breaks down as 40 Asian American, 32 percent white, 17 percent Hispanic, 7 percent international and 4 percent Black.
Another area of unacknowledged affirmative action is automobile purchases and financing. A 2006 Vanderbilt University study showed that Blacks were almost as three times as likely as whites to be charged markups or loans financed by General Motors Acceptance Corp. When charged a markup, Black borrowers paid an average of $1,229 in extra interest over the life of the loans, compared with the average of $867 paid by whites — the study covered more than 1.5 million GMAC loans made between 1999 and April of 2003.
An analysis of the Federal Reserve Board’s Survey of Consumer Finances data, completed on behalf of the Consumer Federation of America, found that African-American car buyers paid much higher loan rates on new and used autos than white Americans.
On loans for new car purchases, Blacks paid a median interest rate of 7 percent — compared with 5 percent for white borrowers and 5.5 percent for Hispanic borrowers. On used car loans, African-Americans and Hispanics both received considerably higher interest rates. The median rates for African-Americans and Hispanics were 9.5 and 9 percent respectively, compared with 7.5 percent for whites.
Additionally, CFA found that more African-Americans paid auto loan rates of at least 15 percent. For new car loans, 6 percent of African-American borrowers paid 15 percent or more, compared with just 1.7 percent for whites and 1.8 percent for Hispanics. On used car loans, 27 percent of black borrowers and 18.5 percent of Hispanic borrowers paid 15 percent or more, compared with only 9.2 percent of white borrowers, the analysis found.
Now let us turn our attention to another “racial preference,” mortgage rates. A report from the Federal Reserve found Black and Hispanic homebuyers pay more for their mortgages than do whites. The analysis of 2005 home lending data found that nearly 55 percent of Black borrowers paid a higher interest rate on home mortgages up sharply from 32 percent the year before. More than 46 percent of Hispanics paid more for their mortgages last year more than double the number reported in 2004.
In contrast, only 17 percent of whites paid higher interest on their home mortgages last year. Moreover, the Center for Responsible Lending said either loan sellers are charging higher rates to the minority customers or those borrowers are being steered to loan sellers that specialize in higher rates.
Using an industry database, the Durham-based nonprofit center compared credit scores, down payments and other financial information on about 177,000 loans made in 2004 by “subprime” lenders — companies that charge higher interest rates than banks. The lenders provided the borrowers’ income and race.
The study found that Blacks were 29 percent more likely to pay a high interest rate on a fixed-rate home purchase loan. A Hispanic borrower also was more likely to pay a high rate, it found. So when these findings are coupled with the practice of redlining and predatory lending, it means economic devastation to many Blacks and people of color.
“Based on discrimination in home mortgage approval rates, the projected number of creditworthy Black home buyers, and the median white housing-appreciation rate, it is estimated that the current generation of Blacks will lose about $82 billion in equity due to institutional discrimination,” Robert Westley wrote in his essay “Many Billions Gone.” All things being equal, the next generation of Black homeowners will lose $93 billion.”
Keep in mind, affirmative action has helped whites more than people of color. Consider that gender is a major component of affirmative action. As a result, no American demographic has benefited more than white women. Tim Wise, anti-racist author and activist, in his essay “Is Sisterhood Conditional? White Women and the Rollback of Affirmative Action” stated:
“Why would white women increasingly come to view affirmative action in largely the same negative terms as the ‘angry white men’ about whom the media has made such an issue in recent years? Are white women thinking and voting more like white men on this issue because they identify their interests as being largely tied to those of white men — perhaps their husbands, or sons — and as such, are afraid affirmative action might restrict opportunities for loved ones and family members? Is their ambivalence due to a false sense of efficacy and opportunity? Since white women have made some impressive gains over the past 30 years, do they now feel affirmative action is, now, no longer needed?”
The following statistics from the African American Policy Forum, to a great degree, can be traced back to affirmative action initiatives from 1972-1993: the percentage of women architects increased from 3 percent to nearly 19 percent of the total; the percentage of women doctors more than doubled from 10 percent to 22 percent of all doctors; the percentage of women lawyers grew from 4 percent to 23 percent of the national total; the percentage of female engineers went from less than 1 percent to nearly 9 percent; the percentage of female chemists grew from 10 percent to 30 percent of all chemists; and; the percentage of female college faculty went from 28 percent to 42 percent of all faculty.
The majority of women represented in these statistics are white. The Department of Labor’s (2007) statistics also estimated that 6 million women workers are in higher occupational classifications today than they would have been without affirmative action policies — it is also important to note that Black and Hispanic men, on average, trail white women in earnings.
Yet, despite the progress that has been made, the numbers show that the playing field is far from level. Women continue to earn 77 cents for every male dollar (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 2010). Black people continue to have twice the unemployment rate of White people, twice the rate of infant mortality, and just over half the proportion of people who attend four years or more of college. In fact, without affirmative action the percentage of Black students at many selective schools would drop to only 2% of the student body (Bowen & Bok, 1998). This would effectively choke off Black access to top universities and severely restrict progress toward racial equality.
Public opinion polls suggest that most Americans support affirmative action, especially when the polls avoid an all-or-none choice between affirmative action as it currently exists and no affirmative action whatsoever. For example, according to the Pew Research Center, 70% of Americans are in favor of affirmative action programs to help Blacks, women and other minorities get better jobs and education. “There is an attitude towards work, business, and problem solving…that defines whether a team will succeed or fail.” said Simpson. “If a team is comprised of people who confront discomfort, diversity and the differences between people, they will be able to navigate and strategically respond to the ever changing business landscape with efficiency, drive, and intelligence.”
Zack Burgess is the Enterprise Writer for The Tribune. He is a freelance writer and Editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.
During his first term in office, President Barack Obama pitched his presidency as a monument to fairness. He declined to talk about the ways in which race complicates the American present and, in particular, his own presidency.
As a candidate in 2008, Obama said we needed to reckon with race and with America’s original sin of slavery. But as our first Black president, he has avoided the mention of race almost entirely. And although he chooses to tread lightly, there are plenty of people willing to let the American population know exactly how they feel about having an African American in the White House.
“Everybody get out and vote so we can get this N----- out of the White House,” BrittD!@brittd178 said on Twitter earlier in the week. There were thousands such messages, some of the more vicious hate was chronicled by various websites and bloggers.
Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, a doctoral candidate in economics at Harvard, studied how racial animus could have cost president Obama votes in 2008. First, Stephens-Davidowitz ranked areas of the country according to how often people there typed racist search terms into Google. The areas with the highest rates of racially charged search terms were West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, eastern Ohio, upstate New York, and southern Mississippi.
After Obama won, the longed for post-racial moment never arrived; on the contrary, racism intensified. Steve King, an Iowa congressman and Tea Party favorite, complained that President Obama “favors the Black person.” In 2009, Rush Limbaugh, bard of white decline, called Obama’s presidency a time when “the white kids now get beat up, with the Black kids cheering ‘Yeah, right on, right on, right on.’ And of course everybody says the white kid deserved it. He was born a racist — he’s white.”
On Fox & Friends, Glenn Beck asserted that Obama had exposed himself as a guy “who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture … This guy is, I believe, a racist.” Beck later said he was wrong to call President Obama a racist. That same week he also called the president’s health-care plan “reparations.”
President Obama has become the most successful Black politician in American history by avoiding the radioactive racial issues of yesteryear, by being “clean” (as Joe Biden once labeled him) — and yet his indelible blackness irradiates everything he touches. For most of American history, our political system was premised on two conflicting facts—one, an oft-stated love of democracy; the other, an undemocratic white supremacy inscribed at every level of government.
"Part of the reason we're thinking about this is the dynamic of this being a Black president," said Mark Anthony Neal, a cultural and Black studies professor at Duke University.
Michael Tesler, following up on his research with David Sears on the role of race in the 2008 campaign, recently published a study assessing the impact of race on opposition to and support for health-care reform. The findings are bracing. President Obama’s election effectively racialized white Americans’ views, even of health-care policy.
As Tesler writes in a paper published in July in “The American Journal of Political Science,” “Racial attitudes had a significantly greater impact on health care opinions when framed as part of President Obama’s plan than they had when the exact same policies were attributed to President Clinton’s 1993 health care initiative.”
While Beck and Limbaugh have chosen direct racial assault, others choose simply to deny that a Black president actually exists. One in four Americans (and more than half of all Republicans) believes President Obama was not born in this country, and thus is an illegitimate president.
And more than a dozen state legislatures introduced “birther bills” demanding proof of President Obama’s citizenship as a condition for putting him on the 2012 ballot. Eighteen percent of Republicans believe Obama to be a Muslim.
The resentment is not confined to Republicans. Earlier this year, West Virginia gave 41 percent of the popular vote during the Democratic primary to Keith Judd, a white incarcerated felon (Judd actually defeated Obama in 10 counties). Joe Manchin, one of West Virginia’s senators, and Earl Ray Tomblin, its governor, did not attend this year’s Democratic convention.
As President Obama prepares for another four years, Erick Erickson, editor of “RedState,” writes that Mitt Romney lost because President Obama simply ran a superior campaign. Says Erickson, “there was just a really good ground game from Barack Obama and a lot of smoke and mirrors from Team Romney and outside charlatans,” including those who worked for Republican Super PACs, who never communicated an effective message.
For as long as Americans have been voting, there has been a large population of people would vote for whomever supported the causes of Christian, straight, white men. The population was large enough to win a great many elections for a very long time.
Now however the tables are turned. Hispanics, Blacks, young people, women, immigrants, and non-Christians are increasingly where the votes are. The Republican Party’s base is shrinking as younger people do not respond as readily to the old racist dog-whistle politics.
John Podhoretz at “The New York Post” agrees with Erickson that President Obama’s campaign was far superior to Romney’s. Podhoretz s said not only was the president’s message more effective, but he ran a strong state-by-state get-out-the vote effort that delivered his victory. Not to mention that President Obama also effectively persuaded voters that he inherited an America that was in dire straits when he took office, and worked hard to make things better, rallying the Democratic base that included young people, African-Americans and Hispanics. With that being said…race still seems to be a problem when it comes to accepting a Black president.
Most states allow employers to fire at will
It’s a sad but familiar scenario. The person stands in the middle of the office, surrounded by co-workers, not knowing where to look first. The shock is on their face. They try to catalog their feelings, to capture their emotions in words. But how can they do that? They have just been fired.
Today, most U.S. states have adopted the “At Will” employment contract that allows the employer to dismiss employees without having to provide a justified reason for firing. And although the variety of court cases that have come out of at-will dismissals have made such contracts ambiguous; often, an at-will termination is handled as a layoff.
“It has happened to me twice,” said Victoria Ashford, a career coach and owner and CEO at Fearless Leading Federation. “You can’t help but go into a tailspin. You’re fired without reason. They don’t have to tell you — you’re sitting there going — what is it? Is it my perfume? The bottom line is this … it was set up to protect the employer, when it should be the other way around - especially when someone is doing their job. I think it’s a horrible practice. It’s irresponsible.”
According to a study on the “Impact of Employment-at-will Clause on Employees and Employers” done by Irikefe Urhuogo of Argosy University, sometimes an employee will be dismissed if an employer can find better employees than the incumbent, even if the fired employee has not broken any rules.
This is common with probationary employees who were recently hired, but who cannot adjust to the environment of the workplace, or those who have been around for a long time, but can be replaced with a less experienced employee at a lower salary.
“Looking back, there were warning signs that those jobs were not for me,” said Ashford. “But at the time you’re so happy to just be working you ignore the warning signs. I tell people ‘Pay attention in the interview, because the job may not be for you. Therefore, it may be in your best interest to pass. Because unfortunately, you will find yourself right back where you started.’”
In all states other than Montana, employment relationships where there is no contract in place are governed by the "employment-at-will" doctrine. Employment-at-will means that there's a presumption that the employee is employed at the employer's will for an indefinite period rather than for a fixed term.
Montana law has abolished the "employment-at-will" status. In Montana, an employer can fire an employee who has completed a probationary period only for good cause. "Good cause" is defined as reasonable job-related grounds for dismissal based on a failure to satisfactorily perform job duties, disruption of operations, or other legitimate business reasons.
“Employees are at the mercy and common sense of the employer,” said Ethan A. Winning, an employer advocate for over three decades. “These are not constitutional rights but, rather, legislated rights on a federal and or state level. Much as you think you live in a democracy, the workplace is anything but democratic. You are not guaranteed freedom of speech, and even search and seizure is diminished by the fact that your personal property is on or in corporate property, which does not belong to you. And while a person does have the constitutional right to say whatever they want … the company has the right to terminate employment because of what they might say or do and the effect that that behavior has on other employees.”
An employee’s time on the job and how they can contribute to the betterment of an organization are not the only factors employers consider when deciding if they should terminate an employee.
Michael B. Hargis from the University of Tennessee hypothesized in the Abstract “Race Differences In Termination at Work: The Role of Educational Inequality,” that “Race will be related to termination. Specifically, African-American employees ...Even though the United States is a nation in which people from different nations live, there is still a deficit of people from different nationalities that have equal opportunity to contribute to organizational success. For these reasons, some employers choose to terminate minorities, especially African Americans, for unjust reasons.”
The terms in the Employment-At-Will clause suggest that employers cannot terminate employers for reason that goes against a federal law. In such cases the At-Will Employment clause does have a positive impact on employees. Hargis made reference to a source that points out that African Americans are often rated less favorably than Caucasians in the work place due to beliefs the rater has about African Americans.
Because of the employer’s right to fire someone at any time, many of them have come to believe that if they set up an at-will system and police it vigorously – they will be safe from lawsuits. This is not necessarily so. Employment law litigation is on the rise: According to Hargis, between 1970 and 2000, the overall caseload in federal courts grew by 125 percent. During the same period, the employment discrimination caseload before those courts grew by 2,166 percent.
At the same time, empirical studies, such as those by Professor Pauline Kim, employment law expert from the Washington University School of Law, have found that about 80 to 90 percent of employees believe that the law of the United States is just cause. They believe that employers are legally obligated to be fair in their treatment of employees, and as a result, employees believe they have an obligation to reciprocate.
“In the U.S., the combination of at-will employment and the lack of protections against workplace bullying make for a brutal combo punch that often leaves mistreated workers legally powerless,” said Law Professor David Yamada, founding Director of the New Workplace Institute at Suffolk University Law School in Boston. “I once wrote a short post criticizing the rule of at-will employment, which allows an employer to terminate an employee for any reason or no reason at all.
“In America — in contrast to many other nations — at-will is the presumptive employment relationship. This leaves workers especially vulnerable when they are subjected to severe workplace bullying by a supervisor, enabled by the employer. Because most bullying falls outside the protections of current employment law, workers have scant legal recourse, and employers have little incentive — at least from a liability standpoint — to act preventively and responsively.”
Zack Burgess is a freelance writer and editor who covers culture, politics and sports. He can be contacted at zackburgess.com and followed on Twitter @zackburgess1.