Navy veteran Dan Parks was stationed at a submarine base in New London where he was exposed to ionized radiation. His discharge paperwork even includes a stamp that says he was being discharged, in part, because of his radiation exposure. Now, Mr. Parks has developed throat cancer, and VA doctors have written letters to the Department of Veterans Affairs stating there is a better than ever chance that the cancer was caused by his radiation exposure. The VA, however, has denied his claim, stating there is no proof he was exposed to radiation in the Navy. Mr. Parks received his denial three years after he filed his initial claim, and his appeal will not be looked at for another 18 months. As he stated: “If the VA won’t accept their own doctors, where does a veteran turn?”
During last month’s mass shooting in Las Vegas, several off-duty California police officers took decisive action and some were even injured. When they returned home, their workers’ compensation claims were denied. The California statute states that public agencies must pay benefits to off-duty officers hurt while they are involved in the protection or preservation of life or property, or the preservation of peace anywhere in the state, but it makes no mention of out-of-state incidents. Some attorneys believe that ambiguities in the legislation should be resolved by lawmakers. Others believe that preservation of life leaves no restrictions on the officer’s location at the time of the incident. The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs stated: “Where the law is vague, the legislature has instructed the courts to liberally construe workers’ compensation statutes in favor of injured workers.” If the claims are approved, taxpayers may have to pay the officers’ medical bills, and the officers could be eligible for paid time off and early retirement.
More and more states are legalizing marijuana use for medical conditions, and employers are struggling to keep up with the changing laws. Courts in at least six states where medical marijuana use is legal have held that employers have a right to enforce zero tolerance drug policies. But recent cases in Rhode Island and Massachusetts could set a different precedent. In Rhode Island, the Superior Court held that an employer could not refuse to hire a cardholder for medical marijuana, even if the employee would fail a mandatory drug test as a prerequisite for employment. Similarly, in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Supreme Court held that an employee who was terminated after testing positive for marijuana as a result of a lawful prescription may assert a claim of handicap discrimination under state law. They stated further that even if an employer has a drug policy prohibiting the use of medical marijuana, the employer has a duty to engage with the employee to determine if there are other equally effective alternatives. If not, the employer must show that the marijuana use would cause the company undue hardship.
In California, Judge Maren Nelson threw out a $417 million verdict against Johnson & Johnson, stating that the case was underpinned by errors and insufficient evidence on both sides, which led to excessive damages. The verdict came in response to a lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed she developed ovarian cancer after using Johnson & Johnson’s talc-based baby powder for feminine hygiene. She accused Johnson & Johnson of inadequately warning consumers about the cancer risks of its talc-based products. Johnson & Johnson faces lawsuits by 4,800 plaintiffs across the country asserting talc-related claims.
President Trump ran for president on a campaign platform to fix the VA. Since taking office some improvements have been made. For example, 1,000 staff have been fired for misconduct since January. But the agency still needs to be transformed so that its new staff can succeed, and good employees can do so without fear of retribution. VA Secretary David Shulkin will remove limitations on the existing veterans Choice Program, which makes it easier for any veteran to use private health care providers if they cannot get a timely appointment at a VA facility or live more than 40 miles from the nearest VA facility. Additionally, veterans will be allowed to see private doctors paid for by the VA. The private sector may be the answer the VA is looking for since the VA is clearly unable to cope as an overextended agency.
Medicaid is a health insurance program that is funded by federal and state governments to provide benefits for senior citizens, low-income and needy people, pregnant women, children, and people who are disabled. President Trump has proposed reducing spending on Medicaid by $800 billion over the next ten years. His advisors say the cuts are necessary to balance the budget and focus on programs that don’t work well. Medicaid currently covers 72 million people nationwide. It is also the largest payer of long-term care in the country; long-term care for senior citizens accounts for 42% of Medicaid spending.
Three African-American workers have filed a lawsuit against Tesla, claiming they experienced racial discrimination and harassment while employed at the Fremont, California factory. They claim that their supervisors and other workers used racial epithets and drew racist graffiti on cardboard boxes. A Tesla representative alleges that the men never raised concerns about racial discrimination while they were employed at Tesla and stated that there are no complaints filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or the Department of Fair Employment and Housing. The spokesperson also stated that the men never filed complaints about the discrimination and harassment they claim to have experienced while they were working for the company; additionally, more than a year has passed since some of the men have been employed by Tesla.
On October 9, 2017, Attorney General Jeff Sessions released a 25-page memo that offers guidance to federal agencies and prosecutors concerning giving religious groups, organizations, businesses, and individuals leeway in enforcing discrimination laws. President Trump signed an executive order in May to expansively offer protections for people of faith and their associations and institutions from interference from the federal government in civil rights laws. One portion of the guidance directs lawyers in the Justice Department to scrutinize every proposed federal regulation. It is clear that the significance of this memo will depend largely in how it is interpreted. Although the memo does not change federal law, it does ensure that those who run afoul of laws and policies on religious grounds will be treated with respect, if not actual favor.