Jessica Ritter Recognized as a Hartford “40 Under Forty”

Shipman & Goodwin LLP partner Jessica L. Ritter has been selected by the Hartford Business Journal as one of its “40 Under Forty” outstanding young professionals in the Greater Hartford area. The award honors individuals who are excelling in their industries and communities through their leadership, commitment to business success and involvement in the community.

Ms. Ritter is a member of the firm’s School Law Practice Group, where she works with many of the 125+ public school districts the firm represents throughout Connecticut as well as a large number of independent schools. She represents these clients in a broad range of matters related to collective bargaining, employment, school policy, freedom of information and student conduct; she also represents clients in labor disputes, employment litigation and mediation and interest arbitration proceedings. In addition to her practice, Ms. Ritter has been an Adjunct Professor at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education and regularly serves as a guest lecturer for educational classes across the State. She has been listed as a Connecticut Super Lawyer Rising Star for the last three years and is an active member of Shipman & Goodwin’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

Ms. Ritter has a strong commitment to community involvement. She currently serves on the Board of Trustees of the Mark Twain House & Museum and is a former member of the Board of Directors of the Connecticut Housing Investment Fund (now known as Capital for Change, Inc.). Through the firm, she has contributed her time and legal knowledge to the Pro Bono Security Deposit Clinic of Statewide Legal Services of CT, Inc. and volunteered as a weekly tutor for the Fred D. Wish School Volunteer Tutor Program. Prior to attending law school, Ms. Ritter served as a volunteer with AmeriCorps in the greater Boston area, performing 1,700 hours of volunteer work that included teaching, tutoring, mentoring and coaching students at various age levels.

USCIS Releases New Form I-9

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released the new Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification dated as of today, July 17, 2017.

Employers will be able to use this revised version or continue using Form I-9 with a revision date of 11/14/16N through September 17, 2017. As of September 18, employers must use the newly revised form with a revision date of 07/17/17N.  Employers must continue to follow existing storage and retention rules for any previously completed Form I-9.

Transgender and Genderqueer Public School Students: School Safety in an Era of Uncertainty

The Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities (CHRO) is presenting the following symposium.  This is a free presentation open to the public.  Although this presentation is focused on public schools, the topic should be of interest to all educators, including educators at independent schools, colleges and universities.

Transgender and Genderqueer Public School Students: School Safety in an Era of Uncertainty

July 27, 2017 from 3:00 to 5:00 PM
The Old Judiciary Room (Third Floor), Capitol, Hartford
There is no charge to attend. Light refreshments will follow the symposium.

This event will provide educators and attorneys the opportunity to identify and discuss law which protects LGBTQA+ students from unlawful discrimination and discriminatory bullying in the schools.

Panelists will review and discuss best practices regarding education, advocacy, and protection for transgender and genderqueer students in public schools. In accordance with the mission of the CHRO, the event is intended to inform attendees about the protections afforded these students by human rights statutes in the State of Connecticut and to provide a forum for discussion regarding what steps can be taken to expand upon the principles of equal opportunity and justice that they establish.

Please contact Thomas.Reid@ct.gov if you require further information or accommodations.

Connecticut Independent Schools Required to Perform Background Checks on Potential Employees Effective July 1, 2017

In 2016, Connecticut passed legislation that significantly expanded the scope of  background check requirements for public schools when hiring new employees.  That law, colloquially referred to as the “Pass the Trash” bill, was intended to make it harder for a school employee to quietly resign amidst allegations of abuse, neglect or sexual misconduct, only to be hired by another school unaware of the employee’s prior history.  On June 27, 2017, Governor Malloy signed into law Public Act 17- 68 which extends the background check requirements applicable to public schools to any “nonpublic school” in Connecticut.  Further, this new legislation reverses the applicability to independent schools of Connecticut’s “ban the box” legislation, which became effective earlier this year.

The new requirements became effective July 1, 2017.  We therefore recommend that independent schools review and amend existing hiring policies and procedures to ensure compliance with these new requirements.

DCF Registry and Criminal History Records Checks

Under this new law, independent schools must now require applicants to:

  • Submit to a check of the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”) abuse and neglect registry before hire;
  • State whether they have ever been convicted of a crime or have criminal charges pending against them; and
  • Undergo a state and national criminal history records check within thirty days from the date of employment.

Although applicants are required to undergo these criminal history records checks effective July 1, 2017, the law is clear that independent schools may also require employees hired prior to July 1, 2017 to undergo the criminal history records checks, even though such checks are not required.  Independent schools may use regional educational service centers (“RESCs”) to arrange for the fingerprinting and processing of the criminal history records checks, but the school remains responsible for paying any fees associated with conducting the required criminal history records check.

State Department of Education Check

In addition to the above requirements, part of the comprehensive background check process will require independent schools to request information from the Connecticut State Department of Education regarding an applicant.  Specifically, as a result of this new law, schools must contact the Department of Education and ask for information concerning (1) the applicant’s eligibility for employment for any position requiring a teaching certificate, license or permit; (2) whether the Department has knowledge that the applicant has been disciplined for a finding of abuse, neglect or sexual misconduct; and (3) whether the Department has information about any criminal convictions or pending charges against the applicant. Continue Reading

How Will Federal Legal and Regulatory Changes Impact Connecticut Employers?

Supreme Court columns with American flag and US CapitolThis post originally appeared on the Connecticut Employment Law Blog on June 28, 2017. 

For the last six years, you haven’t seen much on this blog about changes to federal employment laws because, well, there just weren’t any.  What we DID see, however, were changes to regulations and enforcement orders.

Nearly six months into the new Trump administration, we’re now starting to see significant shifts in the federal regulatory scheme too.A lot of national employment law blogs have been starting to recap them so I’m not going to go too in depth here. Among the changes? A death-knell to the persuader rule, and, earlier this month, a pullback of guidance on joint employment and independent contractor rules.   And it looks like the overtime rule changes are still in limbo as well, with the DOL “rethinking” such rules in news articles this week.

You don’t need to have a law degree to understand that these changes will favor companies.

Last night too, the Trump administration named the final member of a new National Labor Relations Board who will, no doubt, start rolling back other labor law decisions that have favored employees and labor unions as well.

But what will the impact be in Connecticut?

It’s still a bit early to tell, but I think the impact may be muted in some ways. After all, we have a CONNECTICUT Department of Labor that still marches to its own drum.  For example, it has taken a pretty aggressive view on who is (or is not) an employee vs. an independent contractor.

Indeed, as I’ve discussed before, the Obama-era rule changes might have, in fact, helped level the playing field for some Connecticut employers who have felt that they have had to comply with stricter Connecticut rules which made them less competitive nationwide.  With the rollback of some of these rules at the federal level, Connecticut’s higher standards may come back into play more often.

That may be overstating it a bit, but Connecticut employers will have to play catchup to figure out the patchwork of federal and state regulations and the interplay between them.

Perhaps it is more fair to say that things are still shaking out this year for Connecticut employers.  The General Assembly session that just ended was more quiet than most.  But at a national level, employers shouldn’t be too quick to make too many changes because there seems to be many more aspects in flux than in years past.

The only thing I’ll predict for the next six months is that we have all the ingredients in place for a wild roller coaster ride with more changes than we’ve seen in some time.

So buckle up.   Things are just getting interesting.

Legislature Revises Physical Restraint and Seclusion Training Requirements

Dome of State House in Hartford, ConnecticutEarlier this month, the General Assembly passed House Bill 7276, now Public Act 17-220, which contains a number of provisions aimed at providing “mandate relief” to boards of education.  Section 5 of Public Act 17-220, effective July 1, 2017, makes significant changes to the physical restraint and seclusion training requirements that were enacted as part of Public Act 15-141 (now codified at Conn. Gen. Stat. § 10-236b).  While this new law must still must be signed by the Governor to become law, school districts may wish to consider these revisions as they plan for staff professional development. Continue Reading

Supreme Court Decides to Hear Travel and Refugee Ban Case and Clarifies Enforcement of Executive Orders Pending Hearing

US Supreme CourtOn June 26, 2017, the Supreme Court consolidated the two key cases in the travel and refugee ban litigation sparked by President Trump’s executive orders and decided that the case will be heard during the first session of the October 2017 term.  In the meantime, the Court will allow the administration to implement parts of President Trump’s second executive order (EO-2), which bans the entry of nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from the United States for at least 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days.

In a narrow decision, the Court ruled that the government can only enforce the travel ban against foreign nationals who do not have a “credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States.”

Essentially, what this means is that individuals from the six countries already listed will be permitted to enter the United States if they have a “close familial relationship” with someone already here or if they have a “formal, documented” relationship with an American entity formed “in the ordinary course” of business.  However, the Court said that such relationships cannot be established for the purpose of avoiding the travel ban.

The government is likely to begin applying the travel ban in the limited fashion permitted by the Supreme Court very soon. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a statement on June 26th confirming that it would provide details on implementation of the Court’s decision after consultation with the Department of Justice and the State Department. DHS stated that the implementation would be “done professionally, with clear and sufficient public notice, particularly to potentially affected travelers, and in coordination with partners in the travel industry.”

Who is likely to be allowed to enter the United States?

  • Individuals who have valid immigrant or non-immigrant visas issued on or before June 26, 2017
  • Individuals with visas coming to live or visit with family members
  • Students who have been admitted to a U.S. university, workers who have accepted offers of employment with U.S. companies, and lecturers invited to address an American audience. It remains to be seen whether students admitted to U.S. public or independent secondary schools will also be allowed to enter.
  • Other types of business travelers – It is still unclear whether individuals with employment-based visas that do not require a petitioning employer will be able to demonstrate the requisite relationship with a U.S. entity
  • Refugees – A refugee with a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with an U.S. person or entity may not be excluded even if the 50,000 cap on refugees has been reached or exceeded. Most refugees processed overseas have family or other connections to the United States, including with refugee resettlement agencies. However, it is unclear from the Court’s ruling whether a relationship with a refugee resettlement agency constitutes a “formal, documented [relationship] formed in the ordinary course of [business].” Consequently, it remains to be seen whether or not the government will take the position that refugees without family connections in the United States are not protected by the narrowed injunction.

Who may experience difficulties entering the United States?

  • Individuals who form bona fide relationships with individuals or entities in the United States after June 26, 2017
  • Tourists – Nationals of the six designated countries who are not planning to visit family in the United States and who are coming for other reasons, including sightseeing, may be denied entry

It remains to be seen how implementation of the order will proceed, and there will no doubt be intense scrutiny by the media, as well as by Muslim, immigrant and refugee rights organizations.  We will update you as developments warrant.

New Rules: OCR Issues Internal Memorandum Impacting Enforcement Practices for Pending and Future Investigations

Pile of binders partially obscured by a magnifying glassEarlier this month, the U. S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights’ Acting Assistant Secretary issued an internal memorandum to Regional Directors eliminating certain existing internal procedures and detailing new practices regarding the investigation of OCR complaints.  With the articulated goals of assisting regional offices in clearing case backlogs and ensuring timely resolution of the complaints, the memorandum instructs that investigative teams should:

  1. No longer follow a “one size fits all approach to the investigation of any category of complaints;”
  2. Not mandate “that any one type of complaint is automatically treated differently than any other type of complaint with respect to” scope, the type or amount of data needed or the type or amount of oversight required from the federal headquarters;
  3. No longer automatically confer with the federal headquarters on certain cases;
  4. “Only apply a ‘systemic’ or ‘class-action’ approach where the individual complaint allegations themselves raises systemic or class-wide issues or the investigative teams determines a systemic approach is warranted through conversations with the complainant;” and
  5. No longer adhere to the rule requiring the production of “three (3) years of past complaint data/files in order to assess a recipient’s compliance….”

In tandem with the above, the memorandum explicitly empowers investigative teams “to determine on a case-by-case basis the type and scope of evidence that is necessary to support a legally sound investigation and determination, with the understanding that all OCR investigations are to be framed in their scope by the allegations of each particular complaint.”  In short, the new directives make clear that decision-making authority and discretion lies with the regional office and their investigative teams, rather than with the federal headquarters.  Importantly, these new practices regarding investigations are effective immediately and apply to new cases as well as those currently pending.

Although there are no direct burdens placed on recipient schools as result of OCR’s internal memorandum, it is unclear how the change in practices will impact the approach of regional offices and their investigative teams in pending and future investigations.  Consequently, it is important that recipient schools engage in periodic review, and make changes where necessary, of their policies and procedures to ensure compliance with the laws and regulations that fall within OCR’s jurisdiction.

The full text of the OCR’s memorandum may be found here.

Gwen Zittoun to Present at the Annual Connecticut Secondary Transition Symposium

Zittoun_G_WebOn June 22, 2017 Gwen Zittoun will present, “Legal Issues concerning Secondary Transition for Special Education Students” at the Annual Connecticut Secondary Transition Symposium to be held at Gateway Community College in New Haven, Connecticut.

The University of Connecticut Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities (UCEDD), the Connecticut Department of Rehabilitation Services (DORS), the Connecticut State Department of Education, and the State Education Resource Center (SERC) are hosting the 3rd Annual Symposium focused on helping school districts improve their secondary transition practices. For more information, view the event brochure.

Legislative Recap: Pregnancy Accommodations But No Paid FMLA

State capitol in Hartford, CTThis post originally appeared on the Connecticut Employment Law Blog on June 9, 2017. 

Well, the Connecticut General Assembly ended earlier this week and, as predicted, it ended with a whimper and not a bang.  Many employment law proposals failed to receive votes, including those on minimum wage and Paid FMLA, leaving many employers (and the CBIA) breathing a bit of a sigh of relief.

I’ve previously recapped most of the bills here and here, so I’m only going to recap the session here in the interests of time.

  • The Governor is expected to sign a bill expanding the requirements for employers to provide reasonable accommodations to pregnant employees. Again, I’ve recapped the measure here but this is probably the most significant bill to come out of the session regarding employers.
  • There will be no minimum wage hike and the introduction of Paid FMLA failed to get enough votes this term.  There is little doubt that the split in the Senate along party lines slowed momentum down for what was going to be the Democrat party’s signature achievement this session.
  • Also not getting votes this session was a bill that would have prohibited many employers from running credit checks on prospective employees and a bill that would required employers to give advance notice to employees about their work shifts.
  • Another bill that would change whistleblower protections in Connecticut also failed to clear the House.

Some of the other technical changes, to workers compensation or unemployment compensation, offer up a mixed bag. I’ve covered them in a prior post.

A special session is still on the way and it’s possible that some measures will get plopped into an “implementer” bill for the budget like it did a few years ago.  But my gut tells me that the budget is unlike to be used this way given the significant financial issues in play.  Nonetheless, employers should continue to watch for any developments in this area until the special session is closed.

LexBlog