Illinois Accuses AT&T of Skirting State Mandate

     CHICAGO (CN) — Illinois claims in court that AT&T tricked the state into giving it a $144 million contract by claiming there were no qualified minority-owned subcontractors it could use for the job.     The state sued AT&T, through relator Anthony Burketh, for allegedly violating the Illinois False Claims Act to get a contract to provide CISCO brand hardware, software and services as well as equipment upgrades.     Illinois has set a minimum goal for 10 percent of all state contract work to be performed by businesses owned by a minority.     When it applied for the job in 2008, AT&T “knew and understood that a proposed contract between the state and AT&T would need to be in compliance with the state’s minority owned business goals or requirement,” according to the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Cook County Circuit Court.     Although there were “numerous” minority-owned businesses that could have qualified as a subcontractor, such as Net Structure Assets Solutions owned by Burketh, the state says AT&T wanted to use nonparty Ray Allen Inc. instead.     According to the complaint, the telecommunications giant “knew that if it were able to convince, though falsely, the state that no legitimate minority-owned businesses were able to perform the work, the state would grant a waiver of the subcontracting goal based on that misrepresentation.”     In its application the, company said no such businesses existed and asked for a waiver which, Illinois claims, was never approved, despite the contract being awarded.     “AT&T knowingly and intentionally proceeded to enter into and perform under the contract with the State of Illinois…without ever employing any qualified minority owned businesses whatsoever and with full knowledge that no waiver of that requirement had ever actually been granted,” the lawsuit states.     When confronted by state officials, an employee of the company allegedly claimed the waiver had in fact been granted, and then changed her story to say that Ray Allen was a minority-owned business.     Burketh and the state, represented by Michael Leonard of Leonard Meyer LLP, are asking that AT&T return the money it was paid under the contract, as well as damages and penalties.     AT&T did not immediately return a request for comment from Courthouse News.

Read more

Chicago Residents Fight Home-Sharing Rules

     CHICAGO (CN) — Renters claim in a federal class action that Chicago’s new ordinance regulating the use of home-sharing websites like Airbnb makes it nearly impossible for the city’s residents to host paid guests.     The recent growth of the home-sharing phenomenon “has led to a reaction by municipalities, including the City of Chicago, based largely out of fear and misunderstanding, mixed with economic protectionism from the hotel and motel industry,” according to the complaint, which was filed Friday in Chicago federal court.     In June, the Chicago City Council passed the shared-housing ordinance, which requires hosts to register with the city and requires the websites they use to report personal and transaction information about each of them.     The contested ordinance goes into effect Dec. 19.     Keep Chicago Livable, a home-sharing host advocate group, and Chicago resident and Airbnb host Benjamin Wolf filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of a proposed subclass of Chicago hosts who rent their properties on sites like Airbnb, VRBO, TripAdvisor, HomeAway or FlipKey.     The lawsuit also seeks to represent a second subclass of people who have been home-sharing guests in Chicago.     KCL and Wolf claim the new rules violate both the U.S. Constitution and the Stored Communications Act, and place “impossible burdens on hosts.”     “With this law, the City of Chicago creates a new power for itself unprecedented in the United States: the power to force its citizens to forfeit their anonymity and register before they participate socially on the internet,” the complaint states, adding that obtaining that information without consent or a warrant is against the law.     Not only that, KCL and Wolf say the ordinance involves a slew of confusing regulations that could leave hosts with fines of up to $5,000 per day if they fail to follow the new rules.     “These penalties are buried inside 57 pages of dense and impenetrable legalese that the city knew, or should know, that ordinary citizens would never read or fully understand,” the lawsuit says.     Chicago also put a cap on how many units can be listed on home-sharing sites for various types of buildings, according to the complaint, and building owners and managers can add their building to a “prohibited list” without notifying tenants or unit owners, meaning hosts may be violating the ordinance without even knowing it.     Hosts have to review city building and zoning lists to make sure they are allowed to list their units and must agree to all provisions of the ordinance, all without legal advice, the lawsuit states.     A list of restrictions involving sanitation, food handling, evacuation procedures and a ban on serving alcohol make it even harder for an individual person to rent their apartment out for the weekend, according to KCL and Wolf.     And the city is not letting all of this happen for free. Its new ordinance includes a $10,000 annual fee per home-sharing website, a $60 per unit fee and a 4 percent tax on all bookings that Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel says will be used to combat homelessness.     KCL and Wolf seek a preliminary injunction to stop the ordinance from taking effect later this year, until its legality is determined. They are represented by Shorge Kenneth Sato of Shoken Legal Ltd. and by Reda & Des Jardins LLC.     Chicago’s legal department said in a statement, “We intend to vigorously defend this suit and the ordinance it challenges, as we believe the plaintiffs’ legal arguments lack any merit.”     Similar lawsuits have been filed by residents of Austin, Texas and Santa Monica, Calif.     Airbnb has sued both San Francisco and New York for passing regulations that hurt its home-sharing business model.

Read more

Chicago Faces New Bias Claims Over Job Tests

     CHICAGO (CN) — Twelve female paramedics claim in a federal lawsuit that the Chicago Fire Department refuses to follow a court order to stop fitness testing that prevents many women from joining its ranks.      Last month, the Seventh Circuit court found that the physical fitness test the city was giving to paramedic recruits had nothing to do with the requirements of the job and discriminated against women, who disproportionately failed the test.     The city replaced its physical test with a different assessment in 2014, according to the new lawsuit filed Friday in Chicago federal court.     But according to the group of female paramedics that were suspended or discharged from CFD’s training academy, the old test was replaced by two new physical tests meant to do the same thing — keep them out of the department.     “This testing has no legally defensible justification and eliminates a significant number of women, but virtually no men,” the complaint states. “Its discriminatory effect has not been accidental.”     From 1996 through 2014, the CFD remained over 70 percent male, and it has long been the subject of discrimination complaints. The department has allegedly failed to accommodate nursing mothers or put a stop to harassment, and has refused to provide female firefighters and paramedics with adequate bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.     “The city’s discrimination against women in the CFD is stubborn and purposeful. It reflects a deep-seated hostility within the CFD to allowing women to serve,” Friday’s lawsuit states.     September’s Seventh Circuit ruling was based on a 2008 lawsuit challenging the department’s physical test that was allegedly designed so that most women could not pass it.     The Chicago-based appeals court found that the test violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, based on a “lack of connection between real job skills and tested job skills.”     “Now the city is allowing more women to enter the academy — but is flunking them before they can graduate,” according to the new complaint.     Once in the training academy, the paramedics say recruits must pass the lifting and moving sequence, which requires them to carry a 250-pound mannequin up and down six flights of stairs with a partner without allowing the chair it is on to touch anything.     They also have to successfully complete a step test, stepping up and down from an 18-inch high platform with two 25-pound weights for two minutes, all the while keeping time with a metronome, according to the 22-page lawsuit.     These physical requirements once again have nothing to do with job performance, the paramedics claim, and once again are failed mostly by women, “as if the city has learned nothing.”     “The new tests are as ill-matched to the requirements of the job as the test was in [the 2008 case],” the complaint states. “The new testing serves only one demonstrable purpose—to continue to disproportionately deny employment to women, without any job-related justification, in violation of Title VII.”     The female parademics are suing for Title VII violations, and are represented by Marni Willenson of Willenson Law LLC and Hughes, Socol, Piers, Resnick & Dym Ltd. Both firms are based in Chicago.     Chicago’s legal department did not immediately respond Monday to a request for comment from Courthouse News.

Read more

University Accused of Illegal Fetal Research

     MINNEAPOLIS (CN) — An anti-abortion group has accused the University of Minnesota of illegally using fetal remains for medical research.     In its petition filed in Hennepin County District Court, the St. Paul-based Pro-Life Action Ministries (PLAM) says “the university is engaged in a continuous unauthorized usurpation of authority,” by conducting transplantation research using human fetal tissue.     Under state law, laboratory tests on such remains are allowed only if they involve the health of the mother or her future offspring, are used to determine the parentage of the fetus or are part of a criminal investigation.     “None of these exceptions in Minnesota Statute apply to the University of Minnesota’s administrative policy,” the 39-page Oct. 19 petition claims.     The university’s alleged use of fetal tissue surfaced last summer amidst the “undercover videos released about Planned Parenthood selling body parts,” PLAM’s executive director Brian Gibson said in an interview.     Some of the videos mentioned Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR), a “procurement company selling body parts” out of California, Gibson said.     A Freedom of Information Act request from the local media revealed that the university was obtaining various organs, as well as fetal remains, from ABR.     While the university’s policy states that it does not use tissue obtained from aborted fetuses, university officials admitted they did not know where the fetuses they obtain through ABR originated.     According to the petition, university president Eric Kaler responded to a letter stating that “the university does not know all of the various sources of fetal tissue procured by ABR. However, ABR has informed the university that it procures tissue from induced abortions at clinics throughout the country.”     The university “came under fire publicly” for its research policies, Gibson said, but “none of the authorities charged with holding people accountable were doing so.”      This prompted PLAM to file its petition.     The university has since changed its policy so that any fetal tissue for research is obtained from outside the state. It also claims its research can be used to treat serious diseases, disorders and injuries.     “That somehow makes it legal,” Gibson said.     The petition adds that “if the legislature sought to allow greater breadth of testing involving human fetal tissue, it would have stated such.”     “Using the remains of aborted babies is problematic on many levels,” Gibson added. He argued that, once they are allowed to be used for research, “we’re commodifying those remains” and creating a market for them.     Civilization has long recognized that “we don’t desecrate the remains of humans,” according to Gibson, and the law states that such remains must be treated with dignity.     The university claimed in a statement that “the Board and administration obtained a thorough legal analysis of whether the university can conduct research utilizing fetal tissue in compliance with state and federal law. This included a review from independent, external counsel affirming that it does. The university remains committed to ensuring our faculty have the ability to conduct legal research in a legal and ethical manner to advance human understanding and create new knowledge. We also remain committed to doing so consistent with all applicable law.”     But the petition argues that, despite the university’s intentions, it “has forsaken the explicit mandate of an unambiguous statute.”     “We’re not looking for any fines or criminal charges,” Gibson said, adding that PLAM just wants the school to follow the law.     The petition asks the court to issue a writ requiring the university to show how it has the authority to use fetal tissue in its research.     PLAM is represented by Erick Kaardal of Mohrman, Kaardal & Erickson in Minneapolis.

Read more

Collector Takes Deer Antlers to Federal Court

     MADISON, Wis. (CN) — A trophy collector who takes it seriously brought a federal complaint to try to make a national conservation club recognize his rack of deer antlers as a world record.     Jay K. Fish, of L’Anse, Mich., sued the Missoula, Mont.-based Boone and Crockett Club, which was founded in 1887 by Theodore Roosevelt and George Bird Grinnell.     The club “maintains the records of native North American big game as a vital conservation record in assessing the success of wildlife management programs,” it says on its website. It began a book, Records of North American Big Game, in 1932, using a copyrighted measuring and scoring system.     Fish claims his antlers, the “King Buck,” beats the defendant’s world record for a whitetail deer rack, a buck killed by Milo Hanson in 1993 with a score of 213-5/8.     The King Buck was killed in 2006 in Wisconsin by John King and the club rated it as a “typical” rack at 218-4/8, “which would rank the King Buck as the highest-scoring typical white-tailed deer among all of the specimens ever recorded by Boone & Crockett,” Fish says in his complaint.     But another club official reexamined the King Buck and decided it was a “non-typical” rack, meaning its tines were uneven and not the normal six on each side, lowering its score dramatically.     Fish bought the antlers from King in 2009 and had yet another club official, Ron Boucher, examine them. He says Boucher gave them a score of 213-6/8 for a typical rack, putting the King Buck back on top.     The club itself is the only defendant.     Fish says he sent the club notice of his King Buck score, but it refused to give it the record. Fish says the club did that by changing its measuring and scoring guidelines, “modifications which appear intended to justify Boone & Crockett’s refusal to rank the King Buck as the new Boone & Crockett World’s Record.”     Undismayed, or still dismayed, Fish says he got a panel of club judges to reassess the King Buck in 2012, and they called it atypical, with a low score. Fish claims the fix had been put in, and that the club “permanently terminated two of its official measurers, each of which individually having over 25 years of measuring and scoring experience and one of which was Ron Boucher, as a consequence of their involvement with Mr. Fish.”     In a 2012 statement still posted on the Boone & Crockett Club’s website, the club says that Fish “began a campaign to dispute the score” of the rack after he bought it, “presumably as an investment.”     It claims that Fish “shopped for a Boone and Crockett Club volunteer official measurer willing to perform an unauthorized rescoring of the rack. In doing so, Mr. Ron Boucher crossed a longstanding Club policy and Code of Conduct. Moreover, he rescored the rack incorrectly. …     “Eventually, Boone and Crockett Club was forced to dismiss two individuals for violating the Club’s policies and Code of Conduct. It was not the first time that strong action has been taken to protect the integrity of the Boone and Crockett Club’s records program — and the trophy data used by so many professionals in science-based management of whitetails.”     The clubs records committee chairman Eldon Buckner said in a statement: “There’s a lot of process and due diligence, and through it all, it’s important to remember the chief reason why we keep records in the first place. It’s not to aggrandize hunters, rank individual animals or monetize trophies, but to document conservation success. I’m confident that our panel has upheld the historic integrity of our records.”     Fish seeks money damages and wants to club ordered to give his antlers the record.     He is represented by Daniel Varline with Davczyk & Varline of Wausau, who could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Read more