August 24, 2012 by Robert Tharp at 12:00:00 am
Former FBI director Louis Freeh’s exhaustive report on the Penn State sex abuse scandal offers a sobering picture of the workplace culture inside Penn State that allowed Jerry Sandusky’s pattern of child sexual abuse to go unreported for so long. While businesses and employers would prefer to think that their workplace environment is far different from that of Penn State and its mighty football program, employment attorney Audrey Mross at Dallas-based Munck Wilson Mandala LLP says the Freeh Report findings and recommendations offer valuable tips that any business can use.
The report pulls no punches in outlining “catastrophic” leadership failures within the school. Writes the Washington Post:
The report wrote that four of the top officials at the university “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children for over a decade.” It says that the former president “discouraged discussion and dissent.” And it notes that the “most senior leaders” at Penn State demonstrated “total and consistent disregard…for the safety and welfare of Sandusky’s child victims.”
Top leaders were “unchecked by the Board of Trustees that did not perform its oversight duties.” The board “failed in its duties to oversee the President [Graham Spanier] and senior University officials in 1998 and 2001 by not inquiring about important University matters and by not creating an environment where senior University officials felt accountable.” And they were blamed for “overconfidence in Spanier’s abilities to deal with the crisis,” a “complacent attitude” and a failure to have “regular reporting procedures or committee structures in place to ensure disclosure to the Board of major risks to the University.”
One might argue that if the president chose not to alert the board about incidents in 1998 and 2001, then the trustees were simply left in the dark and couldn’t have done more. The Freeh report sees it differently. Because it did not have “regular reporting procedures or committee structures in place to ensure disclosure” of major risks, the board “failed to exercise its oversight and reasonable inquiry responsibilities,” the report states.
Beginning at page 127 of the report, numerous recommendations offer ways to make any organization accountable and more transparent, establish higher ethics and oversight standards and develop ways to ensure that workers feel comfortable voicing concerns.
"Offering protection to whistleblowers who point out wrongdoing, holding leaders accountable for their actions, and having zero tolerance for abuse are touchstones that all organizations should adopt," says Mross, whose labor and employment practice includes helping clients develop workplace employment policies and guidebooks.
August 23, 2012 by Robert Tharp at 12:00:00 am
Many were surprised by the news this month that retired Dallas Stars hockey legend Mike Modano and singer/actress wife Willa Ford have filed are divorcing after five years of marriage and four previous years of courtship.
Details may one day shed light on the causes of this sports star/entertainment celebrity breakup, but observers point out that it’s notable that the breakup comes less than a year after Modano experienced a major life change by retiring from his pro hockey career. Relationships involving highly successful dual-career couples often come under strain when one partner retires, says Brad LaMorgese, a partner in the Family Law firm of McCurley Orsinger McCurley Nelson & Downing L.L.P.
"The toll paid on a marriage when a spouse has a major change in their professional life can be irreparably compounded when the other is still moving ahead full speed in their chosen field," LaMorgese says. "The initial compromises a high-power couple forge to make their relationship work may not be able to withstand the seismic shift in goals and expectations."
August 21, 2012 by Robert Tharp at 12:00:00 am
With construction now underway on the Texas leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline, players on both sides of the politically polarizing project are anxiously awaiting an east Texas judge’s ruling on a closely watched challenge to TransCanada's use of eminent domain to obtain right-of-way use of private property.
In a recent Law360 update on the court battle between an individual property owner and TransCanada, real estate and eminent domain lawyer Charles Fiscus of Shackelford Melton & McKinley in Dallas described how the two sides are locked in a battle over the oil company’s designation as a “common carrier,” which allows it to seize private property. As such, TransCanada must prove the project will benefit the public, and not just the company.
Fiscus said the Crawford case was “the exception as opposed to the rule” when it comes to condemnation suits brought by oil and gas companies because the vast majority of such cases are settled. But Fiscus noted that the case raises issues that should cause litigators to take pause when seeking a judicial condemnation judgment based on common carrier status. Because property ownership is a politically and emotionally charged issue, Fiscus said the perception that private land is being taken for a commercial purpose raises the evidentiary bar.
“The further your client gets away from being a public entity ... the more you’re going to have to make sure you can prove you are taking the land for public use,” he said.
But the high-profile nature of the case makes it likely that public officials will be paying close attention to the ability of common carriers to condemn land, particularly with a seat on the Railroad Commission set to be filled in November, Fiscus said.
“The pipeline is coming through a lot of farmland and land that has been in family hands for three or four generations,” he said. “People are attached to their land.”
August 3, 2012 by Dave Moore at 12:00:00 am
Medicare fraud costs U.S. taxpayers $60 billion a year, according to Justice Department estimates.
Cortez Mills, a former employee of a Baylor-affiliated physicians group, recently blew the whistle against such fraud, alleging that she was fired from her job at Dallas-based Texas Vascular Associates (TVA) when she refused to double bill and overcharge Medicare, insurance companies and patients.
“Ms. Mills identified what we believe was an illegal scheme at TVA, and she lost her job for refusing to play along,” says Dallas employment attorney Matt Scott of the Kendall Law Group, who represents Ms. Mills. “She had the courage to speak up and recognize this was wrong.”
The complaint, filed on July 26, alleges that when Mills declined her employer’s instructions to participate in TVA’s fraudulent billing scheme, a TVA supervisor responded: “He pays your salary, do what he says.”
Probes into overbilling – referred to as “upcoding” – and other forms of medical billing fraud have uncovered billions of dollars stolen from the federal government and is “one of, if not the most profitable crimes in America,” reports news magazine “60 Minutes”:
…The FBI arrested 53 people in Detroit, including a number of doctors, and charged them with billing Medicare more than $50 million for unnecessary medical procedures.
And in Los Angeles, the City of Angels Medical Center recruited homeless people off the street to fill their empty beds, offering them cash and drugs plus clean sheets and three square meals a day, while billing Medicare tens of millions of dollars for their stay.
“We have to understand this is a major fraud area,” United States Attorney General Eric Holder told (“60 Minutes” correspondent Steve) Kroft.
Mills has taken and passed a polygraph exam indicating that what she says about the billing practices at Texas Vascular Associates is true. In addition, another former TVA employee has signed an affidavit saying she witnessed the same kinds of billing problems during her tenure at the practice.
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