Harper Brush Works sold
Cequent Consumer Products, a market leader in household cleaning tools and automotive aftermarket products, announced the asset purchase of Harper Brush Works, located in Fairfield, Iowa.
John Aleva, president of Cequent Consumer Products, said the acquisition was a way of expanding the Solon, Ohio-based company beyond automotive products.
“We have been leaders in the automotive market for years and now we are strategically paving the way to become the leading manufacturer and distributor of cleaning tool products for both residential and industrial markets,” Aleva said.
Harper was founded by entrepreneur, Alphonso K. "A.K." Harper of Fairfield, Iowa, in 1900. Harper has been manufacturing high-quality cleaning tools for the retail and commercial markets ever since. Cequent will utilize the Harper assets as a strong foundation to continue operations in Iowa, the announcement said. Harper is the second cleaning tool brand Cequent has purchased this year. Laitner Brush, an American broom and brush manufacturer since 1855, was acquired by Cequent in February.
LF names editor for Residential Building Products and Technology
Veteran building industry journalist Nigel F. Maynard has been tapped to take charge of Residential Building Products and Technology, a new digital magazine of New York City-based Lebhar-Friedman’s Residential Products Group.
The digital magazine will launch in mid-January.
Maynard has developed and demonstrated a passion for architecture, design and building products during his career as an editor, freelance journalist and blogger. For 14 years, he anchored the products beat as a senior editor for Builder Magazine and its sister publication Residential Architect.
“As an editor and writer, it’s a rare opportunity to be involved in the start of a brand new magazine or publication,” Maynard said. “The launch of Residential Building Products and Technology is one of those times. The fact that the publication will be a tablet and an app is gravy.”
Maynard’s work has appeared in This Old House, New Old House Magazine, Inform: Architecture + Design, Bethesda Magazine and Arlington Magazine. In addition to writing, Maynard is also a serious DIYer whose renovated row house just outside Washington, D.C., received media attention when it was published in (the now-defunct) Home Magazine, The Washington Post, and appeared on HGTV’s "I Want That! Kitchens."
The editorial mission of Residential Building Products & Technology includes the promise to dive below the surface of building products and examine the trends and the details that allow builders, remodelers and subcontractors to better serve their customers. Technology, technique and tools will all be featured along with the latest building concepts in the residential construction industry. For more information, visit residentialbuildingproducts.com.
"Nigel is the ideal editor to bring this project to life," said Jack Brannigan, VP and group publisher of the Residential Products Group, which also includes HCN, homechannelnews.com and Hardware Store Connect. "We’re excited to have him on board, along with his passion for the business and the respect he’s earned from the industry."
About Lebhar-Friedman: Founded in 1925, Lebhar-Friedman is a leading media and marketing company serving the retail industry and targeted consumer markets. Diverse, forward-thinking and committed to excellence, the staff delivers award-winning content and high-impact marketing products across all media channels.
Supreme court tries to define supervisor
The U.S. Supreme Court appeared to struggle over the question of who qualifies as a supervisor under federal nondiscrimination laws. Hearing oral arguments in a case from the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Nov. 26, 2012, the high court addressed the issue, left unanswered in previous Supreme Court decisions, of when a “supervisor” includes an employee who oversees and directs other workers’ daily tasks, but has no authority over their formal employment status, (Vance v. Ball State Univ., No. 11-556).
In Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, 524 U.S. 775 (1998), and Burlington Industries Inc. v. Ellerth, 524 U.S. 742 (1998), the Supreme Court held that under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, an employer is liable for severe or pervasive workplace harassment by a supervisor of the victim. If the harasser was the victim’s co-employee, however, the employer is not liable absent proof of negligence.
In the case before the court, the 7th Circuit affirmed summary judgment to Ball State University on the Title VII claim of Maetta Vance, a black catering assistant who claimed that white co-workers and supervisors racially harassed her, holding, among other things, that Vance failed to establish a basis for employer liability based on purported harassment by either a co-worker or a supervisor.
Vance had contended that one of the alleged harassers, Saundra Davis, actually was a supervisor and not a co-worker, because Davis directed her work and did not “clock in” as did other hourly employees. The 7th Circuit, however, held that even harassment by a person whom the employer deemed a “supervisor” and who had the authority to direct and oversee the victim’s daily work could not give rise to liability, because the harasser did not also have the power to take formal employment actions against her.
In contrast, the 2nd, 4th and 9th U.S. circuit courts of appeal have held that the Faragher and Ellerth “supervisor” liability rule applies to harassment by those whom the employer vests with authority to direct and oversee their victim’s daily work. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken this position, also.
The 1st and 8th circuits, along with the 7th, have held that the rule is limited to those harassers who have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” their victim.
“This case is a potential game changer,” according to Ron Chapman Jr., an attorney at Ogletree Deakins’ Dallas office. “If the Supreme Court agrees with the EEOC’s definition of ‘supervisor,’ it will greatly expand the risk of liability for all employers with more than 15 employees.”
None of the lawyers agree with 7th Circuit test
The three attorneys arguing before the court all seemed to agree that an employee who directs other workers’ day-to-day activities may, under some circumstances, be a “supervisor” under Title VII, even if he or she lacks authority to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer or discipline workers.
Representing Vance was Daniel R. Ortiz of the University of the Virginia School of Law Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in Charlottesville, Va. He argued that applying the 7th Circuit’s definition of “supervisor” would produce “truly perverse results.”
Under the 7th Circuit’s rule, Ortiz said, an employee who directs another worker’s day-to-day tasks and essentially manages that worker’s “whole job period” would not be considered a supervisor. Meanwhile, a human resources official whom an employee never sees, but who does have the authority to affect the employee’s formal employment status, would be considered a supervisor, Ortiz said.
U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan, representing the federal government, agreed that the 7th Circuit’s approach has “some serious flaws,” and advocated in favor of the EEOC’s viewpoint, that a Title VII “supervisor” includes an employee who controls another worker’s daily work activities.
Gregory G. Garre of Latham & Watkins in Washington, D.C., represented Ball State, and seemed to agree with Ortiz and Srinivasan. He argued that the high court’s precedent should compel the justices to reject the 7th Circuit’s definition, and to provide guidance on “on how to apply the EEOC and the 2nd Circuit standard.”
He urged the justices to affirm summary judgment to Ball State, however, asserting that the factual record shows that Davis would not qualify as Vance’s supervisor even under a broader standard.
Justices try to determine where to draw the line
Several justices questioned where best to draw the line in determining whether an employee is a supervisor or merely a co-worker. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., addressing Ortiz, posited a situation in which the most senior of five employees assigned to work in a single room gets to choose the background music, and tells a colleague: “I know you don’t like country music; if you don’t date me, it’s going to be country music all day long.”
“I would have thought, under your theory, that means that senior employee is a supervisor,” Roberts said. “I would have thought the benefit of the 7th Circuit was that you don’t have to go on a case-by-case basis.”
In contrast, Justice Elena Kagan suggested that the 7th Circuit test might be too lenient on employers.
She said, for example, that a university could be freed from liability if a professor subjected a secretary to “living hell, complete hostile work environment on the basis of sex,” solely because the secretary could not be fired by the professor, but rather by the head of secretarial services.
“The court may be left fashioning some type of hybrid test that adopts the ‘sliding scale’ of the 2nd Circuit and some of the factors that the 7th Circuit relied on,” Steve Miller, an attorney in Fisher & Phillips’ Chicago office told SHRM Online.
Whatever rule the court adopts, “Employers may have to take a look at their lower level supervisors to determine if they satisfy the definition of supervisor under Title VII,” he said. Employers might decide to increase harassment training for these employees. Another possibility would be for an employer to try to centralize supervisor responsibility, putting authority over employees’ day-to-day job functions in fewer hands. Of course, whether this will be possible or advisable depends on the types of jobs and the nature of the workplace, Miller concluded.
Joanne Deschenaux, J.D., is SHRM’s senior legal editor.
©2012 SHRM. All rights reserved.
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