Workplace Law Program faculty members address evolving legal standards

Program Director Rachel Arnow-Richman spoke in March at a Suffolk Law School conference which explored the topic “Contract as Promise at 30: The Future of Contract Theory.”  The conference assessed approaches to contract theory developing in the 30 years since the 1981 publication of Charles Fried’s Contract as Promise. Professor Arnow-Richman probed the “competing impulses” between informal norms and practices governing employment relationships, from which contractual obligations can arise, and employers’ use of express language to define and limit those same obligations. “Using such ‘disclaimer’ language,” she holds, “employers have in many instances successfully limited the extent to which their promises become legally binding and preserved the power to alter their priorities unilaterally.” She suggests that applying a contract perspective to the employment relationship might return balance to it, where, for example, a basic contract duty like good faith is understood to be a backdrop against which an employer’s reservation of rights is read.

Last November, Professor Roberto Corrada participated in a Wake Forest Law School symposium commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1991 and asking the question, “What Does the Future Hold?”  He addressed how views expressed by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in a recent Title VII disparate impact case (Ricci v. Stefano, 2009) may signal an emerging legal standard in affirmative action case law, given Justice Kennedy’s adoption of the “swing vote” role formerly held by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. that standard, Professor Corrada argues, permits a city government to adopt a voluntary affirmative action program grounded in a statistical analysis of sufficient rigor that demonstrates systemic discrimination.

The work presented by Professors Arnow-Richman and Corrada will see print in future law review issues published by the respective law schools at which they spoke.

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