Bar News - October 15, 2014
NHDOL Decisions Posted
By: Nancy Richards-Stower
Back in the summer 2013, after hearing that Jim Craig was the new Labor Commissioner, I wrote:
NH Labor Commissioner Jim Craig, left, and Joseph Nadeau, IT manager for the Labor Department, responded to a Bar member’s request to post the department’s administrative law decisions online.
Congratulations on your appointment as the head of New Hampshire’s Department of Labor, one of the most challenging jobs in state government... Please bring fairness and justice to your department, by providing on your website copies of your hearing officers’ orders and decisions in wage and whistleblower claims...
Good news: The DOL recently began posting all new wage and whistleblower decisions on its website, under the “Inspection Division” link. As budgets permit, older decisions, including those issued “B.C.” (“before computers”) will be posted. Full credit goes to the commissioner, his technical gurus, Joe Nadeau and Mary Hillier; and New Hampshire Law Librarian Mary Searles (recipient of the 2014 NHBA Award for Distinguished Service to the Legal Profession) – whom I nominate for the “most patient person in the universe stuck dealing with a Luddite attorney.” Her technical savvy and willingness to volunteer across the branches of government is the model for “awesome.”
My personal interest in the lack of free, easy access to the opinions arose years ago when I was asked to analyze those decisions for the annual NHBA Employment Law Update. I called the DOL to ask where I could find them and was told I had to buy them – and that the DOL would not be able to find all of them, as they were not indexed anywhere; and it would take significant time to send what they could find.
Yet, for many years, the DOL had provided copies of the decisions to anyone who (1) knew they could subscribe; and (2) could afford to pay (about $20 per month, depending on pages copied). All the big defense firms (along with some better-informed plaintiffs’ counsel) (1) knew they could subscribe; and (2) could afford to pay. Also, the decisions were available at the NH Law Library, but who knew?
Back to the CLE: It frosted me that I had to fork over $100+ to get paper copies of decisions the DOL could locate. After begrudgingly sending my check, I received a six-inch pile of decisions. What I read horrified me. By a rate of 98 percent, employees failed to prevail in whistleblower cases, and employees lost significantly more than half of the wage cases. Note: most employees appear pro se, and don’t know they have the option of court.
But, now, thanks to Commissioner Craig, anyone with access to a computer can access wage and whistleblower decisions. He recently noted:
“I was surprised to learn, just prior to my coming aboard as commissioner, that the decisions from our wage and whistleblower hearings were not available on our website, and only available by paid subscription and at the NH Law Library. I was happy to take up the task of getting them online. It is important that our agency be transparent. Citizens should not have to pay to read our decisions. To me, this is the essence of government... solving problems and responding to the needs of people who pay for that government.” Amen!
Nancy Richards-Stower is an employees’ rights attorney with an office in Merrimack.