As I write this, we have just concluded our 15th annual Labor and Employment Law Roundtable. We’ll summarize the discussion for you in the coming weeks, because the topics are critical to the hospitality and service industries. We examined (1) arbitration after the 7th Circuit disallowed the class action waiver policy promulgated by Epic Systems; (2) the latest joint-employer theory in wage and hour class actions; (3) EEOC’s enforcement regarding religion, sexual orientation, and transgender issues; (4) and the Seattle statute that raised the city’s minimum wage to $15.00, as well as creating several other regulations.
The roundtable idea was born in spring 2001, when I sat at NYU’s 63rd annual conference on labor and employment with Michael Yelnosky, who is now dean of Roger Williams Law School. Michael and I are research fellows at NYU and have been active participants in the conference. On this day, two of NAFTA’s main players were debating the merits of the agreement. As we all do when on panels, the presenters fell into the “wonk” trap and the presentations quickly lost their luster. Then a question came: one presenter answered, the other disagreed, and the energy in the room went through the roof. We all wanted to hear more, but within minutes we ran out of time. I turned to Michael and said I would have a conference where we would do 5 minutes of presentations and 55 minutes of discussing, arguing, fighting. Michael said: “I’ll be there.” Thus, in spring 2002, the Cornell School of Hotel Administration held its first Labor and Employment Law Roundtable. Michael Yelnosky was there, as he promised.
That first roundtable was produced on a shoe-string budget. We invited our friends from private practice law firms to sponsor, took over a classroom, and created a format that we thought would be interesting, provocative, and educational – it was. Our friends from Davis & Gilbert; Fox, Rothschild; Jones, Day; Littler; Proskauer, Taylor English; Hilton; Marriott; Starwood; McDonald’s; and Loews all came. In addition, professors and soon to be Cornell deans Harry Katz and Stewart Schwab spent the day with us, as did NYU’s Sam Estreicher and George Washington Law School’s Mike Selmi. It was a great day and great event, but we had no idea what we had started.
The roundtable concept caught fire, and soon the Center for Hospitality Research, expanded the format to other academic disciplines. They became a driving force that helped the CHR to go from 13 to 34 members in three years. Deans Katz and Schwab soon agreed to have ILR and Cornell Law School become sponsors and an idea became a yearly event. In 2013 CIHLER was launched in large part on the strength of industry support for the roundtables. In 2014-2015, we held ten roundtables.
With 15th annual Labor and Employment Law Roundtable now in the books, I want to thank all the “regulars” who have trekked to Ithaca to discuss the latest cutting edge issues facing our field and our industry, have added their expertise to the Cornell community, have supported us by joining our institute, and have provided advice, guidance, and jobs for our students. I hope our particpants believed that this was another excellent roundtable, and I hope to be writing similar statements as we celebrate our 20th, 25th, and 30th annual!