Same-sex marriage ruling top legal news story of 2015

Quincy Hodges, The Daily Record Newswire

The U.S. Supreme Court's decision this summer to legalize same-sex marriage brought expectations of several implications on the business community, with benefits such as medical and family leave, retirement and tax designations expanded to include same-sex couples.

Meanwhile federal agencies began focusing on gender identity and transgender discrimination in the workplace, and moved to extend those rules to private sector companies that handle government work.

The U.S. Department of Labor proposed updating guidelines that would apply to any business that is contracted with the federal government to provide discrimination protection to anyone who identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

The labor department and other federal agencies started looking at expanding the definition of sex, which specifically applies to gender discrimination in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, to include gender identity and sexuality.

Its sex discrimination guidelines currently prohibit companies with federal contracts and subcontracts from sexual discrimination in the workplace, but they do not make an exception for gay or transgender employees. The proposed updates aim to expand the protection and reflect major changes in the workplace over the past 40 years, such as the increased presence of women in the workplace and greater acceptance of the LGBT community. The guidelines, however, are not actual laws but guiding principles for attorneys and companies.

Some cities and a handful of states have taken measures to create laws against gender identity and sexual orientation discrimination in the workplace, but Louisiana has no laws that prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Meanwhile, Wevorce, a software company that promises a quicker and more amicable alternative to standard divorce procedures, expanded into more states in early 2015.

Spouses looking to divorce can now avoid hiring a lawyer to represent them, and instead use the Wevorce website with help of one of the company's attorneys who guides them through the necessary steps. They can also access a network of co-parenting counselors and financial advisers as they go through the process.

Michelle Crosby, a family law attorney, is the mastermind behind Wevorce. Crosby, who experienced a difficult divorce as a child, said that the cost of the program is significantly lower for spouses. Depending on what type of additional services a couple may need, Wevorce's pricing on average, could add up to $5,000.

First-year associates at large law firms making $160,000 annually are becoming more of the norm, according to a survey released this year by NALP, formerly known as the National Association for Law Placement.

The NALP surveyed more than 550 law offices across the United States for its 2015 Associate Salary Survey. Nearly 5 percent of respondents were firms with fewer than 50 lawyers and 52 percent had more than 500 lawyers.

Those with salaries at the $160,000 level accounted for 39 percent of all salaries reported by large law firms as of Jan. 1, the study found. This represents a more than 10 percent increase from the year before. The national median first-year associate salary at law firms of all sizes also saw an increase. It was $145,000 at the start of 2015 compared with $135,000 on April 1, 2014.

Published: Wed, Dec 30, 2015

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