TJSL Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp has been highly active and productive during her sabbatical from the law school. An internationally recognized scholar on comparative workplace law, she recently spent time in both Italy and England, lecturing and adding to her impressive body of scholarship in this field.
Professor Bisom-Rapp began her latest journey in Modena, Italy, where every year since 2003, the Marco Biagi Foundation has hosted an international conference devoted to international and comparative employment and labor relations. Professor Susan Bisom-Rapp has attended the event annually since 2007.
This year’s conference, “The Transnational Dimension of Labor Relations: A New Order in the Making?,” brought together scholars from Europe, Africa and the Americas, who analyzed the challenges of regulating work, promoting labor standards and addressing increasing economic inequality in the wake of the global economic crisis. Particular attention was given to new forms of transnational collective bargaining, emerging hard and soft law techniques to influence the conduct of transnational corporations, the difficulty of establishing fair conditions of work for migrants and the lack of a clear hierarchy of law-making authority at the international level. Participants addressed these issues from a number of disciplines including law, industrial relations, economics and human resource management.
Professor Bisom-Rapp served as the discussant for the second plenary panel, weaving together the intersecting themes of four papers.
“This task was a challenge,” she said, “since the papers were on four very different subjects.”
One paper was on “Who Defines the Meaning of Human Rights at Work.” Another concerned the influence on corporate conduct of the country where a transnational corporation locates. A third covered international administrative law, which is the law covering employees who work for international organizations like the International Labour Organization and the International Monetary Fund. The final paper was a proposal to set up a transnational labor inspectorate, hosted by the ILO, that would train and certify inspectors who monitor factories in the supply chains of transnational corporations.
“Believe it or not,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp, “there were common themes in those four manuscripts, including: Who makes the law of the workplace in a globalized world?; What is the law of the workplace in a globalized world?; and Who decides the meaning of law in the global workplace when meaning is contested?”
Part of the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy, the Marco Biagi Foundation is also home to the International Doctoral Research School in Labour Relations, which promotes Ph.D. work that is comparative and interdisciplinary. To advance the work of its own students, and establish links with Ph.D. and post-doctoral students around the world, the Foundation launched its Young Scholars’ Workshop last year. Professor Bisom-Rapp helped organize the event this year and last.
“This year, we heard and commented on papers from Ph.D. students from Norway, Italy, Spain, South Africa, Austria, Estonia, and Hungary,” she said. “The chance to provide feedback from an outsider’s perspective – that of an American law professor – was fun for me and, I hope, helpful for them. For me, this session has become a highlight of the annual conference.”
Next, Professor Bisom-Rapp was a special guest lecturer at the University of Milan’s Doctoral Program in Labour Law. The Doctoral Program is housed within the Faculty of Jurisprudence, the university’s law school. Hosted by Professor Maria Teresa Carinsi, who is the curriculum coordinator for the Ph.D. in Labour Law, and Dr. Francesca Marinelli, a researcher in labour law, Professor Bisom-Rapp’s two-hour lecture was part of the school’s Comparative Labour Law course.
“The course covers the history and purpose of comparative law, and focuses on workplace law in five countries,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp. “Students learn about two major areas of workplace law: anti-discrimination law and the law of unfair dismissal,” she added. The countries covered are Italy, Germany, France, the United States and the United Kingdom. Almost all of the lectures are given in English and the students are taught how to make presentations in English, the common language used by international lawyers, academics, and international businesspeople.
Professor Bisom-Rapp was asked to lecture on anti-discrimination law in the U.S. and U.K. because of her expertise in the area. The title of her lecture was “Anti-Discrimination Law in Common Law Countries: The U.S. and Great Britain and the Insights of Social Science.” “My background made it relatively easy to put together this lecture,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp. “My co-authored casebook on comparative employment law, The Global Workplace (2d edition, Kluwer Law International, 2012), contains chapters on both countries that I have taught from many times. I have also just completed the third article in a series of four articles that compare age discrimination law and the conditions facing older workers in the U.S. and U.K. That work is part of my collaboration with Professor Malcolm Sargeant (Middlesex University Business School, London, U.K.). I have lectured in Italy on U.S. anti-discrimination law twice before at the University of Modena’s Marco Biagi Foundation.”
“The lecture had three goals,” noted Professor Bisom-Rapp. “First, I wanted to place two national systems side-by-side to reveal similarities and differences in the legal approach to anti-discrimination law. Second, I explained the social and political context in each country so that students would understand why we see these similarities and differences in the law. Finally, I identified social trends, evidentiary problems and social phenomenon, such as stereotyping and implicit bias, that operate across national borders and limit the law’s effectiveness.”
“But before pursuing these three goals, I spent time with the class discussing an important question: What do we mean by equality?” This question is crucial because the purpose of anti-discrimination law is to advance equality in society. Yet there are at least three approaches to achieving equality – formal equality, which is an approach where universal laws are applied equally to everyone; substantive equality, where the focus is the goals or outcomes to be obtained and programs, like affirmative action, account for the effects of economic, social and cultural discrimination; and social equality, which aims to eliminate major disparities in material well-being, resources and political and social power. Anti-discrimination law in both the U.S. and the U.K. relies mostly on the first approach to equality and a little bit on the second. Needless to say, you do not find either country employing the third approach.”
The third leg of Professor Bisom-Rapp’s trip was spent in London with Professor Malcolm Sargeant of Middlesex University Business School , where she and Professor Sargeant are beginning to scope out their latest project on gender discrimination along the course of life, how it accumulates over time, and how it disadvantages women not only as workers but as retirees. Professors Bisom-Rapp and Sargeant are frequent collaborators in both research and scholarly publications. A key to their analysis will be highlighting the way law and policy contribute to this problem - from lack of state support for child care to pay discrimination to discrimination against part time workers and those who take time off from paid work. The piece will also tackle the way low income, race, and ethnicity affect the vulnerability of women workers throughout and after their working lives.
“Right now we are going through U.K. government reports that Malcolm has collected,” said Professor Bisom-Rapp. “I am beginning to search online for the U.S. equivalents. This is an intensive ‘roll up your sleeves’ week of work for us. It is the kind of thing best done when we are in the same place.”
Professor Bisom-Rapp noted that she is very grateful to TJSL for approving her sabbatical project plans, which involved work done outside of U.S. borders. "The best comparative law work comes from collaboration with colleagues from other countries,” she said. “This experience has helped to make me a better scholar and a better teacher, too."
Caption Information: (Left to Right): Yaraslau Kryvoi (University of West London); Susan Bisom-Rapp; Manfred Weiss (G.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany); Janice Bellace (The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania); and Antonio Garcia-Munoz Alhambra (University Castilla-La Mancha, Spain)