Employer Law Report

Tag Archives: supreme court

Voluntary abandonment doctrine strengthened by Ohio Supreme Court

On Sept. 27, 2018,the Ohio Supreme Court took the unusual step of overturning two prior decisions in an attempt to clarify a confusing aspect of workers’ compensation law. A long-standing tenet of workers’ compensation law, temporary total disability compensation, is intended to compensate an injured worker when they are unable to work due to a work-related injury. To be entitled to temporary total disability compensation, an injured worker must be medically unable to work and the inability to work must be caused by the work injury.

One exception to this rule, and a defense routinely used by employers, is the …

2nd Circuit “Cat’s Paw” decision highlights importance of employer investigations before termination

In 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court in Staub v. Proctor Hospital first endorsed the “Cat’s Paw” theory of liability in a USERRA case. Derived from an Aesop Fable, the Court held that an employee termination based on information from a supervisor with discriminatory or retaliatory intent can provide the basis for employer liability even if the biased supervisor did not participate in the adverse employment decision. Following up on this decision, federal courts began applying the theory to Title VII and other federal discrimination laws. Last week’s 2nd Circuit decision in Vasquez v. Empress Ambulance Service, Inc., took the …

Courts can (barely) weigh in on whether EEOC satisfies its conciliation obligations

On Wednesday of this week, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously vacated and remanded a 7th Circuit decision that said courts could not review whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) satisfied its conciliation obligations under Title VII. Mach Mining LLC v. EEOC, No. 13-1019 (2015). The review the Court permitted, however, remains limited and courts are only to enforce the EEOC’s obligation to give an employer notice and a chance to achieve voluntary compliance. The court made a point to recognize that the EEOC still had “extensive discretion to determine the kind and amount of communication with an employer …

U.S. Supreme Court rules against the NLRB in recess appointments case

On Thursday, June 26, 2014, the United States Supreme Court ruled the three recess appointments President Obama made to the National Labor Relations Board (“NLRB” or “Board”) in January 2012 were invalid and unconstitutional. In NLRB v. Noel Canning, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that President Obama exceeded his powers when he by-passed Congress and unilaterally appointed three Board members to the NLRB in January 2012. The issue turned on whether Congress was in “recess” at the time the appointments were made – as claimed by the President – or on an intra-session break as claimed by the employer …

The Sixth Circuit And Ohio Supreme Court Hand Two Major Class Action Wins To Defendants

On November 5, 2013, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals and Ohio Supreme Court handed down a pair of class action decisions that are major wins for companies and employers. The Sixth Circuit held that courts, not arbitrators, must decide whether an arbitration clause permits classwide arbitrations—and that an arbitration clause that is silent on the issue bars classwide arbitrations. The Ohio Supreme Court followed recent decisions from the United States Supreme Court and held that trial courts must conduct a rigorous analysis when ruling on class certification, including resolution of factual disputes, factual findings and an examination of the …

The Supreme Court Lands a Stunning Blow to Employees

After putting employees on the ropes with its decision in Vance v. Ball State University (which we blogged on here), the United States Supreme Court finished employees off with the 5-4 decision in University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar, No. 12-484 (June 24, 2013). The Justices held a plaintiff making a retaliation claim under Title VII must establish that his or her protected activity was the “but-for” cause of the alleged adverse action by the employer, rather than just a motivating factor.

Background
The University of Texas medical system is affiliated with Parkland Memorial Hospital (“Hospital”). The …

SCOTUS Defines “Supervisor” For Title VII Cases as One Who Can Take Tangible Employment Actions

In Vance v. Ball State University, No. 11-556 (June 24, 2013), the United States Supreme Court held that an employee is a “supervisor” for purposes of vicarious liability under Title VII only if the employee is empowered by the employer to take tangible employment actions, i.e., to effect a “significant change in employment status, such as hiring, firing, failing to promote, reassignment with significantly different responsibilities, or a decision causing a significant change in benefits, against the victim. In defining the term “supervisor” under the more narrow definition proposed by the parties, the Supreme Court refused to define …

Genesis: A Unicorn, or the Beginning of a New Tactic? Supreme Court Holds Employers Can “Pick Off” a Named Plaintiff and Defeat a FLSA Collective Action with an offer of Judgment, but Leaves Open If All Employers Can Employ This Strategy

By a tight five-to-four decision, the United States Supreme Court’s Genesis Health Care Corp. v. Symczyk decision provides employers a method to "pick off" the lead plaintiff in an FLSA collective action using a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 offer of judgment and by doing so, take out the remaining collective action. For reasons we will explain in a bit, however, the Court merely "assumed" — without deciding — that an unaccepted Rule 68 offer of judgment that offers complete relief moots the named plaintiff’s individual claim and, in the absence of any other claimant having opted into the …

Martin v. Spring Break ’83 Productions, LLC … the Sequel or Part Deux? The Supreme Court is Asked to Review Whether a Private Settlement Agreement Dismissing FLSA Claims is Enforceable

As you might recall, in August we blogged on Martin v. Spring Break ’83 Productions, LLC, a case involving the blockbuster movie "Spring Break ’83" [stated with sarcasm], where the Fifth Circuit became the first federal appellate court to enforce a private FLSA settlement. In that blog, available here, we crossed our fingers and hoped the Fifth Circuit’s decision would come to a jurisdiction near you. Well, that hope is one step closer to reality as the plaintiffs/appellants – now the Petitioners – filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari (the "Petition") and asked the United States Supreme …

Who Are An Employer’s Supervisors For Purposes Of Sexual Harassment Analysis?

Employer Law Report is pleased to introduce our readers to Brad Hughes, a partner in our Appellate Practice Group, who has written this guest blog article.

Next term, the Supreme Court may resolve a split among the circuits about who qualifies as a “supervisor” under Title VII, which prohibits employers from engaging in race-based discrimination. Vance v. Ball State University, Supreme Court Case No. 11-556 (certiorari materials available here on ScotusBlog).

As many readers of this blog will already know, employers can be held strictly liable for harassment inflicted by “supervisors.” But where only co-workers – not “supervisors” …

Health Care Reform Survives Supreme Court Scrutiny – But Not Entirely Intact

Health care reform just got a clean bill of health from the United States Supreme Court. The Court today ruled on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act ("PPACA"), and generally upheld the legislation in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice John G. Roberts. Roberts was joined in his opinion by the four justices who had been appointed to the Court by Democratic presidents. In an expected development, certain individual justices wrote and/or joined concurring and dissenting opinions as well. The Court upheld the individual mandate to purchase health coverage, concluding that the mandate is permissible …

The Supreme Court Provides a Mixed Review of the Arizona Immigration Laws

The Supreme Court has issued its long awaited decision on the constitutionality of the Arizona Immigration law known as SB 1070. The case came before the Court following a decision by the lower courts to grant a preliminary injunction enjoining the application of four provisions of the Arizona law. The Ninth Circuit determined that it was likely the United States would prevail on its challenge that the provisions of the Arizona law were preempted by Federal law and were therefore unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held that three of the four provisions were unconstitutional, and it was premature to determine if the fourth provision …

Supreme Court Denies Review in Fast v. Applebee’s: Tip Credits for Tipped Employees Who Do Non-Tipped Work

Here’s a tip: If you have tipped employees whose job duties involve non-tipped work, check how much of their time they spend doing those non-tipped job duties. If it’s more than 20%, you may owe them minimum wage for the time they spend doing non-tipped work according to an Eighth Circuit decision that the Supreme Court of the United States recently declined to review.

The Fair Labor Standards Act allows for a "tip credit" for "tipped employees," defined as employees who work in an occupation where they customarily and regularly receive more than $30 a month in tips. The tip …

Wal-Mart v. Dukes: Supreme Court Rejects “Expansive” Gender Bias Class Action In Absence of “General Policy of Discrimination”

The much-awaited decision of the United States Supreme Court is here. Dubbed by Justice Scalia as "one of the most expansive class actions ever," the Supreme Court unanimously reversed the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals which had affirmed the certification of a class of approximately 1.5 million current and former female employees alleging discrimination in pay and promotion. While the result was widely anticipated, the decision clarifies some key class action principles in a manner favorable to employers defending such cases.

Throughout the lengthy proceedings (the District Court certified a class in 2004), the employees claimed …

ERISA Time Travel Continues

We recently blogged about an infrequent ERISA surprise from the US Supreme Court, in CIGNA v. Amara, and now we have a second ruling from the Supreme Court in that case, granting Amara certioria and remanding.  This is a procedural twist that is more interesting to lawyers than employers, but it underscores the point we made about uncertainty in this area:  we don’t really know what remedies are other "appropriate equitable relief" under ERISA, or know how much exposure employers face regarding their ERISA plans.  Establishing procedures for compliance with ERISA’s disclosure and other requirements is …

Supreme Court’s AT&T Mobility Decision Provides Support For Use Of Employment Arbitration Agreements With Class Action Waivers

On April 27, 2011, the United States Supreme Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) preempted California state contract law which courts had applied to invalidate arbitration agreements that did not permit class arbitration. Although the decision involved a consumer contract, the Supreme Court’s reasoning provides a basis for employers to seek enforcement of employment agreements that prohibit workplace class actions and require the individual arbitration of employment-related claims.…

A Skeptical U.S. Supreme Court Vigorously Questions Certification of a Mammoth Sex-Discrimination Class Action Lawsuit

On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral argument on Wal-Mart’s appeal of the Ninth Circuit’s en banc decision upholding the certification of a class action gender discrimination lawsuit in Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. As noted by a number of commentators (among them The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Christian Science Monitor, and CNN), the tone of the Court’s questioning indicates that the Court is likely to rule in Wal-Mart’s favor.

This appeal stemmed from a federal court’s certification of a nationwide class of female employees of Wal-Mart who were allegedly subjected to discriminatory pay …

Supreme Court Holds That Oral Complaints Can Form the Basis for a FLSA Retaliation Suit

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employee’s Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) retaliation claim can be based on an oral complaint made by the employee to his employer regarding wages or other issues covered by the Act.

An employee of Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics Corp. complained orally to Company officials about the Company’s timeclocks, which he claimed were located in an area that prevented the employees from receiving credit for the time they spent donning and doffing work-related protective gear. After making the oral complaints, he was discharged.

The employee then sued the Company for terminating him in violation …

Supreme Court Upholds “Cat’s Paw” Liability

In a scenario that frequently occurs in workplaces across the country, Linda Buck, the vice president of human resources at Proctor Hospital, was asked to terminate Vincent Staub based on information contained in a report from his supervisors that accused him of violating the terms of a “corrective action” disciplinary warning. Relying on this accusation and her own review of Mr. Staub’s personnel file, Ms. Buck decided to terminate Mr. Staub’s employment. Mr. Staub protested to Ms. Buck that his supervisors were hostile to his military obligations as a member of the U.S. Army reserves, but rather than follow up …

U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Arguments in NASA v. Nelson

No, this is not – for those of you old enough to remember I Dream Of Jeannie ­– Major Anthony Nelson suing NASA after all these years.  Instead, a group of Caltech employees assigned to work at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab (“JPL”) in California sued NASA when the federal agency insisted that they submit to background checks after, in many cases, having worked there for 20+ years or resign their employment.  The Supreme Court will address the question whether NASA violated the plaintiffs’ constitutional right to informational privacy by (1) requiring the contract employee to answer whether he or she had …

Supreme Court Rules for White Firefighters

On June 29, 2009, the Supreme Court addressed a provocative question about the current state of workplace diversity in the United States. In the controversial Ricci v. DeStefano decision, the Court determined by a vote of 5-4 that only in very narrow circumstances can public employers engage in disparate-treatment discrimination to avoid violating the disparate impact provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. In order to make a race-conscious preventative decision, an employer must have a strong basis in evidence that a given selection method was deficient and that discarding that method’s results is necessary to avoid creating a disparate …

Two Supreme Court Decisions Expand Retaliation Claims

On March 27, 2008, the Supreme Court released two opinions addressing discriminatory retaliation in the workplace. In the pair of opinions, the Court broadened the scope of potential claims for retaliatory conduct by holding that: (1) employees may bring a private action for discriminatory retaliation under §1981; and (2) the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) prohibits retaliation against federal employees who complain of age discrimination.

In CBOCS West, Inc. v. Humphries, the Supreme Court held 7-2 that under 42 U.S.C. §1981, retaliation itself is a form of prohibited discrimination when contractual rights are at stake, even though §1981 does not …

Supreme Court declines to hear retiree benefits case

This is an update to my prior post on January 2, 2008 regarding retiree healthcare benefits.

A legal battle dating back to 2000 regarding retiree benefits came to a close recently.  In 2000, the Third Circuit ruled that treating Medicare-eligible retirees differently than younger retirees violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA).  This prompted the EEOC to issue an exemption to the ADEA allowing employers to reduce or eliminate retiree healthcare benefits for Medicare-eligible retirees, while providing higher levels of benefits for those retirees who are not Medicare-eligible.  The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) challenged the EEOC’s authority to issue …

Supreme Court Considers Weighing In On Key FMLA Waiver Issue

In July 2007, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held in Progress Energy v. Taylor, 493 F.3d 454 (4th Cir. 2007), that, under the Department of Labor’s (DOL’s) regulations and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), employees cannot waive their rights under the FMLA in a private agreement, such as a severance agreement.  To waive FMLA rights, the Fourth Circuit held that the agreement must first be court- or DOL-approved.  Progress Energy, supported by several other business groups, appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, citing a split between the Fourth and Fifth Circuits.  On January …

LexBlog