Showing posts with label United States Supreme Court. Show all posts
Showing posts with label United States Supreme Court. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

United States Supreme Court: If a Supervisor Performs an Act Motivated by Antimilitary Animus, Employers May Be Liable Even If a Different Supervisor Fires the Employee


In Staub v. Proctor Hospital, an opinion issued today, the United States Supreme Court ruled  that an employer can be liable for a violation of the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) even if the supervisor who ultimately made the decision to discipline an employee was not motivated by anti-military animus. 

The Court considered the argument of the employer that, although the immediate supervisors of the employee who was in the Army Reserve did act with a discriminatory intent, it did not matter because the supervisor who did fire him did not act with discriminatory intent.  In rejecting that argument, the Court stated that, because the disciplining supervisor relied on earlier discriminatory disciplinary action taken against the employee by the other supervisors, her decision violated USERRA.  "[I]f a supervisor performs an act motivated by antimilitary animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action, then the employer is liable under USERRA."  The Court further explained, "The decisionmaker's exercise of judgment is also a proximate cause of the employment decision, but it is common for injuries to have multiple proximate causes."  The Court also rejected a rule that would entirely immunize an employer who conducts an independent investigation, stating that only "if the employer's investigation results in an adverse action for reasons unrelated to the supervisor's original biased action" will the employer be free from liability.

Monday, February 7, 2011

January Was A Busy Month for the Courts!

As you have probably noticed, it has been a long time since I posted anything on my blog.  Please excuse me for failing to do so.  From December 23rd to February 7th was an exceptionally busy time for me.  It included year-end partner meetings, a trial, and deposition preparations.

In any event, in the approximate six week span, there were twenty-seven new employment law cases decided by the Utah Supreme Court, Utah Court of Appeals, United States Supreme Court, and Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.  Although I wish that I could give them all individual treatment, I have simply listed them here.  There were significant cases that decided issues of employee privacy, retaliation claims, trade-secret violation claims, and the Utah governmental employees' right to reimbursement of attorney fees.  I have linked to all of the cases.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Two-Member NLRB Did Not Have Authority to Issue Decisions.

The United States Supreme Court ruled on June 17, 2010, in New Process Steel L.P. v. NLRB, that as of December 31, 2007, when there were no longer three members of the NLRB, the NLRB lacked authority to act as a Board.  In ruling as it did, the Court stated that it "was not insensitive to the Board's understandable desire to keep its doors open despite vacancies," but nonetheless ruled that "[i]f Congress wishes to allow the Board to decide cases with only two members, it can easily do so."

A Governmental Entity's Audit of Text Messages was Reasonable Despite Assumption that Text's were Private.

On Thursday, June 17, the United States Supreme Court upheld the discipline of a police officer for sending personal and some sexually explicit text messages on a city provided pager.  In Ontario v. Quon, the Supreme Court assumed without holding that the police officer had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his text messages.  It did so given its explicit hesitancy to answer the question because of "[r]apid changes in the dynamics of communications and information transmission."  In any event, the Court concluded that despite the assumed privacy expectation, the City had reasonably searched the texts because (1) the stated basis for the search---to determine the reasonableness of the text character limitations---was justified at its inception, (2) the investigator had only reviewed the officer's texts sent while on duty, and (3) it was reasonable for the officer to expect that his texts would be subject to audit given his role as a police officer.

Monday, May 24, 2010

United States Supreme Court Concludes that Every Time a Discriminatory Practice is Used, it Gives Rise to Discrimination Claim

In a decision issued May 24, 2010, the United States Supreme Court ruled that, in claims of disparate impact, every time a discriminatory practice is used a new cause of action arises, even if the decision establishing that practice was made after the statute of limitations has run.  Justice Scalia, writing the opinion for the Court in Lewis v. Chicago, declared that, although the Court had ruled in a seemingly contrary fashion for disparate-treatment claims, the result was required by the statutory language, which expressly give a cause of action against an employer who "uses a particular employment practice that causes a disparate impact."  The decision was unanimous.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Supreme Court Rules that City Violated Title VII When It Threw Out Test Results Because of Its Fear of Violating Title VII.

In an opinion issued today entitled Ricci v. DeStefano, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the city of New Haven, Connecticut violated Title VII when it "threw out" promotional examination results after it discovered that the results disproportionately favored non-minority test takers.

Although the city had carefully planned the test and hired an organization to design the test to assure racial neutrality, the test results showed a significant disparity in results. There was no question that the results established a prima facie case of disparate-impact discrimination---a policy or practice that produces a disparate impact on a protected minority group. There was also no question that throwing the test results out would constitute disparate treatment discrimination because it would harm successful test takers based solely on their race, i.e., because they were white and received a high score, there test results would be thrown out. This put the city in an uncomfortable position---it had to determine whether to throw-out the test results and risk a lawsuit by the successful applicants for disparate-treatment discrimination or certify the test results and risk a lawsuit by the unsuccessful applicants for disparate-impact discrimination. The city chose the former and risked the lawsuit with the successful applicants.

Thus, the question for the Supreme Court was "whether the purpose to avoid disparate-impact liability excuses what otherwise would be prohibited disparate-treatment discrimination."

The Court answered the question in this way: "[B]efore an employer can engage in intentional discrimination for the asserted purposes of avoiding or remedying an unintentional disparate impact, the employer must have a strong basis in evidence to believe it will be subject to disparate-impact liability if it fails to take the race-conscious, discriminatory action." In other words, there must be strong evidence to support the fear of liability for the disparate results complained of before an employer may take any race-conscious action.

In this case, the Court ruled that the city of New Haven did not have strong evidence of such liability and, therefore, ruled that the act of throwing out the tests was a violation of Title VII.

Friday, June 19, 2009

United States Supreme Court Rules that to Prove Age Discrimination Age Must Be More than Just a Motivating Factor

On Thursday, June 18, 2009, the United States Supreme Court ruled that in order to prove age discrimination under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), a person must prove more than that age was a "motivating factor." Instead, the Court stated in its opinion entitled Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., that "a plaintiff must prove by a preponderance of the evidence . . . that age was the 'but-for' cause of the challenged employer decision." In other words, "that age was the 'reason' that the employer decided to act." This decision sets ADEA claims apart from discrimination claims brought under Title VII, which allow people to bring claims if race, color, sex, religion, or national origin was simply "a motivating factor for any employment practice, even though other factors also motivated the practice."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

United States Supreme Court Agrees that Pension Plan that Pays Benefits based on Unequal Credits Given to Pregnant Women is Lawful.

On Monday, May 18, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a pension plan that paid out benefits to pension receipients based upon calculations that did not equally credit women who had taken pregnancy leave prior to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) were not presently violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. The Court explained in its decision, AT&T Corporation v. Hulteen, that the pension plan at issue was paying out benefits based upon an employee's term of employment. In this case, the parties bringing the claims were receiving benefits for a term that included pre-PDA calculations. During that pre-PDA period, these pension recipients were not credited equally for leave that they took while they were pregnant. After the PDA, such unequal crediting would violate the Act; however, before the PDA was enacted, the Supreme Court had explicitly concluded that such unequal crediting was lawful. Under these circumstances, the pension recipients argued that by paying pensions based on these pre-PDA crediting rules, the pension plan was violating the law.

The Supreme Court held that the pension plan had not violated the PDA. The main reason for the Court's decision was that the existing law explicitly allows "bona fide seniority . . . system[s]" to "apply different standards of compensation . . . provided that such differences are not the result of an intention to discriminate." Because the Court concluded that the pre-PDA crediting were adopted at a time when such crediting was not illegal, the crediting was not a result of an intention to discriminate. Additionally, the Court ruled that the pension plan's payment system did not itself have discriminatory payment rules---it was merely paying out based upon a formula that did not itself discriminate.

Interestingly, the Court considered the effect that the passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act had on its decision and determined that the recent passage of the Act did not change its conclusion.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Supreme Court Upholds Mandatory Arbitration of Age Discrimination Claims in Union Contract.

In a decision issued today, 114 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett, the United States Supreme Court ruled that "a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires union members to arbitrate [Age Discrimination in Employment Act] ADEA claims is enforceable as a matter of law." In doing so, the Court acknowledged that it had previously expressed hostility toward mandatory arbitration clauses in discrimination cases. However, it noted that such hostility was a relic of history. While further acknowledging that a Union's ability, as opposed to an individual union member's ability, to exclusively control the negotiation of a collective bargaining agreement may place the individual union member at a disadvantage to assert his or her own rights, the Court found that such a concern did not create "a source of authority for introducing a qualification into the ADEA that is not found in the text." Accordingly, it ruled that the union members in this particular case had waived their right to bring their ADEA claims in federal court.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Employees Who Never File Complaints about Sexual Harassment But Merely Answer Questions are Protected from Retaliation.

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Crawford v. Metropolitan Government that a local government employee who answered questions posed to her about a human resource employee's alleged sexual harassment was protected from retaliation even when she did not file her own complaint about his behavior. The questions came during an internal investigation being conducted when another employee complained about the HR employee's behavior. The questioned employee, although not filing a complaint herself, gave instances in which the HR employee acted in a very sexual manner toward her. Soon after the discussion, the questioned employee was fired for alleged embezzlement. Two other employees who had given similar accounts were also fired. The Supreme Court ruled that by answering the questions as she did, the questioned employee was protected from retaliation whether she had complained about the behavior herself or not and was entitled to pursue her lawsuit against the local government.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Can Non-Union Employees Be Forced by Statute to Pay Service Fees to a Union that Pays for a Union's National Litigation?

In some circumstances, the law requires employees who refuse to join unions to pay service fees to the unions that represent their local collective bargaining unit. As one would guess, these laws often upset non-union employees who believe that their First Amendment rights of association and speech are being infringed. Consequently, there has been a substantial amount of litigation about whether the government can force a person to contribute to a Union. In the latest case to grapple with this issue, Locke v. Karass, the United States Supreme Court held that non-Union employees may be charged a share of a union's "national litigation expenses" if the litigation is appropriately related to collective bargaining and the local unit may ultimately be benefited by the contribution.