Recent U.S. Supreme Court Decisions Employers Should Know About
The most recent term of the U.S. Supreme Court yielded a number of key decisions affecting employment law. Following is a brief summary of a few of these decisions with the key legal points they establish or affirm.
University of Texas S.W. Med. Ctr. v. Nassar: An employee claiming retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act must show that the adverse employment action would not have occurred “but for” the protected activity engaged in by the employee. This holding is based on a strict reading of the statutory language providing a more rigorous standard of proof for retaliation claims than for discrimination claims, which require a showing that the protected factor was only a “motivating factor” in the employer’s decision.
Vance v. Ball State University: In order for an employer to be vicariously liable for the acts of a supervisor (such as sexual harassment), the supervisor must have authority to take “tangible employment actions” such as hiring, firing, promoting, or demoting employees. This decision rejected the view of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which promoted a much broader definition of “supervisor” for purposes of establishing employer liability.
Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk: Dismissal of a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act was upheld, affirming the appellate court’s ruling that the claims were rendered moot by the employer’s offer of judgment before the filing of a motion for conditional certification. However, in order for an offer of judgment to render a case moot, it must include the entire amount of the plaintiff’s unpaid wages, attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses (potentially a substantial amount), and even then dismissal is not guaranteed.
American Express Co. v. Italian Colors: An agreement with an arbitration and class action waiver clause may be enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) even if the cost of arbitration exceeds the potential recovery. This decision (not an employment case but potentially applicable in such cases) continues a trend upholding enforcement of agreements between consenting parties to arbitrate claims arising under state or federal law. However, this does not guarantee that every arbitration agreement will be enforced; some agreements could be deemed “unconscionable” under state law.
For more information, contact Matt Gilligan.