Supreme Court Employment Law News - U.S. Supreme Court
U.S. Supreme Court - The FindLaw U.S. Supreme Court Opinion Summaries Blog

Recently in Employment Law Category

When Jeffrey Heffernan, a police officer in Paterson, New Jersey, was spotted with a campaign sign for his mayor's political challenger, he was quickly demoted, as punishment for his "overt involvement" in the opponent's campaign. Heffernan sued, arguing that the demotion violated his First Amendment rights. And he would have had a fairly straight-forward case, except for one complication. Heffernan hadn't been involved in the opponent's campaign. Not at all. He'd just been picking up a sign for his bedridden mother.

Could he sue for a violation of a constitutional right he hadn't actually exercised? Yes, the Supreme Court ruled today, finding that employees who have been punished in order to prevent them from engaging in protected political activity can sue, even when the employer's actions were based on a mistaken understanding of the employee's behavior.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is what an out-of-balance Supreme Court looks like. Today, a deadlocked Court issued a one sentence ruling in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, an important and highly-anticipated case about agency fees for public employee unions.

Perhaps to avoid a similar outcome in a challenge to Obamacare contraception rules, the Court also shifted gears in that case. Less than a week after oral arguments -- arguments which indicated an equally divided Court -- the Court has asked the parties to submit possible alternative systems to the current exemption procedures for religious employers who do not want to provide birth control coverage to their employees. Let's take a closer look at these two messes.

The Supreme Court heard lively oral arguments this morning in a case over whether religious organizations must comply with Affordable Care Act rules on the provisioning of contraception through employee health insurance plans.

Those employers, which include religious universities, hospitals, and one group of nuns, don't actually provide contraception directly, however. They are already exempt from that requirement. Once they notify the government of their objections, their insurer handles employee contraception on its own. But even that, the employers argued before the Supreme Court today, is too great a burden on their religious beliefs. Here's how the arguments went down.

Things aren't looking too good for public sector unions after oral arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case involves ten California teachers who aren't members of the public school teachers' union. While those teachers benefit from the higher wages and better conditions bargained for by the union, they object to the California law which requires them to pay "fair share" fees to the teachers' union to cover the cost of collective bargaining, arguing that the fees violate their First Amendment rights.

At oral arguments on Tuesday, many of the justices seemed set to agree with the teachers, ready to overrule long standing precedent that is relied on by millions of public sector workers across more than 20 states.

Pregnant UPS Employee Can Proceed With Discrimination Suit

An employment policy that accommodates disabled workers must also accommodate pregnant workers, the Supreme Court said on Wednesday in a 6-3 opinion in Young v. UPS. After becoming pregnant, UPS driver Peggy Young was advised by her doctor not to lift more than 20 pounds; however, UPS requires drivers to be able to lift up to 70 pounds.

Young requested temporary reassignment or an accommodation, but UPS refused, even though it granted such requests to employees for on-the-job injuries or for statutory reasons, like an ADA-protected disability. She sued, claiming disparate treatment under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

Ex-Air Marshal MacLean Protected as Whistleblower, SCOTUS Finds

In 2003, an air marshal named Robert MacLean went to the press with a story that the TSA was ineffectual at protecting us from potential airplane hijackings. He was eventually fired, leading to a whistleblower retaliation lawsuit against the TSA.

The TSA had always maintained that MacLean shouldn't get whistleblower protection because he disclosed internal policies in violation of federal law, obviating his whistleblower status. In a 7-2 decision issued today, the Supreme Court sided with MacLean.

Unsurprising Unanimous Decision: No Pay for Security Screenings

Raise your hand if you saw this coming.

Contracted employees, leaving an Amazon warehouse, have to go through security screenings. They sued for overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. The district court dismissed their lawsuit, but the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding (contrary to every other circuit court that has considered the issue) that post-shift activities that would ordinarily be classified as noncompensable postliminary activities are compensable as integral and indispensable to an employee's principal activities if the post-shift activities are necessary to the principal work and performed for the employer's benefit.

Not only was this a Ninth Circuit opinion (REVERSE) and contrary to the other circuits' holdings (REVERSE), but the issue is clearly controlled by the Portal-to-Portal Act, which was passed in response to a 1944 Supreme Court holding that was about as broad as the Ninth Circuit's and nearly bankrupted a number of American industries.

SCOTUS Leaning Toward Air Marshal Whistleblower in TSA Dispute?

With the obvious caveat of oral arguments not being a perfect or even good predictor of opinions to come, the tone in Tuesday's oral arguments in DHS v. MacLean seemed to be sympathetic towards Robert MacLean, the Air Marshal whistleblower, rather than his former employer, the Transportation Security Administration.

The legal issue is the conflict between the federal whistleblower law, which encourages employees to come forward when there is a "danger to public heath or safety" and the Aviation and Transportation Safety Act, which has its own national security goals and allows the government to make "Secret Security Information (SSI)" semi-classified, preventing its disclosure.

Of course, as Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out during oral arguments, "the facts are very much in [MacLean's] favor here." He blew the whistle on the TSA's attempt to pull all Air Marshals from flights after taking it up with his supervisors internally, plus the information wasn't classified as SSI until three years later.

5 Cases at SCOTUS' Big Fall Conference That We're Excited About

Last week, we blogged about the Big Fall Conference (aka long conference) at the U.S. Supreme Court. After a summer's worth of backlog clogs up the docket with around 2,000 certiorari petitions, the clerks of the Court sort through the chaff, the justices review their recommendations, and less than one percent are granted cert.

Of the 1,845 listed for Monday's BFC, and SCOTUSblog's "Petitions We're Watching" list, here are a few that we're particularly interested in, covering everything from equality (in marriage and employment) to juvenile sentencing:

Harris v. Quinn: No Big Deal or Slow War Against Public Unions?

All eyes have been on Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court's decision on the contraceptive mandate. But what about the other Supreme Court decision from the Court's final day, also authored by Justice Samuel Alito?

Is Harris v. Quinn a decision that we shouldn't be overlooking?