U.S. Supreme Court docket

November, 2018


             On October 1, the U.S. Supreme Court started a new term.  Among the many cases that the Court will decide, issues affecting employees at the workplace will be argued.

Age Discrimination

The justices heard arguments in a case that asks if the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) applies to public employers if they have 20 or more employees, which is the eligibility threshold applied to private employers, or if the Act applies to all public sector state and municipal workers regardless of employer size.  Mount Lemmon Fire District v. Guido, U.S. No. 17-587.

In Mount Lemmon, two laid-off firefighters brought an ADEA claim against the Mount Lemmon Fire District, which had 11 full-time firefighters.  The employer argued that the ADEA did not apply because the fire district did not meet the threshold number of employees for coverage.  The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed and ruled that the ADEA applies to all state and political subdivisions, regardless of size.  The ruling is a departure from the 6th, 7th, 8th and 10th Circuits, which have held that the 20-employee threshold for private employers also applies to public sector employers.

Arbitration Cases

Because of the #MeToo movement, arbitration cases are before the Court.  The arbitration cases before the Court illustrate how important it is to draft an agreement clearly.

In Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, U.S. No. 17-988, the Court will consider whether an arbitration agreement with general language stating that “arbitration shall be in lieu of any and all lawsuits or other civil legal proceedings” waived an employee’s right to bring a class-action claim.

The plaintiff in this case brought a data-breach class action against the employer, but the employer argued that the worker signed an arbitration agreement requiring him to bring his claims in arbitration as an individual, not as a class.  The 9th Circuit said that the arbitration agreement was valid, but the plaintiff could bring the claim as a class in arbitration.

The plaintiff worked in California and under California contract law any ambiguities must be interpreted against the party who drafted the agreement, which, in this case, was the employer.  However, the employer argued that because the agreement did not mention class arbitration, the agreement should be interpreted under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and Supreme Court precedent which favored individual arbitration.

In New Prime, Inc. v. Oliveira, U.S. No. 17-340, the high court will consider whether arbitration agreements are enforceable against long-haul truck drivers who were classified as independent contractors.  There is an exception to the FAA for “contracts of employment” with workers who engage in interstate commerce, such as long-haul truck drivers.  The question in this case is whether the exception applies to drivers who operate as independent contractors rather than employees.

The trucking company argued that the drivers are not employees, and so it may enforce arbitration agreements against the independent contractors.  However, the drivers argued that contracts of employment have historically applied to employees and independent contractors and therefore the drivers in this case are not required to arbitrate claims.

Another arbitration case before the Court bears watching.

Some arbitration agreements, such as those in some collective bargaining agreements, include a clause stating that an arbitrator must decide the threshold question of whether an issue should be heard by an arbitrator or a court, usually the default authority, for example, as in Connecticut.  In Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer and White Sales, Inc., U.S. No. 17-1272, the justices will consider whether the FAA permits a court to decline to enforce an agreement delegating questions of arbitrability to an arbitrator if the claim that the case should be arbitrated is “wholly groundless.”



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