The Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument in October on whether class and collective action waivers are enforceable. While employers await the Supreme Court’s decision, other courts continue to weigh in on the matter. Just last week, a New York State appellate court in Gold v. New York Life Ins. Co., 2017 NY Slip Op 05695 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t, July 18, 2017), found itself aligned with those federal circuit courts of appeal invalidating these waivers. Given the continuing disagreement among courts across the nation – both federal and state – as to whether the Federal Arbitration Act’s policy favoring arbitration should trump the National Labor Relations Act’s prohibition on contracts that restrict the rights of employees to engage in collective action, the need for clarity from the Supreme Court is more urgent than ever. Employment Matters will of course continue monitoring these important developments, so please check back in for regular updates.
As our readers know, we have been monitoring decisions regarding the ability of employers to take disciplinary action against employees for using marijuana at work (like this decision here). The most recent high court to weigh in on this topic is the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which looked at whether an employer may violate that state’s anti-discrimination law when it fires an employee because of a failed drug test based on the employee’s use of medical marijuana. The Court concluded that employers must accommodate medical marijuana users in the normal course under these circumstances to avoid a violation of that law. We discuss this important new decision – Barbuto v. Advantage Sales and Marketing, LLC – below.
Last week, lawyers for the federal government told an appeals court that the Department of Labor plans to revise the currently-blocked overtime rule issued during the Obama administration last year. But it won’t do so, it said, until the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals confirms that it has the right to set that threshold.
After the Eleventh Circuit denied a petition for rehearing en banc last week in Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, LGBT advocacy group Lambda Legal announced that it will appeal the dismissal of its client’s complaint to the United States Supreme Court. Evans will petition the Court to hear the case and to hold that Title VII’s prohibition against sex discrimination includes a prohibition against sexual orientation discrimination. The Seventh Circuit created a circuit split on this issue in April when a majority of its judges decided that sexual orientation discrimination is per se sex discrimination; we wrote about that decision here.
The Second Circuit has denied a plaintiff’s request to rehear argument en banc (that is, before all of the court’s judges) in a case alleging that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation. As the court is already scheduled to hear argument en banc on this issue in another case in September, the court’s decision is not especially surprising. As we’ve discussed in several posts (see here, here and here), the federal appeals courts are currently divided on this issue and it is likely that the Supreme Court will ultimately have to decide whether Title VII’s language prohibiting discrimination “because of … sex” is broad enough to encompass discrimination based on an employee’s sexual orientation.
A recent Fourth Circuit ruling in a case handled by Mintz Levin provides some comfort to employers concerned about terminating an employee who they believe has made a false complaint of discrimination. In Villa v. CaveMezze Grill, the Court ruled that an employer who fires an employee based on a good faith belief she engaged in misconduct is not liable for retaliation even if it later turns out that she had not, in fact, engaged in the misconduct. Affirming the lower court’s entry of summary judgment in a unanimous published opinion, the court opined that the employer could not be liable for retaliation because it lacked a retaliatory motive when it terminated a former employee. That is because the employer did not terminate the employee in retaliation for reporting the alleged harassment, but rather because it genuinely – albeit mistakenly – believed she had fabricated the report.
We previously discussed the conflict between a Second Circuit panel’s holding in April that Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act did not prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the Seventh Circuit’s landmark ruling the same month reaching the opposite conclusion. The Second Circuit has now ordered en banc review of the April panel ruling, meaning that the entire court will rehear the case, and may be poised to follow the Seventh Circuit in extending Title VII to sexual orientation claims.
Earlier this month, in In re Investors Bancorp, Inc. Stockholders Litigation, the Delaware Court of Chancery reiterated its view that placing a meaningful limit on director equity awards to be granted under a stockholder approved equity plan allows the court to determine whether director equity awards are excessive under the more lenient business judgment rule.
The Second Circuit said last week that an employer violated the National Labor Relations Act when it fired an employee who criticized a supervisor on Facebook during an election. The catch here is that the Second Circuit reached this conclusion even though the employee used profanity and hurled personal insults at the supervisor as part of his criticism. As we discussed in a post at the time of the NLRB’s initial determination, while the employee’s conduct pushed the boundaries of protected concerted activity under the NLRA, the fact that the post contained an express pro-union message and occurred in the heat of a campaign contributed to the finding that the termination was unlawful.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court confirmed that federal appeals courts should apply a deferential standard of review to federal district court determinations regarding the legal sufficiency of EEOC subpoenas.