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Employment Law Cases Worth Watching at the Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court reconvened last month with this term’s docket including several employment law cases, some that might even make for major changes from business as usual. Considering that about 10,000 cases seek review by the Supreme Court, which has great discretion over which ones it will hear, and only about 80 actually make it to oral arguments in the October-through-June term, it’s significant when employment law cases account for about 10% of the roster.

Most prominently among the employment law cases is Young v. United Parcel Service, which will look at whether pregnant employees are entitled to accommodations with work restrictions if similar accommodations are being offered to non-pregnant employees. It’s a test of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and whether a pregnant employee seeking accommodations should be given the same consideration as a UPS employee injured on the job or one who’s protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Regular pregnancies aren’t considered disabilities.)

The case involves a UPS air delivery driver who sought light duty while she was pregnant. UPS would not accommodate her request but maintained that it was a “pregnancy-blind” policy that would apply equally to any employee who wasn’t injured on the job or otherwise entitled to ADA protections. Young’s argument is that, under the PDA, she should be compared to those employees with lifting restrictions who are accommodated. UPS, for its part, reversed the policy a few weeks ago, and pregnant employees will be entitled to temporary light duty as of 2015, although it maintains it did nothing wrong in denying Young’s request. While it’s now a moot issue for UPS employees, the Court will still decide how interpreting the PDA policy plays out for the rest of America.

Another case that will probably generate less buzz but will likely have greater impact is Mach Mining v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In this case, the Court will attempt to settle whether EEOC conciliation or settlement efforts before trial in employment discrimination cases brought under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act are subject to judicial review. Put more simply, the question is whether courts have oversight as to whether the EEOC went far enough in trying to mediate discrimination cases before bringing a lawsuit.

Oddly enough, it seemed like pretty well-settled law that the courts did have the authority to review the EEOC’s efforts, at least according to every federal court to consider the matter. Then came the 7th Circuit’s conclusion that allowing the review creates “an unlawful mechanism by which employers can avoid liability for unlawful discrimination” by letting them perpetually litigate the issue of whether the EEOC did enough to avoid litigation.

Now that one of the federal circuits has rejected the legal reasoning used by its brethren, the Supreme Court is the only higher venue available to make the decision as to who got it right. Should they decide it was the 7th Circuit, it will mark a major change in employment law across the country. Naturally, a great number of employer groups, including the Chamber of Commerce, have filed “friend of the court” briefs supporting the prevailing law and contradicting the 7th Circuit’s logic by saying employers have the greatest interest in maximizing the conciliation efforts under the veil of confidentiality, rather than airing dirty laundry for months or years on end. As they see it, public scorn and backlash from appearing overly litigious would do much more harm to their brand than anything they would save by dragging things on and on.

With a handful of other employment law cases set for oral argument, there may be more significant changes coming to the workplace in this Supreme Court term. Keeping up with current laws and a client-centered philosophy that strives to accomplish our clients’ goals as if they were are own is what we do at Mays & Kerr. We represent both plaintiffs and defendants in employment matters, including employment discrimination, wage and hour, FMLA, and more, with offices in Atlanta and Nashville.  If you live in Georgia or Tennessee and need an experienced Atlanta employment law attorney, contact us today at 1-877-986-5529.

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