A very big day in labor & employment law and ERISA cases at the U.S. Supreme Court this morning  I’ll post more detailed updates as warranted (and when time allows), but for now, here are the brief highlights (H/T ScotusBlog) .

  • In Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory (06-1505), the court was asked to decide, in an ADEA disparate impact suit, whether workers or employers bear the burden of persuasion in determining whether the employment decision was based on “reasonable factors other than age.” The Court concluded that an employer defending a disparate-impact claim under the ADEA bears both the burden of production and the burden of persuasion for the “reasonable factors other than age” (RFOA) affirmative defense under §623(f)(1). The court also rejects a "business necessity" defense for the employer, saying it has no place under ADEA.  For more background on the case, see the ScotusWiki
  • In MetLife v. Glenn (06-923), the Court was asked to whether a claim administrator of an ERISA plan who also funds the plan benefits constitutes a “conflict of interest” that must be weighed in a judicial review of the administrator’s benefit determination. The Supreme Court concluded that it does.  In the court’s view, a plan administrator’s dual role of both evaluating and paying benefits claims creates the kind of conflict of interest referred to in the Firestone case.   That conclusion is clear where it is the employer itself that both funds the plan and evaluates the claim, but a conflict also exists where, as here, the plan administrator is an insurance company.  Again, for more background, see the ScotusWiki.
  • In Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC (06-1037), the Court was asked to decide on the relevance of age as a potential factor in the distribution of retirement benefits to disabled workers establishes a prima facie case of discrimination under the ADEA. In other words, could "pension status" been seen as a proxy for "age". The Court held, under the circumstances of the case, that pension status was not a proxy for age.  in other words, where an employer adopts a pension plan that includes age as a factor, and that employer then treats employees differently based on pension status, a plaintiff, to state a claim under the ADEA, must adduce sufficient evidence to show that the differential treatment was “actually motivated” by age, not pension status.  As usual, the ScotusWiki has the detailed background on the case.  
  • In Chamber of Commerce v. Brown (06-939), the Court was asked to decide whether federal labor law preempted a California state law that barred employers from using state money to influence union organizing campaigns. The Court found that the California law was pre-empted by federal law, meaning, in essence, that the state law cannot be enforced.  Although Connecticut does not have a similar law, it provides a framework for looking at any other proposed legislation that would place limits on the effect of the NLRA.  Background on that case is available from the ScotusWiki here.