Back in February, I noted that not all U.S. Supreme Court cases are created equal and warned employers not to get too excited about a case that was then being argued in front of the U.S. Supreme Court — Lewis v. City of Chicago.
Yesterday, the Court released its unanimous decision (download here) in that case. It held that a disparate impact employment discrimination charge filed with the EEOC within 300 days of a discriminatory practice’s application – not merely the announcement of its adoption – will be deemed timely.
The court’s key quote is here:
Employers may face new disparate-impact suits for practices they have used regularly for years. Evidence essential to their business-necessity defenses might be unavailable (or in the case of witnesses’ memories, unreliable) by the time the later suits are brought. And affected employees and prospective employees may not even know they have claims if they are unaware the employer is still applying the disputed practice.
(As an aside, the decision was written by Justice Scalia — countering the prevailing wisdom that he always sides with big businesses.)
What does this mean for employers? It theory, it can mean that employers can now face disparate impact lawsuits significantly later than when a policy that first went unchallenged is implemented.
But it’s hard to get too worked up about this case. Employers who have consistently reviewed the policies and practices will minimize their risks and the incident that gave rise to a claim here — employment testing — just isn’t that prevalent in the private workplace.
In other news, the Court also clarified the rules on when attorneys fees may be issued in ERISA cases.