Back in June, after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, I made a fairly easy prediction:

The federal FMLA is also anticipated to undergo some pretty big changes in states that approve same-sex marriages. Already in 2010, the FMLA regulations suggested that married same-sex couples could take time off to care for a newborn

In another big win for employers today, the Supreme Court ruled that Title VII retaliation cases must be proved by a “but for” standard of proof, not a lower standard that had been used in various courts before.

At issue in the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar case is the following question

Last week, while most of us were focused on the events in Boston, the U.S. Supreme Court came down with a notable decision last week involving a wage & hour class action (it’s actually called a “collective” action, but for the non-lawyers out there, just think of it as a class action) and what should happen when a class representative fails to accept an offer to compromise by the employer that would have made the plaintiff “whole”. 

U.S. Supreme Court

Before you get too excited, its worth noting to the human resources professional out there that it’s hard to see how this case is going to change the day-to-day advice you are giving.  This Supreme Court’s decision is one only a lawyer could love.

But the case is important for employers and lawyers, because it provides another tool to use in defending against wage & hour claims. 

Indeed, combined with the court’s recent decisions limiting class actions (see Comcast Corp v. Behrand case) and enforcing arbitration provisions (see AT&T v. Concepcion line of cases), it demonstrates how the court system is grappling with an increasing number of wage & hour claims that threaten to overwhelm the system.

The Symczyk case has been neatly recapped in the Employment Class Action blog here:

The plaintiff brought FLSA claims challenging the employer’s use of an “auto-deduct” policy for meal periods. Along with its answer, the defendant made a Rule 68 offer to the plaintiff of judgment for $7,500, plus attorney fees and costs to be determined by the court….

When the plaintiff did not respond to the offer, the defendant moved to dismiss the case. The district court dismissed the FLSA claims on the basis of Rule 68 and remanded the remaining state law claims….

 The Supreme Court … found that the district court had correctly dismissed the case. Because the plaintiff did not contest that her own personal claim would have been satisfied by the offer, the majority assumed that it did, indeed, moot her individual claim. .

Ultimately, the Court held that an offer of judgment under Rule 68 that satisfies the representative plaintiff’s claims moots a potential collective action under the FLSA.
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The U.S. Supreme Court this morning ruled, 5-4, that pharmaceutical representatives are “outside salesmen” under the Fair Labor Standards Act.  In plain English, this now means that those representatives are now considered exempt from overtime.

Supreme Court

This decision is a big victory for pharmaceutical companies who have been

In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today gave some teeth to the “ministerial exception” that, in essence, precludes some employees of religious institutions from suing them under federal discrimination laws.

I’ve discussed the exception in various posts over the years here and here.  Its been supported in the Second Circuit and by the Connecticut Supreme Court, but until now, the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t spoken directly on the issue.  The SCOTUS blog has already posted its recap of the entire case here.

SCOTUS: Broad ministerial exception applies

My quick reaction to the decision in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC (download here), is that the notion of a “ministerial exception” being recognized by the Supreme Court isn’t that much of a surprise.  To find otherwise, as the Court stated in its opinion, would be untenable and go against all of the Courts of Appeals.  “We cannot accept the remarkable view that the Religion Clauses have nothing to say about a religious organization’s freedom to select its own ministers.”

Indeed, the court concludes:

We agree that there is such a ministerial exception. The members of a religious group put their faith in the hands of their ministers. Requiring a church to accept or retain an unwanted minister, or punishing a church for failing to do so, intrudes upon more than a mere employment decision. Such action interferes with the internal governance of the church, depriving the church of control over the selection of those who will personify its beliefs. By imposing an unwanted minister, the state infringes the Free Exercise Clause, which protects a religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.

What is more notable is that there appears to be a broad definition of who is a “minister”.   (And, to state the obvious, rabbis and the like are obviously included). The court took pains to point out that it hasn’t adopted “a rigid formula for deciding when an employee qualifies as a minister.”  But it concluded that “given all the circumstances of her employment”, it applies here.


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Over the last 24 hours, there’s been a lot written about the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday in Wal-Mart Stores v. Dukes.  Frankly, all of them are starting to say the same thing:  The decision is going to hamper all class-action discrimination cases going forward.

But that statement tends to simplify the decision a bit too much.  In my view, what the decision stands for is that it will be increasingly unlikely that the mega-class action (the one that covers an entire company) will be able to proceed without a very specific and tangible practice or policy that the plaintiffs can point too. 

What types of things are we talking about? Well, it would be unlikely, but suppose a company had a mandatory retirement age of 60 but without a legitimate basis for doing so. In essence, it was a company-wide practice of discriminating against older workers.  That type of class action will probably survive.
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