Human Resources News & Insights

The four court cases HR needs to watch in 2013

What legal issues should HR pros be watching most closely in the coming months? A leading employment law firm suggests we keep an eye on four key cases.

A quick look at the four court actions that have the potential for changing the employment law landscape, courtesy of the Employment Benefits and Labor Practice Group at Blank Rome:

Vance v. Ball State University

You’ll recall that a couple of months ago, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case to resolve a split between federal appeals courts regarding the definition of a “supervisor” for purposes of liability under federal anti-discrimination laws.

The case comes down to deciding between two definitions:

  • whether the term “supervisor” applies broadly to all employees who have the authority to direct and oversee an alleged victim’s daily work,
  • whether the technical definition of “supervisor” is limited to those who have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline.”

The court’s determination will have a significant impact on employer exposure to Title VII lawsuits, workforce management and anti-harassment training, according to Blank Rome.

Genesis HealthCare v. Symczyk

In this important Fair Labor Standards Act case, the Supreme Court will determine whether an FLSA collective action becomes moot after the named plaintiff receives an offer of judgment that provides full relief.

Translation: If an employer makes an offer that would fully cover the FLSA violation alleged in an active court case, does that offer basically blow the court action out of the water?

In the decision under review, a federal appeals court held that a motion for conditional certification of a collective action “relates back” to the date the complaint was originally filed — and the settlement offer doesn’t stop the original case from proceeding.

But two other federal circuits have held that a full offer of judgment to the complainant does make the court case moot.

The high court’s decision could impact an important tool that employers have relied upon in their efforts to battle the recent deluge of collective wage-and-hour litigation.

D.R. Horton Inc. v. NLRB

In February, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit will hear D.R. Horton’s appeal of a NLRB ruling that class action waivers in employee arbitration agreements violate federal labor law.

The controversial NLRB decision called into question the growing practice of including class action waivers in employee arbitration agreements.

Although the Fifth Circuit’s decision will be noteworthy, many observers expect this case to reach the Supreme Court, Blank Rome says.

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar

Just a few days ago, the Supreme Court agreed to consider whether federal bias laws’ retaliation provision, and other statutes like the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, require complaining employees to prove “but-for” causation – that an adverse action was taken solely to retaliate for something the employee did or said.

The question the court will decide is: Should an employee be able to prove his or her retaliation claim even if the employer had a “mixed motive” for its action — meaning that retaliation was one of several reasons for the adverse action?

The court’s decision is expected to provide much-desired clarity on the standard of proof.

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