Human Resources News & Insights

Supreme Court will rule on 3 key HR-related cases

This month, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on three cases that have a direct impact on how HR and employers will do business.

AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen

Issue: Pregnancy discrimination

Summary: The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 mandates that employees receive time-in-service credit — for purposes of retirement and other benefits — for all pregnancy-connected absences. The employer maintains that any pregnancy-related absences prior to ’78, when the law was passed, cannot be added to time-in-service credit. The employee says pre-’78 pregancy absences must be credited.

Case: Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville

Issue: Retaliation

Summary: “Employee A” was called upon to provide information in an internal investigation involving a charge of sexual harassment against “Employee B,” a member of upper management. Eventually, Employee A was fired supposedly for poor job performance. Employee A sued the employer, charging the firing was in retaliation for cooperating with the investigation of Employee B. The employer argued that Title VII protections against retaliation apply only to formal investigations by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and not to an employer’s internal investigation.

14 Penn Plaza LLC v. Pyett

Issue: Arbitration clauses

Summary: As part of a collective-bargaining agreement’s arbitration clause, an employee was obligated to waive his right to sue under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. The employee argues that such clauses cannot be enforced because federal law guarantees the right to sue for age discrimination, and that no arbitration agreement can void that right.

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  1. What do you do when you have an employee that continually does things they are told not to do?
    We have an employee that has been told and told not to discuss certain matters with coworkers because we are trying to complete investigations but this employee continues to do just the opposite and it causes disruption and interruption to the workplace and any investigations we may need to conduct.

  2. HR in Ohio says:

    Dear P.E.,

    Is the employee is breaching confidentiality by discussing the specifics of the investigation?, If so, then in my non-legal opinion, you have grounds for correction action, up to and including termination of employment. I remind everyone involved in an investigation of the “requirement” to maintain confidentiality; this includes the person filing the complaint, the accused, the witnesses, and the managers who are aware of the situation.

    Of course, if the person breaching confidentiality is the one who filed the complaint, you’ll want to consult with an attorney before taking that corrective action. You need to make sure all of your documentation supports that this is not retaliation for filing the complaint. You’ll need to be able to prove that this is a result of consistent enforcement of your code of conduct or other relevant policy.

    Good luck!

  3. At the closing of your meeting with this employee & with another Mgt witness present:
    1. Make sure you inform the employe that you are giving them a clear directive not to discuss any part of the investigation with anyone after the meeting concludes.
    2. spell out the consequences of not following the directive to the letter, i.e. disciplinary action up to and including discharge.
    3. Ask them to restate the directive back to you so that you are certain they have heard it clearly.
    4. Ask them if they understand what the directive means.
    5. Have a prepared statement to the above and have the employee sign / acknowledge it when the meeting concludes.

    If they fail to follow what you consider your directive to be a confidential investigation, in order to disrup the investigation they are being insubordinate and I would discharge them if you can prove the violated the directive. JV

  4. For Case #3, what if a severance agreement requires the terminated employee to waive the right to sue under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act? Is this enforceable?

  5. What do you do when a supervisor submit a complain about one of his employees? should it be the H.R personal who submit the questionnar to this employee, or should it be the supervisor who do it and then the H.R personnal talks to the employee?
    please give me the nedded information to solve this case.
    thank you

  6. Re: age discrimination suit. If company is found to be in violation and the employee was able to secure another job shortly after his termination with no substantial lost in wages how is this handled? Is the company fined? Is the employee awarded emotional distress compensation due to his age?

  7. Regarding #2 above…
    There has to be more to the lawsuit than cited in the summary. What company in its right mind would want to allow retaliation against an employee for cooperating in an internal investigation, even if it turns out cooperation in an internal investigation isn’t protected by Title VII? Such retaliation would breed fear among employees and the company would find it difficult to conduct any future investigations as suddenly the employee base would hear/see/speak no evil. If the company is unable to conduct internal investigations, retaliation lawsuits are going to be the least of its potential problems!

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