The US Supreme Court recently heard oral arguments in several labor and employment cases. As always, the Court’s decisions could have significant implications for employers:

  • In Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, the Court will resolve the split among federal circuit courts and decide whether an EEOC intake questionnaire and accompanying affidavit can suffice as a charge of discrimination to satisfy requirements under ADEA. The ruling in this case will affect whether employers can count on early opportunities to resolve age claims and preserve evidence.
  • In Hall Street Associates, L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., the Court will decide whether an arbitration agreement can expand the scope of judicial review beyond the grounds listed in the Federal Arbitration Act. Although this is not an employment law case, its outcome will affect arbitration agreements in employment matters.
  • In LaRue v. DeWolff, Boberg & Associates, Inc., the Court will decide whether a 401(k) plan participant may sue under ERISA to recover money lost due to mistakes made by the fund’s administrator, which in this case is the employer. This ruling could greatly increase ERISA administrators’ exposure to litigation.
  • In Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, the Court will resolve a split among the federal circuit courts as to whether a trial court in an age discrimination case should allow testimony from other employees claiming to have suffered similar discrimination, sometimes referred to as “me too” evidence. If allowed, such evidence would result in a case within a case, leading to more expensive, time-consuming litigation for employers.
  • In Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, the Court will decide whether using age as a factor in a disability-retirement plan violates ADEA.
  • In Preston v. Ferrer, the Court will decide whether the Federal Arbitration Act preempts a state statute (here, the California Talent Agencies Act) that vests an administrative agency with original jurisdiction over the dispute. This case will shed further light on the enforceability of arbitration agreements and on states’ ability to regulate certain industries and agreements.

In other Supreme Court news, a January 14 case dismissal following a confidential settlement now leaves employers with a thorny open issue:

  • In Huber v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the Court would have decided whether the Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to ignore its policy of filling vacant positions with the most qualified applicant in order to accommodate an employee who becomes disabled and needs to transfer to another position. Given the Court’s interest in this issue, employers should tread carefully and seek counsel if this issue arises.