In 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States and several state Supreme Courts issued opinions reshaping the landscape of labor and employment law. As 2011 begins, employers should be aware of the following cases garnering attention that may significantly impact companies in all industries around the country:
Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Dukes
Touted as the largest gender discrimination case in United State history, the Supreme Court of the United States will decide whether certification of a class that could exceed one million women was appropriate. The Court's resolution of this issue is expected to have a profound impact on employment discrimination class actions, potentially opening the door for many more discrimination class action lawsuits.
Kasten v. Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics
On the heels of the Supreme Court of the United States' recent decision in Thompson v. North American Stainless, LP, which expanded the scope of third-party retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, this case before the Supreme Court of the United States may reshape retaliation cases under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"). The Court will determine whether an employee, who only submits an oral complaint, is protected from retaliation for complaining about violations of the FLSA. The resolution of this case, together with the Thompson case, could lead to a flood of retaliation-based claims.
Staub v. Proctor Hospital
In what is referred to colloquially as the "cat's paw" theory case, the Supreme Court of the United States will consider whether an employer may be found liable for the discriminatory acts of supervisors who influence - but do not make - an employment decision. The Court's decision will resolve a split among the federal courts of appeal by resolving the question of whether, to find discriminatory intent, the ultimate decision maker needs to rely blindly on the opinions of the supervisors or merely needs to be influenced by the supervisors' discriminatory animus.
Brinker Restaurant Corp. v. Superior Court
This case before the Supreme Court of California reappears from our list of cases to watch in 2010. As we noted last year, the central issue is whether an employer must ensure that an employee takes his or her statutory rest period or merely make it available. If the Supreme Court of California ultimately rules in favor of the plaintiffs, employers will face implementation and oversight issues and will likely see another spike in filings of wage and hour class actions involving rest and meal period claims.