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Six Cases Before The United States Supreme Court To Watch

Volume 14, Issue 23
November 6, 2015

The Supreme Court's new term began in October. Below is a preview of the labor and employment cases we will be tracking for you. Additional cases will be added to the Supreme Court's schedule as the year progresses; we will keep you on top of those as well.

Public Sector Unions - Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association

The Court will consider the issue of public sector agency shop arrangements whereby employees who choose not to join a union can be compelled to pay the equivalent of dues in the form of "fair share service fees." Since the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, public workers who choose not to join a union can be forced to contribute a service fee to the union out of their paychecks. A group of California teachers have objected to these compulsory fees arguing that the fees violate their rights under the First Amendment. The Court will decide whether to overrule Abood and outlaw public sector agency shop arrangements.

Union supporters argue that because non-union employees in a bargaining unit represented by a union benefit from the higher pay and other benefits the union negotiates for the unit, they should have to contribute to the union's efforts. Many are watching this case anticipating a major loss for public sector unionization efforts. Unions certainly stand to lose substantial revenue should the Court outlaw agency shop fees. This case is also significant to the right to work movement.

Fair Credit Reporting Act - Spokeo v. Robbins

This case is a class action involving alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) by Spokeo, an Internet people-search company. Spokeo's search engine aggregates publicly available information regarding individuals from phone books, social networks, marketing surveys, real estate listings, business websites, and other sources into a database that is searchable via the Internet using an individual's name, phone number, email, or physical address. Spokeo specifically notifies users that it "does not verify or evaluate each piece of data, and makes no warranties or guarantees about any of the information offered."

The plaintiff, Thomas Robbins, alleges that false background information displayed by Spokeo about him injured his credit rating and negatively affected his insurance and employment prospects. He argues that Spokeo is a "consumer reporting agency" under the FCRA which requires such agencies to "follow reasonable procedures to assure maximum possible accuracy of" consumer reports.

The Court will consider whether Robbins can proceed with his lawsuit without showing an economic harm or whether the alleged violation of the FCRA is enough upon which to file a lawsuit. This case was argued on November 2, 2015, and the Justices appeared undecided and fractured on the direction for a decision.

Certifications of Class and Collective Actions - Tyson Foods v. Bouaphakeo

This case involves wage and hour claims brought both as a class action and a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) collective action in which more than 3,000 workers at a Tyson Foods plant were awarded $5.8 million in damages due to Tyson's alleged failure to pay them for time spent putting on and taking off their protective equipment, as well as for time spent walking to and from their workstations. Tyson Foods argues that the claims of the workers who were approved to participate in the class were not similar enough for proper certification and that many of them suffered no actual injury.

This case presents technical questions about how class and collective actions are certified. The Supreme Court's decision could be critical to reigning in these extremely expensive lawsuits. The Tyson case will be argued on November 10, 2015.

Class Action Lawsuits and Offers of Judgment - Campbell-Edward v. Gomez

This case does not involve an employment situation, but could nonetheless have an impact on class action employment lawsuits.

Here the sole named plaintiff, Jose Gomez, sought to maintain a class action lawsuit against a marketing company hired by the United States Navy arguing that an unsolicited promotional text message he and many others received violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA). The most an injured party could recover for a violation of the TCPA was $1,500.00. As such, the defendant marketing company sought to end the case by offering Gomez the complete relief to which he was allegedly entitled, $1,500.00, through a process called an "offer of judgment." Gomez rejected the offer and asked the court to certify his class action.

The marketing company argued unsuccessfully that the offer should have ended the case because the plaintiff had received what he was seeking and there was no longer a controversy. The Supreme Court agreed to hear this matter to determine whether an unaccepted offer of judgment that provides full relief to a named plaintiff should preclude class certification and end the litigation.

This case was argued before the Court on October 14, 2015. The Justices appeared to disagree on whether the case should be permitted to proceed when a plaintiff has obtained full relief. If the Court agrees with the marketing company, it could provide employers with a new defensive measure to use against class action lawsuits.

Arbitration Agreements with Class Action Waivers - DIRECTV v. Imburgia

This case involves arbitration agreements DIRECTV used with consumers that required all claims relating to its service agreement to be decided by binding arbitration on an individual basis. The arbitration agreement specifically prohibited class action arbitrations. In an attempt to work around certain states that banned class action waivers, such as California, the agreement provided that in these states, the entire agreement was inapplicable. However, the agreement still provided that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) governed its terms.

In an earlier case, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, the Supreme Court had used the FAA to reject California's ban on class action waivers in arbitration agreements. As such, the issue in DIRECTV v. Imburgia is whether state or federal law should govern the arbitration agreement.

This case was argued on October 6, 2015. Based on the Justices' questions and comments during oral argument, many legal commentators believe the majority of the Court will uphold the arbitration agreement under the FAA. The decision will hopefully continue the Court's trend of favoring and protecting arbitration.

Constructive Discharge Claims - Green v. Brennan

This case involves the deadline for bringing a "constructive discharge" claim. Under a constructive discharge theory, an employee must show that his or her work environment was so intolerable (perhaps due to discrimination or harassment) that the employee was "forced" to quit. The issue here is when the time period for an employee to file a constructive discharge claim begins. Some courts hold that the time period begins on the day the employee quits. Other courts hold that the time period starts when the employer last commits an act of discrimination that caused the employee to quit. The Court's decision should settle the matter. Oral argument is scheduled for November 30, 2015.

Employer Report articles are for general information only; they are not intended and should not be construed to be legal advice. Reading or replying to such articles does not establish an attorney-client relationship. In addition, because the subject matters and applicable laws discussed in Employer Report articles are often in a state of change and not always applicable to every type of business entity or organization, readers should consult with counsel before making decisions based on the same.