Sunday, October 2, 2011

Supreme Court Employment Law Preview 2011-12

Hey SCOTUS! Where's the employment law? The Supreme Court kicks off the fall season on Monday, and they're hearing an employment law case in their opening week. But, I'm still wondering where the "big" employment law cases are.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC (case links go to SCOTUSBlog which just underwent an awesome redesign). I previously covered this case as a Case of the Week. The question presented is:
Whether the ministerial exception applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship.
I find this case fascinating, but let's face it... there aren't that many employees with mixed secular/religious duties. So, the Court's decision will not have particularly broad applications.

Similarly, the Court will hear Coleman v. Maryland Court of Appeals, another case I already covered as a Case of the Week. In this one, the Court will examine "[w]hether Congress constitutionally abrogated states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity when it passed the self-care leave provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)." Another interesting issue... but really only applicable to state employees/ers.

And then there's Knox v. SEIU (and my brief preview). I'll spare you the gory details, here and give you SCOTUSBlog's "plain English" description of the issue: "Does the First Amendment give state employees the right to decline to pay union dues used for political advocacy by the union?" Another case with limited applicability.

And it actually gets worse from there... unless you're really excited about workers' compensation under the Continental Shelf Lands Act (no?). I guess Filarsky v. Delia was employment-law-ish enough to make Ross Runkel's Employment Law Memo. I'm sorry, but 'whether a private attorney retained to work with government employees can assert qualified immunity (even though the lawyer is not a government employee)' is just not cutting it for me. I mean, you may as well count Minneci v. Pollard ("Whether federal inmates may sue employees of a private prison company for violations of the Constitution.").

To spell out my main gripe: There are no cases addressing Title VII, ADA, ADEA, FMLA, or any of the other major employment law statutes, that your average employee/er will really care about. There are no cases of general applicability under the big areas of employment law. I find that a little disappointing. But, there's still hope that SCOTUS will grant cert. in some more exciting employment law cases soon. Oh, and then there's that little health care reform case you may have heard about...

Image: Work of Fed. Gov't; from Supreme Court website.

Posted by Philip Miles, an attorney with McQuaide Blasko in State College, Pennsylvania in the firm's civil litigation and labor and employment law practice groups.