Tuesday, July 12, 2011

SCOTUS Employment Law Year in Review 2011

I was going to mime the Supreme Court’s biggest employment law cases on YouTube in response to Eric Meyer’s Haiku… but I ran out of face paint. Here’s the best SCOTUS had to offer in employment law in the past year:

Class Actions
Wal-Mart v. Dukes – The biggest emplaw case of the year - literally, with a potential 1.5 million member class, and in terms of media coverage. The Court held that a nationwide class seeking certification to bring discrimination claims needed some "glue” to bind their claims into a class. The Court was unanimous in reversing the Ninth Circuit, but split 5-4 on the commonality analysis. Lawffice Space had this case covered within about 30 minutes of the opinion's release.

AT&T v. Concepcion – While not strictly an employment law case, the Court suggested that employment contract arbitration clauses which prohibit classwide arbitration are enforceable and trump state laws.

Public Employee Petition Clause
Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri - The Court held that public employee First Amendment Petition Clause claims should be treated like free speech claims, requiring that the petition address a matter of public concern and not merely a private employee grievance.

Kasten v. St. Gobain - The Court held that the FLSA's antiretaliation provision protects oral as well as written complaints. Although the Court didn't specifically address internal vs. external complaints, I think the opinion points toward protection for both internal and external complaints. Federal courts in Pennsylvania protect internal complaints.

Thompson v. North American Stainless - The Supreme Court held that third party retaliation exists. Specifically, an employee could bring a Title VII retaliation claim where her employee allegedly terminated her fiance in retaliation for her own discrimination complaint. It's nice to know third party retaliation exists, but determining when can be a little tricky. I hit the media with this one, with quotes in LawyersUSA and an appearance on The Proactive Employer podcast.

Cat's Paw
Staub v. Proctor Hospital - The Court recognized that employer's can be liable under the "cat's paw" theory where: "a supervisor performs an act motivated by [discriminatory] animus that is intended by the supervisor to cause an adverse employment action, and if that act is a proximate cause of the ultimate employment action." It was a USERRA case but should apply elsewhere (specifically Title VII). I detailed some of the finer points of the decision here.

Informational Privacy
NASA v. Nelson - The Court once again punted on a high profile privacy case, holding that the government's interests as an employer in knowing about employees' drug, treatment, and counseling histories outweighed any "informational privacy" right that might maybe sorta exist.

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.


  1. An excellent and concise highlight of important cases. As a Canadiam, our Supreme Court often imports concepts and theories espoused by SCOTUS. Being able to read about the concepts with the option to drill down into the details is excellent. Lawffice Space is also a darn clever name for a blog. Keep up the great work!

  2. Great post! You have identified the most important employment cases from which a lot of people can learn from.