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Supreme Court’s new term: Arbitration, disparate impact on docket

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Hiring,Human Resources,Leaders & Managers,Management Training

by Hera S. Arsen, J.D.

In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the 2009-2010 term. Several cases on the docket involve employment and labor-related issues.

One of the most notable of these will decide how much time plaintiffs have to file a lawsuit when they believe they have been unfairly penalized by hiring tests. Other cases will resolve issues involving an alleged whistle-blower, pension benefits, race discrimination and labor arbitration.

The key cases scheduled to be addressed by the High Court include:

Arbitration

On Oct. 7, the justices heard oral arguments in Union Pacific Railroad Company v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen General Committee of Adjustment, Central Region. This case, which is the first Railway Labor Act case the court has agreed to review in more than a decade, concerns the scope of federal court review of arbitration decisions in the railroad and airline industries.

On Dec. 9, the justices are scheduled to hear oral arguments in another arbitration case (Stolt-Nielsen S.A., et al. v. AnimalFeeds International Corp.). This case will decide whether arbitration of class claims is required when the parties’ arbitration agreement is silent on that matter.

While the underlying case stemmed from an antitrust conflict, the outcome of Stolt-Nielsen will probably prove to be relevant in the employment context as well. It could decide whether an employee bringing a claim covered by an arbitration agreement may pursue a class claim on behalf of similarly situated workers.

Benefits

The issue in Conkright v. Frommert is whether a plan administrator’s action taken pursuant to an express grant of discretionary authority (outside the context of an initial benefits determination) is entitled to judicial deference.

The case involves a dispute over the proper remedy for Xerox Corp.’s alleged illegal calculation of pension benefits for employees who left the company and received a lump sum distribution, but were later rehired.

Organized labor

Granite Rock Co. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters involves two issues. The first is whether a federal court or an arbitrator has jurisdiction to determine whether a collective-bargaining agreement was formed between a union and employer following lengthy contract negotiations.

The second is whether an international union that did not sign the labor contract can be held responsible under the Labor-Management Relations Act for causing the local union to strike.

Discrimination

The Supreme Court recently agreed to consider whether the deadline for filing disparate impact workplace discrimination cases under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act should be 300 days after the discriminatory practice is announced, or 300 days after the employer implements the practice.

This case, Lewis v. Chicago, involved a group of blacks who had applied for jobs as firefighters. Alleging disparate-impact race bias, the applicants challenged the city of Chicago’s hiring decisions based on a written examination. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, because the applicants did not file a charge with the EEOC within 300 days of the announcement of the test results, their claims were untimely.

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Hera S. Arsen is the senior editor of firm publications at Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, P.C. 

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