Supreme Court set to decide major labor cases

Affirmative action, disparate-impact and whistleblower protections all on the docket

Judicial watchdogs have about one month to wait until the Supreme Court opens its doors for arguments on Oct. 7. However, that has not kept people from examining the cases the Court will hear, and some key labor-related rulings should shape policy moving forward.

One of the first cases to watch will be Schuette v Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, with arguments currently scheduled for Oct. 15. After the Court upheld the University of Michigan Law School’s affirmative-action plan ten years ago, affirmative-action opponents launched a campaign to pass a Michigan state amendment banning racial preferences at public employers and universities. The amendment passed in 2009, but the 6th Circuit then struck it down in a 2011 divided decision.

Watchers such as Daniel Fisher of Forbes believe the conservative majority of the court is likely to reverse the 6th Circuit and follow the minority opinion of 6th Circuit Judge Jeffery Sutton, who said, “A first premise for resolving this case is, and must be, that a State does not deny equal treatment by mandating it.” This comes after the Court remanded a similar case in Fisher v. Texas earlier this year.

However, that’s not the only key labor-specific case to watch for Mount Holly v. Mt. Holly Gardens Citizens in Action will allow the Court to rule on whether the Obama administration’s use of statistics-based disparate-impact theories to prove racial discrimination holds up against the law. If the city of Mt. Holly, N.J., wins against the disparate-impact theories, then Fisher says racial discrimination claims against businesses will be tougher to prove.

Lawson v. FMR should also have a major impact in the workplace, this time with whistleblower protection at stake. The Court earlier this year expanded whistleblower protections under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) to include more than just protections related to shareholder fraud. However, Lawson will provide a ruling of whether SOX protections also extend to employees of contractors and subcontractors as well. Fidelity (FMR) claims SOX was never intended to stretch that far, while an administrative court ruled that whistleblower protection held for all.

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Zach Warren

Zach Warren is Assistant Editor of InsideCounsel magazine, where he oversees online content submissions and administers InsideCounsel's enewsletters. Zach specializes in new media and multimedia...

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