Tag Archives: Gorsuch

Three ways to make sense of Masterpiece Cakeshop

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The Supreme Court’s decision in Masterpiece Cakeshop was not as harmful to LGBT rights or civil rights laws in general as feared.  In fact, Masterpiece was cited by the Arizona Court of Appeals in upholding a Phoenix municipal ordinance prohibiting LGBT discrimination in public accommodation.

But court watchers were left scratching their collective heads by the mixed signals sent by the court. Given a week to digest the decision and read over the commentary, I think Masterpiece is understandable in the broader context of other decisions made by the Roberts court. I think three trends explain Masterpiece: 1) The Court’s favor of protected status over protected activity) 2 skepticism of the “administrative state” and 3) the use of federal supremacy by the court to rein in progressive-leaning states and cities.

Protected Status > Protected Activity

Sexual orientation and gender identity are considered a type of protected class. Sometimes theses these statuses are protected expressly, like they are in state and municipal laws, or they are covered by sex as held by many federal courts. Civil rights laws protect everyone based on various protected statuses such as race, nationality, religion, sex, disability and age. Everybody is covered by multiple protected classes. Protected class discrimination is fairly non-controversial because most people agree that someone should not be discriminated against based on immutable traits like race or sex. Sexual orientation and gender identity are just additional protected classes that would apply some people.

This isn’t to say that LGBT rights are universally accepted. The fact there are so many litigated cases, like Masterpiece, based on direct evidence of discrimination should be proof of that statement. But even in conservative-leaning states like Nebraska, business interests have pushed to expand anti-discrimination laws to LGBT individuals in an effort to have cities and states be seen as “open for business”. That’s part of the reason that Omaha, like Phoenix, has a municipal ordinance prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.   The Materpiece decision could be very persusasive to a Nebraska court hearing a challenge to Omaha’s laws prohibting discrimination agains the LGBT community.

Business looks less favorably upon protected activities than protected statuses. These are activities that individuals cannot be sanctioned for or retaliated against for engaging. From a business point of view the most problematic problematic activity is engaging in unionization or striking. Striking has re-emerged as a popular tactic for workers in the wake of teachers strikes and a possible strike by UPS drivers. The Supreme Court generally takes a business-friendly view on protected activity. In Epic, the court took a narrow view of what constituted protected concerted activity under the National Labor Relations Act. Earlier this term, in Somers v. DRT,  the court narrowed the definition of a whistleblower under Dodd-Frank. The split between how the court treats protected activities and protected statuses became apparent to me in 2013 when the court decided the landmark LGBT civil rights case Windsor in the same term they decided Nassar which raised the burden of proof for employees in Title VII retaliation cases. The same split between protected activity and protected activity is apparent in 2018 with Epic and Somers contrasted with Masterpiece.

Dislike of the Administrative State

The reason why Jack Phillips “won” Masterpiece was because of negative comments about religion made by a lone commissioner on the Colorado Commission on Human Rights. Phillips was being civilly charged by state administrative agency. The  Roberts court, Justices Gorsuch, Thomas and Alito in particular, are skeptical of the role of  administrative agencies on separation of powers grounds. That skepticism was evidenced by Justice Gorsuch’s comments about the National Labor Relations Board in Epic. ThIS terrm the court also heard what could be a close case about whether the Securities and Exchange Commission can use Administrative Law Judges to punish misconduct in the securities industry that could have broad — if not disruptive — implcations. If nothing else, Masterpiece is a bench slap to an administrative agency.

I also believe that Masterpiece could have a chilling effect on state and local human rights commissions.  I have served on the Lincoln Commission on Human Rights since 2014.  Even before Masterpiece was decided, commissioners were given a memo describing the concerns expressed by Justice Kennedy in oral arguments in Masterpiece about the comments made by the Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner. Civil rights commissioners often engage in spirted discussions about what constitutes unlawful discrimination in a particular case. It would be unfortunate if Masterpiece lead commissioners to self-censor over fears that those comments could be used by the parties they believe could be engaged in unlawful discrimination.

Federal supremacy over states and cities

Jack Phillips succeeded in making a first amendment argument that the Colorado Commission on Civil Rights violated his freedom of religion by making impermissible comments about his religion. Phillips resorted to federal law to strike down a decision made by the state agency of a progressive-leaning state. Much of the arbitration case law that supported the Epic decision was based on the Federal supremacy of  the Federal Arbitration Act over state laws that  prohibited arbitration. Many of these state laws were passed by “blue” states such as California. By overruling a decision made by the Colorado Commssion on Civil Rights, the Roberts court was able to assert some measure of federal supremacy over a progressive-leaning state.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

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A truly Epic failure for workers

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He just turned 50 last year…

Free speech in the workplace has been discussed heatedly in the wake of the cancellation of “Roseanne”and a new rule prohibiting NFL players from kneeling during the national anthem. Parties on both sides in the culutrue war have argued that employees don’t have freedom of the speech on the job. While that is generally true, the National Labor Relations Act gives employees some rights of speech and associationon the job. But a recent Supreme Court case could have paired back those rights.

In Epic Systems v. Lewis the United States Supreme court held in a 5-4 decision that neither the National Labor Relations Act  nor the savings clause of the Federal Arbitration Act  prevents enforcement of arbitration clauses that preclude class or collective actions against employers by their employees.

As many commentators and the dissent pointed out, the Epic decision will make it more difficult for workers to band together to address wage and hour violations. Individually, even with attorney fees available, it is not economical for employees to pursue individual cases of wage theft if those individual cases amount to a relatively small amount. An example of such a case were the so-called “donning and doffing” cases pursued against various meat packing plants in the Midwest.

Employers have won some major victories in the area of wage and hour law this Supreme Court term. Epic follows on the heels of a decision making it easier for employers to prove they are exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act

But Epic could impact labor and employment law beyond just wage and hour law. Here are a few ways Epic could impact more than just wage and hour law. This list is not inclusive and Epic is probably worth more discussion, but I wanted to discuss the broader implications of this case and bring up lesser discussed but important implications of this case.

What is a protected concerted activity?

The National Labor Relations Act protects protected concerted activity for the mutual aid of co-workers that goes to the terms and conditions of employment. The employees argued that participating in a collective action case under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the five Justice majority, disagreed. Gorsuch wrote that the NLRA only covered activities that employees do for themselves, not class action litigation. What concerned me more, was Gorsuch’s  use of a “canon”of statutory construction to hold that seemingly broad language in the NLRA about it employees being able to engage in collective activity for “mutual aid and protection” only applied to forming labor unions and other activities related to formal collective bargaining.

This conclusion concerned me because I have long advocated for non-unionized employees to engage in collective self-help on the job to address issues like bullying  or even accommodation of a disability.  But, as the dissent points out, association rights on the job are also protected by the Norris-LaGuardia Act (NLGA) NLGA expressly provides for a right to self-organization among employees. Though the Epic court rejected NLGA as a basis for overcoming an arbitration clause, it’s broader language could still be the basis for workplace speech and assocation rights than a paired down NLRA.

That Norris-LaGuardia would serve as backstop for employee association rights would assume the Roberts/Gorsuch court is merely following some rules of statutory construction rather than imposing their own economic preferences into the law. That might not be a fair assumption. The Federal Arbitration Act explicitly excludes employment contracts from coverage. In 2001, the Supreme Court limited that exclusion from workers in the transportation industry.  Epic would appear to further limit that exclusion in contradiction to plain and clear statutory language to the contrary.

 

Can Epic be made to benefit workers?

Epic may benefit some employees. One impetus behind using arbitration clauses to prevent class action claims is to defeat class action claims on retirement plans under ERISA. However ERISA also governs short-term and long- term disability policies. Currently, short-term and  long-term disability policies very difficult to win because courts defer to insurers on how the plans are interpreted. Some employee-benefit attorneys believe that employees will have a better chance of disability claims in arbitration.  Union-side labor lawyer, Moshe Marvit has also speculated that Epic might make it easier for employees to form unions.

Many management-side attorneys are also skeptical of arbitration  which could also prevent employers from adopting arbitration clauses.

Constitutional perspectives

So how is it that the Supreme Court can ignore seemingly plain language about the Federal Arbitration Act not applying to employment disputes? The Circuit City decision from 2001, provides one clue. In Circuit City the Supreme Court used a narrow interpretation of interstate commerce to hold that the FAA only applies to transportation employees. This holding is consistent with other holdings from the Rehnquist and Roberts courts that limit that power of the federal government to regulate through the commerce clause. (12)

Though Epic doesn’t discuss state police powers under the 10th Amendment much of the case law relied upon in Epic has to do with how the FAA pre-empts state laws preventing arbitration in certain cases. Essentially the so-called “contracts clause” which prevents laws that impair the obligation of contract.  This includes state laws enacted under 10th Amendment police powers. The Supreme Court took up a contracts clause case, Sveen v. Melin, this term.  That case could also have implications in the world of employment law depending on the language of the decision and any possible concurring opinions from the likes of Justices Gorsuch, Alito or Thomas.

The offices of Rehm, Bennett & Moore, which also sponsors the Trucker Lawyers website, are located in Lincoln and Omaha, Nebraska. Five attorneys represent plaintiffs in workers’ compensation, personal injury, employment and Social Security disability claims. The firm’s lawyers have combined experience of more than 95 years of practice representing injured workers and truck drivers in Nebraska, Iowa and other states with Nebraska and Iowa jurisdiction. The lawyers regularly represent hurt truck drivers and often sue Crete Carrier Corporation, K&B Trucking, Werner Enterprises, UPS, and FedEx. Lawyers in the firm hold licenses in Nebraska and Iowa and are active in groups such as the College of Workers’ Compensation Lawyers, Workers' Injury Law & Advocacy Group (WILG), American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Nebraska Association of Trial Attorneys (NATA), and the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA). We have the knowledge, experience and toughness to win rightful compensation for people who have been injured or mistreated.

This entry was posted in Arbitration, NLGA, NLRA, Supreme Court, Wage and Hour and tagged , , , , .