On Tuesday, in Genesis Healthcare Corp v. Symczyk, the Supreme Court struck a blow to collective actions under the Fair Labors Standards Act (“FLSA”). In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that courts lack jurisdiction to hear collective action cases if the named plaintiff’s (or plaintiffs’) own claims are “moot.” Under the FLSA, collective actions are similar to class actions in that they allow plaintiffs to sue on behalf other unnamed, but similarly situated, individuals, but collective actions do not require many of the stringent limitations imposed on class actions (such as numerosity or typicality of claims). The Supreme Court’s decision means that if the named plaintiff no longer has a “personal stake” in the case and no other individuals have yet joined the case, no relief is available to the group and the case must end, even though the named plaintiff’s complaint sought damages for a group and not solely for herself. Read more »
For forty years, the Supreme Court has held that the government may not impose laws that treat men and women differently based on an ‘interest’ in perpetuating traditional gender roles. The Court should also hold that the government may not decide who is permitted to marry based on traditional gender stereotypes about who men and women should love, the National Women’s Law Center argued in an amicus brief filed today in Hollingsworth v. Perry—thecase in which the Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California ballot measure that overturned the California Supreme Court's ruling that same-sex couples have a right to marry. Tomorrow, the Center will file the same brief in United States v. Windsor, the case before the Supreme Courtchallenging the constitutionality of the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that bars the federal government from recognizing marriages of same-sex couples. Read more »
As we approach the end of President Obama’s first term in office, it’s an appropriate time to look back and take stock of the impact the President has had on the federal bench, to date. Although, thanks to a determined minority in the Senate, there is a record number of judicial seats that remain empty, the most recent additions to the federal bench are remarkable not only for their excellence and qualifications, but also for how they are changing the face of the judiciary.
President Obama’s Administration has nominated more women and people of color for judgeships than any previous Administration in history. Overall, of the President’s confirmations, approximately 43% have been women, more than twice the rate under the previous Administration. In fact, more women have been confirmed to the federal bench in President Obama’s first term than during President George W. Bush’s entire presidency. As a result, even with the vacancies, the percentage of active women judges on the federal bench has increased from slightly above 25% to over 30% since 2009.
The Administration also broke gender barriers by confirming six women as the first woman judges ever to serve on their district court, and five more as the first woman circuit judge in their state. And it must be noted, of course, that for the first time in history, three women serve on the Supreme Court at one time. President Obama’s nomination of Justices Sotomayor and Kagan created that exciting breakthrough.
Today the Supreme Court is hearing argument in Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk. In this case, the plaintiff, Laura Symczyk, alleges that her nursing home employer violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by deducting a 30-minute lunch break from her wages and the wages of her coworkers, regardless of whether they worked during their scheduled breaks.
The question before the Court is whether an employer’s offer of settlement to the named plaintiff in a class action alleging company-wide violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) can end the case, when the employer makes the settlement offer before any of the named plaintiff’s coworkers have a meaningful opportunity to join the case. If the Court’s answer to this question is yes, then employers will have the power to shut down class actions challenging wage and hour violations before they begin, leaving other affected employees without the chance to have their claims heard.
Such a holding would undermine the intent of the FLSA which was to protect vulnerable workers from exploitation and abuse. When Congress passed this landmark legislation in 1938 it provided for “collective actions” through which groups of workers could band together to enforce their rights. Read more »
Monday morning I had the honor of observing the oral arguments for Vance v. Ball State at the United States Supreme Court. At issue in the case was how courts should define “supervisor” for the purposes of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination, including sexual harassment. This definition is important because it determines when an employer—in this case, Ball State University—will automatically be held liable for harassment perpetrated by an employee.
The plaintiff in the case is Ms. Vance, a catering assistant at Ball State University, who was the only African-American employee in her division. She alleged that she was threatened and called racially-motivated names by her immediate supervisors, and she suffered greatly because of it. However, Ms. Vance lost her case against the university when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that for the purposes of Title VII, supervisors only include those people who can hire and fire employees. The individuals who harassed her did not have this authority, though they did oversee her day-to-day work. This decision reflects a continuing split among Circuit Courts, as other courts have held that supervisors should also include day-to-day supervisors. Read more »
This Friday, November 30, the Supreme Court will decide whether to hear the so-called marriage equality cases: suits challenging the legality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which defines marriage as between one man and one woman at the federal level, and Proposition 8, the California provision banning same-sex marriage there. The Court will announce next Monday whether it will hear any of those cases.
Each of the laws has been struck down by lower courts. The First and Second Circuit as well as a federal district court in the Northern District of California invalidated Section 3 of the DOMA under the federal equal protection clause, while the Ninth Circuit ruled that Proposition 8 was constitutionally impermissible for the same reason. Read more »
Today, the Center filed a friend of the Court brief in Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk. This important case will decide whether a defendant in a class action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)—called a “collective action” under that statute—can end the case by offering the lead plaintiff a settlement for her own claims before any other plaintiffs have had a meaningful opportunity to join the lawsuit. The case involves a suit brought under the FLSA on behalf of nursing home workers, who are predominantly women earning near poverty-level wages.
The FLSA is a landmark law passed during the Great Depression that is designed to protect workers from oppressive wage and hour conditions. The Equal Pay Act (EPA), which outlaws pay discrimination based upon gender, was passed as an amendment to the FLSA in 1963. Both the FLSA and the EPA allow for “collective actions,” where one employee can sue on behalf of herself and other employees whose rights are being violated in the same way. In a collective action, the other employees must “opt in” to participate in the case. The Center believes that collective actions are vital to enforce the FLSA and the EPA and to protect low-wage working women, including women in the nursing home industry. Read more »
On Wednesday, October 10, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on the constitutionality of UT Austin’s undergraduate affirmative-action admissions program. The vast majority of students are admitted under the state’s Top Ten Percent Plan, which requires UT Austin to admit all Texas residents who rank in the top ten percent of their high-school graduating classes. The University also admits a small percentage of its students through a separate process that involves careful, holistic review of all aspects of an applicant’s qualifications, including such things as leadership experience, special talents, work experience, community service, languages spoken at home, family responsibilities, extracurricular activities, and race. It is this modest consideration of race as part of a holistic review that is before the Supreme Court.
Less than ten years ago, in its review of the University of Michigan Law School’s admissions plan, the Supreme Court outlined the many benefits of diversity in higher education. The Court recognized that racially diverse educational environments reduce stereotypes by exposing students to diverse individuals. That diversity helps students encounter a wide range of ideas and experiences, which improve the quality of the education that they receive and help prepare them to be leaders in an increasingly diverse society.Historically, affirmative-action policies have promoted not only racial but also gender diversity, helping eliminate barriers to women’s entrance into historically male-dominated fields such as engineering and computer science. And many educational institutions, and many state universities in particular, have come to value the benefits of diversity as being critical to the educational mission of cultivating civic, government and business leaders. Read more »
Today, the Supreme Court heard the first arguments of the 2012-13 Term. A number of cases that the Court will review this Term could have a significant impact on women’s legal rights.
This Term, the Court’s review of affirmative action policies in state university admissions presents a troubling opportunity to turn back the clock, particularly given that Justice O’Connor, a key vote in the Court’s 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in admissions (and its author), has since left the Court. In Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin, the Fifth Circuit ruled that the University of Texas’s undergraduate admissions policy, which uses race as one of multiple factors in making admissions decisions, was constitutional under the Supreme Court’s aforementioned 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger. Affirmative action policies intended to promote not only racial but also gender diversity are particularly necessary in vocational and higher education—for example, by eliminating barriers to women’s entrance into historically male-dominated fields, such as engineering and computer science. The Center submitted an amicus brief in support of the University of Texas, explaining that an educational experience in a diverse community of learners can dispel both race and gender stereotypes, which are often intertwined, and that this diversity is essential to preparing students to succeed as leaders in communities and businesses. Fisher will be argued next Wednesday. Read more »