In the last several years, the enforcement of agreements to arbitrate disputes, whether between businesses or between businesses and their employees, has become a hotly contested issue in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court issued two significant pronouncements in this area in the past few years. In 2010, in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds International Corp., 130 S.Ct. 1758 (2010), the Court held that where an agreement to arbitrate is silent on the question of whether a plaintiff can arbitrate her claims on behalf of a proposed class of similarly situated individuals (similar to a class action lawsuit), class arbitration is not permissible. Last year, in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), the Court held that (1) under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), arbitration agreements are to be enforced “according to their terms”; and (2) state law rules prohibiting the use of “class-action waiver” provisions, in which a party waives his or her right to arbitrate claims on a class basis, are preempted by the FAA. Together, these cases stand for the fundamental proposition that the parties to arbitration agreements should be bound by the clear terms of such agreements, especially with respect to class arbitration issues. Read More
In a succinct opinion issued on November 26, 2012, the Supreme Court delivered a stern warning to state courts that fail to enforce arbitration clauses accompanying noncompetition agreements. In Nitro-Lift Technologies, L.L.C. v. Howard, 568 U.S. ____ (2012), the employment contracts between two energy-sector employees and their employer contained a two-year noncompetition provision and a mandatory arbitration clause. After the employees joined a competitor, the employer commenced an arbitration proceeding, prompting the employees to bring suit in Oklahoma state court seeking an injunction preventing enforcement of the noncompetition agreements. Despite the mandatory arbitration clauses, Oklahoma’s highest court declared the noncompetition agreements unenforceable under a state law prohibiting restraints on an employee’s ability to work in the same industry. Read More
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court began a new term that is anticipated to include decisions on hot-button issues such as affirmative action, same-sex marriage and national security. The Court will also hear several significant cases in the employment context Read More
In a decision issued April 23, 2012, the EEOC held that gender-identity discrimination-or discrimination against transgender individuals because they are transgender-constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII. This decision builds on the Supreme Court’s decision in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins in 1989, which held that the prohibition against sex discrimination includes protection for people who do not conform to gender stereotypes. The EEOC also held that, even if stereotyping was not involved, an employment decision made on the basis of the fact that an employee had a change of sex would be considered sex discrimination under the law. Since transgender employees report facing workplace discrimination at high levels, this decision, coupled with an increasing number of states that now include sexual identity as a protected category under their anti-discrimination statutes, may spark an increase in claims brought on this basis.
As the nation awaits the Supreme Court’s opinion on the constitutionality of its individual health insurance mandate, some lesser-known provisions of the “Patient Protection & Affordable Care Act” (a.k.a. “Obamacare”) have received short shrift. For instance, the Affordable Care Act also amended the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and requires employers to provide nursing employees with “a reasonable amount of break time to express milk as frequently as needed” for up to one year after a child’s birth. The law also requires all employers subject to FLSA to provide employees with a private place to express milk that is not a bathroom.
While at first blush, this law sounds rather broad, it contains several limitations: Read More