Top 10 US Supreme Court employment law decisions

Ten US Supreme Court decisions caught our eye during the 2015-2016 session that ended today, and two of them were 4-4 "nondecisions." Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association upheld the 9th Circuit decision which followed Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, and affirmed that public-sector “agency shop” arrangements do not violate the First Amendment. This 4-4 decision does not set a precedent, and we expect the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation to get another case rolling to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, a petition for rehearing has been denied. Dollar General Corporation v. Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians is the other 4-4 split, affirming the 5th Circuit’s judgment that an Indian tribal court has jurisdiction over an intern’s claim that the manager of a store on tribal land sexually molested him while he was working there.

In Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro the Court gave no deference to the Department of Labor’s rule regarding exempting “service advisors” at car dealerships from the Fair Labor Standards Act’s overtime-pay requirements. They sent this one back to the 9th Circuit to sort out.

Green v. Brennan decided that for federal employees the filing period for a constructive discharge claim begins to run when an employee resigns, not at the time of an employer’s last allegedly discriminatory act giving rise to the resignation.

CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC held that a favorable ruling “on the merits” is not a necessary predicate to find that a defendant in a Title VII case has prevailed for purposes of being awarded attorney’s fees. The Court gave no opinion on whether a defendant must obtain a preclusive judgment in order to prevail, and sent the case back to the lower courts to figure that one out.

Heffernan v. City of Paterson broke new ground by holding that the First Amendment bars the government from demoting a public employee based on a supervisor’s perception that the employee supports a political candidate.

In two important class action cases Tyson Foods, Inc. v. Bouaphakeo held that a class or collective action can be certified where liability and damages will be determined with statistical techniques that presume all class members are identical to the average observed in a sample, and the class contains members who were not injured, and Campbell-Ewald Company v. Gomez held that an unaccepted Rule 68 offer that would fully satisfy an individual plaintiff’s claim does not moot that claim – and does not moot a class action.

Then we had two ERISA cases. Gobeille v. Liberty Mutual Insurance Company held that ERISA preempts a Vermont statute that requires health insurers to report payments and other information relating to health care services to a state agency for compilation in an all-inclusive health care database. Montanile v. Board of Trustees of the National Elevator Industry Health Benefit Plan held that when an ERISA-plan participant wholly dissipates a third-party settlement on non-traceable items, the plan fiduciary may not bring suit to attach the participant’s separate assets under ERISA Section 502(a)(3).