Supreme Court Postpones Hearing Class Action Waiver Cases

This post is part of OnLabor’s continuing analysis of National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA.

As reported by Law360, the Supreme Court has informed the parties in Murphy Oil, Ernst & Young, and Epic Systems that the Court will postpone oral argument until next term, which begins in October 2017.  The Court granted certiorari in January.  Law360 points out that Judge Neil Gorsuch will likely be confirmed to the Court by this fall, assuming that Senate Democrats do not decline to confirm his nomination.  Some followers of the Court believed the justices would be evenly split on the enforceability of class action waivers in employment contracts, and Gorsuch could provide the tie-breaking vote.  A separate Law360 piece analyzing Gorsuch’s previous arbitration agreement and class action decisions suggested that “employers may have reason to be optimistic” in Murphy Oil with Gorsuch on the Court.

Gorsuch’s Judicial Approach and Workplace Protection

When Judge Neil Gorsuch accepted his nomination to the Supreme Court, he professed modesty about his role on the Court, if he is confirmed.  He proclaimed that it is the role of judges to “apply not alter the work of the people’s representatives.”  But, unfortunately, Judge Gorsuch’s record casts serious doubt on whether he would truly respect the role of Congress when it comes to drafting legislation that protects the well-being of the American people.  A recent case involving a truck driver who was fired for leaving his load to take refuge after waiting two and a half hours without heat on a sub-freezing night illustrates how Judge Gorsuch’s approach to the law would endanger workers and the public.

For 150 years, Congress has drafted remedial legislation with the understanding that the courts would liberally construe the provisions of the laws to accomplish their ends.  Here’s what Representative Samuel Shellabarger, the author and manager of the 1871 Civil Rights Act said regarding that Act: “This act is remedial, and in aid of the preservation of human liberty and human rights.  All statutes and constitutional provisions authorizing such statutes are liberally and beneficially construed.  It would be most strange, and in civilized law, monstrous were this not the rule of interpretation.  As has been again and again decided by your own Supreme Court of the United States … the largest latitude consistent with the words employed is uniformly given in construing such statutes….”

Nor was that just the wishful thinking of a legislator.  Even in 1930, during the height of what we refer to as the Lochner era, a unanimous Supreme Court acknowledged that the Federal Employers’ Liability Act (FELA), a law designed to protect injured workers, was “to be construed liberally to fulfill the purposes for which it was enacted.”  Thus, the Court held that even though the statute only imposed liability on railroads for injuries that resulted from the “negligence” of the railroad’s agents or employees, it was proper to impose liability where a foreman assaulted a worker.  The Court explained that since the employer would clearly be liable if the worker’s injuries “had been caused by mere inadvertence or carelessness on the part of the offending foreman it would be unreasonable and in conflict with the purpose of Congress to hold that the assault, a much graver breach of duty, was not negligence within the meaning of the Act.”

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The Supreme Court Vacancy and Labor: Neil Gorsuch

This post is part of an ongoing series on the labor decisions and positions of some of the likely potential picks to replace Justice Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Neil Gorsuch currently serves as a judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit. He was appointed by President George W. Bush on May 10, 2006 and confirmed just over two months later. As SCOTUSblog and numerous other outlets have pointed out, Judge Gorsuch may be “the most natural successor” to Justice Scalia, “both in terms of his judicial style and his substantive approach.”

Last August, Judge Gorsuch “made real waves in the normally sleepy world of administrative law” by advocating the end of the doctrine of Chevron deference. See Gutierrez-Brizuela v. Lynch, 834 F.3d 1142, 1158 (10th Cir. 2016) (Gorsuch, J., concurring). Writing a separate concurrence to his own opinion, Judge Gorsuch opined, “We managed to live with the administrative state before Chevron. We could do it again. Put simply, it seems to me that in a world without Chevron very little would change – except perhaps the most important things.” Id.

The following provides an overview of Judge Gorsuch’s opinions in cases involving the NLRB and employment discrimination.

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The Supreme Court Vacancy and Labor: William Pryor

President Donald Trump plans to announce his nominee to fill the late Justice Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court this Thursday.  Among the rumored candidates is Judge William H. Pryor Jr. of the 11th Circuit, who met with the president two weeks ago.  Judge Pryor was appointed by President George W. Bush to his seat in Alabama in 2005 after the Senate voted to confirm him 53–45.  From 1995–97, Judge Pryor served as a deputy attorney general of Alabama.  He was elected as Alabama’s Attorney General in 1997, at 34 years old, and served in that position until his nomination to the 11th Circuit.  SCOTUS Blog has extensively covered Judge Pryor’s record on a variety of legal topics, but did not discuss the judge’s record on labor and employment.  We do so here.

Judge Pryor has not developed a particular reputation with respect to labor and employment law, but one impression that emerges from a look at the admittedly few labor and employment opinions he has written or joined is deference to the determinations of the NLRB.

Unlike his fellow shortlist member Neil Gorsuch, Judge Pryor has not publicly expressed concern over excessive deference to administrative agencies.  His NLRB opinions reflect a preference for deferring to agency interpretations and findings.  Out of nine cases he heard in which the NLRB was a party, Judge Pryor sided with the NLRB in eight of them.  In seven of these cases, Judge Pryor found that “substantial evidence” supported the NLRB’s determinations.  Judge Pryor was part of the unanimous or per curiam opinion in six of these cases.  In Lakeland Health Care Assocs. v. NLRB, Judge Pryor dissented from the majority opinion holding that substantial evidence did not support the NLRB’s decision to not count defendant employer’s licensed practical nurses as supervisors, thereby precluding their attempts to unionize.  Criticizing the majority, Judge Pryor wrote, “[i]n reweighing the facts and setting aside the Board’s order, the majority opinion ‘improper substitute[s] its own views of the facts for those of the Board,’ […] and fails to adhere to our deferential standard of review.”  696 F.3d 1332, 1350 (11th Cir. 2012).  He recognized that though some circuits gave a less deferential standard of review to NLRB determinations of who counts as a “supervisor” under § 2(11) of the NLRA, “our Court has refused to make ‘judicial adjustments to the statutory standard of review because we believe the wiser course is a robust application of the standard that has typified review of Board decisions.’”  Id. (citations omitted). Continue reading

Supreme Court Grants Cert in Class Action Waiver Cases

As reported in the BNA Daily Labor Report, the Supreme Court today granted review in Murphy OilErnst & Young, and Epic Systems, three court of appeals cases that address the question of whether class action waivers in mandatory employment arbitration agreements are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act.  We’ve covered this question in some depth, and will continue to do so now that the issue will be before the Court.

Guest Post: In This Moment, Labor Must Become a Movement

Moshe Z. Marvit is an attorney and fellow with The Century Foundation, focusing on labor and employment law and policy. He is the co-author (with Rick Kahlenberg) of the book, “Why Labor Organizing Should be a Civil Right.”

This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.

With the election of President-elect Donald Trump, labor faces a unique opportunity.  Yes, it will face hostility in all branches of the federal government, and will have to maintain a multi-pronged fight.  Yes, union density numbers are at historically low levels, and the bulwark of public-sector unionism may suffer a major blow at the Supreme Court through a case challenging the constitutionality of fair-share fees in the public sector.  Yes, it will face unprecedented challenges to expand, let alone stay afloat.  But in the midst of all this, labor has the opportunity to reform itself so that it can not only survive a Trump administration, but grow as well.  Perhaps “opportunity” is the wrong word to describe the moment; labor has the existential imperative to reform itself, harness the existing energy, and lead a movement.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump—through the use of Executive Orders, executive and judicial appointments, and legislative priorities—will likely usher in an environment that is hostile to labor.  However, unlike Ronald Reagan, Trump ran a campaign that provided the ground for labor to reform itself.  First, he will be the first president in modern history that ran a campaign that was centered around worker issues.  All presidential candidates talk about middle and working class issues, but successful campaigns are rarely centered on improving the lot of workers.  Second, Trump’s calls for mass deportations, exclusion of Muslims, dismantling of the regulatory state, limits to access for abortion, and a litany of xenophobic actions and policies, have united large swaths of Americans in opposition.  Under these conditions, labor can transform itself from what has increasingly become a membership-based services organization into a movement.

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The Future of Labor

This post is part of a series on Labor in the Trump Years.

From the end of Reconstruction up through the election of 2016, political elites have done a masterful job convincing the white working class that they do not share a common interest with nonwhite workers.  They used regional differences to political advantage by convincing Southern and rural voters that Northerners, urbanites, and intellectuals disdain them.  The task for labor and the left now is to make sure that the 2016 election is the last time that happens.  Rather than demonize those who voted for Trump as bigots, labor should take their economic demands seriously.  Labor should seek common cause among all people around the economic issues that animated the vote for change.  White voters in Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin put Trump in office because he promised to improve their lives.  When he doesn’t deliver on his populist promises because his policy agenda is entirely about cutting taxes and freeing corporations from all labor regulation, labor must remind middle class and working class voters of all races and ethnicities that corporate interests are dominating a Trump Administration.

Republicans now have to govern in a way that at least makes a gesture toward the populist campaign that Trump ran.  The longstanding Republican strategy of using religion and social issues as wedges to divide the working and middle classes may not work in a Trump Administration.  Trump is not beholden to the religious right; for the first time since 1980, the religious right did not get the Republican candidate they wanted.  Trump will not be able to make good on, and has already begun backing away from, his most hateful nativist promises to build a wall along the Mexican border and to deport 11 million people because business elites in agriculture, shipping, service work, and manufacturing depend on immigrant labor.  He has also begun to back away from the most reckless promises about repealing the Affordable Care Act because too many of his likely voters depend on some of its protections.  Unless there is a major attack, Trump cannot use the threat of terrorism, as the George W. Bush administration did, to distract the electorate from serious attention to the declining or stagnant fortunes of the vast majority of Americans.  He ran on domestic economic malaise in the regions of the country that haven’t seen the spectacular increases in wealth of the urbanized coasts, and labor should now hold government to account for doing something about it.

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