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Supreme Court: A Spate of New Employment Law Decisions

Posted by Frank Steinberg | Feb 28, 2008 | 0 Comments

Oh, what a day this has been, what a rare mood I'm in.

Well, it's been more like a week than a day.  And it's nothing at all like being in love.  But it has given employment law bloggers new material that will carry us through a lot of posts.

What is "it"?   Why the U.S. Supreme Court, of course.  We've been telling you that the Supremes had a lot of employment law cases teed up this Term, and now the decisions have started to fly.  We'll post on these in detail in the coming weeks, but for now let's summarize what has happened to date.  (The links are to the Court's slip opinions.)

First up was LaRue v. DeWolff Boberg, decided on February 20, 2008.   There's good news and bad news about LaRue.   Here's the bad news: it's an ERISA case, which means that neither the statute nor any decision interpreting it can be understood by mere mortals.  The good news: we're going to explain it anyway.  The justices — all 9 of them — agree that an individual with a 401(k) account can sue her Plan's fiduciary for a loss to that account, if the fiduciary causes the loss.  That's all you need to know.  Take our word for it. 

The second decision came in Sprint/United Management Co. v. Mendelsohn, decided on February 26.  Mendelsohn is an age discrimination case.  The question for the Court was whether the plaintiff would be allowed to present testimony from former Sprint employees that would tend to establish discriminatory conduct by supervisors different than the supervisor who terminated Mendelsohn.  The Court of Appeals (10th Circuit) had disallowed the testimony.  The Supremes reversed and returned the case to the trial court for further action.  Based on the Court's decision, which centers on Federal Rules of Evidence 401 (relevance) and 403 (undue prejudice), this kind of "me too" evidence may be used in certain circumstances.  What those circumstances are will vary by case.  The Court's ruling definitively establishes that there will be no bright-line rule allowing or disallowing this kind of evidence. 

The third decision is Federal Express Corp. v. Holowecki, decided on February 27.  At first blush this appears to be a technical decision of interest only to employment lawyers and others who are similarly deranged.  Here's the nub of the decision: the Court refused to allow a bureaucratic foul-up by the EEOC to defeat the plaintiff's substantive rights under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. 

We will post on these decisions separately in the coming weeks for those who have a specific interest in them.

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...

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