Monday started the U.S Supreme Court's new year. Though it has some incredibly impactful cases in other areas of the law, it marks the start of this year’s docket looking at four workplace law questions.
Can a plaintiff win emotional support damages under certain civil rights laws?
This case involves Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and private contract law. The Plaintiff argues that emotional damages should be available as it normally should be when persons are harmed by breach of their civil rights. The Defendant argues that a recipient of federal funding is not normally entitled to emotional damages when the harm resulted from breach of contract. In this case the Defendant provided rehab services to the deaf Plaintiff but refused to provide an interpreter as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. Defendant rehab provider offered other accommodations instead and this resulted in the Plaintiff’s alleged emotional injury. Because this alleged injury arose under the Defendant’s service agreement with the Plaintiff and as part of a federally funded program, Defendant is arguing emotional damages are not normally available in cases alleging breach of contract. Jane Cummings v. Premier Rehab Keller PLLC
Can federal courts assert they have jurisdiction to overturn arbitration awards?
SCOTUS again looks at arbitrations as it determines whether a federal court can change an arbitration award. This is another case involving the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). One may recall SCOTUS settled a major challenge last term against the FAA over whether the National Labor Relations Act superseded the FAA. The high court in that case upheld the FAA.
In this case SCOTUS will determine whether to uphold or overturn federal subject matter jurisdiction within an arbitration award under certain sections of the FAA when the only question is the underlying dispute involving the federal question of law. A bit of an arcane issue, but one that once again challenges the scope of independent arbitration’s authority under the FAA. Denise Badgerow v. Greg Walters et al
Are disparate impact claims allowed in disability bias cases under the Affordable Care Act (ACA)?
CVS Pharmacy Inc. seeks to have SCOTUS overturn the Ninth Circuit of Appeal’s decision that revived discrimination claims under the ACA brought by HIV and AIDS patients that claimed they were unfairly impacted by CVS Pharmacy’s health plan requirement forcing them to get their medications only by mail or at a CVS store rather than their neighborhood pharmacy. More specifically, does the Rehab Act and the ACA allow disability bias cases that plead disparate impact – whereby a neutral policy or practice discriminatorily impacts a certain group – to extend liability to workers in programs that receive federal money or are operated by federal agencies? CVS argues upholding this ruling would impose “adverse policy consequences” to health benefit plans that were not intended by Congress. The Plaintiffs argue that the plan is discriminatory because it only provides in-network specialty medications solely through mail order delivery or a CVS store. CVS Pharmacy Inc. et al v. John Doe One et al
Lastly, SCOTUS starts its term with an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) case that asks what is the legal bar for retirement plan fee lawsuits?
The Plaintiff in this case seeks to overturn a federal Circuit Court of Appeals decision that held the employer was not liable just because it offered some retirement funds in its 401 (k) plan that underperformed. The lower court held the employer was not liable for any breach because it also offered other better performing funds that participants could invest in instead. This case has big ramifications for employers that sponsor defined contribution retirement programs. Should SCOTUS overturn the lower court’s holdings that the plan fiduciaries are not liable for underperforming funds in their plans, this could open up plan administrators and fiduciaries to liability any time a negotiated mix of plan fund offerings did not perform “optimally”. April Hughes et al v, Northwestern University et al
Source: Law 360 4 Workplace Law Questions The High Court Can Answer (10/1/2021)