Supreme Court to Hear Major Employment Law Cases

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Madeline Messa

Now in a new term, the U.S. Supreme Court has several important employment-related cases on its docket. 

As addressed by Workplace Fairness, the Court recently issued major decisions that affected both religious accommodations for employees and affirmative action.

Upcoming cases will ask the Court to answer challenges relating to whistleblower protections, mandated job transfers and employment discrimination, and the ability to interpret vague laws from federal agencies.

The cases have the potential to greatly impact employment law and to overturn long-standing precedent.

Employment-related cases that the Court will hear include:

1. Murray v. UBS Securities

The Case:

The Court held oral arguments for Murray on October 10, shortly after Oct. 2 marked the start of the Court’s 2023 term. In this case, the Court will decide whether a whistleblower who, under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, reports financial misconduct at a public company must prove their employer acted with “retaliatory intent.”

Proving retaliatory intent requires showing that the employer took adverse action against an employee because they wanted to punish a lawful action by the employee.

The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) is a federal law that holds companies accountable by requiring they maintain records and take other actions to prevent and respond to fraud. SOX contains a whistleblower protection program to insulate employees who report suspected securities violations from adverse employment action (18 USC §1514A). 

The plaintiff, an employee of a securities business, contends he was illegally fired because he repeatedly reported fraud to a supervisor. 

The Impact on Workers’ Rights:

The original trial court found for the employee, but an appellate court reversed because it claimed he had to prove the employer had retaliatory intent. The Supreme Court will now decide whether an employee must prove retaliatory intent by an employer to prevail under the SOX anti-retaliation provision.

If the Court sides with the employee, the current legal standard will be unchanged. If it sides with the employer, however, whistleblower protection for employees under the SEC will become more limited. 

Imposing a burden on employees to prove retaliatory intent by employers would create a hurdle that employees would need to overcome to enjoy whistleblower protection. This is especially true in situations where an employer fires a whistleblower under the guise that it was for an unrelated reason.

Whistleblowers are often key in detecting fraud, but restricting their protections could discourage employees from coming forward. Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on whistleblowing and retaliation rights for more information.

2. Muldrow v. City of St. Louis

The Case:

This case has the potential to alter what actions can be considered employment discrimination. Specifically, the Court is asked here to decide whether a mandatory job transfer can be discriminatory. 

A female police sergeant who was deputized by the FBI accused her police department of retaliation and of gender discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 

The employer had denied the sergeant’s requests to transfer locations for a specific role, instead requiring her to transfer to her requested location but for a different position. This caused her to lose certain job privileges, including the potential to earn $17,500 in overtime pay annually. 

The Impact on Workers’ Rights:

The Supreme Court will decide whether Title VII prohibits employment discrimination in any adverse employment action or only where such action causes materially significant disadvantages for employees.

Examples of actions currently recognized as within the scope of Title VII include firing, hiring decisions, demotions, and reassignments. The outcome of this case will determine whether mandatory job transfers are also included. 

If the court sides with the employee, workers can win discrimination claims if an employer requires them to change job locations due to a protected characteristic, such as race or gender. Otherwise, it will become more challenging for workers to prove certain actions qualify as employment discrimination.

Visit Workplace Fairness’ page on employment discrimination for more information.

3. Loper Bright Enterprises v. Raimondo

The Case:

In Loper, a federal agency relies on the Chevron doctrine to assert that it can require New Jersey fishing companies to pay for a monitoring program. 

More important than the facts, this case could result in the Court overruling or modifying the Chevron doctrine. 

The Chevron doctrine, named after a 1984 Supreme Court case, directs courts to interpret ambiguous laws by deferring to the federal agencies who apply them. If a statute is unclear about an issue or does not explicitly address it, courts defer to agencies’ interpretations. 

The Impact on Workers’ Rights:

Overruling the Chevron doctrine would have far-reaching effects, including in employment law. It would make agencies more susceptible to challenges in how they apply laws. For example, employers could assert that OSHA or the EEOC misapplied the law in finding workplace safety violations or employment discrimination.

If the Court modifies the doctrine instead of overruling it, the effects will be less extreme but still apparent. It could clarify the doctrine to not require deference to agencies when statutes are silent on controversial powers. This would also permit employers to question agency authority, but only in limited situations. 

This blog was contributed directly to Workplace Fairness.

About the Author: Madeline Messa is the legal content coordinator for Workplace Fairness. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism, and she is currently a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.