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January 31, 2024

Overview of the U.S. Supreme Court 2022–23 Term Labor and Employment Decisions

This U.S. Supreme Court term saw a number of significant developments in the law on issues impacting the Section members’ practice. Following is an overview of the respective SCOTUS decisions.

  • Groff v. DeJoy, no. 22-174: This case considered the contours of when an employer can deny a religious accommodation to an employee with a sincerely held belief. The Supreme Court unanimously held that denying such an accommodation on “undue hardship” grounds requires the employer to show the accommodation “would result in substantial increased costs in relation to the conduct of its particular business.” This decision clarified Trans World Airlines Inc. v. Hardison, the 1977 SCOTUS precedent establishing the undue hardship standard, which Justice Alito, writing for the Court in Groff, stated had been understood and applied incorrectly. Going forward, the Court instructed that the undue hardship standard must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
  • Helix Energy Solutions v. Hewitt, no. 21-985: Hewitt is a 6-3 decision clarifying the application of the “salary basis” test for the bona fide executive/high compensated employee exemption to the Fair Labor Standards Act. Because the plaintiff was compensated using a daily rate (notwithstanding the fact that he was paid weekly), and he did meet the conditions necessary under the “special rule” set out in the federal regulations, he did not meet the requirements for the highly compensated employee test and regardless of his income, he was not an exempt employee.
  • Glacier Northwest, Inc. v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, no. 21-1449: The Court held that the National Labor Relations Act did not preempt Glacier Northwest’s intentional tort claims against the International Teamsters based on damage the union purportedly caused to the company’s property during a work stoppage. Specifically, the majority held that the NLRA does not protect unions that do not take reasonable precautions to protect the company’s property from danger during labor disputes.
  • Ohio Adjutant General’s Department v. Federal Labor Relations Authority, no. 21-1454: In this 7-2 decision, the Court considered the scope of the Federal Labor Relations Authority’s jurisdiction over technicians who have “dual status” in the National Guard as civilian and military employees. The Court held that when the National Guard is operating in its hiring and supervisory capacity over technicians performing their civilian roles, it is acting as a federal agency for purposes of the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute. Accordingly, the Federal Labor Relations Authority has jurisdiction over any arising labor disputes.
  • Coinbase, Inc. v. Bielski, no. 22-105: A divided Court held that, despite silence on this issue under the text of the Federal Arbitration Act, when a party files an interlocutory appeal regarding arbitrability pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 16(a), the district court must stay proceedings pending resolution of the appeal. The majority reasoned that, although Section 16(a) does not say whether a stay is mandatory, “clear background principle prescribed by this Court’s precedents” led to the conclusion that it is.
  • Mallory v. Norfolk Southern Railway Co., no. 21-1168: This appeal from the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania assessed the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania law requiring out-of-state companies that register to do business in Pennsylvania to consent to appear in state courts on “any cause of action” against the company. The majority opinion held that Pennsylvania’s statute did not run afoul of the due process clause. States are permitted to require companies who want to do business in their states to consent to jurisdiction in their courts.

Additionally, this October Term, the Supreme Court has granted certiorari for the following employment cases:

  • Muldrow v. City of St. Louis, Missouri, no. 22-193: This case will address the standard for an “adverse action” under Title VII. Specifically, it poses the question of whether Title VII prohibits discrimination in transfer decisions absent a court determination that the transfer caused the employee a significant disadvantage.
  • Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC, no. 23-051: In this case, the Court will decide whether, to qualify as an interstate transportation worker that is exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act, a class of workers that performs interstate transportation must also be employed by a company in the transportation industry.
  • Murray v. UBS Securities, LLC, no. 22-660: The issue in this case is whether, under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act’s burden-shifting framework, a whistleblower must prove his or her employer acted with “retaliatory intent” as part of their case in chief, or whether the lack of intent is part of an affirmative defense on which the employer bears the burden of proof.  
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Jennifer Davidson

Associate at Outten & Golden LLP

Jennifer Davidson is an Associate at Outten & Golden LLP in Washington, D.C. Jennifer represents employees in individual and class action labor and employment matters.