The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari on Monday in Vance v. Ball State University (Docket No. 11-556) to determine who is considered a supervisor under Title VII.The question that the Supreme Court will resolve is whether the supervisor liability rule: (i) applies to harassment by those whom the employer vests with authority to direct and oversee their victim’s daily work, or (ii) is limited to those harassers who have the power to “hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline” their victim.
Plaintiff Vance brought a suit for hostile work environment and retaliation under Title VII. The district court dismissed all of her claims, granting summary judgment in favor of the university. Vance appealed the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.
The Seventh Circuit held that a supervisor for purposes of imputing liability to the employer for violation of Title VII is only an individual with the authority to hire, fire, demote, promote, transfer, or discipline an employee, not persons who had authority to direct an employee’s daily activities but did not have authority to take formal employment actions in regards to the employee. Prior Supreme Court precedent establishes that employers are only liable for co-worker harassment under Title VII if the employer was negligent in discovering or remedying the harassment, and the university was not negligent in this case.
Christopher et al v. Smithkline Beecham Corp., No. 11-204. (Decided June 18, 2012).
Last week the Supreme Court issued a ruling in an FLSA case. In the case, two sales representatives of a large pharmaceutical company sued their employer, alleging that they were owed overtime wages. The pharmaceutical company argued the sales representatives were not entitled to overtime wages because they were classified as “outside salesmen,” who are exempt from the federal law that requires payment of overtime wages. Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court wherein the Supreme Court held that the sales representatives were "outside salesmen" under the most reasonable interpretation of the DOL's regulations, and, as such, are not entitled to overtime wages.More specifically, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) employers must pay employees overtime wages, but this requirement does not apply with respect to workers employed "in the capacity of outside salesman," §213(a)(1). Congress did not define the meaning of "outside salesman," but it delegated authority to the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue regulations to define the term. The DOL has three regulations that relate to the term:
1) 29 CFR §541.500 defines "outside salesman" to mean "any employee . . . [w]hose primary duty is . . . making sales within the meaning of [29 U. S. C. §203(k)]." §§541.500(a)(1)-(2). Section 203(k) states that "'[s]ale' or 'sell' includes any sale, exchange, contract to sell, consignment for sale, shipment for sale, or other disposition."
2) §541.501 clarifies that "[s]ales within the meaning of [§203(k)] include the transfer of title to tangible property." §541.501(b).
3) §541.503 provides that promotion work that is "performed incidental to and in conjunction with an employee's own outside sales or solicitations is exempt work," whereas promotion work that is "incidental to sales made, or to be made, by someone else is not." §541.503(a)
In this case, the pharmaceutical sales representatives' primary goal was to obtain a nonbinding commitment from doctors to prescribe the employer's products in appropriate cases. Each week, petitioners spent about 40 hours in the field calling on physicians during normal business hours and an additional 10 to 20 hours attending events and performing other miscellaneous tasks. The employees were not required to punch a clock or report their hours, and they were subject to only minimal supervision. The employees were paid both a base salary and incentive pay. The amount of incentive pay was determined based on the performance of employees' assigned portfolio of drugs in their assigned sales territories.Find the full opinion here.
On March 20, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland, No. 10-1016.
By way of some background, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) entitles an employee to take up to 12 work weeks of unpaid leave per year for (A) the care of a newborn son or daughter; (B) the adoption or foster-care placement of a child; (C) the care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition; and (D) the employee's own serious health condition when the condition interferes with the employee's ability to perform at work. 29 U. S. C. §2612(a)(1). The FMLA also creates a private right of action for equitable relief and damages “against any employer (including a public agency) in any Federal or State court.” §2617(a)(2). Here, subparagraphs (A), (B), and (C) are referred to as the family-care provisions, and subparagraph (D) as the self-care provision.
In Nevada Dept. of Human Resources v. Hibbs, 538 U.S. 721, 730−732, the Supreme Court held that Congress could subject States to suit for violations of subparagraph (C) based on evidence of family-leave policies that discriminated on the basis of sex.
In this case, the employee filed suit, alleging that his employer, the Maryland Court of Appeals, an instrumentality of the State, violated the subparagraph (D) of the FMLA, by denying him self-care leave.
The District Court dismissed the suit on sovereign immunity grounds. The Fourth Circuit affirmed, holding that unlike the family-care provision in Hibbs, the self-care provision was not directed at an identified pattern of gender-based discrimination and was not congruent and proportional to any pattern of sex-based discrimination on the part of States.
Justice Kennedy delivered the opinion for a divided court (dissent by Justice Ginsberg and Breyer, joined in part by Justices Kagan and Sotomayor). The Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal, with four justices holding that suits against states under the self-care provision are barred by sovereign immunity, where the sex-based discrimination that supports allowing section 2612(a)(1)(C) suits against states—for denying leave for the care of a spouse, son, daughter, or parent with a serious medical condition—is absent with respect to the self-care provision.
The opinion can be found at: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-1016.pdf
This morning, the Supreme Court issued its opinion in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC et al.
Chief Justice Roberts delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court while Justice Thomas filed a concurring opinion as did Justice Alito, which Justice Kagan joined.
The question before the Court was whether the ministerial exception to employment law litigation applies to an employee of a religious organization whose job duties include secular and religious activities.
The Court held that the 6th Cir. made three errors and that Perich was a minister for the purposes of the ministerial exception. Those three errors were (1) not seeing relevance in the fact that Perich was a commissioned minister; (2) giving too much weight to the fact that lay teachers performed the same religious duties as Perich; and (3) placing too much emphasis on Perich's secular duties.
The Court stated that “What matters in the present case is that Hosanna-Tabor believes that the religious function that respondent performed made it essential that she abide by the doctrine of internal dispute resolution; and the civil courts are in no position to second-guess that assessment. This conclusion rests not on respondent’s ordination status or her formal title, but rather on her functional status as the type of employee that a church must be free to appoint or dismiss in order to exercise the religious liberty that the First Amendment guarantees.”Read the full case here: http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/11pdf/10-553.pdfFor our prior blog entry on this case read here.
Today, October 5, 2011, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments that may change what role courts can play in the hiring and firing decisions of religious institutions. The question before the Court is whether the ministerial exception to employment law litigation applies to an employee of a religious organization whose job duties include secular and religious activities in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The case is based on an employment discrimination and retaliation action brought by a teacher at a religious school claiming violations of the ADA. The employer, Hosanna-Tabor, operates a church and school. It hired the employee as a “called” teacher to teach both secular and religious classes. “Called” teachers are voted into the position by the church congregation and are required to complete various religious classes, after which they are recognized as “commissioned ministers.” While the employee was on disability leave, Hosanna-Tabor terminated her. The EEOC filed a claim against Hosanna-Tabor for wrongful termination under the Americans with Disabilities Act. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer based on the "ministerial exception." On appeal, the Sixth Circuit vacated that decision, applying a “primary duties test.” The 6th Circuit determined that the time the employee devoted each day to religious activity was nominal, so the ministerial exception did not apply to the employee and, therefore, the suit was not barred. EEOC v. Hosanna-Tabor Church & School, 597 F.3d 769 (6th Cir. 2010). The 6th Cir. Opinion can be found here: http://www.ca6.uscourts.gov/opinions.pdf/10a0065p-06.pdf Appealing to the Supreme Court, the employer argued that the 6th Circuit’s test was improper - that the test should not compare time spent in secular and religious instruction because those minutes do not measure the importance of an individual’s religious functions and request a broader exception.