During its 2011-2012 term, the United States Supreme Court issued momentous decisions regarding health care, immigration, and the death penalty. But the 2011-2012 term featured few significant labor and employment law cases, although those cases with likely long-term impact were all favorable to employers.
Perhaps the most important decision occurred in the case of Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. EEOC, in which the Supreme Court recognized, for the first time, that a ministerial exception shields religious employers from discrimination lawsuits brought by their ministers. In that case, a teacher at the Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical School alleged that the Church terminated her in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Church moved to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing the teacher was a member of the Evangelical Lutheran clergy and, therefore, allowing her to sue the Church would violate the First Amendment’s prohibition on government regulation of religious activities. The Supreme Court sided with the Church, dismissed the case, and affirmed that there is a “ministerial exception” to Federal anti-discrimination laws. The Court also rejected the teacher’s argument that she was not really a minister because her duties primarily involved teaching secular subjects. Instead, the Court noted that the Church classified the teacher as “called,” which meant that she had to receive a Lutheran post-secondary education, take a number of courses in theology, and obtain the endorsement of the local Snyod district. Additionally, the teacher taught a religion class, led the students in daily prayer and devotional exercises, and led school-wide chapel service twice a year. Given these obviously religious duties, the Court deferred to the Church’s classification of the teacher as a minister, which marks a major victory for religious institutions. Although the case does not provide a blanket immunity from all Federal anti-discrimination laws, it does provide an immunity for those institutions when they are sued by employees whom the institutions classify as ministers. Moreover, Federal courts will follow a religious institution’s classifications regarding which Church employees are ministers, provided some factual basis supports those classifications.
In the case of Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corporation, the Supreme Court addressed the issue of the “outside sales exemption” to the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), the Federal law that requires employers to pay an overtime wage premium when employees work more than 40 hours in a week. As most employers know, the FLSA exempts several classes of employees from its requirements, including any employee considered an “outside salesman,” which the FLSA defines as “any employee . . . whose primary duty is . . . making sales. . . .” Christopher worked for SmithKline Beecham as a “pharmaceutical detailer,” providing information to physicians about the company’s products with the goal of getting physicians to sign non-binding agreements to prescribe these products. Christopher regularly worked 60 hours per week, but received no overtime pay because SmithKline Beecham classified him as an “outside salesman.” Christopher sued for unpaid overtime, arguing that the outside sales exemption was inappropriate because his duties did not actually involve making sales, even though his duties were designed to lead to sales. Despite never initiating any enforcement actions regarding pharmaceutical detailers, the United States Department of Labor (“DOL”) sided with Christopher, arguing that his duties were merely promotional and did not involve making sales. The Court, however, rejected the DOL’s argument, holding Christopher was an “outside salesman” based on the FLSA’s broad definition of the term “sales.” Moreover, the Court refused to give deference to the DOL’s narrow interpretation of the exemption since that interpretation was not memorialized in any formal DOL regulation. This suggests that the Court might take a more active role in policing regulatory agencies, which could bode well for employer-sponsored challenges to agency requirements regarding “quickie elections,” obligatory posters describing collective bargaining rights, and revised “persuader” reporting requirements.
Finally, in a case of significant importance to public employers, the Court held in Coleman v. Court of Appeals of Maryland that the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution bars certain claims under the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). This immunity, though, only applies to suits filed against state-operated or state-affiliated employers and only affects the FMLA’s “self-care” and “family care” provisions. That is, the entire FMLA still applies to non-state affiliated employers who have over 50 employees, and the FMLA’s pregnancy and family care provisions apply to all FMLA employers, even state-operated or affiliated entities.
Although the 2011-2012 term yielded no major labor or employment law decisions, But in 2012-2013, the Supreme Court will have a rather active labor and employment docket in 2012-2013. Vance v. Ball State University will address employer responsibility for harassment by employees who have some supervisory authority but lack the power to hire, discipline, or terminate other employees. Employers who use “leads” or other similar quasi-supervisory employees will want to look out for that decision. In Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, the Court will address whether employers can defeat an FLSA collective action simply by offering full relief to the named plaintiff. And in U.S. Airways v. McCutchen, the Court will decide whether the Employee Retirement Income Security Act permits judges to override specific plan language in the interest of fairness to plan participants. Stay tuned to the Employment Law Newsletter and check your email inbox for Legal Alerts; we will continue to update you as major developments occur.
Employment Litigation Management Services
Barley Snyder’s employment attorneys also work with our clients to manage and oversee litigation that may involve the use of local counsel in various states or nationwide. Our firm currently acts as employment counsel for a number of nationwide businesses covering a variety of industries, including, but not limited to, retail and manufacturing. Barley Snyder’s litigation management services are ideal for companies that operate in a multi-state or national arena but do not have the in-house capability to manage such litigation.
In this litigation management role, Barley Snyder’s employment attorneys operate as a gatekeeper for employment litigation, both at the administrative level and in state and federal court. When a company receives notice that a charge or complaint has been filed, the company forwards the matter to one of our gatekeeper lawyers. The lawyer in turn will review the matter, determine assignment of local counsel, if necessary, and monitor and oversee the handling of the matter by local counsel, or, depending on the jurisdiction where the charge or lawsuit is filed, Barley Snyder itself may be able to handle the matter. Our lawyers will also monitor the costs of the litigation and supply a client with a detailed budget regarding the services to be provided.
Barley Snyder offers its litigation management services at reduced rates. As part of this service, Barley Snyder also will provide a monthly status report for each state in which your company operates. Contact Jennifer Craighead for more information about these services - email@example.com or 717-399-1523.
David Freedman is an experienced labor and employment litigator who represents public and private employers of all types and sizes in litigation before state and federal courts and administrative agencies. David has represented employers in claims brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Combined Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (“COBRA”), the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, the Pennsylvania Wage Payment Collection Law and the Pennsylvania Unemployment Compensation Law, among others.