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US Supreme Court issues two employment law decisions

The United States Supreme Court issued two employment law rulings Monday limiting the types of issues that may create liability for employers under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The two rulings came down in 5 to 4 split decisions.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent in each ruling and read from her dissents Monday as the court unveiled the opinions. Justice Ginsburg says that the majority has corralled employment discrimination claims, and she has asked Congress to redefine workplace harassment and discrimination laws, according to the Associated Press.

One of the decisions involved allegations of national origin harassment and retaliation. Generally, employers are prohibited from taking retaliatory measures against a worker who complains of discriminatory practices in the workplace. In 2006, a man complained of workplace harassment at his job with a hospital.

The doctor later decided to leave that hospital for a position at another. But, he says that his former employer encouraged the second hospital to withdraw the job offer in retaliation for his previous harassment complaints. He won at trial, but the Supreme Court ruled Monday that the jury was given improper instructions.

The court ruled that the harassment claim could only stand if the doctor proved that the retaliation for harassment was the sole reason for the withdrawn job offer, not just that the retaliation was a contributing factor as argued at trial. The case is not necessarily over after Monday’s ruling as the Supreme Court remanded the case for more proceedings.

The other decision Monday defined the concept of what is a supervisor in employment discrimination disputes. An employer can be held liable for discriminatory practices of a supervisor that result in an adverse impact upon a worker. The court ruled that a supervisor must have the power to hire and fire a worker, not the broader definition offered by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that defines a supervisor as a person who oversees day-to-day work assignments.

Although Justice Ginsburg says that the rulings have corralled employment discrimination claims in the two rulings, the court did not eliminate workplace harassment and discrimination claims altogether. A worker who suffers adverse employment action as a result of discrimination may still have a claim, and a New York employment law attorney may provide advice and assistance to workers who have suffered discrimination in the workplace.

Source: The Washington Post, “Supreme Court makes it harder to sue businesses for discrimination, retaliation,” Associated Press, June 24, 2013

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