Supreme Court Round-up
While the federal courts have always played an important role in defining public policy, it undeniable that the courts have, over the past year, become a battleground in which to define contemporary issues such as marriage equality, Arizona's new immigration law and challenges to health care reform. The Supreme Court will likely weigh in on these issues in coming months, but in the meantime here's a list of cases under consideration during the current term. A few themes have been highlighted repeatedly, from employment retaliation to the rights of corporations.
Arizona Christian School Tuition Organization v. Winn -- Oral Argument November 3, 2010
Arizona created a unique system of funding religious instruction by allowing state-certified and state-supervised non-profits that exist for no other purpose to distribute taxpayer funds obtained through tax credits for student scholarships. A substantial portion of these taxpayer funds are distributed on the basis of religious criteria for use in religious schools. The Supreme Court will decide if this is violation of the separation of church and state.
AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion -- Oral Argument November 9, 2010
A class action claim was brought asserting that the phone company's offer of a "free" phone to anyone who signs up for service is fraudulent because the company charges sales tax on the retail value of each "free" phone. AT&T Mobility demanded that plaintiffs' claims be submitted to individual arbitration, pointing to the arbitration clause of the written agreement, which bars class actions. The Supreme Court will rule on the viability of class action arbitrations.
Borough of Duryea v. Guarnieri -- Oral Argument March 22, 2011
In 2003 Charles Guarnieri was dismissed from his job as police chief. He filed a union grievance which led to an arbitration -- he then won the case and was reinstated to his position. When he went back to work, the Borough withheld a few hundred dollars in overtime pay. Guarnieri has claimed that the withholding of payment was in retaliation for his earlier complaint. The Supreme Court will consider whether or not these acts were in violation of Guarnieri's first amendment rights.
Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T, Inc.
This case involves a federal investigation of AT&T for having overcharged the government during its participation in a program geared to providing services and equipment to schools to increase access to advanced technology. AT&T filed suit to prevent the release of incriminating information to the public. The Supreme Court has ruled that corporations do not have a right to personal privacy.
Flores-Villar v. US -- Oral Argument November 10, 2010
Our law system is structured so that it is more difficult for citizen fathers than citizen mothers to transmit citizenship to their children born outside the country. Citizen fathers are subject to additional residency requirements which Ruben Flores-Villar's father was unable to meet. The Supreme Court will decide if this constitutes discrimination on the basis of gender.
Kasten v. Saint Gobain
Kevin Kasten alleged that he was fired for complaining about the inconvenient placement of the worker time clock, which was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The same Act also protects employees from retaliation for complaining about violations of the statute. The Supreme Court has ruled that employees are entitled to legal protection when making an oral complaint, as opposed to a written one.
NASA v. Nelson
A government agency, NASA requires employees to disclose whether they have received counseling or treatment for illegal drug use over the past year, and consults references about employees' suitability to work in a federal facility. The Supreme Court has ruled that this is not a violation of privacy.
Staub v. Proctor Hospital
Vincent Staub claims he was fired because his Army reserve duties were taking too much of his time. The Supreme Court decided that an employer can be found liable for the discriminatory actions of those not responsible for hiring or firing per se but for influencing such decisions.
Thompson v. North American Stainless
Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of race, sex, and religion. It also prohibits retaliation against employees who report discrimination. Three weeks after Miriam Regalado filed a discrimination complaint against her employer, her fiance Eric Thompson, also an employee at the firm, was fired. The Supreme Court has ruled that Thompson was eligible for legal protection.
US Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting -- Oral Argument December 8, 2010
An Arizona law requires that state employers check the immigration status of all job applicants through the federal E-Verify database -- in spite of the fact that the federal law insists that the database is to be used on a voluntary basis -- and subsequently revokes the licenses of companies that fail to comply. The Supreme Court is set to issue an opinion on whether or not this state law is overstepping powers granted to the federal government exclusively.
(Photo by Mark Fischer.)