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LGBTQ Title VII Ruling May Impact Your Employee Benefit Plan

On Monday, June 15, 2020, the US Supreme Court held in Bostock v. Clayton County that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects transgender, gay and lesbian employees (and prospective employees) from workplace discrimination based on sex. This means that the protective authority of Title VII for LGBTQ individuals generally extends to employer-sponsored healthcare benefits. Access the full article.

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Ninth Circuit En Banc Ruling Deepens Rift Over Gender-Based Pay Gaps

The Ninth Circuit's recent en banc ruling that employers can't excuse sex-based pay gaps by pointing to workers' past salaries deepened a circuit split over the federal Equal Pay Act, a development that could push the issue up to the US Supreme Court. The majority's opinion puts the Ninth Circuit directly at odds with the Seventh Circuit amid a growing debate between workers' and employers' advocates over whether the common practice of basing salary offers on workers' past salaries perpetuates illegal pay disparities between men and women. Access the full article.

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High Court Pension Row May Have Broad Impact

A US Supreme Court case pitting pensioners against US Bank could have a wide-ranging impact on who can bring suit under ERISA, whether they participate in a defined benefit pension plan or a 401(k) plan. Recently, on Law360, McDermott’s Richard J. Pearl weighed in on the impact of Thole v. US Bank, one of three ERISA cases that the US Supreme Court will decide this term. The case, discussed in greater detail in our On the Subject, will address whether defined benefit pension plan participants have standing to bring suit under ERISA if their plan is fully funded. Although the case focuses on participants’ ability to bring suit on behalf of defined benefit pension plans, according to Pearl, the case seems to ask the high court to answer a question that often crops up in defined contribution plan litigation, as well: Whose injury matters, the plan’s or the person’s? As a result, the court’s decision could impact not only litigation involving defined benefit...

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Supreme Court Agrees to Hear Sulyma v. Intel Statute-of-Limitations Decision

The US Supreme Court recently agreed to hear Sulyma v. Intel Corp. Investment Policy Committee, a case in which the Ninth Circuit ruled that ERISA’s three-year statute of limitations requires a plaintiff to actually read materials in order to start the running of ERISA’s three-year statute of limitations. ERISA § 413(2) bars actions more than three years after “the earliest date on which the plaintiff had actual knowledge of the breach or violation,” and the Ninth Circuit held that a plaintiff who receives all the relevant information relating to her claim, but does not read it or does not recall reading it, does not have “actual knowledge” to start the limitations period. The Sixth Circuit, however, has held differently; in Brown v. Owens Corning Investment Review Committee, 622 F.3d 564, 571 (6th Cir. 2010), it held that the failure to read documents will not shield a plaintiff from having actual knowledge of the documents’ contents. Several district courts...

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Death By A Thousand Cuts–Will the ACA Survive?

Late in the afternoon on Friday, December 14, Federal US District Judge Reed O’Connor struck down the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in its entirety, a feat that was, for the past few years, unsuccessfully attempted by the Republican-led Congress. O’Connor reasoned that if the individual mandate is no longer valid, the entire ACA must also be scrapped, because the rest of the ACA is “inseverable” from the individual mandate. The opinion is likely to be appealed, and the final decision may ultimately lay with the US Supreme Court. Despite the ruling, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid (CMS) has stated that the exchanges remain open and 2018 and 2019 coverage will not be impacted.

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Circuit Split Remains Unresolved After ERISA Case Settles

On September 20, 2018, the US Supreme Court dismissed—pursuant to settlement—an ERISA lawsuit that could have resolved the circuit split over who holds the burden of proof in ERISA breach of fiduciary duty cases. In Pioneer Centres Hold. v. Alerus Fin., Case No. 17-677 (2018), the Pioneer Centres Holding Company Employee Stock Ownership Plan and Trust (the “Plan” or “ESOP”) and its trustees sued Alerus Financial, N.A. (Alerus) for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the failure of a proposed employee stock purchase. In affirming summary judgment in Alerus’s favor, the Tenth Circuit determined that the Plan carried the burden to prove causation rather than shifting the burden to Alerus to disprove causation once the Plan established a prima facie case. In so holding, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh circuits that beneficiaries, not fiduciaries, must prove causation between the company’s conduct and the plan’s losses due to a...

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4 Things to Watch After the High Court’s Body Blow to Labor

Kevin Connelly said unions will face an adjustment period as they seek to implement more creative methods of trying to retain dues-paying members. “I wouldn’t underestimate the unions. If someone wants to say this is the end of the day for public-sector unions—nope, not true,” he said. “There will be consequences, but I think the unions that operate in that sector will be clever enough to make the appropriate adjustments.” Access the full article. Originally published by Law360, June 2018.

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SEC Whistleblower Update

The Supreme Court recently clarified the scope of SEC whistleblower retaliation provisions. Though the decision limits retaliation actions, employers should continue to avoid conduct that can be interpreted as retaliation under other statutes, and should find ways to encourage internal reporting. Access the full article.

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Supreme Court Rules in Favor of Church-Affiliated Hospitals in Church Plan Litigation

In a major victory for church-affiliated hospitals, the US Supreme Court overturned three appellate court rulings and decided unanimously that church-affiliated hospitals can maintain their pension plans as "church plans" exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (ERISA), regardless of whether a church actually established the plan. Impacted health systems, and especially their management, should evaluate how best to document and demonstrate their common religious bonds and convictions with the church. Read the full article.

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Executive Order Regarding Contraceptive Mandate Directed toward Religious Employers

Late last week, President Donald Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to look into exempting religious employers from the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) contraceptive mandate. Qualifying religious employers (e.g. houses of worship) are already exempt from providing contraceptive coverage under their benefit plans, and an accommodation process is provided for certain non-profit employers and closely held for-profit employers with religious objections to providing contraceptive coverage. This new executive order is aimed at organizations like universities and charities, including entities such as the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell. Last year, in Zubik, the US Supreme Court failed to decide whether the contraceptive-coverage mandate requirements (Contraception Mandate) and its accommodation violated the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) by forcing religious non-profits to act in violation of their religious beliefs. Although the...

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