Upcoming Supreme Court Term Includes Important Cases on Civil Rights, Constitutional Liberties, States’ Rights

Cases Concerning Job Discrimination and Related Issues

Raytheon Co. v. Hernandez, reviewing Hernandez v. Hughes Missile Sys. Co., 298 F.3d 1030 (9th Cir. 2002)
Plaintiff Joel Hernandez filed suit under the ADA alleging that his application for rehire was rejected by Raytheon because of his record of past drug addiction. Hernandez had previously tested positive for cocaine while at work and took the option of resigning in lieu of termination. After successfully completing a drug rehabilitation program, Hernandez reapplied for a similar position. His application was rejected in accordance with the company’s unwritten policy not to consider for rehire any former employee who was terminated or who resigned in lieu of termination due to work-related offenses. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Raytheon. The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the employment policy unlawfully violated the ADA “as applied to employees with the disability of drug addiction whose only work-related offense was testing positive for drug use but are now rehabilitated." 298 F.3d at 1037. The Supreme Court is to decide whether a company violates the ADA by not rehiring a former employee who is a recovered addict based on general company rehire policies.

General Dynamics Land Systems v. Cline, reviewing decision at 296 F.3d 466 (6th Cir. 2002).
Employees sued General Dynamic Land Systems, alleging that a new collective bargaining agreement with the union illegally discriminated against them based on age in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). The agreement provided health benefits to employees retiring over the age of 50, but not to employees retiring between the ages of 40 and 49. The ADEA makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against any individual at least 40 years of age with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of that individual’s age. The district court found that the plaintiffs did not have a cause of action because the ADEA did not prohibit “reverse discrimination.” The Sixth Circuit reversed, holding that the plain language of the ADEA, consistent with Congress’ intent, prohibits discrimination on the basis of age against any employees at least 40 years old, even if those employees who are favored are older than those who are discriminated against. The Supreme Court granted review and is to decide whether the ADEA prohibits employer actions, practices, or policies that treat older workers more favorably than younger workers who are at least 40 years old.

Jones v. R. R. Donnelley & Sons Co., reviewing decision at 305 F.3d 717 (7th Cir.2002)
Former employees of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. brought a class action suit claiming race discrimination in termination of employment under 42 USC § 1981, as amended in 1991. The suit was brought more than two years after the date of termination, but less than four years from that date. The employer argued that these claims were barred by the two-year state statute of limitations in Illinois. The trial court held that the employees’ claims were timely because the suit was actually governed by the four-year federal statute of limitations in 28 USC § 1658. The Seventh Circuit reversed this decision, holding that the applicable statute of limitations was in fact the two-year Illinois state statute and that the four-year Section 1658 statute of limitations did not apply in this case because Section 1658 applies only when Congress creates a new cause of action and not when a cause of action is built upon an existing statute. The Supreme Court is to decide whether a wholly new cause of action was in fact created when the Civil Rights Act of 1991 amended Section 1981, and whether the Section 1658 four-year statute of limitations applies.

Barnhart v. Thomas, reviewing decision at 294 F.3d 568 (3d Cir. 2002)
Pauline Thomas worked as an elevator operator until her employer eliminated her position. Thomas then applied for Social Security disability benefits because of a disability related to cardiac problems, including a previous heart attack, irregular heartbeats and high blood pressure. Under Social Security disability regulations, Thomas would be entitled to benefits if, among others things, she showed that she did not retain the functional capacity to perform her past work, and that she is unable to perform any other jobs existing in significant numbers in the national economy. An administrative law judge (ALJ) found that Thomas was not disabled because she was still functionally able to perform her previous work as an elevator operator. The ALJ considered Thomas’ argument that her previous work no longer existed in the national economy, but held that such information was not relevant since she failed to prove that she was unable to perform that job, even though it no longer existed. The district court upheld the ALJ’s decision but the Third Circuit reversed, explaining that Thomas should have been permitted to introduce evidence that the job of elevator operator was no longer a job existing in the national economy. In other words, the court held that the actual capability to perform previous work was not disqualifying if that work no longer existed in the national economy. The question before the Supreme Court is whether the Commissioner of Social Security may determine that a claimant is not "disabled" within the meaning of the Act because the claimant remains physically and mentally able to do her previous work, without considering whether that particular job exists in significant numbers in the national economy.

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