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The Supreme Court, Congress, and Isaac Newton
06/28/2011

Newton's third law of motion states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  Great, you say, a lawyer who fancies himself as a physicist.  And what the heck do physics laws have to do with employment laws?  Hang with me and I'll connect the dots. 

Unless you've been living in a cave in Afghanistan, you know that last week the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that lower courts had improperly certified the massive gender discrimination class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart, the nation's largest private employer.  The case, which has been going on for over 10 years, had been the largest job-discrimination class action in history, potentially covering 1.5 million women and exposing Wal-Mart with billions of dollars in liability.  But the majority of the Court, in a 5-4 decision, said the women who brought the case failed to point to companywide policies that had a common effect on all women covered by the class action.

That was the action.  Now the reaction. 

Capitol Hill Democrats denounced the ruling and are using it to renew a push for new legislation addressing equal pay and gender discrimination.  Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the decision is "a reminder that much work remains to be done in order to achieve equal pay for men and women."  Harken, who co-sponsored the proposed Paycheck Fairness Act and the Fair Pay Act, then promised to "work with my colleagues to strengthen the anti-discrimination laws" and ensure that "victims have access to justice and corporations are held accountable."   Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) similarly proclaimed that the Wal-Mart decision "really underscores the need for Congress to strengthen our civil rights laws, especially when it comes to ensuring equal pay for equal work, by enacting measures like the Paycheck Fairness Act."  The Paycheck Fairness Act, which has been kicking around for a couple of years, would amend the Equal Pay Act by expanding remedies for victims of gender-based wage discrimination and provide additional worker protections related to wages. 

Congressional reaction to Supreme Court action is nothing new, of course.  For example, the Civil Rights Act of 1991 was passed in direct response to four Supreme Court cases decided in 1989 that had limited employees' claims.  More recently, the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (has it already been three years ago?) explicitly reversed a number of Supreme Court decisions that had interpreted the ADA in ways Congress viewed as too narrow.

We'll let you know if the Paycheck Fairness Act gains traction.  And we promise not to try to make comparisons between employment law and Einstein's Theory of Relativity.   

 


Editors
Don Berner Image
Don Berner, the Labor Law, OSHA, & Immigration Law Guy
Boyd Byers Image
Boyd Byers, the General Employment Law Guy
Jason Lacey Image
Jason Lacey, the Employee Benefits Guy
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