- Supreme Court Update
- July 26, 2016
- Law Firm: - Office
The U.S. Supreme Court has issued several decisions of interest to employers this month. These cases address issues of constructive discharge and entitlement to attorneys’ fees under Title VII, and the ability to sue under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Green v. Brennan - Constructive Discharge. Plaintiff, a U.S. Postal Service employee, had complained of race discrimination in connection with the denial of a promotion. He was subsequently accused of engaging in the criminal activity of delaying the mail. He and his employer signed an agreement by which the employer agreed not to pursue criminal charges and he agreed to retire or accept a transfer. He chose to retire, but then complained about discrimination to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is an administrative prerequisite to filing a discrimination lawsuit. Public sector employees must file within 45 days of the complained-of discriminatory act, while private employees have 180 days (or 300, if there is a state fair employment practices agency with concurrent jurisdiction) to file a charge of discrimination. The issue was when the time period for filing begins running in a claim of “constructive discharge” - where the employee is forced to resign in the face of “intolerable discrimination.” The Supreme Court held that the filing period begins on the date that the employee gives notice to the employer of his resignation, and not the date of the employer’s action underlying the resignation or the effective date of the resignation.
CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC - Attorney’s Fees. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued the employer for sexual harassment on behalf of approximately 270 female employees. The case was dismissed by the trial court on procedural grounds, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit reinstated claims on behalf of two employees. The EEOC settled one claim and withdrew the other. The question then arose as to whether the employer should be deemed the prevailing party, since there had been no ruling on the actual merits of the case. The U.S. Supreme Court held that, for purposes of Title VII discrimination suits, a defendant does not need to obtain a favorable judgment on the merits in order to be deemed a prevailing party and thereby entitled to attorney’s fees. It left to the 8th Circuit to determine whether an award of fees was appropriate in this specific case.
Spokeo Inc. v. Robins - FCRA Suits. In this non-employment case, the plaintiff sued a consumer reporting agency for incorrect information in its profile on him. The U.S. Supreme Court held, however, that a technical violation of the Fair Credit Reporting Act may not be enough to permit a plaintiff to sue for damages. The Supreme Court held that, in order to sue under FCRA, a plaintiff must establish that he has suffered “concrete” harm - meaning real injury, and not simply a “bare procedural violation.” This has important implications for employment-related cases under FCRA. A recent trend in class action litigation involves employers’ failure to comply with the very technical requirements of FCRA. This case offers employers another means of defense against such litigation by requiring applicants to demonstrate that the technical violations did, in fact, cause them real harm (such as not being considered for employment).