A sign of the increasing number of employment related cases making their way through the courts, the US Supreme Court now has three cases involving the alleged wrongful termination of employees. These cases, which have been argued all the way to the Nation’s highest court could have an impact on future cases, and could be a sign of which way the current Supreme Court bench, including recently appointed Justice Kagan, will handle employment law matters.
The cases highlight new challenges to to employees rights. One case involves a hospital worker who was involved in Army reserve duties, and believed he was eventually terminated due to his involvement. The case hinges on the “cats-paw” theory of employment decisions, where a person responsible may not have any discriminatory animus towards the employee, but is heavily influenced to carry out the employment decision by a co-worker or superior with a discriminator reason to fire the individual.
Another case before the Supreme Court involves a husband-wife pair who were employed with the same company. After being sexually harassed at work, the wife complained about the incident. While the wife was not retaliated against, the husband was ultimately fired following the complaint. The Supreme Court will evaluate the rights of an individual linked to a complaint, but not currently protected by anti-retaliation laws. This could be a watershed case for protecting employees who speak up on behalf of others, or witness and report conduct that occurs in the workplace.
Lastly, the High Court is looking at an employee was wrongfully terminated from complaining about his company placing the punch-clock in a deliberately difficult position to reach.
All of these cases represent the frontier of employment law, and will shape the ways in which current laws are applied and possibly modified. While the Court has taken a number of anti-employee stances, most notably in the Gross v. FBL agre discrimination case, the current court with Justice Kagan may restore and expand the rights of workers.