In a win for employers in the State of West Virginia, the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia overturned a lower court’s decision that an employment arbitration agreement was unenforceable in Hamden Coal, LLC v. Varney. The lower court agreed with the employee on every relevant issue, finding that arbitration claims are viewed differently in an employment context, that the agreement was a contract of adhesion, that the agreement lacked consideration, that the agreement was unconscionable, and that the employee’s claims fell outside the agreement. The Supreme Court, however, overturned each finding and took the additional step of directing the court to enter an order dismissing the civil action and compelling arbitration.
Towards the end of 2017, the National Labor Relations Board issued a flurry of important decisions that established more employer-friendly standards. Significantly, the Board overturned a decision that was used to strike down many employment policies the Board found unlawfully interfered with employees’ rights to organize. Under a standard set forth in Lafayette Park Hotel (1998) and later clarified in Martin Luther Home d/b/a/ Lutheran Heritage Village-Livonia (2004), a policy could be deemed unlawful if it could be “reasonably construed” by an employee to prohibit or chill employees’ exercise of their right to self-organize for collective bargaining or mutual aid.
On November 28, 2017, the Supreme Court heard oral argument in Digital Realty Trust Inc. v. Paul Somers, a case that will determine whether employees who report fraud-related conduct internally will be protected by the Dodd-Frank Act’s anti-retaliation provisions or whether the employee must report directly to the government to earn that protection.
As we previously discussed here, in November of 2016, a Texas federal judge granted a nationwide injunction to prevent the Department of Labor (DOL) from increasing the minimum salary threshold for employees exempt from the overtime requirement. The Labor Department appealed the decision, but briefing was stayed to allow the new administration to form a stance on the policy. In its recent briefing, Trump’s Department of Labor indicated that it intends to consider raising this threshold, but that the spike formulated by the Obama administration was too high, and the DOL would not defend or enforce that new threshold.
In the past month, there have been several important Federal Appellate Court decisions regarding sexual orientation discrimination. On March 20, the Eleventh Circuit reaffirmed its prior precedent that Title VII does not extend protection to individuals harassed on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court noted that claims for gender nonconformity are allowed, but stated that there were not sufficient facts for such a finding in the present case. The Court also stated that it cannot reconsider prior precedent without a hearing in front of all the judges of the Eleventh Circuit—potentially signaling that the Court is willing to reconsider its position on sexual orientation discrimination.