Divided Supreme Court sides with businesses over workers

Composite image. Photo of Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., taken April 20, 2018 | Supreme Court photo by J. Scott Applewhite via The Associated Press, St. George News

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (AP) — A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that businesses can prohibit their workers from banding together in disputes over pay and conditions in the workplace, a decision that affects an estimated 25 million non-unionized employees.

With the court’s five conservative members in the majority, the justices held that individual employees can be forced to use arbitration, not the courts, to air complaints about wages and overtime. Four dissenting liberal justices said the decision will hit low-wage, vulnerable workers especially hard.

While the complaints in Monday’s decision involved pay issues, the outcome also might extend to workplace discrimination and other disputes if employee contracts specify that they must be dealt with in one-on-one arbitration.

Workers who want to take action against sexual harassment, pay discrimination, pregnancy discrimination and racial discrimination “may now be forced behind closed doors into an individual, costly – and often secret – arbitration process,” said Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.

Lawyers representing management said the decision protects businesses from endless, costly litigation.

The outcome does not affect people represented by labor unions, but an estimated 25 million employees work under contracts that prohibit collective action by employees who want to raise claims about some aspect of their employment.

The ruling reflected a years-long pattern at the Supreme Court of limiting class actions and favoring employer-favored arbitration over lawsuits in the courts, generally preferred by workers.

The Trump administration backed the businesses, reversing the position the Obama administration took in favor of employees.

The court’s task was to reconcile federal laws that seemed to point in different directions. On the one hand, New Deal labor laws explicitly give workers the right to band together. On the other, the older Federal Arbitration Act encourages the use of arbitration, instead of the courts.

Justice Neil Gorsuch, writing for the majority, said the contracts are valid under the arbitration law. “As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear,” he wrote.

Monday’s ruling is in line with earlier decisions, he said, writing the following:

In many cases over many years, this court has heard and rejected efforts to conjure conflicts between the Arbitration Act and other federal statutes. In fact, this court has rejected every such effort to date (save one temporary exception since overruled).

In dissent for the court’s liberals, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong” and likely to lead to “huge underenforcement of federal and state stautes (sic) designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers.”

Ginsburg said that the individual complaints can be very small in dollar terms, “scarcely of a size warranting the expense of seeking redress alone.”

Reading a summary of her dissent aloud to stress her disagreement, Ginsburg said employees do not really have a choice about whether to sign such agreements, labeling them “arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts.”

She said “congressional action is urgently in order,” echoing her call in 2007 for Congress to address pay discrimination following a high court ruling from which she dissented.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said she fears the decision will have far-reaching effects.

“Today’s decision will make it easier for employers to escape liability for widespread discrimination and harassment,” she said. “No American should be forced to sign away their right to invoke the meaningful protections afforded by our nation’s critical civil rights laws.”

The National Labor Relations Board, breaking with the administration, argued that contracts requiring employees to waive their right to collective action violate the labor laws.

Business interests were united in favor of the contracts. Gregory Jacob, a former high-ranking Labor Department official in the Bush administration, said the court got it right Monday.

“This decision thus will not see a huge increase in the use of such provisions, but it does protect employers’ settled expectations and avoids placing our nation’s job providers under the threat of additional burdensome litigation drain,” Jacob said.

Lower courts had split over the issue. The high court considered three cases – two in which appeals courts ruled that such agreements can’t be enforced and a third in which an appeals court said they are valid.

Written by MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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  • PatriotLiberal May 21, 2018 at 1:33 pm

    A wise person once told me that Democrats fight for people, republicans fight for businesses.

    That rings as true today as it was back then.

    • dogmatic May 21, 2018 at 4:24 pm

      This is a basic flaw in liberal entitlement thinking, by not siding with businesses you are slapping the hand that feeds you. If you don’t like your job than quit are start your own business. It’s a free country for you and businesses.
      You will be happier when you discover that you are responsible for yourself……

      • NotSoFast May 21, 2018 at 5:14 pm

        I agree with you dogmatic.
        The only ones really fighting obvious logic in this subject, are the ACLU gravy chasing trial lawyers and right to work opponents. (unions)

      • PatriotLiberal May 22, 2018 at 12:17 pm

        So when my employer refuses to pay me the wage s/he agreed to I should just bend over take it? Yeah that’s not gonna happen. I don’t work for free.

        • John May 22, 2018 at 1:40 pm

          Panty-fa, how often does that happen to you? You really should try working at a real job.

          • PatriotLiberal May 23, 2018 at 8:11 am

            What is a “real job” to you john?

          • John May 23, 2018 at 3:12 pm

            HAHAHA. then why are you complaining about not getting paid? panty-fa!

        • RadRabbit May 22, 2018 at 3:01 pm

          I had this happen when I lived in California, I left and found a better job that actually paid more.

        • Lee Saunders May 22, 2018 at 11:58 pm

          That happened frequently before unions and happens today in countries that don’t have unions.

          • John May 23, 2018 at 10:19 am

            Lee, It happens in companies that have stupid employees. You can always quit and find another entry level job as you have done your whole life. You are a sad example if you need government interference between you and your employer. But then again, you fell for the line “If you like your Dr, you can keep your Dr.” More laws and more government is NEVER the answer , unless of course you happen to be a liberal and need a babysitter.

          • Lee Saunders May 23, 2018 at 1:58 pm

            I wonder if corporate America would ever have put in place the worker safety features that Federal OSHA forced them to? I wonder if our interstate system would ever have gotten built without the federal government? I wonder if our rivers would still be running all colors of the rainbow and catching fire without the Clean Water Act? I wonder if we’d be drinking water that we expect to be safe without the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act? You get the point and the main point is that there is not much chance of consumer protection (all of us) unless business is forced to comply. If it’s going to cut into profits, small chance it will get accomplished.

        • John May 23, 2018 at 10:08 am

          If you don’t know, keep working for free, panty-fa!

          • PatriotLiberal May 23, 2018 at 2:43 pm

            Oh I know what a “real job” is John. I have one. I asked YOU if YOU know what a ‘real job” is. My guess is not.

      • Lee Saunders May 23, 2018 at 12:20 am

        You might be very thankful for what you are calling those “liberal entitlements” when you reach 65, or whatever age it is when you do reach 65.

    • RadRabbit May 21, 2018 at 5:59 pm

      yep who else could MS13 count on to fight for them.

    • John May 22, 2018 at 12:47 pm

      “At-will means that an employer can terminate an employee at any time for any reason, except an illegal one, or for no reason without incurring legal liability. Likewise, an employee is free to leave a job at any time for any or no reason with no adverse legal consequences.

  • Lee Saunders May 23, 2018 at 12:18 am

    Businesses do not create jobs, despite what all three current branches of government seem to want us to think. Demand creates jobs. A job is created when demand for goods or services is greater than the existing ability to provide them. Businesses are not in the business of creating jobs, they are in the business of getting by with as few employees as possible and at the lowest possible wage to keep the staffing. People see folks working at a business and mistakenly think that the business created the jobs. Wrong, demand created the jobs. Wrong-headed ideas like the current administration and congress that giving tax cuts to businesses will create jobs because the businesses will have more money is mistaken. An efficiently run business will already have the right number of employees. Businesses should be asking for more customers, more demand, not tax cuts. We’ll see how this all plays out, but my stock portfolio and executive compensation has been looking pretty decent since the tax cuts. Hmm, I wonder where that money is coming from? Tax cuts maybe? I would sure be surprised if I found out that it was because of capital investments already made in the country’s businesses… I’d be even more surprised if even a small percentage of that “new found” money is being put into raising employee wages which would logically create demand. Whatever Clinton and the congress of the day did to balance the budget, I’d say that is what we should be looking at doing today. We’ll see if trickle down works any better for this crowd than it did for Reagan. I’d doubt it.

    • John May 23, 2018 at 10:25 am

      That statement really shows your stupid! Your’e a moron. If jobs don’t come from businesses, by your logic, babies come from cabbage patches. Libtards definitely do have a severe mental handicap ! No wonder you can only work as a table cleaner at McD’s , and maybe after your 25th anniversary they will let you put salt on the fries !

      • PatriotLiberal May 23, 2018 at 2:52 pm

        You’re parents must be so proud of you John. Not.

        • John May 23, 2018 at 5:56 pm

          panty-fa, How do you get rid of the after-taste? Gargle with tide pods?

      • John May 23, 2018 at 3:42 pm

        panty-fa, at least I know who my father is. Does cleaning the floors in a truck stop bathroom really pay you that well?

    • John May 24, 2018 at 10:45 am

      Lee, my spilling stuff on the floor at a restaurant creates your job, loser !

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