SCOTUS to tackle age discrimination and arbitration this term

The Supreme Court will address age discrimination and arbitration provisions this term.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) has agreed to hear two cases that tackle employment law issues this term. The first involves allegations of age discrimination, the second, arbitration provisions within an employment contract.

Case #1: Age discrimination and employer size

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) is a federal law. It makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee based on his or her age. SCOTUS had agreed to hear a case that questions whether the application of this federal law is restricted based on the employer's size. The case was the result of a fire chief who terminated the two oldest full-time employees to solve a budget shortfall.

ADEA defines an "employer" as:

[A] person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has twenty or more employees for each working day of twenty or more calendar weeks in the current or preceding calendar year. ... The term also means (1) any agent of such a person, and (2) a State or political subdivision of a State and any agency or instrumentality of a State or a political subdivision of a State, and any interstate agency, but such term does not include the United States.

Generally, ADEA uses a 20-employee minimum for private employers. Based on this precedent and the fact that the fire station only had 11 full-time employees, the fire department has argued the station does not fall within the protections of ADEA. This case will provide guidance on whether the same minimum should apply in the public sector in these types of cases.

Case #2: Arbitration provisions in class action

SCOTUS will also hear a case challenging arbitration provisions. The case involves whether an arbitration provision expands to defeat a class action suit when an employee who brought a class action suit against the employer signed an arbitration agreement. The suit is based on an allegation the company experienced a data breach and violated state laws.

The employer argued the employee must bring the claim in arbitration as an individual. The arbitration provision states arbitration was required "in lieu of any and all lawsuits." Lower courts held the employee could move forward with class arbitration. SCOTUS will decide whether or not the Federal Arbitration Act would allow class arbitration based on the general language used in the agreement.

Impact of holdings on employment law issues in California

SCOTUS holdings are applicable throughout the country, including California. As such, the holdings in these cases will impact employment law issues in California.

These cases serve as a reminder that those who are navigating employment law issues are building a case based on law that is always evolving. An attorney experienced in employment law matters can take these considerations into account when building your case.