New Supreme Court Term Promises a Range of Labor and Employment Cases

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The U.S. Supreme Court opened its 2011-2012 term this Monday. Although the Court may not issue as many landmark labor and employment decisions as it did last term — such as Dukes v. Wal-Mart — it is likely to hear a full complement of cases with significant implications for employers. The Court has already selected several labor and employment cases that it will hear this term, including the following:

• Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. EEOC: The Court will consider whether the ministerial exception — a First Amendment doctrine that bars most employment-related lawsuits brought against religious organizations by employees performing religious functions — “applies to a teacher at a religious elementary school who teaches the full secular curriculum, but also teaches daily religion classes, is a commissioned minister, and regularly leads students in prayer and worship.” Although the courts of appeals agree that this doctrine applies to pastors, priests and rabbis, they are divided over the boundaries of the ministerial exception when applied to other employees.

• Knox v. SEIU Local 1000: The Court will consider whether (1) in addition to an annual fee notice to members, a union is required to send a second notice and provide an opportunity to object as required by Teachers Local No. 1 v. Hudson, 475 U.S. 292 (1986), when adopting a mid-term fee increase for political expenditures; and (2) state employees may be required to pay union agency fees for purposes of financing political expenditures for ballot measures.

• Coleman v. Md. Court of Appeals: The issue in this case is whether Congress constitutionally abrogated states’ Eleventh Amendment immunity when it passed the so-called self-care leave provision of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows eligible employees to take leave for a serious health condition that makes them unable to perform the functions of their job.

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