High court upholds Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in higher education

April 22, 2014 - by: HR Hero 0 COMMENTS

Michigan voters’ right to prohibit preferential race-based admissions programs in the state’s university system was upheld today by the U.S. Supreme Court in Schuette v. The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigration Rights and Fight for Equality by Any Means Necessary (BAMN), 572 U.S. ___ (2014).

In the 6-2 opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court upheld Proposition 2, which was approved by popular vote in Michigan. Proposition 2 amended the Michigan Constitution to prohibit race-based admissions preferences in the state’s university system.

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U.S. Supreme Court expands SOX whistleblower protection

March 05, 2014 - by: Holly Jones 1 COMMENTS

In the early 2000s, corporate and accounting scandals involving Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, and other publicly traded companies cost investors billions of dollars and prompted federal legislation to reform corporate financial practices. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) covers everything from mandatory financial disclosures to enhanced penalties for white-collar crime to requiring a company’s CEO to sign corporate tax returns. The law also includes penalties for retaliating against whistleblowers who provide information or assist in federal investigations.

Generally, SOX applies only to publicly traded companies. However, in a surprisingly entertaining opinion (at least when corporate governance and ethics are concerned), the U.S. Supreme Court expanded the law’s antiretaliation provisions to some private employers—specifically, to contractors and subcontractors performing work for publicly traded companies.

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Supreme Court favors employer in donning, doffing case

January 29, 2014 - by: Tammy Binford 0 COMMENTS

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the employer in a closely watched donning and doffing case.

The high court ruled on January 27 that U.S. Steel Corp. did not have to pay a group of employees for time spent changing into and out of certain protective gear. In Sandifer v. U.S. Steel Corp., workers sued to be paid for time spent donning and doffing the gear even though the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) says that time spent “changing clothes” at the beginning or end of each workday can be excluded from compensable time unless otherwise negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement.

The workers filing the lawsuit claimed the gear was personal protective equipment rather than clothing. But the Supreme Court ruled that the gear in question could largely be considered clothing, and therefore, they didn’t have to be paid for time spent putting it on and taking it off.

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Oklahoma prohibition on same-sex marriages found unconstitutional

by Charles S. Plumb

The last several months have witnessed a flurry of court activity regarding same-sex marriage laws. On Tuesday, January 14, Oklahoma joined that activity with an order and opinion issued by Tulsa’s federal court.

In 2004, Oklahoma voters approved an amendment to the Oklahoma Constitution defining “marriage” to be exclusively a union between a man and a woman. In some respects, the Oklahoma constitutional amendment tracked the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

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Certain religious employers get a reprieve from ACA’s contraceptive mandate from Supreme Court

January 02, 2014 - by: Jessica Webb-Ayer 0 COMMENTS

On New Year’s Eve, just hours before the healthcare reform (also known as the Affordable Care Act or ACA) contraceptive mandate requirement was supposed to go into effect, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a stay and gave the federal government until Friday to respond to the Court.

The stay applies to a limited group of employers. More specifically, it applies to an order of nuns called the Little Sisters of the Poor and certain other Roman Catholic nonprofit groups that use the same health insurance plan offered by the Christian Brothers Employee Benefit Trust.

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Supreme Court agrees to hear ACA contraception coverage cases

November 26, 2013 - by: Jessica Webb-Ayer 0 COMMENTS

Although the Affordable Care Act (ACA) overcame a large hurdle when the U.S. Supreme Court upheld its provisions (including the individual mandate) last year, the Court announced today that it would take another look at the law. This time, it will be reviewing another one of the law’s controversial mandates—the contraceptive mandate.

Under the ACA, many health insurance plans must cover certain preventive services for women without cost sharing (e.g., coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles). These preventive services include contraceptive methods and counseling—or more specifically, “all Food and Drug Administration approved contraceptive methods, sterilization procedures, and patient education and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.” However, there are exceptions to the mandate. For example, the requirement to cover such preventive services doesn’t apply to grandfathered health plans or to certain religious employers.

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Senate vote puts NLRB at full strength

July 31, 2013 - by: Tammy Binford 0 COMMENTS

The U.S. Senate’s July 30 vote to confirm nominees for all five seats of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) means the Board will have a full slate of confirmed members for the first time in more than a decade.

Republicans Harry I. Johnson III and Philip A. Miscimarra and Democrats Kent Hirozawa and Nancy Schiffer were confirmed for first-time membership on the Board. The Senate also voted to confirm current Board Chairman Mark Gaston Pearce for a second term. His first term expires on August 27.

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Changes to Rhode Island and federal law affect how employers treat same-sex married couples

by Matthew H. Parker

A series of amendments to Rhode Island law and the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 26 decision in United States v. Windsor have changed how most Rhode Island employers must treat same-sex married couples.

Under the amendments, which go into effect on August 1, anyone who is eligible to marry in Rhode Island will be able to marry any other eligible person “regardless of gender.” Also, Rhode Island will recognize valid same-sex marriages from other states.

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Same-sex partners of state employees will keep benefits

by Dinita L. James

In a bit of housecleaning after its landmark rulings in two same-sex marriage cases on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided Thursday not to hear an Arizona case that was one of 10 others that had been awaiting action raising similar issues. The Court’s action is significant to employees of state agencies, who will continue to be able to include their same-sex (but not opposite-sex) domestic partners on their state-provided health insurance.

We have covered the Arizona case, Brewer v. Diaz, extensively in Arizona Employment Law Letter, with articles appearing in the September 2010, April 2011, August 2012, and January 2013 issues. The controversy started back in 2008, when then-Governor Janet Napolitano’s administration began offering healthcare coverage to both opposite- and same-sex domestic partners of state employees. After the November 2008 election, Governor Napolitano went to Washington to become secretary of homeland security, and Jan Brewer succeeded her.

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U.S. Supreme Court finds DOMA provision unconstitutional, dismisses Proposition 8 case

June 26, 2013 - by: Holly Jones 0 COMMENTS

It came as no great surprise that the U.S. Supreme Court withheld its opinion on two landmark decisions on same-sex marriage rights until the last decision day of the 2012-2013 term. This, however, would be the only lack of surprise of the day, as the Court delivered two opinions that significantly change the landscape for employee benefits in the United States.

In United States v. Windsor, commonly referred to as the “DOMA case,” the court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the portion of the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as a “legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” for the determination of federal benefits is in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

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