09.29.09

Senate Judiciary Committee To Examine Impact Of SCOTUS Decisions In Age Discrimination, Arbitration Cases

WASHINGTON – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Tuesday announced that the Committee will hold a hearing to examine two Supreme Court decisions that have made it more difficult for workers to take employers to court for civil rights violations and, once there, more difficult for victims to prove workplace discrimination.

The hearing will focus on Circuit City v. Adams, which extended the scope of the Federal Arbitration Act to cover employment contracts, and Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., a recent decision that made it more difficult to prove age discrimination in the workplace.  A narrowly divided Supreme Court issued 5-4 decisions in both cases.

The hearing is one in a series that Leahy has chaired in the Judiciary Committee to examine the impact of Supreme Court decisions on Americans’ daily lives.  Under Leahy’s chairmanship, the Committee has held hearings focused on the role of courts in interpreting laws meant to protect consumers, the use of federal regulations to preempt state laws, how recent Supreme Court decisions have shielded corporations engaged in misconduct, and on the widely reported Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire pay discrimination case.

Scheduled to testify at the hearing is Jamie Leigh Jones of the Jamie Leigh Foundation; Jack Gross, the plaintiff in Gross v. FBL Financial Services; and Professor Michael Foreman, the director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law.  Additional witnesses are expected to testify.

The hearing, “Workplace Fairness: Has the Supreme Court Been Misinterpreting Laws Designed to Protect American Workers from Discrimination,” will be held on Wednesday, October 7, at 10:00 a.m. in room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building.  The hearing will be webcast live online.

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Witness Information

For Background Purposes Only

Jamie Leigh Jones is the founder of the Jamie Leigh Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works with Americans who are victims of crime and sexual harassment while working abroad for government contractors.  While working for a government contractor overseas in Iraq, Jones alleges that she was drugged and raped by seven contractors.  She has filed a civil suit against the company, which has requested a private arbitration, stating it is required under the terms of her employment contract and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Federal Arbitration Act in Circuit City.  The district court dismissed her federal sexual harassment claim, agreeing with the employer that her claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act are subject to mandatory arbitration.  The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision.

Jack Gross is the plaintiff in Gross v. FBL Financial Services.  In his case, the Supreme Court overturned a jury verdict that had awarded Gross more than $46,000 in lost compensation.  The decision will require workers filing disparate treatment claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) to prove that age was the decisive cause of adverse employment action.  The Supreme Court’s misinterpretation of Congress’ intent in enacting the ADEA raised the standard for proving age discrimination in the workplace.  At the time of the decision, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy compared the Gross decision to that in Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire, in which the Court overturned a jury ruling which found that Lilly Ledbetter, a supervisor at Goodyear Tire, was due more than $225,000 in back pay.  Some lower courts have applied the Gross decision to raise the standards in other civil rights laws.

Professor Michael Foreman is the Director of the Civil Rights Appellate Clinic at the Pennsylvania State University Dickinson School of Law.  He is the former deputy director of legal programs for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  While at the Lawyers’ Committee, Foreman supervised all litigation involving employment discrimination, housing, education, voting rights, and environmental justice.

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693