Thursday, June 19, 2008

Employers go 2 out of 4 at the Supreme Court today


The Supreme Court this morning released a quartet of opinions that impact employers. Continuing this Court's somewhat surprising trend, the employer came out on the winning end of only half of these cases.

In MetLife v. Glenn, the Court ruled that the fact that a claim administrator of an ERISA plan also funds the plan benefits is a "conflict of interest" that must be weighed in a judicial review of the administrator's benefit determination. I have always been troubled by benefit plans that both pay benefits and make the decision whether to pay. To the extent that such plans will no longer have the protection of the arbitrary and capricious standard upon judicial review of their decisions, I applaud the Court's decision.

In Kentucky Retirement Systems v. EEOC, the Court ruled that a benefit plan's use of age as a potential factor in the distribution of retirement benefits to disabled workers does not establish a prima facie case of age discrimination. For the background on this case, see Supreme Court considers use of age as factor in disability retirement benefits. I think the Court got it partially right. It seems to me that retirement eligibility is a proxy for age, but the employer in this case did not use the factor arbitrarily or discriminatorily.

In Meacham v. Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory, the Court ruled that when an employee alleges disparate impact under the ADEA, the employer bears the burden of persuasion on the "reasonable factors other than age" defense. Again, I think the Court got this right. If the employer is raising the defense, the employer should have the burden of proving it.

Finally, in Chamber of Commerce v. Brown, the Court ruled that federal labor law prohibits state from regulating or limiting an employer's right to speak out about labor union organizing by their employees.

[Hat-tip: SCOTUSblog]

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