Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors’ National Association

Supreme Court Takes up Arbitration, Employment Cases in 2019


Law and Justice-871660952 v2 x600The U.S. Supreme Court began its 2018-2019 term with a handful of docketed cases significant to employers and businesses. Cases to watch involve questions on employment discrimination and class arbitration, among other matters that affect contractors.

Questions the U.S. Supreme Court will be answering include:

  • Whether an employment contract that is silent on the issue of class arbitration can be construed in favor of workers seeking class proceedings (Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela).

  • Whether interstate truck drivers must arbitrate their federal wage-and-hour claims and whether it’s the job of a court or an arbitrator to decide if a Federal Arbitration Act exemption for transportation workers applies to drivers’ employment contracts (New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira).

These arbitration cases are of particular interest because they give the Supreme Court an opportunity to shed light on an earlier ruling in Stolt-Nielsen v. AnimalFeeds International Corp., 559 U.S. 662 (2010), in which it ruled that parties cannot be forced into class arbitration “unless there is contractual basis for concluding [they] agreed to do so.” In the ruling, the Supreme Court explained that courts may not “presume” consent from “mere silence on the issue of class arbitration” or “from the fact of the parties’ agreement to arbitrate.”

The Supreme Court has already heard one employment-related case that posed the question of whether state political subdivisions with less than 20 employees, such as a fire district, must adhere to discrimination protections under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (Mt. Lemmon Fire District v. Guido). In an 8 to 0 decision, the Supreme Court found that state and local governments are covered employers under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act regardless of the number of employees they have.

For more information on employment law, members may visit SMACNA’s Labor Relations web page