Tag Archives: DOJ

The United States against the United States? A Government Flip-Flop That May Help Employers

On June 16, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice did an about-face when it filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court of the United States in an important labor arbitration case, NLRB v. Murphy Oil USA. The Murphy case presents the question of whether arbitration agreements can restrict employees from participating in class or collective actions. The brief filed by the Department of Justice argues that employers can impose such restrictions. See the full brief here.

Arbitration agreements have traditionally required employees to submit their claims to arbitration rather than through the court system. The trend over the last several years is for employers to include class action or collective proceeding waivers in such agreements. Such provisions are believed to reduce litigation costs associated with class and collective actions (which are on the rise). In response to this trend, the NLRB ruled that such waivers violate the NLRA when they are a condition of employment.

Several of the NLRB’s cases regarding such arbitration agreements have been appealed to the circuit courts, resulting in contradictory decisions on this issue. The Second, Fifth, and Eighth Circuits held that such arbitration agreements are enforceable, with the Seventh Circuit finding that these agreements violate the NLRA. There are similar challenges to agreements being made in other circuits, including the Eleventh Circuit. Based on the split of authority on this issue, the Supreme Court accepted review of the case argued before the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.

When the NLRB submitted its petition for writ of certiorari in Murphy, the Department of Justice supported the NLRB and its argument that the ability for an employee to engage in concerted activities is the “core substantive right” of the NLRA, and prohibiting class and collective actions infringe on that right. However, in its new brief, the Department of Justice argues that the NLRB failed to give adequate weight to the congressional policy of favoring arbitration agreements. This change of heart by the Department of Justice creates the potential for an unusual situation. Typically, when the Solicitor General’s office files an amicus brief, a lawyer for the government will present oral argument before the court on that side of the case. Given that the NLRB sits on the other side of the case, the upcoming oral arguments may consist of a lawyer for the United States arguing against a lawyer for a U.S. agency: the United States arguing against the United States.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
(941) 552-2558

Predicting the Unpredictable: Labor and Employment Law in 2017

This post is part one of a two-part series.

Since Santa did not leave the Wicked Witch of the West’s crystal ball under my tree, Emmett Lathrup “Doc” Brown’s DeLorean parked outside my house, or provide me with access to Bill and Ted’s telephone booth, I am unable say with certainty what 2017 will hold for employers. However, I am confident that several labor and employment issues will take, or remain, on center stage, as the President-Elect has indicated that once he takes office, he plans to repeal many of the executive orders and regulations implemented by the Obama administration that businesses have generally criticized as burdensome. Further, two nominations for leadership positions made by the President-Elect that will influence the employment arena are the nominations of Jeff Sessions to lead the Department of Justice and Andrew Puzder to lead the Department of Labor.

Jeff Sessions is known for taking positions contrary to those advocated by civil rights organizations, especially those supporting LGBT rights, and he is on record opposing the legalization of marijuana. This will be interesting because under the Obama administration the DOJ has been actively working to expand LGBT rights (think North Carolina), and has not been actively enforcing federal marijuana prohibitions in states where the drug is legal (think Colorado).

As for Andrew Puzder, he is an executive whose businesses have been investigated for wage and hour violations by the DOL. He is on record stating that American workers are overprotected. He is generally opposed to minimum wage increases, and he finds paid sick leave requirements burdensome. As Secretary of Labor, Puzder will be responsible for the agency that enforces many of the employment laws that businesses deal with on a regular basis, including the FLSA, the FMLA and OSHA.

If these two nominations are confirmed by the Senate and their past statements are indicative of how they will manage their agencies, businesses may see regulations curtailed and less aggressive enforcement of employment laws. As a business owner, such changes may equate to fewer regulations, less time dedicated to dealing with government agency investigations, and possibly lower labor expenses.

If some predictions on how Sessions and Puzder will lead their agencies under a Trump presidency come to pass, worker protections may be greatly diminished. If protections are impacted to the extent that workers feel that neither their employers nor their government has their best interests in mind, they may seek advocates to assist in improving the terms and conditions of employment. Think Sally Field in her Oscar willing performance in Norma Rae. If employees seek to unionize, the result may be more burdensome for employers than the existing regulatory framework.

Only time will tell how the new administration will impact the labor and employment arena. If employee protections do begin to decline, employers that value employees and treat them well are less likely to see the involvement of outside advocates.

Part two of this post will specifically address several of the issues mentioned above, including the DOL’s overtime regulations and Florida’s Medical Marijuana Law. Stay tuned.

Jennifer Fowler-Hermes
jfowler-hermes@williamsparker.com
941-552-2558