Small Firms Keep an Eye on High Court Cases
The Supreme Court term that opened today will see the justices weigh a handful of cases involving large corporations that could have big repercussions for small business.
Hall Street Associates v. Mattel concerns arbitration awards. The National Federation of Independent Businesses asked the judges in a friend-of-the-court brief to allow parties entering arbitration proceedings to ask for judicial review if one or both of the parties believes that the arbiter came to a decision erroneously.
The Federal Arbitration Act's "limited standard of judicial review exposes businesses to the risk of irrational or excessive arbitral awards that are unreviewable on the merits," the NFIB and the New England Legal Foundation co-wrote in a brief.
An NFIB research poll found that 21 percent of small businesses use arbitration to resolve disputes, according to Karen Harned, executive director of the association's legal foundation.
Sprint v. Ellen Mendelsohn deals with discrimination claims. The case asks whether a district court and an individual discrimination case is required to admit "me to" evidence, or testimony by non-parties in the case concerning alleged discriminatory treatment of other employees.
Mendelsohn, who filed an age discrimination case, had asked the court to permit her to call more than 40 Sprint employees as witnesses in her case. Many of these potential witnesses had been laid off at a different time, from various job sites and within different departments.
The NFIB maintains that small businesses are going to be litigating the circumstances of every termination or alleged discrimination if judges rule in favor of Mendelsohn and "that's costly for a small business owner," said Harned. "We're certainly not defending bad behavior by any company, but a lawyer needs to be focused on the case at hand, not the 'me-too' evidence of many other likely unconnected witnesses."
Federal Express v Paul Holowecki also addresses discrimination claims. The NFIB said there should be uniformity in how the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the courts treat intake questionnaires and formal charges. When an employee files an intake questionnaire, which is a less comprehensive form that a formal complaint, the employer is not required to be notified of the allegations until the complaint reaches the courts. When an employee files a formal charge, the EEOC notifies the employer immediately. The federation said that firms should be notified of an allegation before court papers are filed so that a firm could have the option to resolve it outside of the courts.
"Currently, the EEOC doesn't consider the intake form to be a formal charge (and therefore doesn't notify employers that a claim has been filed). Many courts, however, do consider the intake form to be a formal charge. Consequently, a plaintiff might be allowed to file a lawsuit despite the fact the employer hasn't received presuit notification," wrote NFIB in its amicus brief.
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Posted by: Jordan Fogal | October 5, 2007 8:08 AM
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