Advertisement

U.S. Supreme Court Tosses Ruling on Arbitration of Job Disputes

Advertisement

OPINION: This article may contain commentary which reflects the author's opinion.


The U.S. Supreme Court supported a delivery truck driver’s attempt to extend the list of interstate commerce employees who are exempt from the requirement of mandatory arbitration of legal disputes beyond those working for transportation companies.

In a 9-0 decision, the justices overturned a lower court’s decision to dismiss Neal Bissonette’s proposed class action lawsuit. Bissonette works as a delivery driver for LePage Bakeries on Park Street, a division of Wonder Bread manufacturer Flowers Foods.

According to Bissonette, Flowers Foods treats its drivers more like independent contractors than like employees, depriving them of their wages.

“Many companies require workers to sign arbitration agreements and claim individual arbitration is quicker and more efficient than resolving disputes in court. Critics of the practice have said it prevents companies from being held accountable for legal violations that affect large numbers of workers,” Reuters reported.

Exemptions from this rule apply to employment contracts “of seamen, railroad employees, and any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which dates back to 1925, mandates that arbitration agreements be enforced based on their terms.

“The Supreme Court, in a 2001 ruling, said the exemption applied only to transportation workers. Since then, appeals courts have split over whether that means any worker who transports goods or only those employed by companies that provide transportation services,” the outlet added.

Because LePage’s clients were buying bread and not transportation services, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York determined in 2022 that the exemption did not apply to LePage’s case.

Bissonette accused LePage of misclassifying drivers as independent contractors to deny them minimum wage, overtime compensation, and other legal protections while they delivered baked goods to retailers.

The U.S. Supreme Court made headlines last week when it ruled against a convicted drug dealer, which had implications for thousands of federal prisoners seeking shorter sentences.

Advertisement

In an uncommon ideological split of 6-3, the court ruled that Mark Pulsifer, who admitted guilt to distributing methamphetamines in 2020, could not avail himself of a provision within the First Step Act, a substantial sentencing reform law.

The question at hand revolved around whether Pulsifer should face a mandatory 15-year sentence or be eligible for a “safety valve” provision. The provision outlines conditions under which a lesser sentence could be applied to nonviolent, low-level drug offenders.

The court concluded that Pulsifer did not meet the requirements in a ruling by liberal Justice Elena Kagan. Five of the court’s six conservative justices supported her in the majority.

The provision in question delineates a set of criteria for imposing sentences below the mandatory minimums. The court determined that Pulsifer must satisfy all the stipulations, dismissing his contention that meeting some criteria would suffice for relief. The decision hinged, in part, on the court’s interpretation of the term “and,” said the outlet.

Congress “did not extend safety-valve relief to all defendants, but only to some,” Kagan wrote. The two remaining liberal justices, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson, joined conservative Justice Neil Gorsuch in dissent.

Gorsuch claimed that the high court substantially limited the objective of the First Step Act.

“Adopting the government’s preferred interpretation guarantees that thousands more people in the federal justice system will be denied a chance—just a chance—at an individualized sentence. For them, the First Step Act offers no hope.”

The U.S. Supreme Court made headlines last week in a closely-watched case.

In a decision that pitted the Republican-led state’s attempt to keep adult content away from minors against constitutional protections for free speech, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to strike down a Texas law that requires online age verification to access pornographic websites.

The justices rejected a motion from a trade association representing adult entertainment performers and other law challengers to stay a lower court’s decision that the measure probably did not violate the First Amendment protections against government interference with free speech, with no dissents noted in the public record.

“The 2023 law requires any websites whose content is more than a third “sexual material harmful to minors” to require all users, including adults, to submit personally identifying information verifying they are at least 18 years old to gain access. Several other states have enacted similar laws,” Newsmax reported.

“The Texas law’s challengers, represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and others, have said that it poses security and privacy concerns by exposing users to possible identity theft, tracking, and extortion. They also said that its effectiveness is undermined given that it would not restrict social media or search engines, where pornography is rampant,” the outlet added.

The challengers countered that laws like this are not the most effective way to protect minors; content-filtering software does.

Given the Supreme Court’s precedents that treat non-obscene sexual content as constitutionally protected, the plaintiffs argue that the case is simple. Based on these precedents, governments can restrict minors’ access to sexual material, but they cannot restrict adults’ access to such content because of the First Amendment.

Texas claims that the need for its law stems from the fact that children can now more easily and instantaneously access “virtually unlimited” hardcore pornography thanks to smartphones.

Advertisement

The law, Texas said in a filing, “simply requires the pornography industry that (makes) billions of dollars from peddling smut to take commercially reasonable steps to ensure that those who access the material are adults.”

The plaintiffs include businesses that operate multiple pornographic websites, such as xnxx.com and Pornhub.com, as well as the Free Speech Coalition, a trade association of adult content creators, distributors, and performers.

The day before the law was enacted, Senior U.S. District Judge David Alan Ezra in Austin issued a preliminary injunction to stop it. “Constitutionally protected speech will be chilled,” according to Ezra, and this could include non-porn websites that show R-rated films or materials on sex education for high school kids.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located in New Orleans, upheld the law’s enforcement while it considered the case. In March, the court declared that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenge to the age verification requirement was unlikely to succeed, overturning Ezra’s injunction on that particular provision.

The 5th Circuit maintained the judge’s injunction against another law provision mandating that websites post “health warnings” regarding the potential harms of pornography.

Advertisement
Test your skills with this Quiz!