10 December 2014

Two Harsh Unanimous SCOTUS Rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court made two rulings yesterday that were "harsh" in the sense of producing a substantively unfair result on the merits, despite being supported by a solid legal basis in each case that convinced a majority of the court.

* The opinion of Justice Thomas in a wage and hours case, Integrity Staffing Solutions, Inc. v. Busk, involved leased employees at an Amazon.com warehouse who were not paid for time spent while waiting for a exit security check that was a condition of their employment, despite the requirement of the Fair Labor Standards Act that the agreed hourly rate plus any overtime required by the act by paid to workers for time worked.  The Fair Labor Standards Act was amended by the anti-labor Portal-to-Portal Act in the 1940s that defined hours worked narrowly and was interpreted by the Labor Department in regulations issued within a few years of the passage of the new law in an analogous situation to exclude this time from the employer's duty to compensate.

The result is harsh, because the law is allowing an employer not to pay employees for time that they are required to be at work for the convenience of the employer, but the statute, rather than the interpretation of it, is the real problem, therefore a unanimous court rules against the workers.

* The opinion of Justice Sotomayor in Warger v. Shauers involved a federal civil jury trial of a car accident case in which a juror lied in the jury selection process and this lead to a bad result for the person injured in a car accident. The only evidence presented of the lie, however, was a hearsay statement about what she said during jury deliberations, rather than independent evidence that she had lied. A federal rule of civil procedure prohibits this kind of evidence from being considered by a court in the interest of protecting jurors from post-trial investigations by disappointed parties after jury trials, and she found that no exception applied. So, even though there was clear evidence that the juror lied and harmed the person injured in the automobile accident as a result, the injured individual was not allowed a remedy based upon this evidence.

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