The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a number of cases today. Topping the headlines was an affirmative action case that was sent back to the lower courts. But there were also a couple of lesser-known cases. In one, the court ruled that patients who are injured by generic medication cannot sue the drug company that manufactured it. And there was Vance v. Ball State, in which a woman who worked in the kitchen at Ball State University claimed that her supervisor had harassed her.
At issue there was the definition of the word “supervisor.” The court ruled in a 5-4 opinion in favor of Ball State, saying that an employer is not liable in discrimination cases unless the supervisor accused of discrimination not just supervises, but also has the power to hire and fire
Both rulings are the latest in what many see as an extremely business-friendly Supreme Court. Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the School of Law at the University of California, Irvine, says the Ball State decision, like many recent rulings by the Roberts court, is pro-employer.
“This is a decision that reduces the situation in which employers can be liable for the actions of their supervisors,” Chemerinsky explained. “In fact, this has been a pattern during all of the eight years of the Roberts court.”
Under Chief Justice John Roberts, the court has also made multiple decisions on class-action lawsuits, in which large groups of individuals band together to sue companies. “About seven cases this term that implicate class-action rights, and in all but one they have limited people’s ability to band together to bring class actions” says Deepak Gupta, a plaintiff side appellate lawyer who has argued on behalf of consumers and employees in front of the Supreme Court.
“These are cases that often seem quite technical. They involve issues like class-action rules and preemption and arbitration and most people fall asleep when they hear that,” Gupta added.
As a result, Gupta said, these types of cases often get overshadowed by the big blockbuster rulings involving civil rights. “But they actually have, I think, a much bigger impact on our everyday lives as consumers and workers.”
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