Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Labor and Employment Law: 2015 SCOTUS Academy Nominees (Round 1)

By Jamie Marcario

     So you thought you had seen it all when SCOTUS issued several blockbuster employment rulings in the 2014 term? Think again. In the 2015 term, SCOTUS will consider more “must watch” cases with potentially significant employment implications.

     Of these, the nominee for “most classy” (pun intended)  is Tyson Foods Inc. v. Bouaphakeo, No. 14-1146, which may prove to be an epic decision on the standards for class certification. In Tyson, the court will consider the requirements for class certification under Rule 26 and collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act. It will decide: (1) whether differences in class members may be ignored, and a class certified, when plaintiffs use statistical techniques that presume class members to be identical; and (2) whether a class that contains hundreds of members who suffered no injury and have no damages claims may be certified.

     Those representing businesses that face class or collective actions should keep a close watch on this one. In an environment in which lower courts often permit class certification, regardless of class member differences, SCOTUS may use this case to reinstate the once-demanding standards for obtaining class certification.

     The nominee for “most consequential” is Campbell-Ewald Co. v. Gomez, No. 14-857, which will consider “[w]hether a case becomes moot, and thus beyond the judicial power of Article III, when the plaintiff receives an offer of complete relief on her claim” under Rule 68 and, if so, whether a case remains moot when the plaintiff “has asserted a class claim under ... Rule 23, but receives an offer of complete relief before the class is certified.” See
Gomez v. Campbell-Ewald Co., 768 F.3d 871 (9th Cir. 2014)

     Although Campbell-Edward Co. arises under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, a decision could have serious ramifications for employment class actions. A ruling may settle a circuit split, compare Stein v. Buccaneers Ltd. P'ship, 772 F.3d 698 (11th Cir. 2014) (rejecting mootness) and Lucero v. Bureau of Collection Recovery, Inc., 639 F.3d 1239 (10th Cir. 2011) with Warren v. Sessoms & Rogers, P.A., 676 F.3d 365 (4th Cir. 2012) (holding offer moots claim) and Weiss v. Regal Collections, 385 F.3d 337 (3d Cir. 2004), and a Supreme Court split, Genesis Healthcare Corp. v. Symczyk, 133 S. Ct. 1523 (2013), over whether offers of judgment under Rule 68 that are equal to or greater than a plaintiff’s statutory damages moot her individual claim or whether her claim, along with the putative class action, survive the offer’s expiration. Given the prominent role mootness plays in the growing number of employment class actions, if the decision turns on this issue, lawyers must get up to speed quickly about the implications for employment clients.

     If you would like to nominate other “must watch” decisions or emerging employment issues that should make the Labor & Employment Section’s list this year, please drop us a line. (Or better yet, offer to write an article.)