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U.S. Supreme Court

A ‘Pro-Business’ Supreme Court? Recent Rulings Favor Workers and Injured Plaintiffs

Posted Mar 14, 2011 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Recent decisions indicate the U.S. Supreme Court isn’t reflexively pro-business, despite some assertions to the contrary.

So far this term, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has had four losses and just one win, the Los Angeles Times reports. The court has also sided with “hard-luck plaintiffs who were mistreated by the government,” the story says.

Supreme Court litigator Roy Englert commented on the decisions. "The term so far explodes the most extreme form of the 'pro-corporate' myth," he told the newspaper.

Among the cases cited by the Los Angeles Times:

• The court has twice ruled for fired workers seeking protection under anti-discrimination laws. In one case, Thompson v. North American Stainless, the court ruled that a worker fired after his fiancée filed a discrimination complaint against their mutual employer may sue for unlawful retaliation under Title VII. In another, Staub v. Proctor Hospital, the court held that an employer can be liable for firing an Army reservist because of unlawful intent by a supervisor who influenced—but did not make—the decision.

• The court allowed a suit against Mazda by the family of a woman wearing a lap-only belt, ruling the case was not pre-empted by federal regulations allowing the lap belts for rear inner seats. The case is Williamson v. Mazda Motor of America.

• The court ruled that corporations don’t have a right of personal privacy under freedom of information laws. The case is Federal Communications Commission v. AT&T Inc.

• The court allowed a death-row inmate to seek DNA evidence under Section 1983 of the federal civil rights law. The case is Skinner v. Switzer.

Meanwhile, two more suits will test the court’s corporate leanings. In one, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. v. Dukes, the issue is whether up to 1.5 million former and current employees of Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club can bring their claims in a class action lawsuit. The other, AT&T Mobility Services v. Concepcion, asks whether cell-phone consumers can bring a class action despite provisions in their cell phone contract requiring arbitration and banning class actions.

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