This is the time of year for reflection–when we look back on what happened during the past year, and look ahead to the coming year. There are many commentaries and opinions on what was good and bad about 2009, but there is no doubt it was an eventful year for those of us in the labor and employment law world. In this post we give a month-by-month account of the significant employment law events of 2009:
January: To usher in the new year, on January 1, the ADA Amendments Act became effective. On January 26, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in Crawford v. Metro Metro Government of Nashville, which held that an employee who answered questions as part of an internal harassmenti nvestigation was protected from retaliation under Title VII’s "opposition" clause. On January 29, President Obama signed into law the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The Ledbetter Act was the first law the President signed after his inaugeration.
February: The president signed into law the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (a/k/a the "Stimulus"). Important to employers and employees, the law provided a 65% premium subsidy for nine months to employees involuntarily terminated from their jobs since September 1, 2008.
March: On March 10 the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) was introduced in both houses of Congress. The proposed EFCA contained the most signicant changes to labor law since the NLRA was enacted in the 1930s. While the law was and is a top priority for labor unions to get enacted, so far its most controversial provisions, inlcuding elimination of secret ballot elections, mandatory arbitration, and increased penalties for unfair labor practices make the proposed law unpopular with business interests.
April: The U.S. Supreme Court issues its second labor and employment decision this year: Penn Plaza, LLC v. Pyett. The Court held that “a collective-bargaining agreement that clearly and unmistakably requires a union member to arbitrate ADEA claims is enforceable as a matter of federal law.” On April 24, the EEOC issued a "Best Practices" document relating to employees with caregiving responsibilities. The Iowa Supreme Court issued its decision in the case of Varnum v. Brien, which held that Iowa’s law that permitted marrigage licenses to be issued only to a man and a woman violated the Iowa Constitution.
May: On May 1 Governor Culver signed the Iowa version of the Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This law amended to the Iowa Civil Rights Act to incorporate provisions of both the Ledbetter Act and the Equal Pay Act. The H1N1 pandemic was in the news, and the EEOC issued guidelines to help employers comply with the anti-discrimination laws while helping stop the spread of the disease. Sonia Sotamayor was nominated to replace the retiring Justice Souter on the U.S. Supreme Court.
June: The U.S. Supreme Court issued two important employment law decisions this month: Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc. and Ricci v. DeStefano. While there is some disagreement, our view is that both decisions were favorable for employers.
July: The phenomenon of social networking and its impact on the workplace is becoming the issue de jour. Al Franken is confirmed as the winner of the Senate election in Minnesota, which gives the Democrats a 60th seat and filibuster proof majority. However, the proposed EFCA law still goes nowhere. With the economy still in the doldrums, the Department of Labor issues a document addressing frequently asked questions relating to furloughs.
August: It’s the dog days of summer, which means the Iowa State Fair, and controversy over allegations of religious discrimination.
September: The Iowa Supreme Court issues a ruling in DeBoom v. Raining Rose, Inc. one of the court’s most important employment discrimination decisions. The EEOC released proposed regulations on the ADA Amendments. In wage and hour news, convenience store chain Casey’s General Stores paid $11 million to settle FLSA claims of thousands of current and former employees.
October: President Obama signs into law modifications to FMLA relating to military caregiver leave and qualifying exigency leave relating to military service.
November: The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act becomes effective November 21. Data from both the Iowa Civil Rights Commission and EEOC show officially what many of us observed in our practices: an uptick in discrimination claims this year. On November 30, the Eighth Circuit issues an opinion in the remand of Gross v. FBL Financial. Despite Gross’ arguments that his jury verdict under the Iowa Civil Rights Act should stand, the court sent the case back to the Southern District of Iowa for a new trial.
December: The U.S. Department of Labor issued an "Employment Law Guide" which covers topics such as wage and hour, occupational safety, and employee benefits, among others. The EEOC and Department of Labor release their regulatory agendas for 2010. Finally, President Obama signs a law that will extend the COBRA subsidy another two months, until February 28, 2010.
Best wishes for the rest of 2009 and a happy and prosperous 2010!