Supreme Court in the 1990s
For most of the decade, the Supreme Court's employment
discrimination cases primarily involved women and older workers.
Toward the end of the decade, the new area of disability law found
its way to the High Court. The major Supreme Court cases during
this decade include:
- International Union,
UAW v. Johnson Controls (1991), ruling that an employer's
restriction against fertile women holding "dangerous jobs"
constituted sex discrimination under Title VII. The Court further
held that the employer's fetal protection policy could be justified
as a bona fide occupational qualification only if an employee's
capacity to become pregnant related to her ability to perform the
job at issue.
- Harris v.
Forklift Systems, Inc. (1993), holding that a sexual harassment
plaintiff does not have to prove that he or she suffered serious
psychological harm in a hostile work environment case.
- St. Mary's Honor
Center v. Hicks (1993), holding that a plaintiff may receive,
but is not entitled to as a matter of law, a finding of
discrimination where an employer's asserted nondiscriminatory
explanation for its action is proven to be untrue. This case states
that the burden of proof always rests with the plaintiff to show
that discrimination explains the employer's actions.
- O'Connor v.
Consolidated Coin Caterers Corp. (1996), holding that a
discharged plaintiff does not have to show that he or she was
replaced by someone under age 40 to establish a prima facie case of
discrimination under the ADEA. The Court adopted EEOC's amicus
position and found that a substantially younger replacement is "a
far more reliable indicator" of age bias.
Oubre v. Entergy Operations, Inc. (1998), holding that
employees cannot be required to tender back money or other benefits
received in return for providing a waiver of ADEA rights in order
to challenge the legality of the waiver under the provisions of the
Farragher v. City of Boca Raton (1998) and
Burlington Industries Inc. v. Ellerth (1998), dealing with
employers' liability for sexual harassment by their supervisory
employees. The Court held, consistent with EEOC, that an employer
has no legal defense when harassment results in a tangible
employment action. The Court also delineated obligations of
employers and employees when no tangible action is taken. As a
result of these opinions, EEOC issued policy guidance outlining
practical steps to fulfill the employer's duty to prevent and
correct harassment and the employee's duty to report or otherwise
avoid this harm.
Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services (1998), resolving a
split-circuit issue and holding that same-sex sexual harassment is
actionable under Title VII. The Court affirmed the Commission's
interpretation on this matter.
Bragdon v. Abbott (1998), the first ADA case heard by the
Supreme Court, holding that an individual with asymptomatic HIV is
an individual with a disability and is therefore protected by the
ADA. The Court recognized reproduction as a major life activity
under the ADA. Although the case dealt with a Title III public
accommodations issue, it has had clear implications in the Title I
Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp. (1999), holding
that an earlier claim for< disability benefits under the Social
Security Act does not preclude an ADA claim. This decision agreed
with the Commission's amicus position.
Sutton v. United Airlines, Inc. (1999) and
Murphy v. United Parcel Service, Inc. (1999), holding that a
determination of whether a person has a disability under the ADA
must consider whether the person is substantially limited in a
major life activity when using a mitigating measure, such as
eyeglasses where the alleged disability is sight. While this
particular view differed from EEOC's position, the Court
emphasized, consistent with the Commission's interpretation, that
the determination of whether a person has a disability must always
be made on a case-by-case basis.
Enforcement Strategies to Address Discrimination in the Changing