civil rights

Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Garden Citizens in Action, Inc.

Issues: 

Can disparate impact claims be brought under Section 804(a) of the Fair Housing Act absent any evidence of intentional discrimination?

(Note: This case settled on November 13, 2013. The Supreme Court dismissed the case on November 15, 2013.)

This case asked whether disparate impact claims are cognizable under Section 804(a) of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”). That section makes it unlawful “to refuse to sell or rent after the making of a bona fide offer, or to refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of, or otherwise make unavailable or deny, a dwelling to any person because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, or national origin.” The Township of Mount Holly argued that the plain language of the statute does not permit disparate treatment claims, whereas residents of Mount Holly Gardens argued the opposite. Further, the Township asserted that permitting disparate-impact claims raises constitutional concerns—including Equal Protection Clause and Tenth Amendment violations, but the Residents countered that no such violations result from acknowledging disparate-impact liability under the statute. This case presented the Supreme Court with the opportunity to definitively rule on whether the FHA allows for disparate-impact claims. On November 13, 2013, the parties settled, and on November 15, 2013, the Supreme Court dismissed the case.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Are disparate impact claims cognizable under the Fair Housing Act?

top

Facts

Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which includes the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), to secure equal housing opportunities regardless of race, creed, or national origin.

Edited by: 
Acknowledgments: 
Additional Resources: 
Submit for publication: 
0

University Of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Nassar

Eradicating unlawful discrimination and retaliation in the workplace is one of core purposes of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Respondent Dr. Naiel Nassar, a former faculty member of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW), alleges that his employer denied him a job in retaliation for a prior resignation letter alleging race discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, Nassar's resignation letter stated that his supervisor made derogatory comments about his Middle Eastern descent. Petitioner UTSW argues that Nassar needs to prove that retaliation was the sole motivating factor for the negative employment action. In contrast, Nassar argues that he need only show that retaliation was a motivating factor, but not necessarily the only one, for the negative employment action. A holding for UTSW may make it more difficult for victims of retaliation under Title VII to sue their employers, whereas a holding for Nassar may increase the costs borne by employers in defending against potentially meritless litigation.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

In Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, 490 U.S. 228, 258, 268-69 (1989), a plurality of this Court held that the discrimination provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2(a), requires a plaintiff to prove only that discrimination was "a motivating factor" for an adverse employment action. In contrast, Gross v. FBL Financial Services, Inc., 557 U.S. 167, 179-80 (2009), held that the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA), Pub. L. 90-202, 81 Stat. 602, requires proof that age was "the but-for cause" of an adverse employment action, such that a defendant is not liable if it would have taken the same action for other, non-discriminatory reasons. The courts of appeals have since divided 3-2 on whether Gross or Price Waterhouse establishes the general rule for other federal employment statutes, such as Title VII’s retaliation provision, that do not specifically authorize mixed-motive claims.

The question presented is:

Whether Title VII's retaliation provision and similarly worded statutes require a plaintiff to prove but-for causation (i.e., that an employer would not have taken an adverse employment action but for an improper motive), or instead require only proof that the employer had a mixed motive (i.e., that an improper motive was one of multiple reasons for the employment action).

top

Issue

Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act require a plaintiff alleging retaliation to show that retaliation was the only reason for a negative employment action?

top

Edited by: 
Additional Resources: 

top

Submit for publication: 
0

United States v. Windsor

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer married in Toronto in 2007 where same-sex marriages were legal. At the time of Spyer’s death, the state of New York recognized the couple’s marriage. However, the IRS denied Windsor use of a spousal estate tax exception on the ground that, under the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), the federal government did not recognize same-sex marriages for the purpose of federal benefits.
 The Supreme Court is now being asked to decide DOMA’s Constitutionality. The Obama Administration is not defending DOMA, so a Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (“BLAG”) from the House of Representatives is doing so, arguing that DOMA is rationally related to the legitimate government objective of providing a uniform definition of marriage for federal benefits purposes. The Obama administration counters that the use of sexual orientation to decide who gets benefits is a suspect classification that deserves higher scrutiny. Under that level of higher scrutiny, the Obama administration argues that DOMA is impermissible.
 This case can affect what role the federal government can play in defining marriage and who in the federal government can defend the government’s laws. Not only could this case provide large tax savings to Ms. Windsor herself, but it can also make federal benefits available to other same-sex couples who are legally married under the laws of their state.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Section 3 of DOMA defines the term “marriage” for all purposes under federal law, including the provision of federal benefits, as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” 1 U.S.C. 7. It similarly defines the term “spouse” as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” Ibid. The question presented is:

Whether Section 3 of DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their state. 

In addition to the question presented by the petition, the parties are directed to brief and argue the following questions: whether the executive branch’s agreement with the court below that DOMA is unconstitutional deprives this court of jurisdiction to decide this case; and whether the BLAG has Article III standing in this case. 

Edited by: 
Acknowledgments: 

The authors would like to thank Professor Michael C. Dorf for his insights into this case and former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Additional Resources: 
Submit for publication: 
0

Shelby County v. Holder

In 2006, Congress reauthorized the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (“VRA”) for 25 years. Section 5 of the VRA requires certain “covered” jurisdictions to obtain federal preclearance before making any alterations to their election laws. Section 4(b) sets forth a formula for determining if a jurisdiction is covered. Petitioner Shelby County, Alabama, a covered jurisdiction, asserts that the preclearance regime exceeds Congress’s power to enforce the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and violates the Tenth Amendment and Article IV. Other covered jurisdictions, amicihere, complain that the VRA’s restrictions subject them to a double standard and infringe on their state sovereignty rights. Attorney General Holder, the Respondent, contends that these restrictions are necessary to fight regression among states with a history of voting rights abuses. Shelby County argues that current conditions no longer justify preclearance at all, and that the coverage formula is antiquated in any case. Holder argues that preclearance remains a valid exercise of congressional power and that the formula, in combination with the VRA’s “bailout” provision, creates a coverage regime that meets the requirements of the Constitution.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

Whether Congress’s decision in 2006 to reauthorize Section 5 of the VRA under the pre-existing coverage formula of Section 4(b) exceeded its authority under the Fifteenth Amendment and thus violated the Tenth Amendment and Article IV of the United States Constitution.

top

Issue

Whether Congress’s twenty-five year extension of the Voting Rights Act exceeded its power to enforce the protections of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

top

Edited by: 
Acknowledgments: 

The authors would like to thank former Supreme Court Reporter of Decisions Frank Wagner for his assistance in editing this preview.

Submit for publication: 
0

Kloeckner v. Solis (11-184)

In 2005, Carolyn M. Kloeckner (“Kloeckner”) left her job as a Senior Investigator for the Department of Labor’s (DOL) Employee Benefits Security Administration in the St. Louis office. Soon after, she filed an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint alleging sex and age discrimination and a hostile work environment. The DOL charged her with being “absent without leave” and fired her a year later. The dismissal, coupled with the discrimination complaint, result in what is known as a "mixed" case, and is therefore subject to certain forum restrictions.  After an unsuccessful outcome with her EEO complaint, Kloeckner appealed to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) which dismissed her claims as untimely. Kloeckner tried to challenge this MSPB decision in federal district court, but the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, holding that only federal circuit courts had jurisdiction over mixed cases that were dismissed on a procedural ground. The federal circuit courts disagree on this issue, and so the Supreme Court’s decision in this case will determine whether a federal district court or a federal appellate-level court can hear an appeal of an MSPB decision to dismiss a mixed claim for being untimely.

Questions as Framed for the Court by the Parties: 

The Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) is authorized to hear appeals by federal employees regarding certain adverse actions, such as dismissals. If in such an appeal the employee asserts that the challenged action was the result of unlawful discrimination, that claim is referred to as a "mixed case."

The Question Presented is:

If the MSPB decides a mixed case without determining the merits of the discrimination claim, is the court with jurisdiction over that claim the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit or a district court?

Issue

Can a federal district court hear an appeal of a decision by the Merit System Protection Board (MSPB) if the MSPB decided on a procedural ground and the case was “mixed” and so involved both unlawful employment termination and discrimination claims?

top

Edited by: 
Submit for publication: 
Submit for publication
Subscribe to RSS - civil rights