The notoriously conservative Supreme Court returned some surprising victories for employees, women, and families during the October, 2003 term. Its most notable employment decision was in Nevada Department of Human Resources v. Hibbs, a case exploring whether the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal statute mandating unpaid leave for employees who need it because of illness or care giving responsibilities, protects state government employees.
A second important case, Desert Palace, Inc. v. Costa, resolved a long-brewing split among federal appellate courts about the proof requirements in so-called “mixed motive” discrimination cases—those in which an adverse employment action (such as a firing, demotion, or failure to hire) occurs for both legitimate and illegitimate reasons.
Both of these cases provide meaningful protection against discrimination for at least some employees. Importantly, they reverse a notable trend towards contracting the federal anti-discrimination rights of employees that had emerged over recent Court terms.
Regional Labor Review
Joanna L. Grossman, The Supreme Court's 2003 Employment Rulings: Surprising Gains for Workers and Women, 6 Regional Lab. Rev. 22 (2003)