Civil Rights Groups File Amicus Brief As SCOTUS Scrutinizes Workers’ Rights

To protect the rights of workers, the Impact Fund has teamed up with leading civil rights law firms, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (“LDF”) and Cohen Milstein, to file an amicus brief (PDF) on behalf of more than thirty civil rights organizations, including the Equal Justice Society, in a trio of cases pending in the U.S. Supreme Court.

“What’s at stake is the right of workers to bond together to hold employers accountable for systemic discrimination,” said Impact Fund executive director, Jocelyn Larkin, adding: “There has been a disturbing trend in recent years for employers to evade their responsibilities by requiring those that work for them to waive their legal right to join together with co-workers to challenge discrimination.”

The cases address the question of whether employment agreements that prevent workers from taking “concerted” action to challenge workplace violations conflict with protections in federal labor law. Such agreements undermine the fight for civil rights.

“Workers have to be able to come together to bring disparate impact and pattern or practice claims,” said Raymond Audain, Senior Counsel at LDF and counsel of record on the brief, adding: “In most individual cases, employees are denied access to the information necessary to show widespread discrimination.”

“Had the arbitration clauses at issue before the Supreme Court been in effect before, more than 120 important civil rights cases, listed in this brief, would have never been brought,” said Joseph Sellers, chair of the civil rights and employment practice group at Cohen Milstein. Joining the brief are more than thirty non-profits from around the country who use litigation to fight discrimination against racial minorities, women, seniors, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ communities.

The Supreme Court will review the 9th Circuit’s decision involving Ernst & Young and the 7th Circuit’s ruling involving Epic Systems Corp. It will also consider the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit’s judgment enforcing Murphy Oil USA Inc.’s waiver, which was challenged by the National Labor Relations Board.

The cases are Epic Systems v. Lewis, 16-285; Ernst & Young v. Morris, 16-300; and NLRB v. Murphy Oil, 16-307.

“If employers can preclude workers from acting together in every forum, they can—and will—effectively extinguish the civil rights claims of the most vulnerable members of the workforce,” concluded Larkin.

The following organizations signed on to the brief:

AARP/AARP Foundation
American Civil Liberties Union
Advancing Justice-LA
Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus
California Women’s Law Center
Center for Reproductive Rights
Centro Legal de la Raza
Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center
Disability Rights Advocates
Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund
Equal Justice Society
Equal Rights Advocates
Human Rights Campaign
Impact Fund
Justice in Aging
LatinoJustice PRLDEF
Lambda Legal
Law Foundation of Silicon Valley
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights
Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Legal Aid at Work
NAACP Legal Defense Fund
New York City Public Advocate
National LGBTQ Task Force
National Women’s Law Center
Public Advocates
Public Counsel
Public Interest Law Project
Public Justice
Public Justice Center
Southern Poverty Law Center

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