Should small business owners care what the Supreme Court does?
Supposedly, 40 percent of the court's cases directly impact business owners.
There was a host of rulings during the 2007-2008 session that could impact entrepreneurs both positively and negatively -- everything from rulings on union organizing to taxes.
So how did things play out for all of you this session?
Elizabeth Milito, senior executive counsel for the Small Business Legal Center at the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) offers a great overview of the decisions, and she gives the court's record a mixed review:
Under the "victory" column:
--Employers scored an important victory in Chamber vs. Brown when the court rejected California's attempt to restrict employers' communication with employees during a union drive. This decision allows California's small business owners the rights provided to them under the National Labor Relations Act, and it serves as a warning to other state legislatures considering regulating employers' speech.
--In Sprint vs. Mendelsohn, the court ruled that courts are not required to admit "me-too" evidence (testimony by non-parties) in employment law discrimination cases. If trial courts were required to admit "me-too" evidence, then in every employment discrimination case an employer would face litigating not only the decision being challenged, but also the circumstances of every termination or any other adverse employment action taken against each of the "me-too" witnesses.
Under the "failure" column:
--The court's 7-1 ruling in Meacham vs. Knolls will make it easier for workers to pursue age discrimination lawsuits. The court determined that when older workers are disproportionately impacted by employment decisions the employer bears the burden of showing that reasons other than age discrimination were responsible for the outcome.
--In Federal Express Corp. vs. Holowecki the court sided with employees who had argued that the filing of a simple intake questionnaire is tantamount to filing a discrimination charge. This decision may allow certain informal filings to be recognized as a charge for discrimination purposes.
--In the non-employment arena, two of court's business decisions are particularly disappointing for small business. The court's decision in Hall Street Associates vs. Mattel will preclude parties from contracting for expanded judicial review of arbitration decisions under the Federal Arbitration Act. NFIB's brief argued that allowing parties the right to contract for expanded judicial review would have made arbitration a more attractive option for small business owners.
--In a critical tax matter, U.S. vs. Clintwood Elkhood Mining, the court sided with the Internal Revenue Service and ruled that taxpayers have just three years to file a claim for a refund of an unconstitutional tax assessment. The NFIB had argued that taxpayers are entitled to six years under another federal law.
As you can tell, many of the decisions were weighted against businesses. Do any of you believe these cases will impact your business? If so, how?
The NFIB thinks they will, and the group plans to keep fighting in order to show "how important it is for the justices on the Supreme Court to understand how their decisions will impact small businesses," Milito said.