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Supreme Court Supreme Court Split On Workers' Right To File Class-Action Suits Supreme Court Split On Workers' Right To File Class-Action Suits
Updated October 3, 2017 6:23 AM
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Supreme Court justices open what promises to be a momentous term. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Supreme Court.)

(WASHINGTON) - Liberal and conservative U.S Supreme Court justices clashed Monday over whether should be allowed to bring class-action lawsuits against companies.

Talk Media News reports, the high court heard oral arguments on the day of oral arguments of the new term on whether employers can force workers to sign arbitration agreements sharply restricting their ability to file class-action suits against the companies.

An attorney for workers told justices some 25 million employees have signed contracts barring class-action suits on workplace issues such as claims over wages and hours and discrimination.

The three consolidated cases before the court involve professional services firm Ernst & Young, gas station operator Murphy Oil USA and healthcare software company Epic Systems.

In June, President Donald Trump's Justice Department reversed the National Labor Relations Board stance under former President Barack Obama that agreements requiring workers to give up their right to bring class-action suits were illegal.

But while Trump backs the employers, NLRB lawyer Richard Griffin, the Democrat-appointed general counsel, backed the workers Monday.

Presaging the schism likely to appear again and again with Trump appointee Justice Neil M. Gorsuch shifting the court to a conservative majority, the justices divided along ideological lines.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer told the lawyer for the companies, "I'm worried about what you are saying is overturning labor law that goes back to, for FDR at least, the entire heart of the New Deal."

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said arbitration would cost much more than the amount employees could recover.

"That's why this is truly a situation where there is strength in numbers, and that was the core idea of the [National Labor Relations ACT]," Ginsburg said. "We have to protect the individual worker from being in a situation where he can't protect his rights." There is no true liberty to contract on the part of the employee," she said.

But Gorsuch remained mum during the hour-long oral arguments, leaving the outcome uncertain.

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito appeared to side with the companies in the employees' challenges.

Kennedy said employees could receive "many of the advantages" of filing a class-action suit by working with the same attorney on a group action.

One case is an appeal by the NLRB over alleged underpayments to workers at an Alabama gas station operated by a Murphy USA Inc. unit.

A federal appeals court overturned the NLRB's finding that Murphy engaged in an unfair labor practice by refusing to let the workers pursue their claims together.

In the Epic Systems Corp. case, employees contend company misclassified them to prevent them from receiving overtime.

Ernst & Young is challenging claims it misclassified thousands of employees to make them ineligible for overtime pay.

The Supreme Court is to decide Epic Systems v. Lewis, Ernst & Young v. Morris, ; and NLRB v. Murphy Oil by June.

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