Tag Archives: Supreme Court

Alabama Court Strikes Down Anti-Worker Provisions Of State Workers’ Compensation Law

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

An Alabama trial-court level judge ruled the Alabama Workers Compensation Act was unconstitutional in a recent decision. Though the decision isn’t binding on a state level and it was recently stayed or delayed indefinitely, it is an important and interesting decision for many reasons.

The Alabama workers’ compensation statute was found to be unconstitutional because it capped benefits at $220 per week for permanent injuries and it limited attorney fees for plaintiff attorneys to 15 percent. Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Pat Ballard found that Alabama’s cap on permanent damages violated equal protection of the laws because it created two classes of workers without any rational basis because some workers were fairly compensated for permanent disability while others were not. Ballard also found that the attorney fee cap violated constitutional due process rights.

Ballard’s reasoning about equal protection and due process mirror recent state supreme court decisions in Oklahoma and Florida striking down anti-worker reforms to the workers’ compensation laws in those states. Florida struck down attorney fee caps for plaintiff’s attorney because they impaired the ability of injured workers to find counsel. Oklahoma struck down the so-called Oklahoma option because it impermissibly created two separate systems for workers’ compensation, one of which could make it almost impossible for workers to collect benefits.

While it is encouraging that courts are protecting the rights of injured workers, the decisions in Oklahoma, Florida and Alabama have all been driven by anti-worker legislation in those states. Unfortunately, that trend is continuing in 2017.  Possible Democratic presidential candidate and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo pushed through anti-worker reforms to New York’s workers’ compensation act.

The recent attack on workers’ compensation has been bi-partisan. A newly- elected Republican legislature in Iowa passed anti-worker workers’ compensation reforms which were signed into law by that state’s Republican governor. The Iowa reforms include a cruel measure that caps benefits for senior citizens who are injured on the job. That provision may be ripe for an equal protection challenge.

Relying on appellate courts to protect the rights of injured workers’ is a risky strategy. Workers compensation laws were passed by state legislatures in response to pressure from unions and other workers advocates during the early 20th century when appellate courts were generally hostile to employees. While it seems that trend may have reversed in the early 21st century, appellate judges certainly can’t be accused of pro-worker bias.

Good legislation also prevents the need for worker advocates to look to the judiciary to protect the rights of workers. Part of the reason, Judge Ballard ruled against the Alabama Workers Compensation Act was because the maximum benefit rate had not increased in 30 years. In Nebraska, our maximum benefit rate increases automatically under a formula determined by the Department of Labor. Nebraska’s current maximum rate is $817 per week for temporary and permanent disability.

What Does Supreme Court’s Warehouse Workers’ Ruling Mean?

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Last Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 9-0 that contracted warehouse workers for Amazon did not have to be paid for time spent waiting to clear through an anti-theft security screening after their shifts. Justice Clarence Thomas ruled that time spent in an after-work security screening was not integral and indispensable to the primary activity of a warehouse worker, therefore not covered under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act. So what does that mean for you?

First of all, this should mean that any worker who has to go through a security check after work will not have to be paid by their employer for the time that process takes. However other pre- and post- workday activities should still be covered under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Donning and doffing safety equipment is still compensable because such safety equipment helps an employee work safely. Call-center workers still should be paid for time spent booting up and logging into a computer and phone because a call-center employee is unable to do their job if they are not logged into their phones and computers. Employees should also consult with a lawyer about state wage and hour law as state law may be friendlier to employees.

Your Social Security Benefits After The Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) Decision

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Nearly two months after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Social Security Administration has announced that it will start to pay benefits to some individuals in same-sex marriages. In order to be eligible for benefits, these individuals must meet the same criteria as individuals in opposite-sex marriages, in addition to several other requirements.

Only applications for spousal benefits are being approved right now. Spousal benefits are payable to a spouse who either 1) did not work enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits or 2) worked enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits but would be entitled to a larger benefit on their spouse’s earnings record.  This is generally the case when one spouse earned significantly more than the other spouse over the course of their working lives. The individual on whose earnings record the claim is made (the number holder, in SSA’s terms) must also be entitled to old-age or disability benefits from Social Security. In order to receive spousal benefits, you must be at least age 62 and have been married to the number holder for at least one year.

The individual applying for benefits (the claimant, in SSA’s terms) must show that he or she was married to the number holder in a state that permits same-sex marriage and that the number holder is living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage either 1) when the application for benefits is filed or 2) while the application is pending a final determination. It does not matter what state the claimant lives in. What matters for SSA’s purposes is the state the number holder lives in. This only matters when spouses live in different states.

Below is a chart from SSA that shows which states recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and when those states permitted same-sex marriages.  If a state is not listed, it does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or permit same-sex marriages to be performed.

Before filing a claim for benefits or moving to a different state, you should consult with an experienced attorney or with the Social Security Administration to determine your eligibility for benefits.  As SSA continues to pay benefits to more individuals in connection with the Supreme Court’s decision, we will provide updated information regarding who may be eligible for these benefits.

State

Date Same-Sex Marriages from Any Other State Was Recognized

Date Same-Sex Marriages Were Permitted in the State

California June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

Connecticut November 12, 2008 November 12, 2008
Delaware July 1, 2013 July 1, 2013
Iowa April 30, 2009 April 20, 2009
Maine December 29, 2012 December 29, 2012
Maryland February 23, 2010 January 1, 2013
Massachusetts May 17, 2004 May 17, 2004
Minnesota August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013
New Hampshire January 1, 2010 January 1, 2010
New York February 1, 2008 July 24, 2011
Rhode Island May 14, 2012 August 1, 2013
Vermont September 1, 2009 September 1, 2009
Washington December 6, 2012 December 6, 2012
Washington, DC July 7, 2009 March 9, 2010