Protecting the rights of employees and job applicants in New Jersey and around the country requires a complex system of courts and government agencies. Both federal and New Jersey employment laws rely on agencies to interpret, implement, and enforce those laws. Many employment disputes must go through an administrative process before a person can file a lawsuit in court, such as the process of filing a discrimination charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Some agencies have administrative law judges (ALJs) who can rule on disputes. This helps keep court dockets from becoming even more overloaded. If a case does go before a federal court, a 1984 U.S. Supreme Court decision states that judges should defer to agencies’ interpretations of the law in certain situations. Two cases currently pending before the Supreme Court could upend this system.
Administrative Law Judges
Many employment law disputes go before ALJs, who have the authority to adjudicate certain matters. ALJs with the U.S. Department of Labor handle various employment-related claims. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has ALJs who adjudicate labor complaints.
ALJs are not part of the federal court system. Article III of the U.S. Constitution addresses the Judicial Branch of the federal government. ALJs are part of the system of administrative agencies under the Executive Branch. This is part of the dispute now before the Supreme Court in Securities and Exchange Commission v. Jarkesy.
This case involves securities law, but the question before the court is broad enough that it could affect the NLRB and other agencies. A hedge fund manager appealed a ruling by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that found he had committed securities fraud, claiming in part that the agency lacked the legal authority to adjudicate the charges against him.
The questions presented to the Supreme Court include:
– Whether the statute that allows the SEC to adjudicate enforcement proceedings violates the Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial; and
– Whether the statute violates the nondelegation doctrine by allowing the SEC to have an ALJ decide the case instead of filing a federal lawsuit.
If the court answers “yes” to those questions, it could strip ALJs throughout the federal government of much of their authority and require far more federal lawsuits.
The Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. created a doctrine known as “Chevron deference.” It states that, when a statute is ambiguous, courts should defer to an agency’s interpretation of that statute when:
1. The agency’s interpretation is reasonable; and
2. Congress has not “directly spoken to the precise question at issue.”
The court noted that agencies have greater subject matter expertise than judges. It also noted that, as members of the Executive Branch, agencies are often in a better position to address policy issues or disputes that may have resulted in an ambiguous statute.
The appellant in Relentless, Inc. v. Department of Commerce is asking the Supreme Court to overrule Chevron, or at least to limit its scope. Much like the Jarkesy case, the dispute does not involve employment law, but an affirmative answer to the appellant’s question could significantly affect the role of agencies like the EEOC and NLRB.
The experienced employment attorneys at the Resnick Law Group represent workers in New Jersey and New York in a variety of claims that allege unlawful employment practices. To schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case with a member of our team, please contact us today at 973-781-1204, at 646-867-7997, or online.