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Guide to 2013

Supreme Court Preview

A look at cases that could impact people 50-plus

Excerpted from the 2013 AARP Almanac

The following cases are in the hands of the court. What the justices decide could have an impact on you.

Genesis HealthCare Corp. v. Symczyk

What are the permissible limits on the rights of groups of employees to challenge employer practices in collective actions under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act? The specific issue — which has huge implications for older workers — is whether a full offer of settlement with a single named plaintiff in a collective action necessitates dismissal of the entire suit. If that view is accepted, employers will be able to "buy off" named plaintiffs and continue allegedly discriminatory practices against others unimpeded. Collective actions are different from class actions, although both are efforts to permit large numbers of plaintiffs to accomplish together what they could not accomplish on their own. The scope and significance of this distinction will be important as the court considers the Symczyk case.

US Airways v. McCutcheon

Does the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act — the law governing employee benefits — permit a health plan to recover from a participant all benefits paid, when the participant sues a third party and obtains a recovery, even if the participant has to reach into his or her pocket? The answer may force a participant to think twice before suing a third party.

2013 Supreme Court guide

What decisions you should be on the lookout for from the United States Supreme Court. — Getty Images

Vance v. Ball State University

This case raises the question "What is a supervisor?" Maetta Vance — the only African American in Ball State University's banquet and catering department — sued the university after she was subjected, she alleges, to racial epithets, references to the Ku Klux Klan and veiled threats of physical harm at the hands of a catering specialist whom Vance considered (and Ball State sometimes described as) her supervisor. Ball State now says the specialist was not a supervisor but had floating duties that changed frequently and sometimes placed her in supervisory roles over Vance temporarily. There is a split in the circuit courts regarding the proper legal test for determining who is a supervisor. The answer to the question has enormous implications for other job discrimination claims, including those based on age and disability bias.

Marx v. General Revenue Corporation

Olivea Marx filed a complaint under the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act after General Revenue Corporation sought to collect a student loan. Marx said she was subjected to threatening phone calls and a fax sent to her employer seeking information about her employment status. A trial court agreed with GRC that the fax to her employer did not violate the law. Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 54(d), the court ordered Marx to pay GRC's court costs. AARP's friend-of-the-court brief in this case argues that the FDCPA prevents the costs from being shifted to a losing FDCPA plaintiff unless the lawsuit was filed in bad faith and for the purposes of harassment.

Comcast Corp. v. Behrend

This case will examine whether class action certification can be granted without first proving class damages, as opposed to simply finding that the damages are capable of being awarded on a class-wide basis. The plaintiffs challenged Comcast cable practices, claiming that they are anticompetitive and raise the cost of basic cable for viewers. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit agreed with the district court that the plaintiffs need not prove their damages to have the class certified, because the plaintiffs proved the damages are capable of being proved on a class-wide basis at trial. This case has the potential to severely limit the ability of consumers to enforce their rights, because it could make it too difficult and expensive to bring class action litigation.

FTC v. Phoebe Putney Health Systems

Can a state block federal antitrust laws when a local hospital authority buys the only competing hospital in a rural county? This could affect the cost and delivery of health care because there is extensive evidence that hospital mergers have been shown to increase prices and reduce quality of care.

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