Washington D.C. Employment Law Update
Obama Nominates Sonia Sotomayor as Next Supreme Court Justice
President Obama announced this morning that Sonia Sotomayor is his pick to replace U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter when he steps down next month. Sotomayor is the first Hispanic woman to be nominated to the high court, and is considered by some conservatives to be an activist judge with left-leaning tendencies. The daughter of Puerto Rican parents, Sotomayor is a judge on the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Before serving on the Second Circuit, Sotomayor worked as a trial judge and prosecutor. As an appellate judge, Sotomayor has issued decisions on a number of employment-related cases, more often than not siding with the plaintiffs. Scotusblog has posted an in-depth analysis of Sotomayor’s appellate opinions in civil cases.
Notably, Sotomayor participated (but did not author the opinion) in Ricci v. DeStefano, a case currently under consideration by the Supreme Court. This reverse discrimination case was brought by city firefighters whose test results to determine promotion were thrown out because no African-American candidates qualified for promotion as a result. Caucasian and Hispanic firefighters who would have been entitled to promotions had the city certified the test results alleged they were illegally discriminated against and filed suit. Sitting on the Second Circuit’s three-judge panel, Sotomayor affirmed the lower court’s judgment finding that the city was justified in disregarding the test results. Sotomayor was also one of the seven judges on the Second Circuit to vote to deny a rehearing.
In Parker v. Columbia Pictures, Sotomayor applied Title VII’s “mixed motive” analysis to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In two other disability discrimination cases where the Second Circuit majority held for the employer – EEOC v. J.B. Hunt Transportation Inc. and Nielson v. Colgate-Palmolive – Sotomayor issued dissents explaining her belief that the plaintiffs had indeed made out prima facie cases of discrimination.
In addition, Sotomayor in Malesko v. Correctional Services Corp. ruled that an inmate serving time in a halfway house operated on behalf of the Bureau of Prisons by a private corporation could sue that private corporation and its employees for violations of his constitutional rights, a decision that was subsequently reversed by the Supreme Court.
Sotomayor has also sided with the plaintiff in two hostile environment and at least one suit involving employer retaliation. While not all of her decisions have favored the plaintiffs in employment cases, her opinions indicate that she is more apt to interpret employment laws in favor of the employee.
Sotomayor earned her undergraduate degree from Princeton University, and her law degree from Yale.