02/22/2008 02:21 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Workers Should RSS Feed Supreme Court Decisions

This year, the Supreme Court justices are taking on a host of cases that will impact many employees in this country.

So, don't just turn the page when you see headlines like this:

"Top Court Allows Suit Over 401(K)"

That was a headline in the New York Times for an article about a ruling that will mean a lot to workers who believe their employers made major screw ups when it came to their retirement savings plans.

From the New York Times:

WASHINGTON -- Participants in 401(k) retirement plans can sue to recover losses when their investment instructions are ignored or the account is otherwise mishandled, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday.

With 70 million people holding about $3 trillion in 401(k) investments, the 9-to-0 decision was one of the most important rulings in years on the meaning of the federal pension law known as Erisa


This was good news for workers. Well, sort of.

Again, from the Times:

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., in a separate opinion that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined, expressed considerable doubt about the analysis of the majority. While agreeing that the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond, Va., had incorrectly dismissed the lawsuit, the two justices said that depending on the wording of the specific 401(k) plan, [the employee and plaintiff, James LaRue] might be limited to pursuing a narrower remedy under a different section of Erisa.

That means, unfortunately, in yet another sign that many of the conservative judges on the high court may not always be on the side of workers. Roberts' opinion opens the door for employers here by offering "companies a roadmap for combating similar cases in the future," according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

Despite what seemed a positive ruling, workers -- who are now mainly relying on 401(K) plans, since pensions are increasingly becoming just a mention in employment history -- will not have an easy road trying to prove their employers recklessly managed their retirement plans, and they'll have a devil of a time getting any monetary recourse.

Alas, the Court's conservative judges have already taken away some key rights for employees.

Remember Lily Ledbetter, the supervisor from a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. plant?

She earned thousands of dollars less than men in similar jobs but the Supreme Court found in May that she just didn't complain fast enough.

And hold on to your hats folks. There are more Supreme Court employee decisions to come down this year.

This week, in my column for, I talk about three cases the Court is taking up as we speak involving whether workers have the right to sue their employers if they are fired or demoted because they report discrimination at work.

The cases include a cacophony of workplace ills -- racism, sexism and ageism.

Two cases involve government workers who say they were retaliated against, one for participating in a company investigation of sexual harassment and the other for filing an age-discrimination charge with the government. And the third case deals with a manager at Cracker Barrel who claims he was fired because he reported racism at work.

The Court will be looking at whether these three individuals' plights are covered by existing laws.

Decisions are expected later this year. So, come daily grinders, get your Supreme Court RSS feed pronto!