The Labor and Employment Law Decisions of the Supreme Court's 2003-04 Term

80 Pages Posted: 4 Jan 2005

See all articles by Stephen F. Befort

Stephen F. Befort

University of Minnesota Law School


It is longstanding tradition for the Secretary of the ABA's Labor and Employment Law Section to prepare a summary of the labor and employment decisions issued during each Supreme Court term. This article summarizes seven labor and employment decisions issued by the Court during its 2003-04 term as well as two other decisions that, while not arising under a labor or employment statute, have potential implications for labor and employment law. The article also analyzes each of the decisions for their overall impact and significance within the field of labor and employment law.

The article goes on to discuss how the decisions of the 2003-04 term provide a snapshot of two ongoing trends in the labor and employment law field. The first concerns the growing importance of employee benefit matters relative to other labor and employment topics. As the baby boomer cohort ages, issues relating to health care and retirement income loom ever larger. In addition, ERISA's regulatory vacuum with respect to the substance of welfare benefit plans generates a steady stream of federal preemption disputes. Congressional inertia, not only specifically with respect to health care reform, but also more generally with respect to labor and employment law reform, likely will ensure that issues relating to employee benefits will continue to gain on the more traditional practice areas under the NLRA and Title VII in relative significance.

The second trend illustrated by this term's set of decisions is the Supreme Court's continued efforts to redirect employment law claims away from the federal court system. By virtue of its interpretation of arbitration agreements, the Eleventh Amendment, and the ADA, the Court has diverted a growing number of employment disputes to arbitral and state court forums. As a result of these efforts, and barring the enactment of Congressional reforms, the Court's labor and employment law agenda likely will remain lean for the foreseeable future.

Suggested Citation

Befort, Stephen F., The Labor and Employment Law Decisions of the Supreme Court's 2003-04 Term. Available at SSRN:

Stephen F. Befort (Contact Author)

University of Minnesota Law School ( email )

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