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A Writ Improvidently Granted

When a matter rises to the level of the Supreme Court of the United States, the case accepted for argument has the potential to set a precedent. In a recent matter, a 61-year-old former attorney for the state of Illinois, Harvey N. Levin, alleged he was terminated in favor of a younger female attorney. While the case could have examined remedies under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), instead argument caused the court to question its presence on the docket.

Opening day for the new session of the Supreme Court ended a week later with an unceremonious decision that stated succinctly the outcome of oral argument in the case of Madigan v. Levin, [t]he writ of certiorari is dismissed as improvidently granted.

At question was whether federal or state employees can proceed to court on a claim of age discrimination instead of pursuing all remedies available through an administrative action under ADEA. Findings could have been relevant to state and private employers, but the question is no longer at issue.

Instead, the oral argument became an exercise in the extrication of the court from a case on which certiorari should probably not have been granted. Highlights included:

  • Discussion on jurisdictional issues that precluded argument by the Illinois Solicitor General attempting to dissuade the court of the constitutional claim
  • Inability by counsel for Mr. Levin to respond to the question of whether his client was an employee or an appointee
  • Justice Scalia commenting that statements made by counsel for Mr. Levin were not included in his brief, to which counsel repeatedly responded,  [w]e could’ve done a better job

As suspected by those familiar with the oral argument, the court disposed of the case and the question it supposed.

This case makes a statement about the necessity of experienced, high skilled legal counsel at any phase of litigation. Mr. Levin was not served by his representation and important questions were not answered. If anticipating litigation, seek legal counsel in New York with the experience and knowledge to decisively present your case in any court of law.

Department of Labor Offers Guidance After Supreme Court Decision

In June of this year, the United States Supreme Court ruled in a landmark case that found Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional and in violation of the liberties provided under the Fifth Amendment. In September, the Department of Labor (DOL) issued guidance concerning employee benefit plans as they are affected by the decision.

The Supreme Court decision in United States v Windsor affects interpretation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by plan sponsors, beneficiaries and other parties. In guidance provided by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), the following points are made:

  • The terms spouse and marriage as defined in Title I of ERISA refer to couples of the same or opposite sex that were legally married in any state or jurisdiction.
  • These terms, under ERISA, do not apply to same-sex or other couples who have undertaken civil union or domestic partnerships in a state or jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.
  • The benefits of same-sex couples who are legally married in a state or jurisdiction that recognizes same-sex marriage are protected regardless of whether they currently reside in a state or jurisdiction that does not recognize same-sex marriage.

Under ERISA, those definitions now flow with the legally married couple, regardless of their geographic location. Notes Assistant Secretary for Employee Benefits Security Phyllis C. Borzi, [b]y providing greater clarity on how the Supreme Court’s decision affects one of the laws we enforce, we are contributing to greater equality and greater protection for America’s working families. 

When you have questions about employee benefits, speak with an experienced ERISA attorney in New York.