What Arlington v. FCC means for employment law May 21, 2013
The Supreme Court’s decision in Arlington v. FCC is helpful both to employees and to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. In Arlington, a six justice majority held that federal courts owe “Chevron deference” to how an administrative agency interprets its own jurisdiction. ”Chevron deference” essentially means that a court must defer to an agency’s interpretation of a statute, even if the court believes the agency made a mistake. So long as the agency’s interpretation is not “arbitrary or capricious” – that is, patently contrary to the statute itself – its interpretation has the full force and effect of law. Chevron deference has been around for a long time, but Arlington is the first Supreme Court case to hold that agency interpretations of agency jurisdiction are entitled to it.
Why should employees (and employers) care about the case? Because it means the EEOC can largely determine the scope of its enforcement jurisdiction over the civil rights laws. Lots of employment cases rise and fall on the application of EEOC regulations to the facts. When those regulations support employees, employers often challenge them as having exceeded the scope of the EEOC’s regulatory jurisdiction. Arlington means that federal courts can no longer review such challenges from scratch (or in legal terms, de novo). Rather, they must afford substantial deference to the EEOC’s decision that it had the power to issue the regulation.
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