Justices Rule on Employment, Immigration, Abuse

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The U.S. Supreme Court announces decisions on cases dealing with employment discrimination, domestic abuse and immigration. David Savage, Supreme Court reporter for the Los Angeles Times, talks with Madeleine Brand about today's developments.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

But first, news from the Supreme Court today. The court sided with a woman who says that after her sexual harassment complaint, her boss retaliated. It's a strike against employers who say claims of retaliation are the fastest growing type of discrimination cases. Joining me from the Supreme Court is David Savage. He covers the court for the Los Angeles Times. And David, remind us of this case. What were the facts involved?

Mr. DAVID SAVAGE (Los Angeles Times): Well, this woman had gone to work for Burlington Northern Railroad in Memphis and was assigned a job as a forklift operator. And a few weeks later, she complained about sexual harassment by her supervisor, and the supervisors and some co-workers had made a series of sexist comments among them. They said women had never worked on this crew before and probably shouldn't work there. So she complains to the ultimate supervisor of sexual harassment and a few days later, she's taken off the forklift operator job and made a track laborer. And so she later complained that she was being retaliated against for having made a complaint of discrimination.

And the reason this case is a big deal is because the Supreme Court had never said before what constitutes retaliation. And today they adopted a definition that really will strengthen the anti-discrimination laws because it basically says any change in your job, if you're shifted to a bad job after you complain about discrimination of some sort, that is retaliation, and it is illegal.

BRAND: So is it any shift or is it - does it have to a be lower paying or a lesser job or a more onerous job?

Mr. SAVAGE: They said that any shift that would be seen as sort of unappealing and might dissuade somebody from complaining. Part of the court's opinion said we're not talking here about really tiny slights; for example if you say, oh, my boss didn't invite me to lunch, and I feel slighted, I feel like I was treated badly and retaliated against. They said we're not talking about trivialities. But if you're taken off a pretty good job and put on a bad job, even if the pay is the same, most people would consider that a type of, you know, unfair bad treatment. And that, if you do it in a context of - in response to complaining about discrimination, the court said that's retaliation and it is illegal.

BRAND: And what will be the likely impact, do you think, on employers?

Mr. SAVAGE: Well, I think it means that employers need to take any complaints of discrimination seriously and can't, you know, sort of punish the person who is complaining.

BRAND: Let's talk about another ruling that the court handed down today. This is the case of an illegal immigrant. His name is Humberto Fernandez-Vargas). He had been in the U.S. for some 20 years, had a family, a business. And he was deported and not allowed back into the country. Tell us what the court ruled in this case.

Mr. SAVAGE: Well, the court basically upheld a 1996 law that said immigrants who are deported and then come back are subject to being deported thereafter. There's no sort of grace period, or even if you come back and live here a while, you're still subject to being removed again. Mr. Vargas had, as you said, been deported, came back to the U.S., lived here a long time, wanted to become a lawful resident, and the Supreme Court said sorry, that '96 law is tough, it's strict, and we're going to enforce what it means, which is if you are deported and come back, you are going to be subject to deportation if you're caught in the future.

BRAND: David Savage, Supreme Court reporter for the Los Angeles Times. Thank you very much.

Mr. SAVAGE: Thanks, Madeleine.

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