Lawyers for JPMorgan Chase & Co. moved to pause the U.S. Department of Labor’s gender bias case against the bank in the immediate aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that threw the status of administrative courts into question, according to a document obtained by The National Law Journal.
McGuireWoods partner William Doyle, representing JPMorgan, asked a Labor Department judge in June to “stay all proceedings in this matter” to let the attorneys and presiding judge resolve how the high court’s ruling in Lucia v. SEC might affect the government’s discrimination case.
The docket in the case doesn’t show whether the judge approved JPMorgan’s pitch, a filing released to the NLJ through a public records request. Doyle did not immediately return requests for comment, and JPMorgan and the Labor Department declined to comment about the effort to freeze the case. The bank has lost earlier attempts to dismiss the Labor Department’s claims, which allege discriminatory pay practices against female employees. The case was filed at the end of the Obama administration.
Administrative law judges and federal appeals judges are now grappling with the scope of the Supreme Court’s ruling in Lucia. The split Supreme Court ruling said administrative law judges should be appointment by the president, courts or department heads and not by agency staff. Some 40 administrative judges at the Labor Department hear issues that include wage-and-hour disputes, whistleblower claims and immigration matters.
Questions are arising over whether companies and individuals should get new hearings in front of different administrative judges, or even whether a particular case should be dismissed. One federal appeals court recently said a challenger to an agency decision should get a new hearing in front of a different administrative judge. This month, the National Labor Relations Board rejected a challenge to an in-house judge and ruled they were validly appointed.
U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in December “ratified” the appointment of the agency’s in-house judges to head off challenges from companies and employees. Acosta said the ratification was “intended to address any claim that administrative proceedings pending before, or presided over by, administrative law judges” violates the Constitution’s appointments clause.
Doyle’s request to pause JPMorgan’s case did not make any argument about what the bank thinks should happen now in the aftermath of Lucia.
The Labor Department’s Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs, an enforcement and regulatory arm, brought the case against JPMorgan in January 2017. Doyle, who joined McGuireWoods in 2015, formerly served as deputy director of the contracts office.
The office investigates whether federal contractors are discriminating in employment, including on the basis of race, religion and sex. An adverse ruling against a company could threaten the ability to obtain future federal contracts. Other contracts could be canceled as a penalty for noncompliance.
The complaint against JPMorgan claims the financial institution “systematically discriminated against female employees” in certain position by paying them less than male counterparts since at least May 2012. The Labor Department alleged JPMorgan paid at least 93 female employees less than comparable men employed in the same positions and that the bank failed to evaluate compensation systems applicable to the employees.
JPMorgan’s lawyers have called the Labor Department’s claims “unfounded” and “conclusory,” and they have argued the purported evidence failed “to state a plausible claim of systemic discrimination” against female employees.
The JPMorgan lawsuit is one of the three major cases the Labor Department brought at the end of the Obama administration. The agency also brought actions against Google Inc. and Oracle Corp. Both of those cases are pending. Google has fought the release of pay data, and Oracle was sued for alleged discriminatory employment practices, including pay equity violations.
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