Court to address employee rights

Monday, October 1, 2001

WASHINGTON -- When the Supreme Court gets down to business this week, one of the main subjects will be just that -- business.

Forget the high-minded constitutional questions that scholars like to see answered by the country's highest court. Justices will delve into many more basic matters, like what bosses have to do to accommodate an injured worker and when states can help patients fight their HMOs.

More than half the cases on the court's agenda so far involve business.

It's been a decade since the court reviewed so many business matters, court watchers said.

Some deal with technical issues "only a lawyer could love," and others "make everybody's eyes glaze over," said Washington attorney Roy Englert Jr. But the outcomes will be felt by many Americans, he said.

Rulings will involve identity theft, health insurance, repetitive motion injuries, illegal workers' rights, job discrimination, affirmative action in government contracting, land development restrictions and accommodations for disabled employees.

In Tilden, Neb., farmer Keith Dittrich worries an adverse ruling in a corn seed patent fight amid already troubled times for small farmers could "lead to their economic despair and their demise." The court will hear two patent disputes, one expected to be a landmark case.

Other cases

Other decisions could affect how much consumers pay for some high-speed Internet access and how much competition there will be among electricity companies and local phone service providers.

"The court will have an impact on all businesses," said Quentin Riegel, an attorney for the National Association of Manufacturers, in previewing the term which begins Monday.

Many of the parties in the court fights are well-known: Amtrak, AT&T, Toyota, US Airways and Waffle House.

One is not as famous. Akos Swierkiewicz, of Pennsylvania, claims his French employer fired him because he was middle-aged and not French.

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