Sotomayor’s Even-Handed Record on Employment Cases

Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor has an even-handed record when it comes to discrimination lawsuits and employment cases, in particular. Since becoming a federal appellate judge in 1998, she has written several opinions and dissents which sided with persons alleging discrimination, including an African-American elementary school student who claimed his demotion from first grade to kindergarten was racially motivated, and a law school graduate who needed extra time to take the bar exam because of a reading and learning disability. In the realm of employment law, she has ruled in favor of a security guard who filed his case too late because of a medical condition, a female police office who alleged sexual harassment and retaliation, and a group of job applicants who were denied jobs because there were taking medication.

At the same time, however, Judge Sotomayor has issued a number of decisions which went against employees. Recently, she ruled against a group of New York City fire alarm inspectors who asserted that they should be compensated for all or part of their commuting time because they are required to carry inspection documents during their commutes. She also upheld the trial court’s denial of an employee’s request to enter an injunction against her employer, seeking to prohibit the employer from retaliating against her witnesses by firing or disciplining them. In another case, she ruled that a group of corrections officers had not satisfied their burden of proving a connection between their whistleblowing and their employer’s decision to discipline them.

The media has unanimously decided that Judge Sotomayor is a “moderate.” Her fellow judges on the Second Circuit and commentators appear to agree. After reviewing some of her court decisions myself, I also agree that Judge Sotomayor is a very middle of the road jurist, at least with respect to discrimination and employment cases. In my view, President Obama has made a very wise political appointment — one that will put him in the history books for appointing the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice, and at the same time leaves little room for opposition from congressional Republicans.