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Friday Roundup: ADEA, Amicus Briefs, and Student Car Searches

A real hodge-podge at the end of the week:

Age-Discrimination Case Granted: The U.S. Supreme Court today granted review of a case with implications for standards of proof in certain job-discrimination cases.

In Gross v. FBL Financial Services Inc. (Case No. 08-441), the justices will examine whether plaintiffs in non-Title VII cases must present direct evidence of job bias to get a jury instruction for a so-called mixed motive liability standard. Such a standard, which applies when there are legitimate and illegitimate reasons for an adverse job action, generally makes it easier for a plaintiff to prevail.

The court had decided in a 2003 case, Desert Palace Inc. v. Costa, that direct evidence of discrimination is not required for a plaintiff to get a mixed-motive jury instruction in a case under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But it reserved judgment on whether that applied to other employment-discrimination statutes, such as the one at issue in Gross: the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Early Friends of the Court: Over at the online magazine Slate, Adam Chandler has this interesting article about how more friend-of-the-court briefs are more likely to be filed at the petition stage--that is, when a party is first asking the Supreme Court to review its case--by conservative business and social groups than by liberal ones. Chandler urges liberal groups to get involved earlier to help set the court's agenda, since some research has documented that appeals accompanied by friend-of-the-court briefs stand a better chance of getting granted.

One example of an "amicus" briefs at the petition stage by education groups would be this brief by the National School Boards Association, American Association of School Administrators, and the National Association of State Directors of Special Education in Forest Grove School District v. T.A. (No. 08-305), an important special education case raising questions about when schools must pay for private placements of students.

Searching Students' Cars: This case is a few weeks old, but a state appellate court in New Jersey has ruled that a search of a student's vehicle in the school parking lot for drugs was reasonable under the 4th Amendment.

A three-judge panel of the appellate division of New Jersey Superior Court ruled unanimously in New Jersey v. Best that the "reasonable suspicion" standard from the U.S. Supreme Court's 1985 decision in New Jersey v. T.L.O. applied to the car search, rather than a stricter "probable cause" standard."

"In light of the magnitude of the threat that narcotics in a school environment pose to the well-being of students, we have no hesitancy concluding that the T.L.O. standard, rather than probable cause, should govern searches of student vehicles parked on school grounds," the New Jersey court said in a Nov. 10 opinion.

The court stressed that its holding was limited to a search of a student's vehicle on school grounds where school officials limit and control students' ability to park there.

"We leave for another day the more difficult question of the standards to be applied when the student's vehicle is parked on a public street rather than on school grounds, or, if parked on school grounds, when no advance permission to do so is required," the court said.


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