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Supreme Court hears Ashcroft immunity, pregnancy discrimination cases

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; briefs] Wednesday in two cases. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether high-ranking US officials are protected by qualified immunity from suit for alleged religious and ethnic discrimination by their subordinates. Javaid Iqbal, a Pakistani national detained during a terror sweep after the 9/11 attacks [JURIST news archive], filed a lawsuit against former US Attorney General John Ashcroft, FBI Director Robert Mueller [official profiles], and other officials, alleging that he was subjected to abuse during his detention in a Brooklyn jail because of his religion and ethnicity. The US Appeals Court for the Second Circuit [official website] allowed the lawsuit to go forward [opinion, PDF], but the Bush administration appealed the ruling, arguing that the officials were protected from suit for the acts of their subordinates. Counsel for petitioners argued that "these allegedly discriminatory determinations, classifications, were made by FBI officials in the field, not Petitioners here, the former Attorney General and director of the FBI. Counsel for the respondents argued that petitioners not only knew about, but approved the policy.

In AT&T Corp. v. Hulteen [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether maternity leave taken before the passage of the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act [EEOC backgrounder] can be considered in calculating employee pensions. The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] that AT&T violated the act by failing to award employees credit for time taken off work for maternity leave before 1978. Counsel for the petitioner argued that the claims are stale and that the employees had fair and adequate notice of the employer's actions. Counsel for respondents argued that this is discrimination within a seniority system that gives "unequal credit for equal service."

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