In 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Auer v. Robbins, establishing the standard for what has become known as Auer deference (or Seminole Rock Deference from Bowles v. Seminole Rock and Sand Co. (1945)). This decision and the standard it set is significant for employers because it gives substantial latitude to federal agencies, like the Department of Labor, to interpret their own ambiguous standards. Specifically, in Auer, the Supreme Court held that an Agency’s, in this case the Department of Labor, interpretation of its own standards is “controlling unless ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’” In other words, if it’s not clear what is required by the plain language of the standard, the Court will generally defer to the Agency’s own reasonable interpretations of its regulations.
However, the Supreme Court will now have the opportunity to reconsider Auer deference in the case of Kisor v. Wilkie. On December 10, 2018, the Court agreed to review Question 1 of the petition for certiorari, which specifically asks “[w]hether the Court should overrule Auer and Seminole Rock.” Continue reading