By Lawrence Hurley and Robert Iafolla
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court will not act until at least the fall on a major business dispute on whether companies can head off costly class action lawsuits, meaning President Donald Trump's nominee to the bench will almost certainly be in place to cast a possible pivotal vote.
The court notified lawyers in the case on Wednesday that the three consolidated cases "will be scheduled for oral argument in the 2017 term," which starts in October, rather than the current term that ends in June.
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The cases, including one involving global professional services giant Ernst & Young[ERNY.UL], concern whether companies can force employees to give up their right to pursue work-related legal claims in court as a group.
At stake is the future of so-called class-action waivers, which employers have increasingly required employees to sign as part of their arbitration agreements to guard against the rising tide of worker lawsuits seeking unpaid wages.
Putting restraints on class action litigation is a major goal of the business community. Such lawsuits can result in large jury awards, while individual lawsuits are easier to defend against by companies.
Trump nominated conservative appeals court judge Neil Gorsuch last week to fill a vacant seat on the court. The high court is ideologically deadlocked pending Gorsuch's Senate confirmation fight, with four liberal justices and four conservatives.
The class action waiver dispute, one of the biggest business cases before the high court, could potentially divide the court, meaning Gorsuch could cast the decisive vote.
(Reporting by Lawrence Hurley and Robert Iafolla; Editing by Will Dunham)