On January 20, the United States Supreme Court denied certiorari in CLS Transportation Los Angeles LLC v. Iskanian, leaving intact a decision by the California Supreme Court holding that representative Private Attorney General Act (PAGA) claims cannot be waived in arbitration agreements. Enacted in 2004, PAGA deputizes private citizens to seek penalties on behalf of the state by bringing representative suits for workplace violations.
After the California Supreme Court’s recent decision in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation, which held that PAGA representative action waivers are unenforceable under California law, employers have struggled with whether to retain such waivers in their arbitration agreements. The answer to whether such waivers should be retained is not as straightforward as one might expect.
Joining the ever growing list of opinions on the arbitrability of class claims, an NLRB Administrative Law Judge recently ruled that an arbitration agreement that did not expressly bar workers from bringing class or collective actions still violated federal labor law because the employer’s steps taken to enforce the agreement in court had the practical effect of doing so. READ MORE
Despite increasing rejection of the NLRB’s controversial D.R. Horton decision by almost all federal courts which have considered it, an NLRB administrative law judge recently felt there was no choice but to follow Board precedent and so applied and affirmed its holding. These cases illustrate the growing divide between the NLRB and courts over the D.R. Horton decision and the growing trend of federal courts refusing to uphold its enforcement. READ MORE
Reversing a denial of a motion to compel arbitration in Parisi et al. v. Goldman, Sachs & Co. et al., the Second Circuit held that a plaintiff does not have a substantive right to bring a pattern and practice claim under Title VII. The plaintiff at issue in Parisi alleged gender discrimination under Title VII, seeking to bring her claims on behalf of herself and a putative class of female Goldman Sachs employees. During her employment, the plaintiff signed a broad arbitration agreement, which covered her discrimination claims and did not contain a provision providing for class-wide arbitration. READ MORE
Employers in California have been watching closely to see how courts will apply the United States Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), which held that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempted state law concerning the enforceability of class action waiver provisions, in which a party waives his or her right to arbitrate claims on a class basis. READ MORE
In a succinct opinion issued on November 26, 2012, the Supreme Court delivered a stern warning to state courts that fail to enforce arbitration clauses accompanying noncompetition agreements. In Nitro-Lift Technologies, L.L.C. v. Howard, 568 U.S. ____ (2012), the employment contracts between two energy-sector employees and their employer contained a two-year noncompetition provision and a mandatory arbitration clause. After the employees joined a competitor, the employer commenced an arbitration proceeding, prompting the employees to bring suit in Oklahoma state court seeking an injunction preventing enforcement of the noncompetition agreements. Despite the mandatory arbitration clauses, Oklahoma’s highest court declared the noncompetition agreements unenforceable under a state law prohibiting restraints on an employee’s ability to work in the same industry. READ MORE
Since the United States Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, more and more employers have sought to get out of court and into arbitration when dealing with employee disputes. The California Courts of Appeal, however, are not making that easy when it comes to an employer’s burden to show the existence of a valid agreement to arbitrate. Several months ago, the Second Appellate District held in Sparks v. Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services that an arbitration policy in an employee handbook was not enough to force arbitration. Similar decisions have reached the same conclusion, e.g., Carey v. 24 Hour Fitness USA, Inc., (5th Cir. Jan. 25, 2012). READ MORE
In a July 30, 2012 decision the Second Appellate District of the Court of Appeal ruled that an employee was not bound by the arbitration clause in his employee handbook for a slew of reasons:
- the clause itself was buried (or as the Court said “not specifically highlighted”) in a lengthy handbook and was not called to the employee’s attention;
- the employee did not specifically acknowledge the clause or agree to arbitrate, but merely signed an acknowledgment of receipt of the handbook itself;
- the handbook contained a (relatively) standard clause that it was not intended to create a contract but, the employer also “had it both ways” and retained the rights to unilaterally amend the handbook’s provisions;
- the employer failed to provide the employee with the specific arbitration rules; and
- the clause itself was found unconscionable: procedurally, because the employer did not distribute the rules governing the arbitration to employees and because the issue of arbitration was not negotiable and, substantively, because it required the employee to relinquish administrative and judicial rights and made no express provision for discovery rights.
While this decision points out the pitfalls of this particular factual scenario, it also highlights some nuances. As courts reinvigorate their scrutiny of arbitration clauses and agreements, due to what this Court called “the increasing phenomenon of depriving employees of the right to a judicial forum,” employers may want to revisit and revise their handbook language.
In its landmark Concepcion and Stolt-Nielsen decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that courts must enforce private agreements to arbitrate according to their terms, even if doing so results in the enforcement of a class action waiver provision or otherwise compels a plaintiff to arbitrate her claims on an individual basis. Perhaps the biggest issue facing California employers since Concepcion and Stolt-Nielsen has been whether Gentry v. Superior Court – in which the California Supreme Court articulated a four-factor test for invalidating class arbitration waivers – remains viable. Thus far, California and federal courts addressing Gentry in light of Concepcion have done so in one of two diametrically-opposed ways: by upholding Gentry’s rationale and applying it, or by declaring its end. READ MORE