On February 13, 2016, Justice Antonin Scalia, the anchor of the Court’s conservative wing for nearly three decades, passed away. He leaves behind a distinguished legal career that involved experience in wide range of roles. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Justice Scalia entered private practice and then became a law professor at the University of Virginia. He served in the Nixon and Ford administrations, eventually becoming Assistant Attorney General. Scalia then began his judicial ascension when President Ronald Reagan nominated him to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Soon thereafter, Reagan nominated Scalia to the Supreme Court to replace Justice William Rehnquist, whom Reagan had named to the Chief Justice position. Scalia was unanimously confirmed.
California employers should keep an eye on a new challenge to arbitration provisions on its way to the Governor’s desk. On August 24, 2015, the California Senate passed AB 465, which would make it unlawful for any employer or other company to “require another person to waive any legal right, penalty, remedy, forum, or procedure for a violation of any provision of [the California Labor Code], as a condition of employment, including the right to file and pursue a civil action or complaint with, or otherwise notify, the Labor Commissioner, state agency, other public prosecutor, law enforcement agency, or any court or other governmental entity.” The Senate version eliminates the originally proposed $10,000 per violation penalty, but continues to authorize an award of injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff seeking to enforce the section. The Assembly concurred in the Senate’s amendments on August 27, 2015, and the bill will reach the Governor shortly.
On October 17, 2013, the California Supreme Court revisited the enforceability of arbitration agreements in California. The Court released its decision Sonic-Calabasas Inc. v. Moreno (Sonic II). In that 5 – 2 ruling, the California Supreme Court reversed its prior decision to strike down an arbitration agreement on the ground of FAA preemption, but remanded the case for analysis of the enforceability of the arbitration agreement under an unconscionability analysis. 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 the last several years, the enforcement of agreements to arbitrate disputes, whether between businesses or between businesses and their employees, has become a hotly contested issue in the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court issued two significant pronouncements in this area in the past few years. In 2010, in Stolt-Nielsen S.A. v. Animalfeeds International Corp., 130 S.Ct. 1758 (2010), the Court held that where an agreement to arbitrate is silent on the question of whether a plaintiff can arbitrate her claims on behalf of a proposed class of similarly situated individuals (similar to a class action lawsuit), class arbitration is not permissible. Last year, in AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, 131 S. Ct. 1740 (2011), the Court held that (1) under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), arbitration agreements are to be enforced “according to their terms”; and (2) state law rules prohibiting the use of “class-action waiver” provisions, in which a party waives his or her right to arbitrate claims on a class basis, are preempted by the FAA. Together, these cases stand for the fundamental proposition that the parties to arbitration agreements should be bound by the clear terms of such agreements, especially with respect to class arbitration issues. READ MORE
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
A California Court of Appeal recently required a plaintiff to forego class and representative action claims in Nelsen v. Legacy Partners Residential, Inc., No. A132927 (Cal. App. July 18, 2012) finding that she failed to show the employer’s arbitration agreement was unconscionable or that compelling individual arbitration would violate state or federal law or public policy. Knocking down the attempt to keep class and representative claims alive in either a judicial or arbitration proceeding, the First Appellate District held that all of the plaintiff’s California Labor Code claims, as well her claim for injunctive relief, had to be arbitrated on an individual basis. READ MORE
In Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, (Cal. Ct. App. June 4, 2012), the California Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District affirmed a decision to compel individual arbitration of wage-and-hour claims pursuant to an employment agreement that contained class and representative action waivers, holding that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion was controlling. READ MORE
A new ruling from the Northern District of California, Morvant v. P.F. Chang’s Bistro, Inc. (May 7, 2012), confirms the enforceability of class action waivers despite contrary California law and the National Labor Relations Board’s opinion in D.R. Horton. READ MORE