In August of 2016, we reported that the Ninth Circuit created a deeper circuit-split on whether class action waivers in arbitration agreements violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) with its decision in Morris v. Ernst & Young LLP.
As expected, the Supreme Court granted review today of three of the conflicting Court of Appeals decisions. It granted review of the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Murphy Oil USA, Inc. v. NLRB, 808 F.3d 1013 (5th Cir. 2015). The Fifth Circuit rejected the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers unlawfully interfere with employees’ NLRA rights to engage in concerted activity, agreeing with the Second and Eighth Circuits. The Ninth and Seventh Circuits, on the other hand, adopted the NLRB’s position that class action waivers violate the NLRA.
The Supreme Court also granted review in Morris v. Ernst & Young, 834 F.3d 975 (9th Cir. 2016) and Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 823 F.3d 1147 (7th Cir. 2016). The Seventh Circuit held that an arbitration agreement precluding collective arbitration or collective action violates section 7 of the NLRA and is unenforceable under the FAA. The Ninth Circuit agreed and concluded that compulsory class action waivers violate sections 7 and 8 of the NLRA by limiting workers’ rights to act collectively, noting in footnote 4 that agreements containing an “opt-out” clause for pursuing class claims do not violate the NLRA.
All three cases have been consolidated and will be argued together.
Can employers still require employees to sign arbitration agreements with class action waivers as a condition of employment? Last week, the Ninth Circuit became the second appellate court to adopt the National Labor Relations Board’s (“NLRB”) position that class action waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) in Morris v. Ernst & Young LLP.
California’s resistance to the longstanding federal policy favoring arbitration frequently results in public expressions of frustration by the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court. In over five years since the Supreme Court’s broad directives in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. 333 (2011), recent California decisions, including our recent coverage of the California Supreme Court’s holding in Sandquist v. Lebo, Case No. S220812, 2016 WL 4045008 (Cal. July 28, 2016), suggest that the state’s stubbornness may be waning, at least for the time being. The following summarizes key decisions that diverge from California’s traditional resistance to arbitration and which every employer should have in their arsenal of tools.
On May 26, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held that a wage-and-hour class arbitration clause violated the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), setting up a circuit split with the Fifth Circuit, and opening the door for the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on arbitration clauses in employment agreements containing class action waivers.
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.
Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, California employers hoped this day would come. In a predictable result, the California Supreme Court today acknowledged that class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements are enforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). In so doing, the Court overruled its 2007 decision in Gentry v. Superior Court which effectively had barred class action waivers for wage and hour cases. But the Court’s 6-1 plurality decision also bolstered an alternate method for bringing Labor Code claims in court by declaring that actions brought under the Private Attorneys General Act (Labor Code § 2968 et seq.) are not waivable by private agreement and thus not subject to compelled arbitration. READ MORE
Lest there be any lingering confusion, the U.S. Supreme Court has once again reminded us that arbitration agreements are to be “rigorously enforced.” In this latest installment of pro-arbitration decisions from the high court, a majority of the justices (5-3) upheld a class arbitration waiver as enforceable even when the cost of individually arbitrating a federal statutory claim exceeds the potential recovery. Although the decision arose in the antitrust context, the broad language in the opinion opens the door for enforcement of class action waivers in wage-and-hour class and collective actions where employers have included such waivers in their arbitration agreements with their employees. READ MORE
Ever have that feeling that your arbitrator just doesn’t understand you? You may be right, but there’s not much you can do about it. A recent unanimous ruling by the United States Supreme Court should encourage employers to review the language in their arbitration agreements to ensure clarity on the issue of class arbitration. In Oxford Health Plans LLC v. Sutter, No. 12-135, slip op. at 4-5, 8-9 (U.S. June 10, 2013), the Supreme Court reiterated that parties who agree to arbitration and ask the arbitrator to decide an issue are stuck with the “good, bad, or ugly” decision of the arbitrator. Even where, as in this case, the arbitrator makes a dubious decision that the parties’ contract allows class arbitration, Federal Arbitration Act § 10(a)(4) does not allow a court to second-guess that decision.
Sutter, a pediatrician, and Oxford Health Plans, an insurance company, entered into a contract for services that included the following arbitration clause: “[n]o civil action concerning any dispute arising under this Agreement shall be instituted before any court, and all such disputes shall be submitted to final and binding arbitration . . . .” Id. at 1-2. Later, Sutter brought suit in state court on behalf of himself and a proposed class of other doctors alleging that Oxford Health Plans had violated their contracts and various state laws. Id. Upon Oxford Health Plans’ motion, the case was compelled to arbitration. Id. at 2. Critically, the parties agreed that the arbitrator should decide whether their contract authorized class arbitration, and the arbitrator determined that, based on the terms of the clause quoted above, it did. See id. at 2, 3. Oxford Health Plans brought a motion in federal court arguing the arbitrator’s decision should be vacated on the ground that he had “exceeded [his] powers” under Federal Arbitration Act § 10(a)(4). Id. 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