As the new year approaches, California employer associations have taken action to prevent Assembly Bill (“AB”) 51 from taking effect. As referenced in this BR Workplace Post, AB 51, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom on October 10, 2019, prohibits mandatory arbitration in cases under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) and California Labor Code, and also prohibits employers from retaliating against individuals who do not consent to arbitration agreements. AB 51 is in part motivated by the #MeToo movement, and part reflective of California’s ongoing battle against the U.S. Supreme Court’s unwavering support of arbitration. It is designed to ensure employees maintain the right to bring FEHA and wage-and-hour actions in court, rather than forced arbitration as a condition of employment.
As employers across the state stare down the barrel of AB 51, the California Chamber of Commerce filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief in federal court in California last week seeking to prevent AB 51 from going into effect on the grounds that it is invalid and preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). The FAA has a long-established policy favoring arbitration as a means for efficient and individualized alternative dispute resolution. The U.S. Supreme Court has also steadfastly refused to allow employees to circumvent the FAA and file actions in court.
The hearing on the motion for preliminary injunction is set for January 10, 2020, nine days after AB 51’s effective date. Only time will tell how the court will rule. In the meantime, employers should contact legal counsel to determine the best, tailored course of action given their specific operations, workforce, and overall risk tolerance.