California Employers Fight Back on Governor Newsom’s Attempt to Prevent Mandatory Arbitration Agreements, Seeking to Enjoin AB 51

Natalie Alameddine

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.

Shocker!? Scary New California Employment Laws – Coming to You January 1!

Caroline Powell Donelan and Taylor C. Morosco

California Governor Gavin Newsom went on a bill-signing frenzy earlier this month, enacting 17 new bills into law. Below, we highlight the “Big Five” which will have a certain and critical impact on any business with workers in the Golden State.

AB 51 Prohibiting Mandatory Arbitration. California’s battle against arbitration wages on! For agreements “entered into, modified, or extended” on or after January 1, 2020, AB 51  prohibits employers from requiring current employees or applicants to “waive any right, forum, or procedure for a violation” of the Fair Employment and Housing Act or the California Labor Code. This necessarily means that an employer will not be permitted to require applicants or employees to consent to mandatory arbitration as a condition of employment. Notably, employees may still voluntarily consent to arbitration, and AB 51 does not apply to “postdispute” settlement agreements or “negotiated” severance agreements, terms that beg for clarification. AB 51 prohibits retaliation against individuals who refuse to consent to such agreements and even authorizes injunctive relief and attorneys’ fees to any plaintiff who proves a violation. There is no doubt that this bill will be challenged under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), which preempts any state law that “stands as an obstacle” to enforcing arbitration agreements. While the bill contemplates and tries to avoid preemption by expressly stating it is not “intended to invalidate a written arbitration agreement that is otherwise enforceable under the [FAA],” similar attempts by the state have been rejected. Continue reading “Shocker!? Scary New California Employment Laws – Coming to You January 1!”

Have Employers Taken Home the Iron Throne with Lamps Plus?

Caroline Powell Donelan and Taylor C. Morosco

On April 24, 2019, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 5–4 opinion in Lamps Plus, Inc., et al. v. Varela holding that class arbitration is only allowed when the parties’ agreement explicitly allows for it. In other words, when an arbitration agreement is silent or even ambiguous as to whether class-wide proceedings are allowed, claims must be arbitrated on an individual basis.

Lamps Plus is the latest decision from our highest court bolstering the enforceability of individual arbitration in the workplace.

In this post, we’ll take a semi-deep dive into Lamps Plus and evaluate potential implications for your workplace as well as for future litigation strategies. Continue reading “Have Employers Taken Home the Iron Throne with Lamps Plus?”

The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?

Emery Gullickson Richards

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis has significant ramifications for the scope of class action waivers in employee arbitration agreements. In each of the three consolidated cases that the Court’s opinion addressed, the plaintiffs were pursuing class/collective actions with Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) claims for unpaid overtime. Plaintiff Sheila Hobson’s FLSA claim in the Murphy Oil case had been dismissed by the trial court as a result of the arbitration provision in the employment agreement she signed when she started work at a gas station in Alabama. By contrast, plaintiff Jacob Lewis, a technical communications employee, had overcome a motion to dismiss his FLSA overtime class action in the Epic Systems case by arguing that a class action waiver in an arbitration agreement that had been emailed to him by his employer was unenforceable. In the Ernst & Young case, plaintiff Stephen Morris sought unpaid overtime under the FLSA and the California Labor Code for working long hours during audit season. As a result of the Supreme Court’s ruling, after remand, all of these claims now appear destined for arbitration unless they are resolved. The Epic Systems decision represents a broader affirmation, however, that arbitration agreements are enforceable regardless of the nature of an employee’s claim, even if the claims are brought pursuant to employment statutes that explicitly provide for class or collective actions. Continue reading “The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?”

Epic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements

Emery Gullickson Richards

The Supreme Court issued a landmark decision on May 21, 2018, which has widespread implications for all employers. In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Gorsuch, the Supreme Court held that arbitration agreements and class/collective action waivers are enforceable, putting to rest any argument that the National Labor Relations Act prevents or limits their enforceability. The decision provides employers further options for limiting litigation risk, particularly with respect to costly wage and hour collective actions. The decision also contains important implications for employers that maintain or are considering implementing arbitration agreements in the workplace, as there is no longer any identified legal impediment to the concept of an employer requiring its employees to waive the ability to bring a class or collective action under federal, state, and local employment laws. Continue readingEpic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements”