Last week, the United States Supreme Court issued its long-awaited decision in Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana (US 20–1573 6/15/22) (“Moriana”). The singular question presented to the Court was whether the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) requires enforcement of arbitration agreements waiving an employee’s right to assert “representative” claims under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). In response, the Court provided two answers: (1) wholesale waivers of an employee’s right to bring any PAGA claims in any forum will not be enforced; yet (2) arbitration agreements can require an employee to arbitrate their own individual PAGA claims, leaving the absent employees’ claims subject to dismissal.
For context, PAGA is a decades-old law that allows private citizens to step into the shoes of the Labor Commissioner, essentially turning “aggrieved” employees into bounty-hunters for the State’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency (“LWDA”). Specifically, PAGA litigants are authorized to recover civil penalties on behalf of the State for certain Labor Code violations, which would otherwise be recoverable only by the Labor Commissioner. If successful, employees receive a 25 percent share of civil penalties recovered, with the remaining 75 percent going to the LWDA. And another thing, PAGA allows for the recovery of attorneys’ fees and costs, which are often exponentially larger than the underlying civil penalties and statutory damages recovered—leaving no surprise as to why PAGA has become such a popular vehicle for plaintiffs’ attorneys.
President Biden is expected to soon sign into law the Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (the “Act”), which was recently passed by both houses of Congress. President Biden has long supported measures to limit mandatory arbitration clauses in general and specifically endorsed the Act, which received bipartisan support.
The Act will amend the Federal Arbitration Act to limit every employer’s ability to mandate predispute arbitration of an employee’s claims of sexual harassment or sexual assault. The salient language provides:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, at the election of the person alleging conduct constituting a sexual harassment dispute or sexual assault dispute, or the named representative of a class or in a collective action alleging such conduct, no predispute arbitration agreement or predispute joint-action waiver shall be valid or enforceable with respect to a case which is filed under Federal, Tribal, or State law and relates to the sexual assault dispute or the sexual harassment dispute.
On December 15, the U.S. Supreme Court changed course and announced that it would decide whether representative claims brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (known as “PAGA”) can be waived by an otherwise enforceable arbitration pact—taking on a years-long conflict between the California Supreme Court’s 2014 Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC decision (holding that arbitration agreements cannot bar PAGA claims) and the U.S. Supreme Court’s own 2018 Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis decision (holding that courts must enforce arbitration agreements under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), including those containing class/collective action waivers). You can read more about the Epic Systems holding in Epic Shift: Supreme Court Enforces Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Agreements and The Epic Systems Decision: Where Do Employers Go from Here?
Critics of Iskanian and its progeny essentially argued to the U.S. Supreme Court that it allowed an end run around the FAA, which preempts any state law that restricts the enforceability of arbitration agreements.
The petition was filed on behalf of Viking River Cruises, one of many filed by employers across the Golden State this year, each asking the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the Iskanian versus Epic Systems PAGA conflict.
The Blank Rome team will be watching this one closely and with bated breath, as the Supreme Court’s ruling will impact thousands of businesses and have fundamental and profound effects on representative litigation both in California and across the United States.
The hopes of California gig economy companies to retain the flexibility to classify workers as independent contractors were dashed this week when a federal district court judge refused to enjoin Assembly Bill 5 (“AB5”), which codifies the “ABC” test for most independent contractor classifications.
Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB5 into law last fall, effecting a seismic change on California’s legal landscape. Effective January 1, 2020, the law makes it nearly impossible for companies to lawfully classify most workers as independent contractors (rather than employees). The bill expands on California Supreme Court’s three-prong “ABC” test from its 2018 Dynamex decision for determining how workers can be classified, which you can read about here. With certain limited statutory exceptions, AB5 provides that, to properly classify a worker as an independent contractor in California, an employer must demonstrate that the worker: (A) is free from the company’s control and direction; (B) performs work outside of the company’s usual course of business; and (C) is customarily engaged in independent work of the same nature as the work performed. There is no balancing, as all three factors must be met. Continue reading “California Corner: The Employee v. Contractor Saga Continues as Uber and Postmates Face First Defeat in Attempt to Enjoin AB5”
UPDATE: Today, a federal court preliminarily enjoined the enforcement of AB-51 (California’s anti-arbitration law discussed here, here, and here) as it relates to arbitration agreements governed by the Federal Arbitration Association (“FAA”). We will get a detailed order from the court soon, but the minute order issued today is below. A great reminder to employers who wish to implement arbitration that the agreement should always expressly state it is governed by the FAA. Continue reading “Breaking: California Grants Preliminarily Injunction of AB-51”
UPDATE: On December 29, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California issued an order temporarily enjoining the enforcement of AB 51 (California’s anti-arbitration law discussed here and here) pending resolution of plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction, highlighting the “likelihood of irreparable injury” to California employers, and noting plaintiffs had “raised serious questions regarding whether the challenged statute is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act as construed by the United States Supreme Court.”
The court will hear plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction on January 10, 2020.
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.
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!”
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.
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?”