Mintz Levin continues to be at the forefront of issues related to contractual arbitration provisions, helping clients optimize their dispute resolution and risk mitigation processes. Check out our sister blog’s latest post, which pieces together a top-10 list of issues in-house counsel should consider when crafting these provisions.
The Supreme Court is set to hear oral argument in October on whether class and collective action waivers are enforceable. While employers await the Supreme Court’s decision, other courts continue to weigh in on the matter. Just last week, a New York State appellate court in Gold v. New York Life Ins. Co., 2017 NY Slip Op 05695 (App. Div. 1st Dep’t, July 18, 2017), found itself aligned with those federal circuit courts of appeal invalidating these waivers. Given the continuing disagreement among courts across the nation – both federal and state – as to whether the Federal Arbitration Act’s policy favoring arbitration should trump the National Labor Relations Act’s prohibition on contracts that restrict the rights of employees to engage in collective action, the need for clarity from the Supreme Court is more urgent than ever. Employment Matters will of course continue monitoring these important developments, so please check back in for regular updates.
On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed to decide the issue of whether employers may include class/collective action waivers in their arbitration agreements. As we discussed in more detail here, multiple federal appeals courts have split over the issue. This has created a difficult situation for employers and employees, especially where the employer operates in multiple states. By the time the Supreme Court takes up the issue in April, there may be a ninth justice on the bench. We will continue to provide updates as new information becomes available, but in the meantime, we encourage you to visit our sister blog ADR: Advice from the Trenches and read its latest terrific post: When an Arbitration Clause Sounds Permissive But is Not – Does “May” Really Mean “Must”?
With the 9th Circuit’s late summer anti-class action waiver decision, the circuit split widened over the issue of whether employers can require employees, through an arbitration agreement, to waive their rights to bring class or collective actions against their employer. This issue will almost certainly reach the Supreme Court given the deepening divide and the Court’s previous apparent interest in addressing issues surrounding class action waivers and arbitration agreements.
The Seventh Circuit recently became the first federal appellate court to say that employers can’t prevent class/collective actions through waivers in mandatory arbitration agreements, holding that such waivers interfere with employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity in violation of the National Labor Relations Act. The court’s holding in Lewis v. Epic Systems Corp., No. 15-2997 (7th Cir. May 26, 2016), creates a circuit split on this issue and calls into question the effectiveness of such waivers for employers with employees working in states covered by the Seventh Circuit (Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana).
Last month, a federal court in Maryland denied an employer’s motion to compel arbitration even though the plaintiff executed an arbitration agreement the employer had included in the plaintiff’s employment application. The court found the agreement unenforceable because the parties did not have a “meeting of the minds” at the time the employer asked the plaintiff to complete the employment application. This decision serves as an important reminder to employers to examine not just the content of the agreement itself, but also the context around which the contract is executed.
The NLRB has once again held that a mandatory arbitration agreement including a class/collective action waiver violates the National Labor Relations Act. With barely an acknowledgment that the Fifth Circuit reversed its last two decisions reaching the same conclusion, the Board ruled in Amex Card Service Co., No. 28–CA–123865 (Nov. 10, 2015), that Amex committed an unfair labor practice by maintaining and enforcing an arbitration policy that required employees, as a condition of their employment, to resolve all claims against the company through individual arbitration.
Earlier this month, the New Jersey Appellate Division ruled that employee arbitration agreements, to be enforceable, must contain a “clear and unmistakable” waiver of an employee’s right to a trial in court. In Milloul v. Knight Capital Group, the court, finding no distinction between an employee arbitration agreement and a consumer arbitration agreement, extended an earlier 2014 New Jersey Supreme Court decision requiring express right-to-sue waivers in consumer arbitration agreements.
Two Massachusetts decisions—including one from the state’s highest court—applied the same standard regarding enforcement of an agreement to arbitrate. In each case, plaintiffs signed arbitration agreements with another party. Others that were not a party to and did not therefore sign those agreements sought the protections of the arbitration provision, and the courts required the plaintiffs in both instances to arbitrate their claims even against the non-signatory defendants. We briefly discuss these cases and the takeaways below.
Despite overwhelming judicial disapproval, the NLRB simply will not relent in its view that mandatory arbitration agreements containing class/collective action waivers violate the National Labor Relations Act.