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Total Articles: 27

Appellate Court Nixes Employee Arbitration Agreements

Overview: By Decision dated July 19, 2017 (the “Decision”), the Appellate Division, First Department (the “First Department”) (which has jurisdiction over Manhattan and Bronx) held that arbitration agreements obligating employees to waive their rights to bring collective disputes, such as class actions regarding wage disputes, were unlawful and unenforceable because they “run afoul of the National Labor Relations Act” (the “NLRA”). Though freely acknowledging that the United States Supreme Court will resolve a similar issue in its October 2017 Term, the Decision currently binds the trial courts in Manhattan and Bronx and has precedential effect for other trial courts throughout New York. The Decision can be appealed to New York’s highest court, the New York Court of Appeals.

First Circuit Applies FAA Transportation Worker Exception to Independent Contractors

The First Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case of first impression, recently issued an important ruling that will have a major impact on transportation companies using arbitration agreements in the states and territories located within the First Circuit (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, and Puerto Rico). Specifically, on May 12, 2017, the court ruled in Oliveira v. New Prime, Inc., No. 15-2364 that (1) when a federal district court is ruling on a motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), the court—and not the arbitrator—must first determine if the FAA applies, and (2) the FAA Section 1 transportation worker exception applies to independent contractor arrangements. The First Circuit’s ruling in Oliveira has deepened the circuit split on the issue of whether the determination of FAA coverage is an arbitrable issue and has made it that much harder for transportation companies to utilize arbitration agreements with independent contractors in the First Circuit.

Supreme Court Emphatically Defends Arbitration Agreements from State Interference

On May 15, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court reiterated the principle that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) requires states to treat arbitration agreements just as they treat other types of contracts. In Kindred Nursing Centers L.P. v. Clark, the Court reversed in part a decision of the Kentucky Supreme Court, which had instituted a new rule chipping away at the enforceability of arbitration agreements under certain circumstances.1 Justice Kagan wrote the majority 7-1 opinion and, moreover, was joined by other liberal-leaning members of the Court.2 While newly-confirmed Justice Gorsuch did not participate, the Kindred Nursing Centers decision reaffirms the Supreme Court’s continued commitment to uphold arbitration agreements under the FAA to the greatest extent possible.

Beauty School (Arbitration) Dropout: Ninth Circuit Bars Belated Attempt to Arbitrate

Defendants who try their hands at litigation on the merits and seek arbitration only after things don’t go their way, risk losing the right to arbitrate—as the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made clear in the recent case of Martin v. Yasuda . In the case, the court barred a beauty school and its president from arbitration after they took a series of actions the court held were inconsistent with the right to arbitrate. These included filing a mostly unsuccessful motion to dismiss, submitting a detailed discovery plan to the court, negotiating with the plaintiff regarding discovery responses, telling the judge “we are probably just better off being here in the court,” and waiting for 17 months after the start of the case to move to compel arbitration.

Ninth Circuit Rules that Arbitration of USERRA Claims is Permissible

In Ziober v. BLB Resources, Inc., 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 18516 (9th Cir., Oct. 14, 2016), the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit joined three other circuit courts in holding that the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) does not prohibit the compelled arbitration of claims under the Act. The Ninth Circuit’s ruling helps solidify the right of employers to compel arbitration of USERRA claims under a valid arbitration agreement, particularly in light of this Circuit’s perceived hostility towards arbitration of employment-related claims. Ziober provides further support for the view that a properly drafted arbitration agreement provides employers with the ability to arbitrate USERRA claims and avoid litigation.

9th Circuit Rules Reservist Must Arbitrate Employment Claim

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA) does not prohibit a mandatory arbitration clause covering all employment discrimination claims. The finding in Ziober v. BLB Resources, Inc., is significant because the San Francisco-based federal appellate court has occasionally struck down mandatory arbitration provisions in other cases.

Will Your Arbitration Program Survive the Contractor Blacklisting Regulations?

The arbitration restrictions contained in Executive Order 13673, Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces (EO 13673), have been largely overshadowed by other parts of the so-called “contractor blacklisting” rules. Nonetheless, for those federal contractors that have adopted or are considering adopting an employee arbitration program, the arbitration restrictions in EO 13673 are just as significant—and more imminent.

The Big Uber Arbitration Win, As Explained By 3 Fisher Phillips Lawyers

A few days ago, Uber won a significant battle when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a lower court’s decision and upheld the company’s arbitration agreements. No doubt about it, this is a big win. You might remember a few weeks ago when I wrote a post entitled, “Will Uber Actually Be Happy It’s $100M Settlement Fell Apart?” If I had a chance to edit that post now, I’d replace the six paragraphs of analysis with a one-word answer:

Remember That Good News On Class Waivers? Forget What We Said

There’s a great scene in the Naked Gun movie where Lieutenant Frank Drebin (Leslie Nielsen) is trying to clear a crowd forming around a crime scene, except that the crime scene happens to be a fireworks factory on fire. While a massive pyrotechnic fireworks show is going on behind him, Drebin vainly yells to the gathering crowd, “Move along! Nothing to see here! Please disburse! Nothing to see here!”

Ninth Circuit Finds Uber’s Arbitration Agreements Enforceable After All

On September 7, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Mohamed v. Uber Technologies, Inc. largely overturned the District Court’s ruling which had held Uber’s arbitration agreements to be unenforceable. Last year, the District Court had held that the arbitration agreements were unconscionable due to the inclusion of a waiver of claims brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”). The decision invalidated nearly 250,000 arbitration agreements between Uber and independent drivers, allowing the case against Uber to proceed as a class action in civil court.

Federal Appeals Court Hands Uber Major Victory In Arbitration Agreement Fight

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals delivered a significant victory to Uber and other gig economy businesses by reversing a trial court’s denials of Uber’s motions to compel arbitration in companion class action lawsuits brought by former drivers in Massachusetts and California. The decision not only provides tremendous leverage to Uber as it continues to fight class action litigation over classification issues, but it also boosts gig employers in their efforts to require mandatory arbitration instead of costly courtroom battles.

Working Around the Courtroom: Is Arbitration for You?

Within hours of Gretchen Carlson suing then-Fox News CEO Roger Ailes for sexual harassment, Ailes’ attorney responded that Carlson was “desperately attempting to litigate [her termination] in the press.” It didn’t take much longer for Ailes to follow this comment with a formal motion to thwart Carlson’s supposed dreams of a public trial; two days after Carlson instituted her lawsuit, Ailes filed a motion to compel arbitration of the claims pursuant to an arbitration provision contained in Carlson’s employment agreement with Fox News.

Has the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Expanded the Grounds for Reviewing Arbitration Awards?

A fundamental tenet of arbitration is that arbitration awards are subject to very limited review and are rarely vacated due to an error in contract interpretation. The Illinois Uniform Arbitration Act sets forth just five limited grounds under which a court can vacate an arbitration award, including fraud; evident partiality; where the arbitrators exceeded their powers; where the arbitrators refused to permit material evidence; or where no arbitration agreement existed. 710 ILCS 5/12. Illinois courts will usually not vacate an arbitration award for mere “errors in judgment or mistakes of law” unless “gross errors of judgment in law or [ ] gross mistake[s] of fact” are “apparent on the face of the award.” Rauh v. Rockford Products Corp., 574 N.E.2d 636, 644 (Ill. 1991).

DIRECTV v. Imburgia

Last week, in DIRECTV v. Imburgia, the United States Supreme Court issued a decision once again re-affirming the strong federal policy in favor of arbitration.

U.S. Supreme Court Rejects California Limitation on Arbitration Agreements with Class Action Waivers

Despite recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions strongly upholding the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements, opposition to class action waivers on both the political and legal fronts persists, especially in California.

Supreme Court Rebukes Another California Anti-Arbitration Ruling

Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued its opinion in DirectTV v. Imburgia, reversing a California Court of Appeal’s refusal to enforce a consumer arbitration agreement containing a class action waiver. The case involves a service agreement between DirectTV and its consumers, stating that any dispute between DirectTV and the consumer will be resolved by binding, individual arbitration and that the consumer waives the right to pursue any claim on a class basis. However, the agreement further provided that if the class waiver is unenforceable under “the law of your state” (the state where the consumer resides), then the entire arbitration provision will be deemed unenforceable.

SCOTUS Channels The FAA To Uphold DirecTV's Arbitration Clause

In a 6-3 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today in favor of the enforceability of arbitration clauses, once again communicating the court’s enduring preference for the enforcement of arbitration provisions. Although today’s decision did not specifically involve employment law, it should give a boost to those companies that choose to utilize arbitration agreements with their workforces. DirecTV, Inc. v. Imburgia.

Legal Alert: Fifth Circuit Further Strengthens Class Action Waivers with Latest DR Horton Decision

Executive Summary: In a long awaited decision, D.R. Horton v. National Labor Relations Board, (Case. No. 12-60031, Dec. 3, 2013), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals vacated the January 2012 ruling of the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB") that invalidated an employee's arbitration agreement containing a class action waiver.

Employers Should Reassess Strategy in Light of New Rulings from the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court of the United States recently issued two landmark rulings affecting the viability of arbitration as an alternative to costly litigation. As a result, every employer of every size needs to reassess whether the protections an arbitration agreement can afford are worth the potential negative ramifications.

Will Your Arbitration Agreement Be Enforceable After September 30, 2013?

Some employers have decided that it is beneficial to try to avoid public lawsuits and arbitrate disputes they may have with their employees. Such employers typically require employees to agree to arbitration at the time of employment by including such language in their employment applications or other documents that are signed by employees.

D.R. Horton Decision on Class Action Waivers in Mandatory Arbitration Agreements Draws Decidedly Negative Reaction from Federal Courts

In January, we reported on the National Labor Relations Board’s (NLRB) controversial decision in D.R. Horton, Inc. and the broad implications that it had for both union and non-unionized workforces. The NLRB’s decision in D.R. Horton is pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. Meanwhile, a majority of federal district courts who have addressed the issue have disagreed with the NLRB and have refused to follow its holding, creating a “perfect storm” which could lead to a Circuit Court split (and perhaps a Supreme Court decision) or a reversal of the NLRB’s holding.

SUPREME COURT CONTINUES TO GREENLIGHT EMPLOYMENT ARBITRATION (pdf).

The U.S. Supreme Court continues to issue rulings favorable to arbitration agreements in the employment setting. Employers who have arbitration agreements with their employees, or those considering putting such agreements in place, should make sure their agreements are drafted and updated to take full advantage of developing Supreme Court precedent. The two most recent Supreme Court decisions and their implications for employers are addressed below.

U.S. Supreme Court Tackles Arbitration Case.

On June 21, with Justice Antonin Scalia writing for a 5-4 majority, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an important decision for employers that are utilizing or are considering adopting arbitration agreements. The Court addressed the enforceability of an arbitration agreement (included as part of an employment contract), which stated that the arbitrator determines the enforceability of the contract. According to the majority, because the employee in this case challenged his employment contract as a whole, rather than specifically chal-lenging the provision in the agreement granting the arbitrator the authority to determine enforceability (the "delegation provision"), the agreement to arbitrate must be evaluated by the arbitrator, not a court.

The Next Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act?

The first bill signed into law within days following President Barack Obama's inauguration was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. This law extended the statute of limitations for filing charges of discrimination in compensation beyond the statutory 180/300 days from the alleged discriminatory act by making each new pay check a separate violation triggering a new period of charge filing (even if it was decades after the act in question). The law reversed the U.S. Su-preme Court's 5-4 decision in Lilly Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. It was passed without congressional hearings or even a mark-up in a congressional committee.

Supreme Court Bypasses Constitutional Question In Arbitration Ruling.

On December 8, 2009, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision holding that a panel of the National Railroad Adjustment Board (NRAB) violated the Railway Labor Act (RLA) when it refused to hear five grievance cases on the ground that the railroad and the union had not presented sufficient evidence to show that they had completed the required "conferencing" before arbitration.

U.S. Supreme Court Set To Begin New Term Justices To Review Arbitration And Disparate Impact Bias Cases.

In early October, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments in the 2009-2010 term. There are currently seven cases on the docket that involve employment and labor related issues or are likely to impact these areas. One of the most notable of these will decide how much time plaintiffs have to file a lawsuit when they believe they have been unfairly penalized by hiring tests. Other cases will resolve issues involv-ing an alleged whistleblower, pension benefits, race discrimination, and labor arbitration.

Hotel's "Refusal" to Arbitrate Does Not Breach Arbitration Agreement.

Employers with currently valid arbitration agreements should keep in mind that nothing lasts forever. Just as the world is constantly changing, so too are court decisions relating to implementation and enforcement of arbitration agreements always evolving. The case at issue involves the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which covers ten states in the western United States. But circuits read each others' cases and the principles established by one are frequently applied elsewhere. This case points up the need to always be aware of any binding arbitration agreements and their details when dealing with employee issues.
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