Despite the hubbub, a new California law purportedly banning mandatory employment arbitration agreements does not completely change the game, and federal law still allows employers to use such agreements.

On October 10, 2019, Governor Newsom signed AB 51 (to be codified as Cal. Lab. Code § 432.6(c)). The new law on its face prohibits employers from requiring California employees to arbitrate certain employment disputes, even if the employees are given the option of opting out of arbitration. More ominously, AB 51 criminalizes retaliation against employees who refuse arbitration, among other remedies.


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As previously detailed here, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2018 Epic Systems decision established that requiring employees to waive their right to pursue collective or class actions does not violate the National Labor Relations Act’s “catchall” protection—the right to engage in “concerted activity”—and courts must enforce arbitration agreements as written.

The Supreme Court not only confirmed the legality of class action waivers under the Federal Arbitration Act, but it also narrowly construed the NLRA’s catchall provision as focused on the right to organize unions and bargain collectively in the workplace.

The Court’s holding that the right to engage in such “concerted activities” does not guarantee collective or class action procedures underpins a recent NLRB decision concerning issues of first impression: imposing and requiring as a condition for continued employment a new class action waiver rule in response to collective action.


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This article was originally published on Law360.com.

Three recent decisions arising under the National Labor Relations Act highlight that ambiguity and inattentiveness are the twin banes of labor and employment attorneys. In all three cases, the dispute arose because two personnel policies or approaches overlapped, opening the way for conflicting claims. As these cases demonstrate,

In June, a federal district court in New York ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preempts a recent state law prohibiting mandatory arbitration agreements in sexual harassment cases. Latif v. Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC  marks the first time that a federal court has ruled on this issue.

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Baker McKenzie’s Mike Leggieri and Robin Samuel were recently interviewed on how best to avoid class arbitration in light of the US Supreme Court April 2019 Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela decision.

In Lamps Plus, the Supreme Court held that when an arbitration agreement is ambiguous on the availability of class arbitration, courts

While the benefits of arbitration clauses in employment documents with US employees are highly publicized and well known, arbitration clauses with employees outside of the US (OUS) are much less prevalent due to enforceability issues and administrative hurdles.

Unlike in the US, where arbitration can often be quicker, limit opportunities for appeal, and affords greater confidentiality, this is not always the case OUS.


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Last Wednesday, the US Supreme Court issued yet another pro-employer arbitration decision.

In a 5-4 split, the Supreme Court held in Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela that a party cannot be compelled to submit to a class arbitration (as opposed to the arbitration of individual claims) unless the arbitration agreement explicitly authorizes class proceedings in arbitration.

In doing so, the Supreme Court reiterated two key aspects of its Federal Arbitration Act jurisprudence:

  1. Arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion; and
  2. Class arbitration is fundamentally different than the traditional individualized arbitration envisioned by the FAA.

Because, according to the majority opinion, class arbitration so fundamentally changes the nature of arbitration, a party can only be forced to litigate class claims in arbitration under the FAA if there is a contractual basis for concluding that the party agreed.


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An update from our neighbors to the north (with thanks to Chris Burkett, partner in our Toronto office):

In January, the Ontario Court of Appeal (in Canada) overturned the lower court’s decision in Heller v. Uber Technologies Inc., 2019 ONCA 1. The Court of Appeal held that an arbitration clause requiring arbitration in the Netherlands of disputes between drivers and Uber to be invalid and unenforceable. Based on the presumption that Uber drivers are employees of Uber, the Court of Appeal found that the arbitration clause was a prohibited contracting out of Ontario’s Employment Standards Act, 2000 (ESA).
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Co-authored by Mike Leggieri (Employment & Compensation Partner, SF) and Steven Chasin (Litigation Associate, DC)

To paraphrase Pharaoh Ramses II, so it is written, so it shall be done.

In Schein, Inc. v. Archer and White Sales, Inc., 586 U.S. __ (January 8, 2019), the first opinion by Justice Kavanaugh, a unanimous Supreme Court reiterated this principle of the Federal Arbitration Act. Specifically, the Court confirmed that when an arbitration agreement delegates to an arbitrator the question of whether the agreement applies to a particular dispute, courts have no power to decide this question, even if a court considers the arbitrability argument to be “wholly groundless.”


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2018 was, without a doubt, another extraordinary year for US employers. The #MeToo movement continues to have a tremendous impact on the workplace. In addition, the thorny issue of how to manage contractor classifications in the gig economy continued to evolve and new DOJ enforcement activity is heightening concerns about no-poaching agreements and other antitrust