Federal Arbitration Act

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.”

Continue Reading US Supreme Court Rejects A “Wholly Groundless” Exception To Clauses Delegating Arbitrability

Welcome news for employers: companies can require their workers go through arbitration to pursue any legal claims against their employers, rather than go to court or join together in class lawsuits or grievances, the US Supreme Court held today in a 5-4 vote.

Writing for the majority in three consolidated cases (Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, NLRB v.  Murphy Oil  USA, Inc., and Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris), Justice Neil Gorsuch said the Federal Arbitration Act sets a strong policy favoring the enforcement of arbitration agreements, and employees of the three companies failed to show they had any right to disregard the arbitration agreements they signed.

The policy may be debatable but the law is clear: Congress has instructed that arbitration agreements like those before us must be enforced as written. While Congress is of course always free to amend this judgment, we see nothing suggesting it did so in the NLRA — much less that it manifested a clear intention to displace the Arbitration Act. Because we can easily read Congress’s statutes to work in harmony, that is where our duty lies.

The ruling means that companies can enforce their class action waiver agreements and their employees will have to pursue their claims in individual arbitration proceedings. Please stay tuned for more to come from us on the actions employers should take now in response to this important decision.

On January 13, 2017, the US Supreme Court agreed to determine whether arbitration agreements that include class action waivers are legally enforceable under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In doing so, the Court granted the petitions for certiorari, and consolidated, three cases from the US Court of Appeals for the Fifth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits.  While the Fifth Circuit has ruled that class action waivers are enforceable, the Seventh and Ninth Circuits have disagreed and held that class action waivers violate the NLRA.  The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has also continued to hold that class action waivers violate the NLRA and interfere with employees’ rights to engage in concerted activity.  A ruling by the Supreme Court on the issue should resolve the Circuit Court split, provide nationwide guidance, and end the patchwork approach that has been adopted by US employers who utilize arbitration and class waivers.  The Supreme Court’s decision is expected before the end of June 2017.

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