Justia Arbitration & Mediation Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law
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California’s Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) authorizes any “aggrieved employee” to initiate an action against a former employer on behalf of himself and other current or former employees to obtain civil penalties that previously could have been recovered only by California’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency. California precedent holds that a PAGA suit is a “representative action” in which the plaintiff sues as an “agent or proxy” of the state. Moriana filed a PAGA action against her former employer, Viking, alleging multiple violations with respect to herself and other employees. Moriana’s employment contract contained a mandatory arbitration agreement with a “Class Action Waiver,” providing that the parties could not bring any class, collective, or representative action under PAGA, and a severability clause. California courts denied Viking’s motion to compel arbitration.The Supreme Court reversed. The Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1 (FAA), preempts California precedent that precludes division of PAGA actions into individual and non-individual claims through an agreement to arbitrate. Viking was entitled to compel arbitration of Moriana’s individual claim. Moriana would then lack standing to maintain her non-individual claims in court.A PAGA action asserting multiple violations under California’s Labor Code affecting a range of different employees does not constitute “a single claim.” Nothing in the FAA establishes a categorical rule mandating enforcement of waivers of standing to assert claims on behalf of absent principals. PAGA’s built-in mechanism of claim joinder is in conflict with the FAA. State law cannot condition the enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate on the availability of a procedural mechanism that would permit a party to expand the scope of the anticipated arbitration by introducing claims that the parties did not jointly agree to arbitrate. View "Viking River Cruises, Inc. v. Moriana" on Justia Law

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Rusco Operating, L.L.C. and Planning Thru Completion, L.L.C. are two companies that offer an online application (“app”) that connects oil field workers looking for work with oil-and-gas operators looking for workers. The companies seek to intervene here because some app-using workers have opted-in as plaintiffs alleging claims for unpaid overtime, under the Fair Labor Standards Act, against an operator that used the app to hire them. The app companies’ asserted interests in the litigation related to arbitration agreements between them and the workers, their belief that a win by the workers would destroy their business model, and a demand for indemnity allegedly made by Defendant operator for liability it might incur as to Plaintiffs’ claims. The district court found these interests insufficient to justify intervention and denied leave   The Fifth Circuit reversed, concluding that the arbitration agreements at issue give rise to sufficient interest in this action to support the app companies’ intervention. The court explained that Appellants  have shown adequate interest in the subject of this lawsuit by virtue of their contracts with the parties, and “disposing of the action may as a practical matter impair or impede the [Intervenors’] ability to protect [their] interest.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 24(a)(2). By contrast, no other party in this action will adequately represent the Intervenors’ interest. They should therefore be allowed to intervene of right. View "Field v. Rusco Operating" on Justia Law

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Saxon, a Southwest Airlines ramp supervisor, frequently loads and unloads cargo alongside the ramp agents. Alleging that Southwest was failing to pay proper overtime wages to ramp supervisors, Saxon brought a putative class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Saxon’s employment contract required her to arbitrate wage disputes individually; she claimed that ramp supervisors were a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce,” exempt from the Federal Arbitration Act, 9 U.S.C. 1.The Supreme Court affirmed the Seventh Circuit, holding that the act of loading cargo onto a vehicle to be transported interstate is itself commerce according to the “ordinary, contemporary, common meaning” of the word. By referring to “workers” rather than “employees,” the FAA directs attention to “the performance of work” and the word “engaged” similarly emphasizes the actual work that class members typically carry out. Saxon is a member of a “class of workers” based on what she frequently does, physically loading and unloading cargo on and off airplanes, and not on what Southwest does generally. Exempted workers must at least play a direct and “necessary role in the free flow of goods” across borders. Cargo loaders exhibit this central feature of a transportation worker. View "Southwest Airlines Co. v. Saxon" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, sued her former employer, alleging a variety of employment law violations. Defendant moved to dismiss her suit and to compel arbitration. Defendant supported the motion by presenting an arbitration agreement bearing what appeared to be the worker’s electronic signature. In a sworn declaration, however, the worker categorically and specifically denied that the signature was hers. She also pointed to other circumstantial evidence as to its inauthenticity. The district court concluded that the worker’s evidence was insufficient to create a triable issue of fact, and so granted the restaurant’s motion.   The Second Circuit vacated the district court’s grant of Defendant’s motion to dismiss and to compel arbitration. The court held that the district court erred when it disregarded Plaintiff’s sworn declaration as “nothing more than a de facto extension of [her] pleadings.”The court explained that it resolves agreement-formation questions by applying the law of the state at issue. Here, under New York law, when moving to compel arbitration, “[t]he party seeking . . . arbitration bears an initial burden of demonstrating that an agreement to arbitrate was made.” As such, the burden shifted to Plaintiff, who needed to counter with at least “some evidence . . . to substantiate [her] denial” that an agreement had been made. Here, Plaintiff’s detailed accounting, under oath, is “some evidence” that she did not agree to arbitration. Thus, there is a triable issue of fact as to whether she ever received, or became aware of, Defendant’s arbitration agreements, regardless of whether she ultimately signed them. View "Barrows v. Brinker Restaurant Corporation" on Justia Law

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Appellant is a pipeline-inspection company that hires inspectors and sends them to work for its clients. When Plaintiff was hired, Appellant had him sign an Employment Agreement that contained an arbitration clause. That arbitration provision explained that Plaintiff and Appellant agree to arbitrate all claims that have arisen or will arise out of Plaintiff’s employment. Appellant staffed Plaintiff on a project with Defendant, a diversified energy company that stores and transports natural gas and crude oil.   Alleging that the Fair Labor Standards Act entitled him to overtime pay, Plaintiff filed a collective action against Defendant; he brought no claims against Appellant. Appellant moved to intervene. The magistrate judge granted that motion, explaining that Appellant met the criteria for both permissive intervention and intervention as of right. Appellant claimed that it was an “aggrieved party” under Section 4 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) and thus could compel arbitration. The magistrate judge rejected all the motions. The district court affirmed.   The Fifth Circuit dismissed for lack of jurisdiction Appellant’s appeal. The court held that Appellant is not an aggrieved party under Section 4 of the FAA and cannot compel arbitration. The court explained it is only where the arbitration may not proceed under the provisions of the contract without a court order that the other party is really aggrieved. Here, Plaintiff only promised to arbitrate claims brought against Appellant. Claiming that Plaintiff did not arbitrate its claims with Defendant is therefore not an allegation that he violated his agreement with Appellant. View "Hinkle v. Phillips 66 Company" on Justia Law

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James P. Key, Jr. appealed a circuit court order denying his motion to compel arbitration of his claims against Warren Averett, LLC, and Warren Averett Companies, LLC (collectively, "WA"). Key alleged that he was a certified public accountant who had been employed by WA for 25 years and had been a member of WA for 15 years; that he had executed a personal-services agreement ("PSA") with WA that included a noncompete clause; and that WA had sent him a letter terminating his employment. Key sought a judgment declaring "that the Non-Compete Clause and the financial penalty provision contained in the PSA is not applicable to Key and is an unlawful restraint of Key's ability to serve his clients as a professional." The Alabama Supreme Court found that whether Key's claims against WA had to be arbitrated was a threshold issue that should not have been decided by the circuit court; nor was it appropriate for the Supreme Court to settle the issue in this appeal. Accordingly, the circuit court's order was reversed, and the case was remanded for the circuit court to enter an order sending the case to arbitration for a determination of the threshold issue of arbitrability and staying proceedings in the circuit court during the pendency of the arbitration proceedings. View "Key v. Warren Averett, LLC, et al." on Justia Law

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The Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation (“Sycuan” or “Tribe”), a federally recognized Indian tribe, sought the reversal of the district court’s order granting labor union, Unite Here Local 30’s (“Unite Here”), motion for judgment on the pleadings with respect to its own complaint and motion to dismiss Sycuan’s counterclaim. Unite Here alleged that Sycuan violated the labor provisions of a contract between the two parties respecting the operation of a casino. The union brought suit to compel arbitration of that dispute pursuant to a clause contained in the contract. Sycuan opposed arbitration.   The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s judgment on the pleadings in favor of Unite Here and the district court’s dismissal of a counterclaim brought by Sycuan. The court held the district court had original jurisdiction over Unite Here’s claims. Further, the court held that the district court had supplemental, but not original, jurisdiction over Sycuan’s counterclaim because the Declaratory Judgment Act does not confer jurisdiction, and Section 301 of the Labor Management Relations Act could not confer federal question jurisdiction.   The court concluded that the arbitrator should decide issues of contract validity, and the counterclaim rested on an issue of contract validity. Accordingly, the district court’s declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction served economy, convenience, and fairness. The court also held that Unite Here and Sycuan formed an agreement to arbitrate because Sycuan promised California that if any union made certain promises to the tribe, Sycuan would automatically enter into a bilateral contract with that union adopting the TLRO’s terms. View "UNITE HERE LOCAL 30 V. SYCUAN BAND" on Justia Law

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The San Diego City Attorney brought an enforcement action under the California Unfair Competition Law, Business and Professions Code sections 17200, et seq. (UCL), on behalf of the People of California against Maplebear Inc. DBA Instacart (Instacart). In their complaint, the State alleged Instacart unlawfully misclassified its employees as independent contractors in order to deny workers employee protections, harming its alleged employees and the public at large through a loss of significant payroll tax revenue, and giving Instacart an unfair advantage against its competitors. In response to the complaint, Instacart brought a motion to compel arbitration of a portion of the City’s action based on its agreements with the individuals it hired (called "Shoppers"). The trial court denied the motion, concluding Instacart failed to meet its burden to show a valid agreement to arbitrate between it and the State. Instacart appealed, arguing that even though the State was not a party to its Shopper agreements, it was bound by its arbitration provision to the extent the State sought injunctive relief and restitution because these remedies were “primarily for the benefit of” the Shoppers. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order. View "California v. Maplebear Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff was a floor supervisor at the Defendant hotel and casino. In 2015, Defendant required all employees to sign a new arbitration policy as a condition of employment. Plaintiff signed the new policy. The following year, Defendant fired Plaintiff after Plaintiff accepted counterfeit $100 bills during his shift. In 2019, Plaintiff obtained a right-to-sue letter from DFEH and brought causes of action under wrongful termination, age discrimination, retaliation and harassment.In 2020, Defendant responded to Plaintiff's claim, but failed to move to compel arbitration. However, on December 23, 2020, 13 months after Plaintiff filed his lawsuit, Defendant moved to compel arbitration. The trial court denied Defendant's motion, finding that the 13-month wait prejudiced Plaintiff and that Defendant had waived its right to compel arbitration.The Second Appellate District reversed, finding Plaintiff's allegations of prejudice were insufficient. Waiver does not occur merely by participating in litigation; the case must reach the point of judicial litigation before a court will find a party waived the right to compel arbitration. The court also rejected Plaintiff's claim that the arbitration agreement was unconscionable. View "Quach v. Cal. Commerce Club" on Justia Law

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Defendant, a foreign oil company, contracted with Ecuador to develop an oil-rich region of the rainforest. Defendant paid its Ecuadorian employees a sizable portion of its annual profits. The government canceled the exploration contract and expropriated Occidental’s property, leading to massive losses. Profits and profit-sharing abruptly ceased. Occidental sought arbitration and, a decade later, received a nearly billion-dollar settlement from Ecuador. Plaintiffs, a group of Occidental’s former Ecuadorian employees, then sued Occidental, claiming the arbitration settlement represented profits they were entitled to share. The district court correctly dismissed the employees’ claims. On appeal, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims holding that Defendant owes its former employees no shared profits for the relevant year. The court reasoned that under the plain terms of Ecuadorian law, a company’s profit-sharing obligation depends on the profits lawfully declared in its annual tax returns. Plaintiffs maintained that tax returns are “not the exclusive mechanism for determining profit-sharing liability.” However, the court held Ecuador's law is clear that the calculation [of profits shall be conducted on the basis of the declarations or determinations prepared for the payment of Income Tax, and Occidental’s tax returns for the interrupted year of 2006 showed not profits but losses. View "Cisneros Guerrero, et al v. Occidental Petro, et a" on Justia Law