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Posts Tagged ‘arbitration’

California Attacks Arbitration Agreements …. Yet Again!

Posted on: August 24th, 2018

By: Dave Daniels

On August 22, 2018, the California Senate voted to approve AB 3080, a bill prompted by the #MeToo movement against sexual harassment. Nominally, the bill is intended to combat the use of mandatory arbitration agreements and confidentiality clauses to prevent the public disclosure of workplace sexual harassment, a practice vigorously opposed by the #MeToo movement. As written, however, AB 3080 goes much further, imposing a ban on mandatory arbitration agreements for all claims of employment discrimination, retaliation, and harassment, as well as wage and hour claims.

The bill is currently on Governor Jerry Brown’s desk, awaiting his signature or veto. If signed, the new law would apply to any employment contracts “entered into, modified, or extended” on or after January 1, 2019, and would make several sweeping changes to the California employment law landscape:

Ban on Mandatory Arbitration Agreements

Arbitration agreements are ubiquitous in employment contracts and provide for a low-cost, efficient means of resolving employment disputes.

AB 3080 would put a stop to this by adding Section 432.6 to the Labor Code, which would prohibit any person from requiring an applicant or employee, “as a condition of employment, continued employment, the receipt of any employment-related benefit, or as a condition of entering into a contractual agreement,” “to waive any right, forum, or procedure” for claimed violations of the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) or the California Labor Code.

In other words, if AB 3080 is signed, it will be unlawful—indeed a misdemeanor—for an employer to require its employees to enter into mandatory arbitration agreements for any claims covered by FEHA (i.e., discrimination, retaliation, harassment) or the Labor Code (i.e., wage and hour claims).

While the bill only applies to mandatory arbitration agreements, Section 432.6(c) makes clear that employers will not be able to sidestep the new prohibitions by using opt-out clauses or otherwise requiring an employee to “take any affirmative action to preserve their rights.”  Moreover, Section 432.6(b) prohibits employers from threatening, terminating, retaliating against, or discriminating against any employee or applicant who refuses to voluntarily sign an arbitration agreement.

Finally, because these new provisions appear in the Labor Code, violations could subject employers to civil penalties under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act, also known as PAGA.

Elimination of Settlement Agreements

Because AB 3080 prohibits any person from requiring an applicant or employee “to waive any right, forum or procedure” “as a condition of entering into a contractual agreement,” it arguably also eliminates or curtails employers’ ability to enter into settlement and general release agreements with their employees for FEHA and Labor Code claims.  Given that the vast majority of these types of claims are settled, the full extent of AB 3080’s impact remains uncertain.

Ban on Confidentiality Agreements for Sexual Harassment

AB 3080 would also add Section 432.4 to the Labor Code, which would bar any person from prohibiting an applicant, employee, or independent contractor, “as a condition of employment, continued employment, the receipt of any employment-related benefit, or as a condition of entering into a contractual agreement,” from “disclosing to any person an instance of sexual harassment that the employee or independent contractor suffers, witnesses, or discovers in the workplace or in the performance of the contract.”

In short, employers will no longer be able to impose confidentiality obligations on their employees or independent contractors with respect to claims of sexual harassment.

Individual Liability

Importantly, AB 3080 applies to any “person” who commits any of the above-noted violations, not just an employer.  An earlier version of the bill was restricted to “an employer,” but was subsequently amended to replace “an employer” with “a person,” signaling the Legislature’s intent to impose individual liability for violations.

What Employers Should Know Now

For the moment, as it awaits Governor Brown’s signature, AB 3080 is still not the law.  In 2015, Governor Brown vetoed a similar bill, AB 465, which would have outlawed the use of mandatory arbitration agreements as a condition of employment.  In his veto message, Governor Brown noted that there is significant debate about whether arbitration is less fair to employees, and explained that he was “not prepared to take the far-reaching step proposed by this bill.”  Remember, however, that Governor Brown’s term ends in January 2019, and a re-introduced version of the bill could find a more sympathetic audience in his successor.

Even if Governor Brown signs the bill, there will be immediate legal challenges arguing that the bill is unenforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act, which the United States Supreme Court has steadfastly enforced, most recently in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis. AB 3080 is just the latest in a long history of California’s antagonism towards arbitration agreements, both in the employment context and beyond.

Notwithstanding the hurdles that AB 3080 faces, employers should now begin reviewing their arbitration agreements and practices in light of these potential changes.  In particular, employers will want to think about best approaches to take during the period after the bill is signed and legal challenges work their way through the courts.

If you have any questions regarding the state of arbitration agreements in the Golden State, please feel free to contact Dave Daniels in our Sacramento office at 916-472-3301 or [email protected].

Arbitration Agreement Litigation Wins Continue to Fall Like Dominoes for Pizza Hut

Posted on: June 26th, 2018

By: Tim Holdsworth

Following the Supreme Court’s opinion in Epic Systems that class and collective actions waivers in arbitration agreements are enforceable, a federal court recently granted a motion to compel arbitration to one of the nation’s largest Pizza Hut franchisees in a lawsuit in Illinois.

In Collins et al. v. NPC International Inc., case number 3:17-cv-00312, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois, drivers from Illinois, Florida, and Missouri filed a collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act asserting that their employer had failed to reimburse them for vehicle expenses. In May 2017, the judge stayed the franchisee’s motion to compel individual arbitration pending the Supreme Court’s ruling in Epic Systems. The franchisee renewed that motion after the Supreme Court’s ruling, and the judge granted it.

The drivers will now have to bring their claims individually against the franchisee in arbitration, likely saving the franchisee expenses and time.

Epic Systems gave credence to arbitration agreements containing class and collective action waivers, and employers using them continue to reap the benefits. If you have any questions about the issues above or want to learn more about implementing arbitration agreements, please contact me at [email protected], or any of Freeman, Mathis & Gary’s experienced labor and employment law attorneys.

FINRA to Pick Up the Check on Unpaid Arbitration Awards?

Posted on: March 8th, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

As recently reported, unpaid FINRA arbitration awards is a growing problem.  As FINRA has acknowledged, roughly one quarter of FINRA arbitration awards issued in 2016 went unpaid.  If lawmakers have their way, FINRA itself may ultimately be stuck with the check, and be required to pay such awards.

On March 6, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass, introduced legislation that would require FINRA to compensate investors for unpaid arbitration awards.  The Compensation for Cheated Investors Act would direct FINRA to establish a “relief fund” pool that could be used to provide investors with the full value of unpaid arbitration awards against brokerage firms or brokers regulated by FINRA.  The fund would derive “first from penalties paid by brokers and then from sources determined by FINRA.”  In the event FINRA fails to take steps to establish such a fund, the bill proposed by Sen. Warren would nevertheless require FINRA to compensate investors from its general budget.  The bill also provides that FINRA may require investors to subrogate their claims against brokers, and that FINRA may pursue additional remedies against the brokers.

Also of note, FINRA would not be permitted to limit the amount that an investor may receive from the relief fund, nor would FINRA be allowed to prohibit any investor from submitting a claim to the fund.  FINRA would also be required to annually disclose, among other things, the total number of arbitration awards issued in favor of investors against brokerage firms or brokers under its watch, the number and amount of unpaid awards, and the names of the brokerage firms/brokers at issue.

If you have questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].

Using Summary Judgment during the Arbitration Process

Posted on: February 22nd, 2018

By: Erin E. Lamb

Many attorneys assume that once a case is in private arbitration, dispositive motions are against the rules and are no longer a useful tool to resolve cases. How could an arbitrator have the power to consider a dispositive motion? After all, arbitration is sold to all parties as a process that all parties must willingly opt into — in the interest of limiting the complexities of arbitration, not adding to them, as dispositive motions do. Most attorneys participating in arbitration therefore would never think of pursuing dispositive motions, even when faced with res judicata or statute of limitations issues.

This is an incorrect and unduly limiting view of the arbitration process. None other than the Supreme Court of the United States, has upheld the power of an arbitrator to adopt procedures necessary to give effect to the parties’ arbitration agreement. Stolt-Neilsen v. AnimalFeeds International, 559 U.S. 663 (2010).  It’s up to the arbitrator to determine procedural questions by looking at the arbitration agreement. In turn, most arbitration agreements invoke an arbitration providers’ rules. Most rules, including the most recent American Arbitration Association rules (last updated in 2009), indirectly give arbitrators expansive powers and wide latitude in the procedures used to give effect to the arbitration agreement.

The 2009 American Arbitration Association rules, still in effect ten years later, state that arbitrators are required to “take such steps as they may deem necessary or desirable to avoid delay and to achieve just, speedy, and cost-effective resolution of large, complex, commercial cases.” In fact, in AAA commercial cases, the rules directly address dispositive motions: “The arbitrator may allow the filing of and make rulings upon a dispositive motion only if the arbitrator determines that the moving party has shown that the motion is likely to succeed and dispose of or narrow the issues in the case.” The use of “only” makes the rule seem limiting; in reality, it directly gives arbitrators the ability to hear and rule on said motions. Multiple federal courts have affirmed arbitration awards where the arbitrator ruled on a motion for summary judgment or on summary disposition. Some arbitration provider’s rules even specifically allow for it – the JAMS rules specifically allow for the filing of dispositive motions even under objection from the other side.

Simply put, unless your arbitration agreement specifically, plainly, and expressly prohibits dispositive motions, an arbitrator is empowered to grant any relief necessary to reach a final determination of the matter, including dispositive motions. Only in the face of a specific written agreement would an arbitrator be acting outside the contractually delegated authority of the arbitration agreement. This is an important thing to consider for all attorneys in arbitration cases – and at the time of the agreement to arbitrate, not after.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Erin Lamb at [email protected].

Unpaid FINRA Awards May Result in Tighter Membership Rules Governing Brokers and Member Firms

Posted on: February 16th, 2018

By: Theodore C. Peters

On February 8, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (“FINRA”) released a discussion paper: FINRA Perspectives on Customer Recovery, which openly addressed the reality that roughly one quarter of FINRA arbitration awards issued in 2016 were unpaid.  According to the paper, of the total of 2,457 arbitration cases in 2016, 1,747 were settled, 212 were withdrawn, 389 were closed by award, and 109 were closed “by other means.”  In releasing the paper, FINRA stated that it “hopes to encourage a continued dialogue about addressing the challenges of customer recovery across the industry.”  FINRA also indicated in the paper that it plans to organize discussions with other regulators and policy makers, “to further address the issue of customer recovery, identify additional data or analysis that may help inform effective decision-making in this area, and consider potential courses of action.”

On the same day, FINRA published Regulatory Notice 18-06, addressing its Membership Application Program (“MAP”).  The Notice does not alter FINRA’s current MAP protocols, but it clearly indicates FINRA’s intent to tighten rules governing membership including, among other things, the transfer of a registered persons from one broker-dealer to another when they have unpaid arbitration claims.  “FINRA is proposing to amend the MAP rules to allow FINRA to take a stronger approach to addressing the issue of pending arbitration claims, as well as arbitration awards and settlement agreements related to arbitration that have not been paid in full in accordance with their terms.”

In their current form, MAP rules permit consideration of a pending arbitration against an associated person as a factor in assessing whether the applicant meets the standards for admission.  However, “a pending arbitration does not create a presumption of denial.”  The amendments proposed by FINRA would give its Department of Member Regulation “rule-based authority to preemptively deny an NMA [new member application] if the applicant or its associated persons are subject to pending arbitration claims.”  This presumption would not apply to continuing membership applications. Further, the proposed amendments would allow the applicant to overcome this presumption if he demonstrated his “ability to satisfy the pending arbitration claims.”

In addition, the proposal would disallow certain business expansions where one or more of the associated persons involved have a “covered pending arbitration claim.”  Such claims are defined as “those whose amount (either individually or in the aggregate) exceed the member’s excess net capital.”

Finally, the amendments proposed by FINRA would disallow “any direct or indirect acquisitions or transfers of a member’s assets or any asset, business or line of operation where the transferring member or one or more of its associated persons has a covered pending arbitration claim, unpaid arbitration award or unpaid settlement related to an arbitration” under certain conditions.

The Notice seeks comment on the proposed amendments.  Comments are due by April 9, 2018.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Ted Peters at [email protected].