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Posts Tagged ‘arbitration’

Employers Should Consider “Prevailing Party” Language In Arbitration Clauses

Posted on: March 13th, 2019

By: Ken Menendez

Employers seeking to discourage frivolous claims by employees may wish to consider utilizing a “prevailing party” clause as part of their agreement to arbitrate.

Many employers utilize arbitration as a means of avoiding the generally greater cost and uncertainty of litigation in employment cases. Agreements to arbitrate are even more prevalent in employment agreements with highly compensated or professional employees.

One of the advantages of arbitration is the ability of the parties to the agreement to establish the rules governing the arbitration and arbitration award. In addition to procedural and logistical guidelines, the parties to an arbitration agreement may also authorize the arbitrator or arbitrators to award the costs, including attorney’s fees, of the arbitration to the prevailing party in the arbitration.

Such a clause might read as follows:

The arbitrators shall award the costs and expenses of the arbitration, including attorney’s fees, to the prevailing party as determined by the arbitrators in their discretion.

A “prevailing party clause” such as the foregoing may reduce the number of baseless claims against an employer, as potential claimants will have to weigh the risk of paying the employer’s costs in the event that the arbitrators rule that the employer was the prevailing party.

The foregoing arbitration clause requires the award of costs to the prevailing party. The drafters of the clause could, if they wished to do so, also make the award of costs discretionary simply by changing the word “shall” to “may.” It is also important to note that the foregoing clause requires the arbitrators to determine which party is the prevailing party. Because many employment cases contain both claims and counterclaims, placing the responsibility for identifying the prevailing party on the arbitrators eliminates subsequent disputes between the parties regarding which party was the prevailing party.

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

Latest FINRA Rules to Regulate Expungement Actions

Posted on: February 19th, 2019

By: Margot Parker

FINRA recently announced its approval of enhanced training and guidance for arbitrators hearing expungement requests, an issue under increasing scrutiny as over 90% of such actions are currently granted. The proposal is now under review by the SEC and represents a step toward making it more difficult for brokers to have customer complaints expunged from their public records. The proposed rules also include a ban on compensated non-attorney representatives (NARs) from representing clients in FINRA arbitrations, as part of another step to strengthen the arbitration process.

While a ban on NARs has been widely supported, critics of the expungement process believe more should be done to take the burden away from customers to fight expungement actions. FINRA states that it shares these concerns. To reduce the high volume of expungements in the past, it codified a rule stating: “expungement is an extraordinary remedy that should be recommended only under appropriate circumstances.” With these recent steps, we may continue to see changes in the regulation of FINRA expungement actions in the near future.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Margot Parker at (310) 937-2066 or [email protected].

The Supreme Court Weighs in on Arbitrability, But Questions Remain

Posted on: January 31st, 2019

By: Ted Peters

As reflected in a prior article, the United States Supreme Court recently agreed to take another look at the issue of arbitrability. In the case of Henry Schein, Inc. v. Archer & White Sales, Inc., the Fifth Circuit concluded that the court, and not an arbitrator, had the power to decide the threshold issue of arbitrability. In its ruling, the circuit court embraced the “wholly groundless” argument, concluding that submission of the dispute to the arbitrator was unnecessary because the assertion of arbitrability was “wholly groundless.” This decision underscored the ongoing split of authority among the lower courts wherein some courts, but not all, recognize the “wholly groundless” exception. On appeal, the appellants sought to have the Supreme Court reject the exception as inconsistent with the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), the purpose of which is “to ensure that private agreements to arbitrate are enforced according to their terms.”

On January 8, 2019, newly appointed Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the court vacating and remanding the Firth Circuit’s decision. Writing for a unanimous court, Kavanaugh determined that the “wholly groundless” exception to the general rule that courts must enforce contracts that delegate arbitrability questions to an arbitrator is inconsistent with the FAA and Supreme Court precedent. Not surprisingly, the opinion revisited a number of prior cases in which the Court repeatedly held that the “agreement to arbitrate a gateway issue is simply an additional… agreement the party seeking arbitration asks the federal court to enforce, and the [FAA] operates on this additional arbitration agreement just as it does on any other.” (Opinion at p. 4, quoting Rent-A-Center, 561 U.S. 63, 70 (2010)). Kavanaugh noted that the Court had frequently rejected the argument that a claim of frivolity can derail the parties’ agreement to vest questions of arbitrability with an arbitrator and not a court. Citing Steelworkers v. American Mfg. Co., 363 U.S. 564, 568 (1960), Kavanaugh stated: “A court has ‘no business weighing the merits of the grievance’ because the ‘agreement is to submit all grievances to arbitration, not merely those which the court will deem meritorious.’”

On January 15, 2019, the Court issued a ruling in yet another case involving arbitration, New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira. Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the court. In an 8-0 decision (Kavanaugh took no part in the consideration or decision of the case), the high court affirmed the First Circuit’s determination that a court should determine whether the Federal Arbitration Act’s Section 1 exclusion for disputes involving the “contracts of employment” of certain transportation workers applies before ordering arbitration. Unlike Henry Schein, which addressed the delegation of “gateway” questions of arbitrability, New Prime Inc. involved the judicial assessment of a statutorily based objection to arbitration.

But wait… there’s (one) more: Lamps Plus Inc. v. Varela, Dkt. No. 17-988. That case, argued on October 29, 2018, addresses whether the FAA forecloses a state-law interpretation of an arbitration agreement that would authorize class arbitration based solely on general language commonly used in arbitration agreements. An opinion is expected at any time.

Coming full circle, it is fairly clear that the high court seems to remain firm in its embrace of arbitration agreements without permitting judicial meddling, provided there is “clear and unmistakable evidence” that the parties affirmatively agree to delegate the decision of arbitrability to the arbitrator. (Henry Schein at p. 6, citing First Options of Chicago, Inc. v. Kaplan, 514 U.S. 938, 944). Yet, at the same time, the Justices appear receptive to judicial involvement as long as there is a reasonable statutory basis for it.

The takeaway? Parties to arbitration agreements should rest confident in their ability to affirmatively delegate disputes to arbitration provided that the statutory framework upon which arbitration is based leaves no basis for judicial tinkering. This may provide solace for some, but for many it leaves unanswered questions along with the risks and costs associated with uncertainty.

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

Arbitration Agreements in New Jersey Need More Details

Posted on: November 16th, 2018

By: Chris Curci

On November 13, 2018, the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division, issued an important decision holding that an arbitration agreement between the employer and employee was not enforceable. Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., Docket No. L-6238-17.  The arbitration agreement read:

Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s] employment, the termination thereof, or otherwise arising between [plaintiff] and [defendant] shall, in lieu of a jury or other civil trial, be settled by final and binding arbitration. This agreement to arbitrate includes all claims whether arising in tort or contract and whether arising under statute or common law including, but not limited to, any claim of breach of contract, discrimination or harassment of any kind.

According to the Appellate Division, this agreement was unenforceable because it “failed to identify the general process for selecting an arbitration mechanism.” What exactly does that mean?

In its effort to clarify this standard, the Appellate Division stated that an employer is not required to “detail in the arbitration agreement the exact manner in which the arbitration” will proceed. However, an employer must identify the “forum” for the arbitration and clearly explain how the employee’s judicial rights to a jury trial are being replaced by the arbitration rights.

For example, the Court noted that it would be sufficient for an employer to (1) identify a forum such as the American Arbitration Association (“AAA”) or the Judicial Arbitration and Mediation Services (“JAMS”), and (2) adopt that forum’s rules and procedures. The Court opined that this would be sufficient because AAA and JAMS’s rules and procedures address numerous procedural issues, such as: (1) notification requirements, (2) how to initiate proceedings, (3) management conferences, (4) discovery, (5) the location of the hearings, (6) the number of arbitrators, (7) how to communicate with the arbitrator, (8) attendance requirements, (9) dispositive motions, (10) evidence, (11) modification of awards, (12) and applications for fees, expenses and costs.

In other words, while the arbitration agreement is not required to “detail the exact manner in which the arbitration will proceed,” an employer must specifically identify a forum such as AAA or JAMS and incorporate that forum’s rules and procedures. This allows the employee to fully understand how his or her judicial rights to a jury trial are being replaced by arbitration.

Employers should review their employee arbitration agreements to ensure their enforceability. If you need help with this or any other employment related question, Chris Curci practices Labor & Employment law in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is a member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Labor and Employment Law National Practice Section. He represents employers in litigation and advises clients on all aspects of employment law. He can be reached at [email protected].

Employment Arbitration Agreements are Still Alive in California, At Least For Now

Posted on: October 4th, 2018

By: Rebecca Smith

As Freeman Mathis & Gary brought out in its August 24, 2018 Blog by attorney Dave Daniels, the California Senate had voted to approve Assembly Bill 3080 (“AB 3080”) intended to combat the use of mandatory arbitration agreements and confidentiality clauses to prevent the public disclosure of workplace sexual harassment.  September 30, 2018 was the last day for Governor Brown to sign or veto legislation passed by the California Legislature this year.  Included in the last day of vetoes, Governor Brown vetoed AB 3080.

AB 3080 sought to amend the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the California Labor Code making it an unlawful employment practice to require an applicant, employee or independent contractor to agree to arbitrate claims arising under the Fair Employment and Housing Act and Labor Code.  AB 3080 would also have added Section 432.4 to the Labor Code, which would have barred 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 returning the bill unsigned, Governor Brown pointed to several recent court decisions that invalidated state policies which unduly impede arbitration.  “The direction from the Supreme Court,” Governor Brown indicated “has been clear – States must follow the Federal Arbitration Act and the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Act.”  “Since this bill plainly violates federal law,” Governor Brown indicated in this statement, “I cannot sign this measure.”

So, at least for the time being, California Employers are still able to use arbitration agreements as long as they are drafted with care.  Employers should review all arbitration agreements and practices to ensure that the agreements they are using will withstand challenge, or to update their agreement to comply with recent authorities addressing arbitration agreements.  Additionally, this will, in all likelihood not be the last challenge which will be made to arbitrations in the employment context in California as bills similar to AB3080 have previously been introduced and undoubtedly will be introduced again in the future.

If you have any questions or would like more information please contact Rebecca Smith at [email protected].