Federal Arbitration Act

The United States Supreme Court settled a controversy that had been brewing for half a decade as to whether the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) made enforceable individual agreements to arbitrate employment-related claims in the face of the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) which is seen to protect individuals’ rights to join together and participate in protected “concerted activity” under Section 7 of the NLRA. In a 5-4 decision, written by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court found such class or collective action waivers in arbitration agreements to be enforceable and overturned the decision of the Seventh Circuit in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, (7th Cir. 2016), while resolving a split in the Circuits on this issue. With the resolution of this uncertainty, many other employers may consider individual arbitration agreements, waiving class or collective action, for their employees.
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Earlier this month the United States Supreme Court decided to hear three cases which will resolve the split between various Courts of Appeals (discussed in our prior post here) as to whether individual arbitration agreements barring class arbitration actions in employment-related matters are enforceable. While the Court held in 2011 that the Federal Arbitration Act would allow companies to avoid consumer class actions by insisting upon individual arbitrations in their contracts, AT&T Mobility v. Concepcion, workers have contended that employment contracts are different. They have successfully argued that the National Labor Relations Act prohibits class waivers since it would impinge upon worker’s rights to engage in “concerted activities”. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals accepted such an argument in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis (discussed in our prior post here), and the Ninth Circuit accepted such an argument in Ernst and Young v. Morris. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the same argument in National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil U.S.A.
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The acting general counsel for the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Lafe Solomon, has addressed a number of workplace topics, including social media policies, at-will employment statements and class action waivers in arbitration agreements. In addition, a new NLRB webpage describes the rights of employees, even if they are not in a union. Both of