On October 29, 2018, the Supreme Court heard oral argument concerning class arbitration in employment law claims in Lamps Plus, Inc. v Varela. What’s on the line? Whether general arbitration clauses in employment contracts preclude the right to a collective or class arbitration.
Cases affecting class arbitration in employment law claims
Dallas employment law attorney, Ben DuBose, says “Last year, the Supreme Court’s Epic Systems ruling struck a big blow by holding that arbitration clauses in employment papers override a worker’s rights to bring Fair Labor Standards Act claims in the court system.” Now, DuBose says, “Lamps Plus could further whittle down worker rights.”
The lower appellate court found against Lamps Plus by holding that the general arbitration clause, which did not expressly state it prevented collective or class arbitration, because of its ambiguity permitted class or collective arbitration.
While Lamps Plus does not directly involve Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) claims, its impact could apply to a broad range of employment law based claims.
The combination of last year’s Epic Systems ruling which held that forced arbitration clauses are enforceable in employment contracts, coupled with an adverse ruling in Lamps Plus would result in employees only being able to bring individual cases in arbitration – absent express language in an arbitration clause consenting to class arbitration.
Employee rights at stake
In an arbitration, the parties give up their 7th Amendment right to a trial by jury as well as their right to appeal on substantive grounds to a court of law. Instead, arbitration takes place outside of the court system with a private arbitrator, often selected by the employer per the terms of the arbitration clause.
Questioning from the Court during oral argument suggests the Court will be closely divided on what standard should be applied to determine parties have agreed to class arbitration. The Lamps Plus decision will be issued during the spring or early summer of 2019.