An Arbitration agreement is a common part of many employment contracts. These clauses keep employers from having to fight court and generally save larger companies a substantial amount of money. However, these clauses are not necessarily good for employees. By signing an arbitration agreement, the employee gives up most of his or hers rights to file a lawsuit in court and agree to pursue all claims in arbitration instead.
There are many disadvantages to arbitration for employees. First, there is no jury in an arbitration, and juries are usually sympathetic to individuals who were harassed or discriminated against by their employers. Next, the arbitration process frequently limits the amount of discovery available to each side. This often works against the employee, who has less access to the employer’s documents, emails, and other files. Finally, the decision made by the arbitrator is usually not appealable – if the employee disagrees with the decision, there is little recourse.
On March 28, 2016, the California Supreme Court decided the case of Baltazar v. Forever 21, involving an arbitration agreement between an employee and a clothing company. In the case, Maribel Baltazar signed an arbitration agreement as part of her employment contract with clothing store Forever 21. Baltazar quit her job after alleging that she experienced racial and sexual discrimination and harassment. When she attempted to file a lawsuit against the company, Forever 21 enforced the arbitration clause of her employment contract.
Baltazar fought against the arbitration clause by arguing that it was unenforceable. She took issue with the language of the clause, which seemed to allow the employer more access to the court system. The arbitration clause allowed both parties to go to court (and skip arbitration) in order to ask for an injunction or other provisional remedy. Baltazar argued that Forever 21 was much more likely to seek an injunction in court, and based her argument on a similar case decided in 2010.
In 2010, the First Appellate District decided the case of Trivedi v. Curexo Technology Corp., 189 Cal. App. 4th 387. Trivedi held that arbitration agreements which exempted provisional remedies like injunctions were more likely to be used by employers rather than employees, and the discrepancy rendered the arbitration clause unconscionable and unenforceable.
The California Supreme Court disagreed with both Baltazar and the Trivedi court. The court held that even if Forever 21 was more likely to be able to use the court system, California Code of Civil Procedure ยง 1281. 8 allowed either party to an arbitration agreement to use the court system for provisional remedies. Since the arbitration clause did nothing but re-state established law, the California Supreme Court found that the arbitration clause was valid and enforceable. The court also rejected multiple other arguments made by Baltazar.
The Supreme Court’s decision is important because it reverses a recent trend of courts finding arbitration agreements unconscionable for technical or minor reasons. After this ruling, lower courts may be less likely to throw out an arbitration agreement, and employees may have no choice but to submit to arbitration.
If you have a conflict with your employer, and are unsure if you will have to go to arbitration, call the Law Offices of Michael L. Carver today and learn more about your options.