Employment Class And Collective Action Insight: U.S. Supreme Court Holds That Arbitration Class-Action Waivers Are Valid, Even If Individual Claims Are Too Expensive To Pursue

by Stinson Leonard Street
Contact

On June 20, 2013, in American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant, the U.S. Supreme Court held that, under the Federal Arbitration Act, courts cannot invalidate a class arbitration waiver on the ground that the plaintiffs' cost to individually prove their claims would greatly exceed their potential recovery. This decision furthers the Court's trend of striking down legal bases for invalidating arbitration agreements, and will affect class arbitration in various contexts, including consumer and employment agreements.

In American Express, the agreement between the credit card company and merchants included an arbitration clause, and provided that "[t]here shall be no right or authority for any Claims to be arbitrated on a class action basis." The merchants brought a putative class action alleging antitrust violations and submitted evidence that the expert analysis necessary to prove their antitrust claims would cost at least several hundred thousand dollars, while the maximum recovery for an individual plaintiff would be $12,850, and under $40,000 even if trebeled.

The Court stated that "the antitrust laws do not guarantee an affordable procedural path to the vindication of every claim," nor do such laws "evince an intention to preclude a waiver of class-action procedure." The Court also explained that federal law does not secure a "nonwaivable opportunity to vindicate federal policies by satisfying the procedural strictures of Rule 23" or by invoking a class mechanism in arbitration.

The merchants argued that the class waiver barred "effective vindication" of their federal statutory rights, because they had no economic incentive to pursue their claims individually. The Court recognized its prior decisions indicating that arbitration agreements could be struck down if they prevented effective vindication of statutory rights, but explained that this exception applied only when parties' right to pursue a claim was affected. For example, the exception would apply if an agreement prohibited the assertion of certain claims, or if filing and administrative fees attached to arbitration made access to the forum impracticable. But financial impediments to proving a claim did not meet this exception. The Court noted that the class-action waiver "no more eliminates those parties' right to pursue their statutory remedy than did federal law before its adoption of the class action for legal relief in 1938." The Court also commented that its decision in Concepcion "all but resolve[d]" the case, because in that case, the Court "specifically rejected the argument that class arbitration was necessary to prosecute claims that might otherwise slip through the legal system."

Three dissenting justices focused on the practical impact of the case, explaining that under the majority's decision, "[t]he monopolist gets to use its monopoly power to insist on a contract effectively depriving its victims of all legal recourse." Because the agreement prohibited class actions, as well as consolidation or joinder and other potential avenues of reducing expense, the dissent concluded that the case fell squarely within the "effective vindication" exception.

This decision further emphasizes that entities wishing to avoid class claims should include specific class-action waivers in their arbitration agreements. The issues in American Express are particularly applicable to the employment context. For example, in wage-and-hour cases, plaintiff-employees frequently argue that the costs of pursuing small claims individually make such claims economically unfeasible. The Fair Labor Standards Act—unlike the antitrust statutes at issue in American Express—specifically authorizes collective actions. Plaintiffs may argue that the language of, and policy behind, federal employment statutes compels a different result. But note that, in reaching its decision, the Court stated that in Gilmer—a 1991 employment case under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act—the Court "had no qualms enforcing a class waiver in an arbitration agreement even though the federal statute at issue, the [ADEA], expressly permitted collective actions." It remains to be seen how this decision will affect class arbitration in the employment context.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Stinson Leonard Street | Attorney Advertising

Written by:

Stinson Leonard Street
Contact
more
less

Stinson Leonard Street on:

Readers' Choice 2017
Reporters on Deadline

"My best business intelligence, in one easy email…"

Your first step to building a free, personalized, morning email brief covering pertinent authors and topics on JD Supra:
Sign up using*

Already signed up? Log in here

*By using the service, you signify your acceptance of JD Supra's Privacy Policy.
Custom Email Digest
Privacy Policy (Updated: October 8, 2015):
hide

JD Supra provides users with access to its legal industry publishing services (the "Service") through its website (the "Website") as well as through other sources. Our policies with regard to data collection and use of personal information of users of the Service, regardless of the manner in which users access the Service, and visitors to the Website are set forth in this statement ("Policy"). By using the Service, you signify your acceptance of this Policy.

Information Collection and Use by JD Supra

JD Supra collects users' names, companies, titles, e-mail address and industry. JD Supra also tracks the pages that users visit, logs IP addresses and aggregates non-personally identifiable user data and browser type. This data is gathered using cookies and other technologies.

The information and data collected is used to authenticate users and to send notifications relating to the Service, including email alerts to which users have subscribed; to manage the Service and Website, to improve the Service and to customize the user's experience. This information is also provided to the authors of the content to give them insight into their readership and help them to improve their content, so that it is most useful for our users.

JD Supra does not sell, rent or otherwise provide your details to third parties, other than to the authors of the content on JD Supra.

If you prefer not to enable cookies, you may change your browser settings to disable cookies; however, please note that rejecting cookies while visiting the Website may result in certain parts of the Website not operating correctly or as efficiently as if cookies were allowed.

Email Choice/Opt-out

Users who opt in to receive emails may choose to no longer receive e-mail updates and newsletters by selecting the "opt-out of future email" option in the email they receive from JD Supra or in their JD Supra account management screen.

Security

JD Supra takes reasonable precautions to insure that user information is kept private. We restrict access to user information to those individuals who reasonably need access to perform their job functions, such as our third party email service, customer service personnel and technical staff. However, please note that no method of transmitting or storing data is completely secure and we cannot guarantee the security of user information. Unauthorized entry or use, hardware or software failure, and other factors may compromise the security of user information at any time.

If you have reason to believe that your interaction with us is no longer secure, you must immediately notify us of the problem by contacting us at info@jdsupra.com. In the unlikely event that we believe that the security of your user information in our possession or control may have been compromised, we may seek to notify you of that development and, if so, will endeavor to do so as promptly as practicable under the circumstances.

Sharing and Disclosure of Information JD Supra Collects

Except as otherwise described in this privacy statement, JD Supra will not disclose personal information to any third party unless we believe that disclosure is necessary to: (1) comply with applicable laws; (2) respond to governmental inquiries or requests; (3) comply with valid legal process; (4) protect the rights, privacy, safety or property of JD Supra, users of the Service, Website visitors or the public; (5) permit us to pursue available remedies or limit the damages that we may sustain; and (6) enforce our Terms & Conditions of Use.

In the event there is a change in the corporate structure of JD Supra such as, but not limited to, merger, consolidation, sale, liquidation or transfer of substantial assets, JD Supra may, in its sole discretion, transfer, sell or assign information collected on and through the Service to one or more affiliated or unaffiliated third parties.

Links to Other Websites

This Website and the Service may contain links to other websites. The operator of such other websites may collect information about you, including through cookies or other technologies. If you are using the Service through the Website and link to another site, you will leave the Website and this Policy will not apply to your use of and activity on those other sites. We encourage you to read the legal notices posted on those sites, including their privacy policies. We shall have no responsibility or liability for your visitation to, and the data collection and use practices of, such other sites. This Policy applies solely to the information collected in connection with your use of this Website and does not apply to any practices conducted offline or in connection with any other websites.

Changes in Our Privacy Policy

We reserve the right to change this Policy at any time. Please refer to the date at the top of this page to determine when this Policy was last revised. Any changes to our privacy policy will become effective upon posting of the revised policy on the Website. By continuing to use the Service or Website following such changes, you will be deemed to have agreed to such changes. If you do not agree with the terms of this Policy, as it may be amended from time to time, in whole or part, please do not continue using the Service or the Website.

Contacting JD Supra

If you have any questions about this privacy statement, the practices of this site, your dealings with this Web site, or if you would like to change any of the information you have provided to us, please contact us at: info@jdsupra.com.

- hide
*With LinkedIn, you don't need to create a separate login to manage your free JD Supra account, and we can make suggestions based on your needs and interests. We will not post anything on LinkedIn in your name. Or, sign up using your email address.