Justia Civil Rights Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Arbitration & Mediation
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Plaintiff was a local delivery driver for Cintas Corporation. That means he picked up items from a Houston warehouse (items shipped from out of state) and delivered them to local customers. Lopez does not want to arbitrate his claims against Cintas. He says that he is exempt from doing so because he belongs to a “class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce” under Section 1 of the Federal Arbitration Act.   The Fifth Circuit partially affirmed the district court’s ruling finding that Plaintiff is not a “transportation worker” under Section 1 of the FAA. However, because Plaintiff's unconscionability challenge to his employment agreement must be decided in arbitration, the court vacated and remanded for that claim to be dismissed without prejudice to be considered in arbitration in the first instance.   The court explained that unlike either seamen or railroad employees, the local delivery drivers here have a more customer-facing role, which further underscores that this class does not fall within Section 1’s ambit. As a result, the transportation-worker exemption does not apply to this class of local delivery drivers. Further, because unconscionability under Texas law is a challenge to the validity, not the existence, of a contract, that challenge must be resolved by an arbitrator. Thus, the court held that the district court erred in resolving the merits of Plaintiff’s unconscionability claim. View "Lopez v. Cintas" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff worked as a driver for California Transit. After California Transit terminated his employment, Evenskaas filed this wage and hour class action against California Transit; its owner, and the company that administered California Transit’s payroll, Personnel Staffing Group, LLC (collectively, the California Transit defendants).   Because Plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement, in which he agreed to arbitrate all claims arising from his employment and waived his right to seek class-wide relief, the California Transit defendants filed a motion to compel arbitration. The trial court denied the motion. The California Transit defendants appealed, contending the FAA applies to the arbitration agreement.   The Second Appellate District reversed the order denying Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration is reversed. The court directed the trial court to enter a new order granting the motion and dismissing Plaintiff’s class claims. The court explained that because the paratransit services California Transit hired Plaintiff to provide involve interstate commerce for purposes of the FAA, the FAA applies to the arbitration agreement and preempts the Gentry rule that certain class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements are unenforceable. View "Evenskaas v. California Transit, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the decision of the superior court denying the motion to compel arbitration brought by Uber Technologies, Inc. and Rasier, LLC (collectively, Uber) in this action brought by Patricia Sarchi, a user of Uber's ride-sharing service, and the Maine Human Rights Commission, holding that the superior court did not err.Plaintiffs brought this action against Uber for violating the Maine Human Rights Act, Me. Rev. Stat. 5, 4592(8), 4633(2), after Sarchi, who was blind, was refused a ride because of her guide dog. Uber moved to compel Sarchi to arbitrate and to dismiss or stay the action pending arbitration. The motion court denied the motion to compel, concluding that Sarchi did not become bound by the terms and conditions of Uber's user agreement. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that, under the facts and circumstances of this case, Sarchi was not bound by the terms. View "Sarchi v. Uber Technologies, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a Missouri resident, filed suit in state court against her former employer, Ferrellgas, a propane supplier, as well as James Ferrell and Pamela Brueckmann, Kansas residents and employees and officers of Ferrellgas. Plaintiff alleged gender discrimination claims under the Missouri Human Rights Act against Ferrellgas (Counts I and II), and tort claims against all defendants (Counts IIIVI). After removal to the district court, the district court granted defendants' motion to compel arbitration in part.The Eighth Circuit reversed, concluding that the district court erred in concluding that no language in plaintiff's employment agreement suggested that she consented to arbitrate tort claims arising from actions which predated her employment. The court explained that, though plaintiff's claims are based on alleged misrepresentations and omissions made before and at the time she accepted employment, they are subject to arbitration because they arise out of and relate to the resulting employee agreement and employee relationship. The court also concluded that Ferrell and Brueckmann, officers and agents of Ferrellgas who were not parties to the Employee Agreement, may enforce the arbitration clause. The court concluded that a signatory plaintiff cannot avoid arbitration when she treated signatory and non-signatory defendants as a single unit. In this case, each of plaintiff's tort claims against defendants is a single one that should be referred in its entirety to arbitration. View "Morgan v. Ferrell" on Justia Law

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Defendant appealed from an order denying its petition to compel arbitration of Labor Code claims pursued by former employees, who contend that their lawsuit is limited to recovering civil penalties under the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA).The Court of Appeal again interpreted the California Supreme Court's decision in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC (2014) 59 Cal.4th 348, to mean "that PAGA representative claims for civil penalties are not subject to arbitration" under a predispute arbitration agreement. In this case, the PAGA claims alleged in the former employees' complaint are owned by the state and are being pursued by the former employees as the state's agent or proxy. The court explained that the arbitration agreements at issue are not enforceable as to the PAGA claims because the state was not a party to, and did not ratify, any of those agreements. Furthermore, after the former employees became representatives of the state, they did not agree to arbitrate the PAGA claims. Consequently, under the rule of California law recognized in Esparza v KS Industries, L.P. (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 1228, 1234, and many other decisions of the Court of Appeal, the court concluded that the PAGA claims cannot be forced into arbitration based on agreements made by the former employees before they became authorized representatives of the state. Accordingly, the trial court correctly applied this rule of law.The court also concluded that defendant's argument that arbitration is compelled by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and federal preemption fails for similar reasons. The court concluded that the FAA does not reach the PAGA claims alleged in this case and, therefore, federal law does not preempt the rule of California law stating PAGA claims are subject to arbitration only if the state, or the state’s authorized representative, consents to arbitration. View "Herrera v. Doctors Medical Center of Modesto, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief in this arbitration dispute, holding that the trial court abused its discretion in determining that pre-arbitration discovery was warranted in this case.After Plaintiff's employment was terminated she sued Defendant, her former employer, claiming discrimination and retaliation. Defendant moved to compel arbitration pursuant to the company's employee handbook acknowledgment and agreement, which contained an arbitration agreement. At issue was Plaintiff's second motion to compel pre-arbitration discovery claiming that an enforceable arbitration agreement did not exist. After the trial court granted the motion Defendant sought mandamus relief. The court of appeals denied the motion. The Supreme Court conditionally granted mandamus relief, holding that the trial court clearly abused its discretion in ordering pre-arbitration discovery because Plaintiff failed to provide the trial court with a reasonable basis to conclude that it lacked sufficient information to determine whether her claims were arbitrable. View "In re Copart, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court granted a writ of prohibition prohibiting the circuit court from enforcing its order denying Petitioners' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration, holding that the circuit court erred in finding that the arbitration agreement put forth by Petitioners was not authentic.After her employment ended, Respondent filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful and discriminatory discharge. Petitioners filed a motion to dismiss/compel arbitration, asserting that this matter was subject to a valid and binding arbitration agreement. The circuit court denied the motion, concluding that significant questions existed with regard to the authenticity of the arbitration agreement. Petitioners then filed the instant petition for a writ of prohibition seeking to prevent enforcement of the circuit court's order. The Supreme Court granted the requested writ, holding that the circuit court committed clear legal error in denying Petitioners' motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to compel arbitration by finding the arbitration agreement was not authentic. View "State ex rel. Troy Group v. Honorable David J. Sims" on Justia Law

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Epstein, an optometrist, entered into a VSP “Network Doctor Agreement.” VSP audited of Epstein’s claims for reimbursement, concluded he was knowingly purchasing lenses from an unapproved supplier, and terminated the provider agreement. The agreement included a two-step dispute resolution procedure: the “Fair Hearing” step provided for an internal “VSP Peer Review.” If the dispute remained unresolved, the agreement required binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), under procedures set forth in the policy. A “Fair Hearing” panel upheld the termination.Instead of invoking the arbitration provision, Epstein filed an administrative mandamus proceeding, alleging the second step of the process was contrary to California law requiring certain network provider contracts to include a procedure for prompt resolution of disputes and expressly stating arbitration “shall not be deemed” such a mechanism. (28 Cal. Code Regs 1300.71.38.) He claimed that state law was not preempted by the FAA, citing the McCarran-Ferguson Act, which generally exempts from federal law, state laws enacted to regulate the business of insurance.The court of appeal affirmed the rejection of those challenges. State regulatory law requiring certain network provider agreements to include a dispute resolution process that is not arbitration pertains only to the first step of the dispute resolution process and does not foreclose the parties from agreeing to arbitration in lieu of subsequent judicial review. While the arbitration provision is procedurally unconscionable in minor respects, Epstein failed to establish that it is substantively unconscionable. View "Epstein v. Vision Service Plan" on Justia Law

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Pfizer’s Human Resources Department sent an e-mail to Pfizer employees at their corporate e-mail addresses announcing Pfizer’s five-page Mutual Arbitration and Class Waiver Agreement (Agreement) and included a link to that document. The e-mail also included a included a link to a document that listed “Frequently Asked Questions,” including “Do I have to agree to this?” to which the response indicated, “The Arbitration Agreement is a condition of continued employment with the Company. If you begin or continue working for the Company sixty (60) days after receipt of this Agreement, it will be a contractual agreement that binds both you and the Company.” The “FAQs” document also encouraged any employee who had “legal questions” about the Agreement “to speak to [his or her] own attorney.” Pfize terminated Amy Skuse's employment in August 2017, and Skuse filed a complaint alleging that Pfizer and the individual defendants violated the Law Against Discrimination by terminating her employment because of her religious objection to being vaccinated for yellow fever. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint and to compel arbitration. Skuse opposed the motion, contending that she was not bound by Pfizer’s Agreement, arguing that she was asked only to acknowledge the Agreement, not to assent to it, and that she never agreed to arbitrate her claims. The trial court dismissed Skuse’s complaint and directed her to proceed to arbitration in accordance with the Agreement. The Appellate Division reversed, identifying three aspects of Pfizer’s communications to Skuse as grounds for its decision: Pfizer’s use of e-mails to disseminate the Agreement to employees already inundated with e-mails; its use of a “training module” or a training “activity” to explain the Agreement; and its instruction that Skuse click her computer screen to “acknowledge” her obligation to assent to the Agreement in the event that she remained employed for sixty days, not to “agree” to the Agreement. The New Jersey Supreme Court reversed, finding the Agreement was valid and binding, and held the trial court was correct in enforcing it. View "Skuse v. Pfizer, Inc." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a group of current and former retail sales employees of Sterling Jewelers, filed suit alleging that they were paid less than their male counterparts, on account of their gender, in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Equal Pay Act. After an arbitrator certified a class of Sterling Jewelers employees that included employees who did not affirmatively opt in to the arbitration proceeding, the district court held that the arbitrator exceeded her authority in purporting to bind those absent class members to class arbitration.The Second Circuit reversed, holding that the arbitrator was within her authority in purporting to bind the absent class members to class proceedings because, by signing the operative arbitration agreement, the absent class members, no less than the parties, bargained for the arbitrator's construction of their agreement with respect to class arbitrability. The court remanded to the district court to consider, in the first instance, the issue of whether the arbitrator exceeded her authority in certifying an opt-out class. View "Jock v. Sterling Jewelers Inc." on Justia Law