The U.S. Supreme Court recently heard arguments in National Labor Relations Board vs. Murphy Oil, Inc., which was consolidated with two other cases against Ernst & Young and Epic Systems Inc. The case, which involves forced arbitration agreements and class-action waivers, is considering whether these agreements that many employees are forced to sign violate the National Labor Relations Act. The case could potentially impact millions of workers across the U.S., and the Supreme Court’s decision is expected to come before the end of June 2018. Regardless of the Supreme Court’s ruling, California law allows employees to bring class action lawsuits against their employers even if the Supreme Court rules that employers can make their employees sign forced-arbitration or waivers of class action clauses.
National Labor Relations Board vs. Murphy Oil, Inc.
National Labor Relations Board vs. Murphy Oil, Inc. involves class action lawsuits that were filed against Murphy Oil, Ernst & Young and Epic Systems by workers for unpaid overtime wages. The employees were forced to sign arbitration clauses and waivers of their class action rights. The companies and the Department of Justice are arguing that these arbitration clauses are valid and prevent workers from filing class action lawsuits. The National Labor Relations Board, which is an independent federal agency, is arguing that these clauses violate the National Labor Relations Act. Labor advocates are doubtful that the court will side with the workers since Trump’s addition of Justice Gorsuch to the bench. Instead, they are looking to a California law that has a workaround and which can help workers file class action lawsuits regardless of what the Supreme Court decides.
Problems for employees with grievances
The case is important because it may affect millions of U.S. workers. Approximately half of all employers in the U.S. force their employees to sign forced-arbitration clauses. In many cases, the amounts that individual employees have lost are too small to warrant them filing individual actions against their employers because of the expense. Arbitration is also biased for businesses because the arbitrators depend on the companies continuing to retain them for their arbitration services. Class action lawsuits allow employees to band together to file a lawsuit, making the amounts much greater and more worthwhile to pursue in court. In many cases, class action lawsuits may be the only way that employees can seek legal remedies for the wrongs that have been done to them by their employers.
The Private Attorneys General Act
The California Private Attorneys General Act effectively deputizes employees in the state, allowing them to file class actions against employers for themselves, other workers and for the state in order to collect civil penalties. When plaintiffs prevail, they share their awards with California’s government. They do not need to depend on the state Attorney General to file a case on their behalf. Passed in 2004, the law allows employees to file these class actions despite any class-action waivers or forced arbitration agreements because they are acting as representatives of the state government in the collection of civil penalties on behalf of the state against employers who violate state labor laws.
Labor advocates across the country are lobbying other states to pass bills that are modeled after California’s law. In recent years, the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly sided with employers in arbitration cases, relying on a 1925 law that was enacted by Congress in 1925.
In 2014, the California Supreme Court heard a case involving a driver who had filed a class action lawsuit against his transportation company employer. In its ruling, the court acknowledged the existence of the 1925 congressional law that favors arbitration but ruled that the existence of that law does not prevent the state legislature from deputizing workers to serve as agents of the state in prosecuting employers who violate the law.
PAGA cases have resulted in substantial recoveries for workers since the law was enacted. For example, Bank of America settled a case involving tellers who had inadequate seating for $15 million. A case involving minimum-wage violations against Wal-Mart and some warehouse contractors was settled for $22.7 million.
Contact an experienced attorney in Los Angeles
The Supreme Court’s decision may cripple the ability of workers to assert their rights in many states. Fortunately, California’s law provides a vehicle through which employees may band together and hold their employers accountable for their violations of the law. Filing class action lawsuits is complex and may necessitate the help of an experienced attorney in Los Angeles. A lawyer may understand how to assert the claims, draft the petition and get the class certified by the court. With an attorney’s help, you may be likelier to access the legal remedies that are available to you. Contact an experienced Los Angeles lawyer today to schedule your consultation.