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California Supreme Court Prohibits Waiver of PAGA Representative Claims

In Arbitration, Class Waiver, PAGA on June 23, 2014 at 1:44 pm

This morning, the California Supreme Court issued its long-awaited opinion in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, No. S204032, __ Cal.4th __ (Jun. 23, 2014).

The Court held that the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Concepcion abrogated Gentry v. Superior Court, 42 Cal. 4th 443 (2007).  The Court decided that class action waivers are enforceable.  But it also held that an arbitration agreement requiring an employee as a condition of employment to give up the right to bring representative PAGA actions in any forum is contrary to public policy.  Id. at *2.

[W]e conclude that the FAA’s goal of promoting arbitration as a means of private dispute resolution does not preclude our Legislature from deputizing employees to prosecute Labor Code violations on the state’s behalf. Therefore, the FAA does not preempt a state law that prohibits waiver of PAGA representative actions in an employment contract.

Id. 

Facts

Plaintiff Iskanian worked as a driver for CLS.  Id. He signed an arbitration agreement providing that “any and all claims” arising out of his employment were to be submitted to binding arbitration.  Id.  The arbitration agreement also contained a class and representative waiver that said:

[E]xcept as otherwise required under applicable law, (1) EMPLOYEE and COMPANY expressly intend and agree that class action and representative action procedures shall not be asserted, nor will they apply, in any arbitration pursuant to this Policy/Agreement; (2) EMPLOYEE and COMPANY agree that each will not assert class action or representative action claims against the other in arbitration or otherwise; and (3) each of EMPLOYEE and COMPANY shall only submit their own, individual claims in arbitration and will not seek to represent the interests of any other person.

Id. at *2-3.  After briefing on the motion to compel arbitration, the California Supreme Court decided the Gentry case, holding that a class action waiver may be unenforceable in some circumstances.  Id. at *5.  In April 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court issued AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U.S. __ (2011), invalidating the California Supreme Court’s decision in Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal. 4th 148 (2005), which had restricted consumer class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

Holdings

 The Court held that Gentry was preempted by the FAA under the rule in Concepcion.  Iskanian, supra, __ Cal. 4th at *7.

It is thus incorrect to say that the infirmity of Discover Bank was that it did not require a case-specific showing that the class waiver was exculpatory.  Concepcion holds that even if a class waiver is exculpatory in a particular case, it is nonetheless preempted by the FAA.  Under the logic of Concepcion, the FAA preempts Gentry’s rule against employment class waivers.

The Court also distinguished its recent holding in Sonic-Calabasas A, Inc. v. Moreno (2013) 57 Cal.4th 1109 (Sonic II), which “established an unconscionability rule that considers whether arbitration is an effective dispute resolution mechanism for wage claimants without regard to any advantage inherent to a procedural device (a Berman hearing) that interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration.”

By contrast, the Gentry rule considers whether individual arbitration is an effective dispute resolution mechanism for employees by direct comparison to the advantages of a procedural device (a class action) that interferes with fundamental attributes of arbitration.  Gentry, unlike Sonic II, cannot be squared with Concepcion.

Iskanian, supra, __ Cal. 4th at *10.

PAGA

The Court carved out an exception for PAGA claims:

In sum, the FAA aims to promote arbitration of claims belonging to the private parties to an arbitration agreement.  It does not aim to promote arbitration of claims belonging to a government agency, and that is no less true when such a claim is brought by a statutorily designated proxy for the agency as when the claim is brought by the agency itself.  The fundamental character of the claim as a public enforcement action is the same in both instances.  We conclude that California‘s public policy prohibiting waiver of PAGA claims, whose sole purpose is to vindicate the Labor and Workforce Development Agency‘s interest in enforcing the Labor Code, does not interfere with the FAA’s goal of promoting arbitration as a forum for private dispute resolution.

Id. at *43.

Attorneys

Glenn A. Danas of Capstone Law argued for Plaintiff and Appellant.

David F. Faustman of Fox Rothschild argued for Defendant and Respondent.

By CHARLES H. JUNG

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