Chances are, if you’re reading this, you’re not a lawyer and have no idea what “arbitration” is; but you should. As employees and consumers, arbitration restricts your access to the courts for just about any dispute that you might have. It was originally designed to be a more streamlined and cost-effective way to deal with a legal issue than going to court. Here’s why you should care about arbitration and the restrictions it places on consumers and employees alike.
Employer/employee arbitration increased in the 2000s, reaching its peak through a 2011 United State Supreme Court decision (AT&T v. Concepcion) allowing companies to incorporate an “arbitration agreement” into small print/boilerplate language and then use it to prevent employees or consumers from going to court against it. The Court also concluded that a company could include a class-action ban in its arbitration agreement, which further prevents employees and consumers from filing any kind of class action – it’s called the “Federal Arbitration Act”.
What did this mean for consumers and employees? Low dollar claims like disputes with your cellular provider about useless tack-on fees, or with your employer about missing rest breaks, can no longer be pursued as a class or collective action if there is an enforceable class action waiver. The individual damages are small, and the cost to file a lawsuit or arbitration is relatively high. Thus, the class-action ban means there’s no way to fight these things. Essentially, this gives companies the ability to take advantage of consumers and employees with all sorts of fees and other abuses without being challenged.
After years of hoping that the Court would expand arbitration, we were finally given a small victory in the right direction for employee and consumer rights. On January 15, 2019, the U.S Supreme Court in the New Prime, Inc. v. Olivera case ruled that the Federal Arbitration Act does not apply to interstate transportation workers (in this case, drivers).
In other words, if you carry goods across state lines, your employer’s “arbitration agreement” is void. Regardless of what’s in the employee handbook or in a document you were made to sign, you can pursue any employment claims that you have in court, and file class action suits.
This is fantastic news for our trucking community! We hope that the Supreme Court will follow up with other cases that limit the scope of forced arbitration. If you’re a driver or work in another capacity in interstate transportation, you may have employment claims that you can now pursue in a court of law.
The Carter Law Firm has been fighting on behalf of people in California for years and has recovered millions of dollars on behalf of those who have faced these unfair situations.