Federal Arbitration Act

California has joined a number of states in passing legislation purporting to prohibit mandatory arbitration agreements for sexual harassment and other claims. Such laws have gained popularity in the wake of the #MeToo movement, but are subject to challenge under Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) preemption principles.

Under Assembly Bill 51, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom

In Saheli v. White Memorial Medical Center (B283217, Cal. Ct. App., March 14, 2018), the Court of Appeal for the Second Appellate District addressed for the first time whether restrictions on arbitration agreements contained in the Ralph Act and Bane Act are preempted under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”).

“The Ralph Act broadly provides

A recent decision by the Ninth Circuit reversed a district court’s denial of an employer’s motion to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). This decision is notable because the applicable dispute resolution policy, outlining the terms of arbitration, was contained within the company’s policy manual and detached from the employee’s signed acknowledgment of receipt of the manual. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court’s decision on the grounds the language of the employer’s dispute resolution policy, separately outlined within the company’s policy manual, expressly indicated a waiver of the right to a judicial forum for civil rights claims such that the employee “knowingly” agreed to arbitrate his Title VII claim. Michael Ashbey v. Archstone Property Management, Inc., No. 12-55912 (9th Cir., May 12, 2015).
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The U.S. Supreme Court has declined to review the California Supreme Court’s decision that representative claims under the California Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (“PAGA”) cannot be waived in employment arbitration agreements. Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal. 4th 348 (Cal. 2014), cert. denied, No. 14-341 (U.S. Jan. 20, 2015).

In Iskanian, the California Supreme Court ruled the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) preempted California law disfavoring enforcement of a class action waiver in employment arbitration agreements. However, it also ruled the FAA did not preempt representative actions under PAGA. For additional information on Iskanian, please see our article, California High Court: Class Action Waivers in Arbitration Valid, But Waivers of Representative Actions under State Law Are Not.
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The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) preempts California’s Broughton-Cruz rule, which states arbitration agreements for injunctive relief claims under the state unfair competition and false advertising laws are against public policy and invalid, the California Court of Appeal has held in an insurance consumer class action, allowing arbitration to proceed. McGill v. Citibank, N.A., No. G049838 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 18, 2014).

This decision calls into question the continued viability of California’s Broughton-Cruz rule, which was established by the California Supreme Court in Broughton v. Cigna Healthplans, 21 Cal. 4th 1066 (Cal. 1999), and Cruz v. PacifiCare Health Systems, Inc., 30 Cal. 4th 303 (Cal. 2003).
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In the June 2014 Iskanian decision, the California Supreme Court carved out an exception to the general rule that class action waivers in arbitration agreements are valid, and concluded that the right to bring representative Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) claims cannot be waived through arbitration agreements. PAGA allows individual workers to pursue Labor Code violations against employers in a representative action on behalf of government authorities.
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Whether the parties to an arbitration agreement agreed to class arbitration is a question for the arbitrator, not the trial court, the California Court of Appeal has ruled, reversing an order dismissing class claims alleging violations of California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act and Unfair Competition Act. Sandquist v. Lebo Automotive, Inc., No. B244412 (Cal. Ct. App. July 22, 2014).
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In a decision that should not go unnoticed in the wake of the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Iskanian v. CLS Transp. Los Angeles, LLC which rejected prior limitations on class action waivers but held representative actions under California’s Private Attorneys General Act cannot be waived, the California Court of Appeal in Malone v. Superior Court (California Bank & Trust), Case No. B253891 (June 17, 2014) upheld an employer’s delegation clause requiring issues relating to the enforceability of an employer’s arbitration agreement to be sent to the arbitrator for resolution. While the U.S. Supreme Court continues to uphold arbitration provisions pursuant to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), California courts have been reluctant to follow the Supreme Court’s clear guidance. Malone suggests the California tide is beginning to turn in favor of arbitration.
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Overruling Gentry v. Superior Court, 42 Cal. 4th 443 (2007) as preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), the California Supreme Court upheld the validity of class action waivers in employment arbitration agreements. Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, No. S204032  (Cal. Jun. 23, 2014).  Declining to follow D.R. Horton, 357 NLRB No. 184 (Jan. 3, 2012), the Court also rejected that class action waivers are unlawful under the National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”).  However, the Court further ruled that employers could not require waivers of representative actions under the California Private Attorney General Act (“PAGA”) as contrary to public policy and unwaivable as a matter of state law and were not preempted by the FAA.  Accordingly, the Court reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeal and remanded the case for further proceedings.
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