By Russ Bleemer
There were two opinions in addition to the five-justice majority opinion this morning in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, No. 16-285, covering three consolidated cases that declared that employers may require their employees to use mandatory individual arbitration to resolve workplace disputes, and waive their rights to class processes in either traditional litigation class actions, or in class arbitration processes.
[Our first blog post on the majority opinion here: https://bit.ly/2KEuXFN Opinion here: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/17pdf/16-285_q8l1.pdf.%5D
Justice Clarence Thomas, who joined the majority, wrote separately to explain why he believes that the Federal Arbitration Act Sec. 2 savings clause relied upon by the employees didn’t apply.
Thomas’s concurrence explains that the Sec. 2 ground for revocation of an arbitration agreement—“valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract” (9 U. S. C. §2)—concern the contract’s formation.
But the employees, Thomas writes, said the National Labor Relations Act makes the class waivers illegal, which is a public policy defense.
Because “‘[r]efusal to enforce a contract for public-policy reasons does not concern whether the contract was properly made,’ the saving clause does not apply here,” according to Thomas, quoting his concurrence in AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. 333, 353, 357 (2011).
The position is a significant distinction and expands the majority opinion’s view that there was no Sec. 2 violation because the National Labor Relations Board interfered with a fundamental attribute of arbitration, also from AT&T Mobility. Thomas’s position could be used by the Court to reject future challenges to arbitration contracts.
AT&T Mobility was the case in which the Court permitted mandatory individual arbitration with class waivers in consumer contracts. Today’s Epic Systems decision mirrors AT&T Mobility in the workplace.
More on the Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg-authored dissent soon.
Russ Bleemer is editor of CPR’s award-winning publication, Alternatives.