Many retail employers require their employees to agree to arbitrate employment-related disputes as a condition of employment. The United States Supreme Court has repeatedly emphasized that workplace arbitration agreements are enforceable according to their terms, and state law that restricts such enforcement is preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). Notwithstanding those pronouncements, states, such as New York and New Jersey, have crafted legislation designed to nullify an employee’s agreement to arbitrate certain employment-related claims.

In response to the #MeToo movement, New York and New Jersey have enacted legislation banning workplace arbitration agreements covering sexual harassment and discrimination claims. On April 12, 2018, New York State, as part of its 2018-2019 budget, amended § 7515 of the New York Civil Practice Law and Rules (“CPLR”) to prohibit employers with four or more employees from incorporating mandatory, pre-dispute arbitration clauses in written employment contracts requiring the resolution of allegations of claims of sexual harassment. Additionally, any such clause in a contract entered into after the effective date of the law would be rendered null and void.

On June 19, 2019, the New York legislature passed a bill (which, as of the date of this post, has yet to be signed into law) that makes sweeping changes to New York’s harassment and discrimination laws. Among other things, the bill again amends § 7515 of the CPLR to ban mandatory pre-dispute arbitration clauses in written employment contracts requiring the resolution of allegations of claims of workplace discrimination generally, not just sexual harassment claims and renders any such clause null and void.

On March 18, 2019, New Jersey Governor Murphy signed legislation that declares unenforceable any “provision in any employment contract that waives any substantive or procedural right or remedy relating to a claim of discrimination, retaliation, or harassment.” N.J.S.A. 10:5-12.7(1)(a).  The law further provides that “[n]o right or remedy under the [Law Against Discrimination], or any other statute or case law shall be prospectively waived.” N.J.S.A. 10:5-12.7(1)(b). Both provisions can be construed to prohibit the waiver of a right to a jury trial as required by an arbitration agreement.

Many observers have questioned whether these laws restricting arbitration would be preempted by the FAA. A recent decision in the Southern District of New York, Mahmoud Latif v. Morgan Stanley & Co. LLC, No. 18cv11528 (DLC), 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 107020 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2019), confirms that state laws targeting enforcement of arbitration agreements are vulnerable to attack on FAA preemption grounds.

As discussed below, in Latif, the court held that New York’s ban on the arbitration of sexual harassment claims was unenforceable as preempted by the FAA. The court also stated, in a footnote, that the as yet unsigned June 19, 2019 New York legislation would be preempted by the FAA for the same reasons. Latif suggests that employers covered by the FAA can be more confident that their agreements seeking to arbitrate employment-related claims will be enforceable.


Continue Reading

This edition of Take 5 highlights compliance with cutting-edge issues—such as pay equity, workplace violence, and artificial intelligence (“AI”)—that have a significant impact on retailers. We also provide an update on National Labor Relations Act (“NLRA”) compliance and New York City drug testing to assist you in navigating an increasingly complex legal landscape.

Watercooler (and

Don’t forget – April 1 marks the beginning of a new set of sexual harassment training requirements in New York City. While the training requirement began across New York State on October 9, 2018 (and must be completed by October 9, 2019), the City imposes additional requirements on certain employers. Both laws require training

Building on progressive legislation passed last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a sweeping proposal to strengthen protections against harassment in the workplace. The four part sexual assault and harassment safety reforms initiative, titled “TIME’S UP New York Safety Agenda,” is contained in the Governor’s 2019 Executive Budget, which was released on January 22, 2019. The

Featured on Employment Law This Week: NJ Senate Advances Ban on Sex Harassment Confidentiality Agreements.

The New Jersey Senate wants no more secrecy around harassment claims. On a 34-to-1 vote, the chamber approved legislation banning confidentiality agreements involving sexual harassment claims. The bill is still pending in the House, where a vote is expected

On May 30, 2018, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed bill H.707, titled “An Act Relating to the Prevention of Sexual Harassment” (the “Act”). Effect on July 1, 2018, the Act provides expansive protections for employees and prospective employees, as well as some groundbreaking employer obligations and potential penalties for violations of the law.

Among

On March 21, 2018, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed bill SB 5996 (the “Law”), which prohibits employers from requiring as a condition of employment that employees sign a nondisclosure agreement preventing them from discussing workplace sexual harassment or sexual assault. The Law goes into effect on June 7, 2018.

In addition to sexual offenses in

On March 7, 2018, the New York City Council formally introduced “The Stop Sexual Harassment in NYC Act,” a package of 11 bills, aimed at strengthening protections against, and remedies for, sexual harassment in the workplace. As discussed below, four of these bills, if enacted, would significantly expand the obligations of many employers to prevent

On March 28, 2016, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed three pieces of legislation passed earlier this month by The New York City Council to amend the City’s Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”).

The new laws:

  1. require that the NYCHRL be interpreted expansively to maximize civil rights protections, regardless of how courts have interpreted