Our colleague Steven M. Swirsky, a Member of the Firm at Epstein Becker Green, has a post on the Management Memo blog that will be of interest to many of our readers in the retail industry: “Federal Appeals Court Sides with NLRB – Holds Arbitration Agreement and Class Action Waiver Violates Employee Rights and Unenforceable.

Following is an excerpt:

The US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago has now sided with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB or Board) in its decision in Lewis v. Epic Systems Corporation, and found that an employer’s arbitration agreement that it required all of its workers to sign, requiring them to bring any wage and hour claims that they have against the company in individual arbitrations “violates the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) and is unenforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act FAA).” …

The decision of the Seventh Circuit, finding that the Board’s view was not inconsistent with the FAA, sets the ground for continued uncertainty as employers wrestle with the issue.  Clearly, the question is one that is likely to remain open until such time as the Supreme Court agrees to consider the divergent views, or the Board, assuming a new majority appointed by a different President, reevaluates its own position.

Read the full post here.

By Amy Messigian

Last month, the California Court of Appeal ruled that a former employee of Forever 21 must try her claims against the retailer in arbitration, enforcing the company’s employment arbitration policy and reversing a lower court decision finding the agreement unconscionable under California law.  The plaintiff, Maribel Baltazar, alleged that she had been discriminated against by the retailer due to her race and sexually harassed by a supervisor and coworker.  She filed a complaint against Forever 21 and several of its employees in the Los Angeles Superior Court and the retailer moved to compel Baltazar to arbitration.

Reversing the lower court, the Court of Appeal found that Baltazar had been given the opportunity to review the arbitration agreement, which was contained in her employment contract, and that the contract’s provision allowing the parties to seek injunctive relief in court did not unduly favor Forever 21.  The panel noted that six of the claims asserted in Baltazar’s suit were brought under the Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), which authorizes injunctive relief, and that there was nothing to suggest that the employer would be more likely than the employee to seek provisional remedies.

Injunctive relief provisions have sounded the death knell for many employment arbitration agreements in California of late, with multiple appellate decisions citing an injunctive remedy as unduly favoring the employer.  Ostensibly, these courts are inclined to believe that an employer is more likely than an employee to seek injunctive relief.  The Baltazar court felt otherwise. Until this issue is considered by the California Supreme Court, it remains likely that the luck of the draw will ultimately decide whether an arbitration agreement is enforceable if it contains a provisional remedies provision that allows parties to seek an injunction in court.

By William Stein

In rolling out arbitration policies, retail employers should heed the recent California Court of Appeal decision Gorlach v. The Sports Club Co. That case gives employers reason to be cautious when asking employees to sign agreements requiring them to arbitrate any disputes arising out of their employment.  In that case, the trial court found the former Director of Human Resources, who was responsible for obtaining employees’ signatures on a mutual agreement to arbitrate claims, intentionally misled the company into believing that had signed the agreement when she had not.  Nevertheless, it denied the company’s motion to compel.  The Court of Appeal affirmed, holding that, even though she misled the company, she was not bound by the arbitration agreement because she did not sign it. Human Resources.jpg

The Court of Appeal decision is a cautionary tale for all retail employers that require their employees to sign arbitration agreements.  It emphasizes that retail employers should have procedures in place to make sure that employees sign arbitration agreements.  But it requires employers to have to go a step further: they must also have safeguards in place to make sure that those in charge of collecting such signatures also sign the agreement.  If not, such employees, even if they are members of the executive team, can mislead their employers into believing that they have signed the arbitration agreements and still not be required to arbitrate claims arising out of their employment.