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Arbitration Agreement May Not Preclude PAGA Representative Actions

The Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (Labor Code sections 2698 – 2699.5) (PAGA) allows a aggrieved employee to recover civil penalties for violations of the California Labor Code on behalf of himself or herself and other employees. 75 percent of the amount recovered goes to the State and the balance to the aggrieved employees. The Federal Arbitration Act requires all courts in the United States to enforce arbitration agreements, “save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” In AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 131 S.Ct. 1740 (2011), the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a California Supreme Court ruling that class waivers in consumer arbitration agreements are unconscionable if the agreement is in an adhesion contract, disputes between the parties are likely to involve small amounts of damages, and the party with inferior bargaining power alleges a deliberate scheme to defraud. (See Discover Bank v. Superior Court, 36 Cal.4th 148 (2005).) The ruling stood as an obstacle to the accomplishment of the FAA’s objectives.

The effect of the Concepcion case on class action waivers in the employment context is unsettled. The California Supreme Court has granted review in several cases that raise that issue. The lead case is Iskanian v. CLS Transportation of Los Angeles. Others include Franco v. Arakelian Enterprises and Flores v. West Covina Auto Group.

In Brown v. Superior Court, Case No. H037271 (Jun. 4, 2013), the Sixth District Court of Appeal has ruled that, when applied to the PAGA, an arbitration agreement that purports to waive the right to take representative action is unenforceable because it wholly precludes the exercise of this unwaivable statutory right. Concepcion does not require a different result, because a PAGA claim is asserted on behalf of the State and does not belong to the individual employee.