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Class Action Waivers

Disputes over the enforceability of class action waivers are percolating in several forums. Most recently, the National Labor Relations Board has rejected federal courts of appeals rulings that upheld class action waivers against attacks that they violate the National Labor Relations Act. In Murphy Oil USA, Inc., Case No. 10-CA-038804 (Oct. 28, 2014), the Board ruled that extracting a class action waiver as a condition of employment and then enforcing it in a judicial forum violates employees’ right under section 7 of the NLRA to engage in concerted activities. Because section 7 applies regardless of whether the workplace is unionized or not, all employers risk an enforcement action by the Board if they obtain class action waivers from their employees.

As the Murphy Oil opinion itself recognizes, judicial reception to the Board’s position has been hostile. It originally announced that position in the D.R. Horton case. The Fifth Circuit declined to enforce that decision in D.R. Horton, Inc. v. NLRB, 737 F. 3d 344 (5th Cir. 2013). Two other circuits have refused enforcement of Board rulings based on the Board’s rejection of class action waivers. See Owen v. Bristol Care, Inc., 702 F.3d 1050 (8th Cir. 2013) and  Sutherland v. Ernst & Young LLP, 726 F.3d 290 (2d Cir. 2013).

In the mean time, as mentioned in a previous post, California courts are dealing with the enforcement of arbitration agreements that do not include class claims. In Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014), the California Supreme Court ruled that an arbitration agreement with a class action waiver was enforceable, but that PAGA claims covered by the agreement could not be waived. A petition for certiorari is pending in the U.S. Supreme Court. There is a split in the courts of appeal about who decides whether an arbitration clause provides for arbitration of class claims. The Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles has ruled that the question is for the arbitrator. Sandquist v. Lebo Auto., Inc., 228 Cal. App. 4th 65 (2014). Division Three of the Fourth District Court of Appeal in Santa Ana has ruled that it is for the court. Network Capital Funding Corp. v. Papke, 2014 Cal. App. LEXIS 907(Cal. App. 4th Dist. Oct. 9, 2014)

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