EMPLOYEES BEWARE: U.S. SUPREME COURT SAYS YOU CAN WAIVE YOUR RIGHTS WITHOUT ACTUALLY AGREEING TO WAIVE THEM

Under state and federal rules of procedure, and statutory law, many plaintiffs are given the right to pursue their claims as a class, or on a collective basis. The right to pursue claims on a class, or collective basis allows the plaintiffs to efficiently pursue their claims, and aggregate their resources. Often, the only way for plaintiffs to vindicate their rights is to pursue class, or collective claims, because otherwise, their claims are too small to pursue individually, given the costs associated with litigation. This issue arises again and again in the context of employment disputes.   However, your rights to pursue claims under a class basis or collective basis is under attack and the U.S. Supreme Court has just thrown a major blow to employees and consumers and their rights to pursue these claims.

The same rational holds true when a Plaintiff must arbitrate claims pursuant to an enforceable arbitration agreement, i.e., class, or collective arbitration is often the only feasible means for plaintiffs to vindicate their rights given the size of the claims, and the costs to arbitrate. As you may know, arbitration agreements are enforceable, and rather common in the employment context, with many employers requiring employees to sign arbitration agreements as a condition of employment. Frankly, arbitration can often be just as good as a courtroom, sometimes better, but that it is assuming plaintiffs will have equal opportunity to vindicate their rights in arbitration as they would in court.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Supreme Court just dealt a major blow to employees’ rights to pursue class, or collective arbitration in Lamps Plus, Inc. v. Varela, a 5-4 decision, calling into question whether plaintiffs can effectively vindicate their rights in arbitration. Now, this isn’t a law review article, so I will save you from the lengthy case analysis, and confusing legalese. Suffice it to say, the Court’s decision can be summed up as follows: If your arbitration agreement does not specifically reference class, or collective claims, then, assuming the arbitration agreement is otherwise enforceable, you may have effectively waived your right to pursue class, or collective claims, even though the agreement says nothing about waiving such claims.

Now, more than ever, it is important that you read and understand any agreements your employer asks you to sign. Here, at the Law Office of J.J. Talbott, P.A., we have extensive experience handling employment disputes, including disputes over unpaid wages, or overtime; discrimination; or harassment.  If you are involved in a dispute with your employer, contact us to discuss your options.