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Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis

Supreme Court of the United States

October 2, 2017, Argued1; May 21, 2018, Decided

Nos. 16-285, 16-300, 16-307.

Opinion

Justice Gorsuch delivered the opinion of the Court.

 [*1619]  Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration? Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?

As a matter of policy these questions are surely debatable. But as a matter of law the answer is clear.  [**897]  In the Federal Arbitration Act, [***8]  Congress has instructed federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements according to their terms—including terms providing for individualized proceedings. Nor can we agree with the employees’ suggestion that the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) offers a conflicting command. It is this Court’s duty to interpret Congress’s statutes as a harmonious whole rather than at war with one another. And abiding that duty here leads to an unmistakable conclusion. The NLRA secures to employees rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, but it says nothing about how judges and arbitrators must try legal disputes that leave the workplace and enter the courtroom or arbitral forum. This Court has never read a right to class actions into the NLRA—and for three quarters of a century neither did the National Labor Relations Board. Far from conflicting, the Arbitration Act and the NLRA have long enjoyed separate spheres of influence and neither permits this Court to declare the parties’ agreements unlawful.

The three cases before us differ in detail but not in substance. Take Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris. There Ernst & Young and one of its junior accountants, Stephen Morris, entered into an [***9]  agreement providing that they would arbitrate any disputes that might arise between them. The agreement stated that the employee could choose the arbitration provider and that the arbitrator could “grant any relief that could be granted by . . . a court” in the relevant jurisdiction. App. in  [*1620]  No. 16-300, p. 43. The agreement also specified individualized arbitration, with claims “pertaining to different [e]mployees [to] be heard in separate proceedings.” Id., at 44.

After his employment ended, and despite having agreed to arbitrate claims against the firm, Mr. Morris sued Ernst & Young in federal court. He alleged that the firm had misclassified its junior accountants as professional employees and violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and California law by paying them salaries without overtime pay. Although the arbitration agreement provided for individualized proceedings, Mr. Morris sought to litigate the federal claim on behalf of a nationwide class under the FLSA’s collective action provision, 29 U. S. C. §216(b). He sought to pursue the state law claim as a class action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23.

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138 S. Ct. 1612 *; 200 L. Ed. 2d 889 **; 2018 U.S. LEXIS 3086 ***; 86 U.S.L.W. 4297; 168 Lab. Cas. (CCH) P11,091; 211 L.R.R.M. 3061; 27 Wage & Hour Cas. 2d (BNA) 1197; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 255; 2018 WL 2292444

EPIC SYSTEMS CORPORATION, Petitioner (No. 16-285) v. JACOB LEWIS

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SEVENTH CIRCUIT

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE NINTH CIRCUIT

ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE FIFTH CIRCUIT

Murphy Oil USA, Inc. v. NLRB, 808 F.3d 1013, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 18673 (5th Cir., Oct. 26, 2015)Morris v. Ernst & Young, LLP, 834 F.3d 975, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 15638 (9th Cir. Cal., Aug. 22, 2016)Lewis v. Epic Sys. Corp., 823 F.3d 1147, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 9638 (7th Cir. Wis., May 26, 2016)

Disposition: No. 16-285, 823 F. 3d 1147, and No. 16-300, 834 F. 3d 975, reversed and remanded; No. 16-307, 808 F. 3d 1013, affirmed.

CORE TERMS

arbitration, employees, arbitration agreement, collective action, courts, cases, rights, terms, contracts, concerted activity, saving clause, join, class action, proceedings, individualized, disputes, collective bargaining, decisions, workplace, parties, mutual aid, provisions, deference, waivers, concerted, quotation, marks, labor organization, unconscionability, displace

Business & Corporate Compliance, Arbitration, Federal Arbitration Act, Arbitration Agreements, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Contracts Law, Defenses, General Overview, Illegal Bargains, Courts, Judicial Precedent, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, Labor & Employment Law, Collective Bargaining & Labor Relations, Labor Arbitration, Arbitration Awards, Protected Activities, Administrative Law, Judicial Review, Standards of Review, Deference to Agency Statutory Interpretation