Arbitration Agreement and Class Action Waiver Enforcement in Employment Litigation and the Impact of the Supreme Court's Decision in Epic Systems
 

Arbitration Agreement and Class Action Waiver Enforcement in Employment Litigation and the Impact of the Supreme Court's Decision in Epic Systems

Posted on 12-18-2018

By: John B. Lewis and Dustin D. Dow

This article provides step-by-step guidance to consider when enforcing arbitration agreements and class action waivers in employment cases. Arbitration agreements are agreements that force individuals to bring legal claims in arbitration, rather than in court. A class action waiver is an agreement, or a section in a broader agreement, that restricts an individual’s ability to bring a class action. Employers often include class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

Step 1: Considering Key Legal Issues to Determine the Enforceability of Class Action Waivers and Arbitration Agreements

This section provides guidance on the Supreme Court’s pivotal decision on the enforceability of class action waivers in Epic Sys. Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S. Ct. 1612 (2018), and subsequent cases interpreting Epic Systems . It also addresses issues to consider in analyzing whether arbitration agreements, which frequently include class action waivers, are enforceable.

U.S. Supreme Court’s Pivotal Decision in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis

The controversy surrounding the validity of employment arbitration agreements with class action waivers had been simmering since at least 2012. With the Supreme Court’s May 21, 2018, decision in Epic Systems , we have an answer: They “must be enforced as written” despite any provision within the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that suggested otherwise. 1

Prior to the Supreme Court’s Epic Systems decision, the Seventh and Ninth Circuits held that an arbitration agreement precluding collective arbitration or class actions violates Section 7 of the NLRA 2 and is unenforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), which we address below in the section entitled “The Federal Arbitration Act.” The Seventh and Ninth Circuits were squarely at odds with the Second, Fifth, Eighth, and Eleventh Circuits, which had previously held that the FAA’s policy of favoring arbitration overrides any concerted activity rights employees have to class or collective remedies.

In a 5-4 majority opinion authored by Justice Neil Gorsuch, the Court delivered an unmistakable conclusion that the NLRA does not contain a class action right that overrides the FAA:

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’ agreement unlawful. 3

Justice Gorsuch first relied on the specific language of the savings clause of the FAA, which states that arbitration agreements are enforceable except “upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 4 In doing so, he rejected the employees’ argument that Section 7 of the NLRA fits into the savings clause by noting that “the saving clause recognizes only defenses that apply to ‘any’ contract.” 5 And according to Supreme Court precedent, “this means the saving clause does not save defenses that target arbitration either by name or by more subtle methods, such as by ‘interfer[ing] with the fundamental attributes of arbitration.’” 6

Additionally, Justice Gorsuch rejected the employees’ argument that the NLRA contained a congressional command to displace the FAA insofar as it concerned individual employment arbitration agreements. Section 7, however, “does not express approval or disapproval of arbitration. It does not mention class or collective action procedures. It does not even hint at a wish to displace the Arbitration Act—let alone accomplish that much clearly and manifestly, as our precedents demand.” 7 The majority further cast doubt on the employees’ attempt to use the NLRA to create an arbitration escape route within the Fair Labor Standards Act: “[T]hey have cast in this direction, suggesting that one statute (the NLRA) steps in to dictate the procedures for claims under a different statute (the FLSA), and thereby overrides the commands of yet a third statute (FAA). It’s a sort of interpretive triple bank shot, and just stating the theory is enough to raise a judicial eyebrow.” 8

Guidance on Key Cases Applying and Interpreting Epic Systems

Below we analyze cases applying the Supreme Court’s decision in Epic Systems.

Gaffers v. Kelly Servs.

As forceful as it seemed, Epic Systems did not extinguish all arguments over the use and scope of class action waivers in arbitration. In Gaffers v. Kelly Servs., 900 F.3d 293, 295 (6th Cir. 2018), the plaintiff asserted that the employer did not credit the employees in its call centers for all of the time it took to log in and out of the computer network each day. He sought to bring a collective action under the FLSA on behalf of himself and thousands of other such workers for the resulting claimed unpaid overtime. Following the district court’s grant of conditional certification, 1,600 of those workers opted into the litigation. While the named plaintiff had not signed an arbitration agreement, about half of the opt-in class members did. Those agreements provided that wage and hour claims must be arbitrated on an individual basis.

The defendant moved to compel arbitration of the claims brought by claimants who had signed arbitration agreements. Plaintiffs opposed the motion on the grounds that such agreements violated both the NLRA and FLSA. The district court, prior to Epic Systems , found that the agreements violated the FLSA, reasoning, among other things, that the right to bring a collective action was part and parcel of the statute’s structure and remedial intent. Although it cited case law reaching different conclusions as to whether arbitration agreements with class action waivers in the workplace setting violated the NLRA, it found it did not need to resolve that issue given their lack of enforceability under the FLSA. 9 The employer then appealed.

While the case was on appeal, the Supreme Court rendered its decision in Epic Systems . In a concise opinion, the Sixth Circuit found that Epic Systems settled the issue of whether the NLRA would bar the agreements—it wouldn’t.

Similarly, the court found that nothing in the FLSA made collective actions exempt from the Epic Systems holding. The plaintiffs had argued that Section 16(b) of the FLSA 10 created the mechanism for pursuing a collective action and therefore, they asserted, collective actions should be exempt from arbitration either because the enabling language cannot be reconciled with the FAA or on public policy grounds. The Sixth Circuit had previously found that the right to assert a collective action could not be waived, but in a case not involving an arbitration agreement. 11 In a prior case, the court did enforce such a waiver when there was also an agreement to arbitrate. 12 The Sixth Circuit in Gaffers made quick work of this argument, noting that the Supreme Court had already found claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 13 which has the same enforcement provisions, to be subject to arbitration. 14 The ADEA and FLSA use the exact same enforcement provision. 15 Even before Epic Systems , many courts had already found that FLSA claims were arbitrable. 16

The court thus remanded the case to the district court to enforce the arbitration agreements with class action waivers. Interestingly, nothing in the opinion addresses what would happen to the plaintiff’s own claim as he had signed no arbitration agreement or what would happen with respect to the approximately 800 opt-ins who similarly had signed no such agreements. While the employer is likely relieved to see half of the claims found to be subject to arbitration, the other half remain in court. Further, while many of those whose claims are subject to arbitration may elect not to proceed further, others certainly will.

McGrew v. VCG Holding Corp.

In McGrew v. VCG Holding Corp., 735 Fed. Appx. 210, 211 (6th Cir. 2018), the plaintiffs were what the court described as “exotic dancers” working at a “gentlemen’s club.” Like many enterprises in that industry, the club treated the dancers as independent contractors, yet the dancers contended that they were in actuality employees entitled to compensation under the FLSA. Faced with arbitration agreements signed by the plaintiffs, the district court dismissed the action, compelled arbitration, and refused the plaintiffs’ request for confidential certification.

In a brief, unreported decision, the Sixth Circuit found the matter governed by both Epic Systems and Gaffers and rejected the plaintiffs’ arguments that the agreements violated the NLRA and FLSA. Similarly, the court rejected the contention that somehow the court must first decide whether the plaintiffs were covered by the FLSA before referring the matter to the arbitrator to make any further determinations. None of this should come as a surprise in the wake of Epic Systems .

Although this opinion makes it clear that Epic Systems applies to independent contractor disputes, it is also important for a fourth issue it reached. Many plaintiffs’ attorneys have responded to Epic Systems by suggesting that they may simply file multiple arbitration requests if the claims are referred to individual arbitration, the implication being that it would be cheaper in the long run for the employer to defend a single case in court than to defend many in arbitration. For that strategy to work, however, the plaintiffs must have the identity of those claimants willing to do so. In McGrew , the trial court had refused to grant conditional certification—more accurately, it refused to allow the sending of notices to the putative class to give potential plaintiffs the opportunity to identify themselves and opt in. The Sixth Circuit concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in doing so, noting that “after Epic and Gaffers there will be no FLSA collective action against the Defendants about which the district court could facilitate notice.” This more than suggests that plaintiffs cannot seek conditional certification on the eve of referral of arbitration simply to enhance a strategy of multiple filings to coerce a settlement.

The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA)

This subsection provides a brief summary of the FAA and how it affects the enforceability of arbitration agreements.

Pertinent Text of the FAA

The FAA states, in relevant part: “[A] contract evidencing a transaction involving commerce to settle by arbitration a controversy thereafter arising out of such contract . . . shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract.” 17

Basic FAA Principles

Congress enacted the FAA in response to judicial hostility to arbitration. The text of the FAA reflects the view that arbitration is a matter of contract. Courts must “rigorously enforce” arbitration agreements according to their terms. 18 But like other agreements, they may be invalidated by “generally applicable contract defenses, such as fraud, duress or unconscionability.” 19

State Arbitration Laws Matter

In addition to the FAA, you should also consider state laws when determining whether arbitration agreements are enforceable. Much litigation over the enforcement of arbitration agreements will likely shift to disputes regarding the terms and implementation of the agreements under state law. Because jurisdictions differ significantly, the party drafting the arbitration agreement must know the applicable law in the state where the agreement will be enforced.

Recurring State Law Issues

Keep in mind the following recurring state law arbitration issues.

Employee Handbooks

Having an arbitration policy in an employee handbook creates a risk that a court will not enforce the arbitration agreement. Most employee handbooks contain disclaimers stating that the handbook is not a contract. Those disclaimers should have a specific carve-out for any arbitration policy. 20 In addition, employers should be mindful that if the handbook contains a clause allowing the employer to unilaterally alter the handbook, then any arbitration provision contained therein may be unenforceable.

Consideration

You must consider what is sufficient consideration for the arbitration agreement. Ask the following questions:

  • First, is continued employment sufficient? Depending on the jurisdiction, continued employment may constitute sufficient consideration to support an arbitration agreement. 21 In other jurisdictions, however, continued employment is not sufficient consideration. 22
  • Second, is the mutuality of obligation to arbitrate sufficient consideration? The mutual obligation to arbitrate has been found to be sufficient in most states. The obligation on the employer must not be illusory. For example, an employer who retains the unilateral option to amend the arbitration agreement or withdraw its obligation to arbitrate may not have satisfied the mutuality of obligation to satisfy consideration. 23 Adding that any agreement changes will not impact existing disputes may aid enforcement.

Assent to Arbitrate

Ask the following questions regarding assent to arbitrate: Have the parties agreed to arbitrate? How was the agreement to arbitrate to be manifested? Was the language sufficiently clear? Was the agreement signed manually or electronically, if at all? If the answer is no to any of these questions, then there might not have been proper assent from the employee to arbitrate. 24

Scope of Agreement to Arbitrate

Because arbitration is a matter of consent, it resolves only those disputes the parties have agreed to arbitrate. Disputes outside the scope of the arbitration agreement are not subject to it. Ask yourself: Are pre-employment and post-discharge acts covered? 25

Arbitrator Selection

The employer cannot unilaterally control arbitrator selection, and the selection process cannot result in the employer always selecting the arbitrator. For example, in State ex rel. Hewitt v. Kerr, 461 S.W.3d 798, 803 (Mo. 2015), the Missouri Supreme Court held that the NFL could not use the Commissioner of the NFL as arbitrator in a dispute with an employee of the St. Louis Rams. The Missouri Supreme Court directed the trial court to appoint a neutral arbitrator.

In Chavarria v. Ralphs Grocery Co., 733 F.3d 916 (9th Cir. 2013), the employer had a policy in which the arbitrator proposed by the employer was always selected. The Ninth Circuit found this policy unconscionable. 26

Unconscionability

Ask the following questions regarding unconscionability: Can the employer modify or terminate the agreement unilaterally? Can the employer access the judicial system but not the employee? Is the employer the only party eligible for injunctive relief? Is the arbitration agreement buried in fine print or in a lengthy agreement? If the answer to these questions is yes, then a court might find the arbitration agreement to be unenforceable. 27

Also consider whether a court will enforce a shortened limitation period in an arbitration agreement. 28

Waiver

Consider the following questions concerning waiver: Does initial use of the court system by the employer amount to a waiver of the right to arbitrate? Must there be prejudice demonstrated by the party opposing arbitration? Should a court or arbitrator decide? See the section below entitled “Waiver of Arbitral Rights” for further discussion.

Confidentiality—A Multifaceted Issue

Should the arbitration agreement contain a confidentiality provision? Does the requirement of confidentiality impact enforcement of the arbitration agreement? Will courts be concerned about “repeat player” issues for employers? For example, in Ting v. AT&T, 319 F.3d 1126 (9th Cir. 2003), the Ninth Circuit found a contract requiring arbitration to remain confidential to be unconscionable. The court was concerned with repeat player issues, that is, the employer could benefit from knowledge of prior cases.

On the other hand, will courts actually enforce privacy or confidentiality requirements in the arbitration agreement against participants or third parties? Many have not. This is a significant issue. 29 While there may be greater privacy in arbitration, that does not necessarily mean true confidentiality.

Costs and Fees

Consider the following questions concerning costs and fees: Who pays for the arbitral proceeding and arbitrator and how much? Should employees be permitted to receive their attorney’s fees if they are authorized by statute? Should the employee be required to pay more than required to file an action in court? For example, in California, the maximum an employee could be required to pay is the equivalent to filing the action in court. 30

The Federal Law Option

These numerous and complicated state law issues generally make proceeding under the FAA the better option. The requirements of the FAA also have been broadly interpreted by many federal courts. The FAA does not confer subject matter jurisdiction, however, so many claims subject to the FAA will be litigated in state court. And, courts will still determine contract-related issues under state law. But, if the FAA is inapplicable, you must comply with state procedural and substantive law.

The California Private Attorneys General Act

A hurdle employers in California face regarding the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements is in the context of private attorneys general actions. California passed the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) in 2004, 31 permitting plaintiff employees to bring actions against their employers on behalf of the state to remedy labor code violations that would otherwise go unprosecuted because of the state’s limited resources.

To avoid aggregate litigation, many employers have included representative waivers in their arbitration agreements. These waivers require that an employee proceed with a PAGA claim on an individual basis. Over the last few years, the enforceability of such waivers has been questioned.

Despite several contrary federal district court decisions, the California Supreme Court ruled in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation L.A., Inc., 327 P.3d 129 (Cal. 2014), that PAGA waivers in arbitration agreements are unenforceable under California law. 32 The court reasoned that authorizing an employee to bring an action on behalf of the state against his or her employer for labor code violations committed against the employee and fellow employees furthers important public policy and does not contravene the FAA. 33

Until the Ninth Circuit decided Sakkab v. Luxottica Retail N. Am., Inc., 803 F.3d 425 (9th Cir. 2015), at least six federal district courts had concluded that the rule announced in Iskanian conflicted with the FAA’s “liberal policy favoring arbitration” and found that employees had the right to waive their abilities to pursue representative PAGA claims or to proceed with the claims individually. The Sakkab court recognized the FAA’s liberal policy favoring arbitration, but noted that “such a broad construction of the FAA’s purposes is untenable, of course, because it would render § 2’s savings clause wholly ‘ineffectual.’” 34 Congress, the court concluded, only intended to preempt state rules that interfere with arbitration—and the Iskanian rule does not interfere with the FAA. 35 Sakkab thus creates another impediment to full enforcement of class and representative action waivers in California courts.

California employers must consider these PAGA-related issues in their arbitration enforcement strategy. The California statute generally makes it difficult to resolve all claims by arbitration, unless an employer is willing to endure the arbitration of PAGA representative claims. 36 California federal and state courts differ on this issue. 37 Moreover, unfortunately, Fed. R. Civ. P. 23, which provides the rules for class actions in federal court, does not apply to PAGA actions and there are few procedural guideposts for PAGA claims. California employers should consider these issues as well as the court where they will enforce the arbitration agreement.

Step 2: Drafting the Motion to Stay Pending Arbitration or Motion to Compel Arbitration

If an employee is subject to an enforceable arbitration agreement and he or she files an individual or class action claim in court, you will next want to consider filing a motion to stay the court claim pending arbitration and/or a motion to compel arbitration of the employee’s claim to avoid wasting time and resources litigating the claim in court. A motion for a stay pending arbitration requests a stay of the pending court claim and a determination of the arbitrability of it. A motion to compel arbitration forces the pending court claim out of court and into arbitration. Below we discuss key considerations in drafting a motion to stay pending arbitration or a motion to compel arbitration.

Format

You must be sure that the motion complies with state or federal law and local court rules.

Content and Structuring of the Motion

The motion must demonstrate that the arbitration agreement is valid and enforceable. It is necessary to attach documentation that establishes the agreement is in existence, the scope of the agreement, and that the employee assented to arbitrate future claims. Additionally, the motion should clearly state whether it is a motion to stay the court action, a motion to compel arbitration, or both—and this varies per state.

In federal court, an evidentiary hearing is generally not required for a motion to compel arbitration under the FAA. 38 Thus, a motion to compel is likely to be sufficient in federal court to enforce arbitration of a claim. Defendants may also include a request to stay further court proceedings in the motion to compel arbitration. 39

However, if the federal district court litigation is initiated in a jurisdiction that is different from that specified in the arbitration agreement, it is necessary to pay greater attention to procedure. Most courts have held that a district court does not have authority to compel arbitration outside of its own jurisdictional boundaries. 40 So, if an employer is presented with a scenario in which the district court proceeding is occurring in a different jurisdiction than the sought after arbitration, a couple of options exist. One option would be to file a motion to transfer venue to a court within the appropriate jurisdiction, and then file a motion to stay in the original court while compelling arbitration. Alternatively, instead of filing a motion to transfer venue, an employer could file a motion to stay in the district court and then follow by filing a motion to compel arbitration in a district court within the appropriate jurisdiction under the FAA.

Use of Affidavits or Declarations and Exhibits

You must include an affidavit or declaration in support of the motion to stay or compel arbitration. In federal courts, parties can use a declaration, which does not require notarization. 41 The affidavit or declaration must demonstrate that the individual has personal knowledge or under the business records exception can establish that the plaintiff agreed to arbitration, either by signing manually or electronically. If there is an online agreement process, the affidavit or declaration should explain it in detail. The affidavit or declaration must also reflect that the attached exhibits (arbitration agreements) are true and accurate copies.

Some states, such as Ohio, have different requirements for a motion to stay and one to compel arbitration. 42 Be aware of all state procedural requirements that can impact the filing.

The affidavit or declaration should also demonstrate that the FAA is applicable. For the FAA to apply, employees and/or goods must move in interstate commerce. If the FAA is not applicable, you will be under state law, which also requires an affidavit or declaration but may have different enforcement provisions.

Step 3: Filing the Motion to Stay Pending Arbitration or Motion to Compel Arbitration

You should refer to the arbitration agreement to determine the appropriate court to file the motion to stay pending arbitration or motion to compel arbitration. If the agreement is silent regarding this, you will typically file where the employee works or worked.

Step 4: Serving the Motion to Stay Pending Arbitration or Motion to Compel Arbitration

Serve the motion to stay pending arbitration or the motion to compel arbitration according to the applicable federal or state law where the action is filed.

Step 5: Replying to Oppositions to Motions to Stay Pending Arbitration or Motions to Compel Arbitration

Consider the following potential responses and arguments when replying to the employee’s opposition to the motion to stay pending arbitration or motion to compel arbitration.

Coverage

Plaintiff may claim that no arbitration agreement exists or that it did not cover the dispute at issue. Employers should generally address these questions in the supporting affidavit or declaration.

Waiver of Arbitral Rights

Plaintiffs will often claim a waiver of arbitral rights when opposing a motion to stay or compel arbitration. An employer can waive the right to arbitrate by failing to timely enforce it. Waiver can be either implied or express. It is express when a party to a contract intentionally waives its right to arbitrate by expressly stating so. It is implied when a party substantially participates in litigation to such a point that it becomes inconsistent with an intent to arbitrate. Substantial participation in the judicial process, such as counterclaiming, participating in discovery, and filing motions, may establish an intent not to arbitrate. However, removing a case to federal court, filing a motion to dismiss, or moving to change venue may not constitute a waiver. Requirements among courts may differ markedly, so you should be sure to check.

You may be able to reply to a plaintiff’s opposition by stating the employer’s participation in litigation did not prejudice the plaintiff. Some jurisdictions require a party opposing arbitration to show that the other side’s participation in litigation prejudiced them, so be sure to check whether the jurisdiction you are litigating in requires prejudice. The federal circuit appellate courts generally are split in the following ways on whether a party opposing arbitration must show prejudice:

  • First Circuit: Prejudice required. In re Tyco Int’l Ltd. Sec. Litig., 422 F.3d 41, 46 (1st Cir. 2005).
  • Second Circuit: Prejudice required. Thyssen, Inc. v. Calypso Shipping Corp., S.A., 310 F.3d 102, 105 (2nd Cir. 2002).
  • Third Circuit: Prejudice required. Ehleiter v. Grapetree Shores, Inc., 482 F.3d 207, 223 (3rd Cir. 2007).
  • Fourth Circuit: Prejudice required. Patten Grading & Paving, Inc. v. Skanska USA Bldg., Inc., 380 F.3d 200, 206 (4th Cir. 2004).
  • Fifth Circuit: Prejudice required. Cargill Ferrous Int’l v. Sea Phoenix MV, 325 F.3d 695, 700 (5th Cir. 2003).
  • Sixth Circuit: Prejudice required. Manasher v. NECC Telecom, 310 Fed. Appx. 804, 806 (6th Cir. 2009).
  • Seventh Circuit: No prejudice required. Cabinetree of Wis., Inc. v. Kraftmaid Cabinetry, Inc., 50 F.3d 388, 390 (7th Cir. 1995).
  • Eighth Circuit: Prejudice required. Lewallen v. Green Tree Servicing, L.L.C., 487 F.3d 1085, 1090 (8th Cir. 2007).
  • Ninth Circuit: Prejudice required. Britton v. Co-op Banking Grp., 916 F.2d 1405, 1412 (9th Cir. 1990).
  • Tenth Circuit: No prejudice required. Reid Burton Constr., Inc. v. Carpenters Dist. Council of S. Colo., 614 F.2d 698, 701–02 (10th Cir. 1980).
  • Eleventh Circuit: Prejudice required. Ivax Corp. v. B. Braun of Am., Inc., 286 F.3d 1309, 1315–16 (11th Cir. 2002).
  • D.C. Circuit: No prejudice required. National Found. for Cancer Research v. A.G. Edwards & Sons, Inc., 821 F.2d 772, 777 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

Similarly, you may argue that the employer did not substantially participate in litigation in any event.

Revival of the Right to Arbitrate Due to Change in Law Eliminating Futility of Motion to Arbitrate

When a change in the relevant law alters what would have been a futile motion to compel arbitration, the movant may be able to revive its right to pursue arbitration. For example, Phillips v. Sprint PCS, 147 Cal. Rptr. 3d 274 (Cal. Ct. App. 2012), involved a consumer class action brought under California’s Unfair Competition Law. 43 During the case, the trial court denied Sprint’s motion to compel arbitration because the provisions requiring a class action waiver were unconscionable under California’s law. 44 Sprint did not appeal the ruling, and the action proceeded to litigation. 45 Two years later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued an opinion holding that such class action waivers are enforceable. 46 Sprint renewed its motion to compel arbitration, and the court granted it. 47 The plaintiff appealed and argued that Sprint waived its right to compel arbitration by failing to appeal the original order denying its motion to compel. 48 The appellate court held that Sprint did not waive its right to compel arbitration because it “would have been futile given the state of the law at the time.” 49 The court ultimately held that it would not find waiver “on the basis of a party’s failure to undertake a futile act.” 50

A similar example is Brown v. TrueBlue, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134523 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 22, 2011). In Brown , the plaintiffs filed suit against their employer alleging violations of Pennsylvania’s minimum wage law. 51 The defendant employer, a temporary staffing agency, gave its employees the option to be paid either by check or cash voucher. 52 Employees who selected the cash voucher option were provided a voucher and pin number redeemable for cash at one of the employer’s onsite cash dispensing machines. 53 Employees were charged a fee for using the cash dispensing machine. 54 The plaintiffs brought suit alleging that once the fees were applied, employees received less than minimum wage. 55 The employees signed arbitration agreements, but the employer waited 15 months after the lawsuit was filed to compel arbitration. 55 Nevertheless, the court granted the motion. 57 The court explained:

[A]lthough the Court is troubled that Defendants’ motion to compel arbitration was not filed until fifteen months after this action commenced, it is undisputed that the reason for this delay was that [a pending case] represented a significant change in the state of the law. Because this intervening change in the law of this circuit excuses Defendants’ delay, and because Plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate prejudice, the Court cannot find that Defendants waived their right to proceed to arbitration. 58

After the Supreme Court’s 2018 ruling in Epic Systems , the next big issue the courts in the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits will likely face is whether employers waived their ability to compel arbitration when they did not move to do so originally because the motion would have been futile. Prior to the Supreme Court’s Epic Systems decision, the Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Circuits found class action waivers unenforceable. 59 The Supreme Court’s 2018 holding in Epic Systems nullified all of these cases.

Revival of the Right to Arbitrate Due to Amended Complaint with Major Changes to the Lawsuit

You may also argue revival of the right to arbitrate where an employer initially waived its right to arbitration but later seeks to assert it because an amended complaint contains extensive changes in claims or class size. To support revival by an amended complaint, generally, the amended complaint must reflect changes that are both drastic and unexpected. Typically, four types of changes in an amended complaint create drastic, unexpected alterations that warrant revival of the right to compel arbitration:

  1. Changing the prospective class size
  2. Supplying new factual allegations
  3. Adding new claims or amending existing claims
  4. Increasing the defendant’s potential liability

For example, in Collado v. J. & G. Transp., Inc., 820 F.3d 1256 (11th Cir. 2016), the court examined revival of the right to arbitrate in a FLSA collective action. 60 Shortly before trial, and after the close of discovery, the plaintiff filed a second amended complaint adding state law claims for breach of contract and quantum meruit. 61 J. & G. opposed the amended complaint, asserting that the plaintiff was aware of the breach of contract claim well before filing his first amended complaint. 62 J. & G. admitted waiving arbitration on the initial claim, but contended the second amended complaint revived their right to compel arbitration “because those new claims unexpectedly broadened the scope of the case.” 63 The district court denied the motion to compel arbitration, holding that the amendment was not unexpected and fairness did not favor compelling arbitration. 64

The Eleventh Circuit vacated the district court’s order, holding “waiver through litigation of the right to arbitrate Collado’s FLSA claim does not extend to the state law claims that were pleaded for the first time after J & G had litigated to the point of waiver [of] the FLSA claim.” 65 The court also explained, responding to the fact that J. & G. admitted being aware of the potential breach of contract claim, that “[knowing] that a potential claim may lurk in the shadows of a case is not the same as litigating against a claim that has been brought out into the open in a pleading.” 66

Another example is Krinsk v. SunTrust Banks, Inc., 654 F.3d 1194 (11th Cir. 2011), where the court held that revival is proper where an amended complaint vastly augments the putative class. 67 In Krinsk, the plaintiff filed a class action with her original complaint specifying a putative class of individuals who were 65 or older. 68 Krinsk estimated that this class would consist of hundreds of individuals. 69 The defendant did not mention the arbitration agreement it had with the plaintiff and instead filed a motion to dismiss and a case management report. 70 The case management report included a statement by SunTrust that it opposed arbitrating the claims, a discovery plan, and a discovery deadline. 71 In other words, SunTrust demonstrated an intent to waive its arbitration rights. 72 Krinsk then amended her complaint and proposed a new class that “greatly enlarged the potential size of the putative class” to thousands if not tens of thousands. 73 SunTrust filed an answer raising its right to arbitration and subsequently moved to compel arbitration. 74 The lower court denied the motion because SunTrust waived its right to arbitrate. 75

The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, explaining that Krinsk’s amended complaint “[vastly augmented the] putative class [and] so altered the shape of litigation that, despite its prior invocations of the judicial process, SunTrust should have been allowed to rescind its waiver of its right to arbitration.” 76

Additionally, depending on jurisdiction, you might argue the waiver of arbitration is nullified. Some courts find that an amended complaint may nullify the waiver of arbitration, rather than revive it. This may often be a matter of semantics, however, because whether the initial waiver of arbitration is nullified or revived, the end result is the same—a renewed right to compel arbitration.


John B. Lewis is a partner in BakerHostetler’s Cleveland, Ohio office and concentrates his practice on the resolution of complex employment, labor, and regulatory disputes, including the defense and oversight of class action litigation. The majority of John’s time is devoted to litigation, appellate practice, and alternative dispute resolution procedures involving federal and state anti-discrimination, wage and hour, and fair housing laws, the Railway Labor Act, the Civil Rights Acts, the Federal Reserve Act, and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, as well as wrongful discharge, trade secret, non-competition, and work-related tort claims. He has participated in more than 90 cases before federal and state appellate courts, including the filing of amicus briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court. Dustin D. Dow focuses his practice on nationwide class actions, employment representation, and insurance coverage. With comprehensive litigation experience, Dustin manages clients’ needs throughout the litigation process, from pre-discovery to appeals. As the editor of the firm’s annual class action review, Dustin is continually abreast of the most recent and relevant trends affecting companies dealing with potential class action liability.


To find this article in Lexis Practice Advisor, follow this research path:

RESEARCH PATH: Labor & Employment > Employment Contracts > Waivers and Releases > Practice Notes

For non-jurisdictional and state-specific annotated arbitration agreements, see

> THE ARBITRATION AGREEMENTS COLUMN OF EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION STATE EXPERT FORMS AND CHECKLISTS CHART

> Labor & Employment > Employment Litigation > Other Employment Litigation > Forms

For more labor and employment arbitration practical guidance, see

> THE EMPLOYMENT LITIGATION / ARBITRATION PRACTICE NOTES PAGE

> Labor & Employment > Employment Litigation > Arbitration > Practice Notes

For guidance on seeking a delay in federal court pending arbitration, see

> MOTION FOR A STAY PENDING ARBITRATION: MAKING THE MOTION (FEDERAL)

> Civil Litigation > Arbitration and Other ADR > Practice Notes

For an explanation on how to seek a court order to compel a party to participate in arbitration, see

> MOTION TO COMPEL ARBITRATION: MAKING THE MOTION AND APPEALING AN ADVERSE RULING (FEDERAL)

> Civil Litigation > Arbitration and Other ADR > Practice Notes

For information on the requirements for motion practice in federal court, including motions to stay pending arbitration, see

> MAKING AND OPPOSING A MOTION (FEDERAL)

> Civil Litigation > Motions > Motion Practice Fundamentals > Practice Notes

For a discussion on California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA), see

> PRIVATE ATTORNEYS GENERAL ACT IN CALIFORNIA: DEFENDING AGAINST PAGA CLAIMS

> Labor & Employment > Employment Litigation > Class and Collective Actions > Practice Notes

1.Epic Systems, 138 S. Ct. at 1632. 2. 29 U.S.C.S. § 157. 3.Epic Systems, 138 S. Ct. at 1619. 4. 9 U.S.C.S. § 2. Epic Systems, 138 S. Ct. at 1622. 5.Id. 6.Id. (quoting AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion, 563 U. S. 333, 344 (2011)). 7.Epic Systems, 138 S. Ct. at 1624. 8.Epic Systems, 138 S. Ct. at 1626. 9. Gaffers v. Kelly Servs., 203 F. Supp. 3d 829, 842 (E.D. Mich. 2016). 10. 29 U.S.C.S, § 216(b). 11. Killion v. KeHE Distributors, LLC, 761 F.3d 574 (6th Cir. 2014). 12. Boaz v. FedEx Customer Info. Servs., Inc., 725 F.3d 603 (6th Cir. 2013). 13. 29 U.S.C.S. § 621 et seq. 14. Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20, 27 (1991). 15. 29 U.S.C.S. § 626(b) (ADEA incorporates FLSA enforcement provision). 16.See, e.g., Rodriguez-Depena v. Parts Auth., Inc., 877 F.3d 122 (2d Cir. 2017). 17. 9 U.S.C.S. § 2. 18. Perry v. Thomas, 482 U.S. 483, 490 (1987) (citations omitted). 19. Doctors Assocs., Inc. v. Casarotto, 517 U.S. 681, 687 (1996). 20.See, e.g., Patterson v. Tenet Healthcare, Inc., 113 F.3d 832, 837–38 (8th Cir. 1997). 21.See, e.g., Stern v. eSpeed, Inc., 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 68655, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 2006) (“[T]he continuation of employment alone is sufficient consideration to enforce [a post-employment arbitration] agreement.”). 22.See, e.g., Baker v. Bristol Care, Inc., 450 S.W.3d 770, 776 (Mo. 2014) (an offer to continue employing an at-will employee is not sufficient consideration to enforce the arbitration agreement, even though the employee received both a promotion and a raise upon signing the arbitration agreement). 23.See, e.g., Baker, 450 S.W.3d at 776–77 (insufficient consideration where the employer has the unilateral right to retroactively amend, modify, or revoke the agreement upon 30 days prior written notice to the employee). 24.See, e.g., Cullinane v. Uber Techs., Inc., 893 F.3d 53 (1st Cir. 2018) (consumer case holding customers not bound to arbitration where arbitration clause was “barely visible” in online contract); Shimkus v. O’Charleys, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 91529 (N.D. Ind. Aug. 16, 2011) (“I agree” demonstrates assent to arbitrate). 25.See, e.g., Pennzoil Exploration & Prod. Co. v. Ramco Energy Ltd., 139 F.3d 1061, 1067 (5th Cir. 1998) (broad arbitration clause governs disputes “arising out of or in relation to” the agreement; narrow arbitration clause governs disputes “arising out of” the agreement); Pedigo v. Robertson, 237 So.3d 1263 (Miss. 2017) (holding that criminal complaint was not contemplated and is not included even in a very broadly worded arbitration clause). 26.Chavarria, 733 F.3d at 926. 27.See, e.g., Ingle v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 328 F.3d 1165 (9th Cir. 2003) (holding employer’s unilateral power to modify or terminate arbitration agreement unconscionable); Mayne v. Monaco Enterprises, Inc., 361 P.3d 264 (Wash. Ct. App. 2015) (arbitration agreement buried in fine print unconscionable). 28.See, e.g., Boaz, 725 F.3d 603 (shortening statute of limitations for claims under Fair Labor Standards Act unconscionable); Ingle, 328 F.3d 1165 (one-year statute of limitations provision unconscionable). But see Bracey v. Lancaster Foods, LLC, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 54084, at *19 (D. Md. Mar. 30, 2018) (one-year statute of limitations provision enforceable); Letourneau v. FedEx Ground Package Sys., Inc., 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 6165, at *3–4 (D.N.H. Apr. 7, 2004) (90-day limitation period enforceable). 29.See, e.g., Ting, 319 F.3d 1126 (holding confidential provision unconscionable); AT&T Mobility, 563 U.S. 333 (arbitration agreement can specify confidentiality to protect trade secrets). 30.See, e.g., Armendariz v. Found. Health Psychcare Servs., Inc., 6 P.3d 669 (Cal. 2000) (cannot subject employee to “costs greater than the usual costs incurred during litigation”). 31. Cal. Lab. Code § 2698 et seq. 32. Iskanian, 327 P.3d at 133. 33.Id. 34.Sakkab, 803 F.3d at 434. 35.Id. 36. Valdez v. Terminix Int’l Co. Ltd. P’ship., 681 Fed. Appx. 592 (9th Cir. 2017). 37. Compare Valdez, 681 Fed. Appx. at 594 (PAGA claims can be arbitrated if the arbitration agreement provides for arbitration of representative claims on a representative basis) with Betancourt v. Prudential Overall Supply, 9 Cal. App. 5th 439, 445 (4th Dist. 2017) (“defendant cannot rely on a predispute waiver by a private employee to compel arbitration in a PAGA case, which is brought on behalf of the state”). 38.See The Cincinnati Gas & Elec. Co. v. Shaw, 706 F.2d 155, 159 (6th Cir. 1983); Marks 3-Zet-Ernst Marks GmbH & Co. KG v. Presstek, Inc., 455 F.3d 7, 15 (1st Cir. 2006); Schmidt v. Wine, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109364, at *7 (D. Kan. Aug. 5, 2013); Gibbs v. PFS Invs., Inc., 209 F. Supp. 2d 620, 625 (E.D. Va. 2002). 39.See, e.g., Schmidt, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109364, at *11 (granting defendant’s “Motion to Compel Arbitration and to Stay Further Proceedings”). 40.See Ansari v. Qwest Communs. Corp., 414 F.3d 1214, 1210–20 (10th Cir. 2005); Let’s Go Aero, Inc. v. Cequent Performance Prods., Inc., 641 F. App’x 988, 993 (Fed. Cir. 2016); Econo-Car Int’l, Inc. v. Antilles Car Rentals, Inc., 499 F.2d 1391, 1394 (3d Cir. 1974); ATSA of California, Inc. v. Cont’l Ins. Co., 702 F.2d 172, 175 (9th Cir. 1983), amended, 754 F.2d 1394 (9th Cir. 1985); Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc. v. Lauer, 49 F.3d 323, 328 (7th Cir. 1995); Crown Equip. Corp. v. Supplies & Servs., Inc., 1999 U.S. App. LEXIS 7876 (6th Cir. Apr. 20, 1999). 41.See 28 U.S.C.S. § 1746 (unsworn declarations under penalty of perjury). 42.See Maeste v. Best Buy Co., 100 Ohio St. 3d 330, 333 (2003). 43.SeePhillips, 147 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 277. 44.Id. 45.Id. 46.Id. 47.Id. 48.Id. 49. Phillips, 147 Cal. Rptr. 3d at 285. 50.Id. 51.Brown, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134523, at *1. 52.Brown, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134523, at *3. 53.Id. 54.Id. 55.Id. 56.Brown, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134523, at *7. 57.Brown, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134523, at *27-28. 58.Brown, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134523, at *28. 59.See NLRB v. Alt. Entm’t, Inc. 858 F.3d 393 (6th Cir. 2017); Lewis v. Epic Sys. Corp., 823 F.3d 1147, 1153 (7th Cir. 2016); Morris v. Ernst & Young, LLP, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 15638, at *11–12 (9th Cir. Aug. 22, 2016). 60.Collado, 820 F.3d at 1258. 61.Id. 62.Id. 63.Collado, 820 F.3d at 1259. 64.Id. 65.Collado, 820 F.3d at 1261. 66.Id. 67.Krinsk, 654 F.3d at 1204. 68.Krinsk, 654 F.3d at 1198. 69.Id. 70.Id. 71.Id. 72.Id. 73.Krinsk, 654 F.3d at 1199. 74.Id. 75.Id. 76.Krinsk, 654 F.3d at 1204.