Arbitration and Litigation

PAGA Lawsuits Not Subject to Arbitration

PAGA Lawsuits

The Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) authorizes aggrieved employees to file PAGA lawsuits to recover civil penalties on behalf of themselves, other employees, and the State of California for Labor Code violations. Employees pursuing PAGA claims must follow specified requirements. Labor Code Sections 2698 – 2699.5.

Courts enforce employer-mandated arbitration agreements more often than before. Attorneys representing employees generally view arbitration as a less-favorable place for resolving disputes. They usually prefer to be in court. A recent California Court of Appeals decision held that a PAGA lawsuit is not subject to arbitration. The court opened with:

Bernadette Tanguilig, an employee at Bloomingdale’s, Inc. (Bloomingdale’s), filed a representative action on behalf of herself and fellow employees pursuant to the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (Lab. Code, § 2698 et seq.), alleging several Labor Code violations by the company. Bloomingdale’s moved to compel arbitration of Tanguilig’s “individual PAGA claim” and stay or dismiss the remainder of the complaint. The trial court denied the motion. We affirm. Under Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC (2014) 59 Cal.4th 348 (Iskanian) and consistent with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) (9 U.S.C. et seq.), a PAGA representative claim is nonwaivable by a plaintiff-employee via a predispute arbitration agreement with an employer, and a PAGA claim (whether individual or representative) cannot be ordered to arbitration without the state’s consent.

Iskanian and PAGA Lawsuits

Bloomingdale’s argued Iskanian was wrong under more recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions. On appeal, the company dropped it’s argument that it was distinguishable from Iskanian because the employee had the ability to opt out of the arbitration process. The court disagreed.

[W]e are bound by the Iskanian court’s interpretation of the pre-Iskanian United States Supreme Court decisions cited by Bloomingdale’s. Finally, we note that the Ninth Circuit has ruled that Iskanian correctly decided the federal question, thus superseding conflicting prior federal district court decisions cited by Bloomingdale’s. (See Sakkab v. Luxottica Retail North America, Inc., supra, 803 F.3d at p. 427.)

An essential point in Iskanian and Tanguilig is that PAGA lawsuits are not a dispute between an employer and an employee arising out of their contractual relationship. “It is a dispute between an employer and the state.” The employee is merely acting as a “deputized” agent of the state. Since the state did not sign an arbitration agreement with the employer, the company cannot force the state’s agent–e.g., the employee–into arbitration.

I can think of a couple of different unintended consequences of this analysis. For now, however, I’m keeping those close to my chest as I have a couple of ongoing cases where I may need to use the arguments. No sense giving away all my trade secrets.

Employers wishing to use arbitration agreements should review the agreements with counsel. Not all arbitration agreements are alike, and employees may be able to void an arbitration agreement as unconscionable. I anticipate seeing many more arbitration cases in the upcoming years. If you have an arbitration agreement you would like reviewed, or if you are considering using an arbitration agreement, feel free to contact the Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman of Nuddleman Law Firm, P.C.

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