Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Supreme Court stacks the deck in favor of businesses, again

May 1st, 2019 | Laura Clawson

The Trump Supreme Court sided with business over workers yet again, in a case that got the four liberal justices so exercised that they each wrote their own dissent. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg even noted that she wrote her dissent to “emphasize once again how treacherously the court has strayed from the principle that arbitration is a matter of consent, not coercion.”

In Lamps Plus v. Varela (note the name if you’re in the market for a lamp), Frank Varela, one of 1,300 workers whose tax information had been compromised thanks to his employer, Lamps Plus, tried to sue, only to be tripped up by a mandatory arbitration clause in his contract. But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit did say that class arbitration would be allowed. The Trump-Bush wing of the court disagreed, because class arbitration would be inconvenient for businesses, and they are all about stacking the deck in favor of employers.

In the primary dissent, Justice Elena Kagan noted that Varela’s contract called for “any and all disputes, claims, or controversies” to go to arbitration without explicitly rejecting class arbitration, and that California law requires ambiguity in a contract to go against the party that wrote the contract. “Lamps Plus drafted the agreement. It therefore had the opportunity to insert language expressly barring class arbitration if that was what it wanted. It did not do so,” Kagan wrote. But Republican justices care neither about California law nor about workers’ rights when an employer’s wishes are at stake.

This blog was originally published at Daily Kos on April 27, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.

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