Lest we forget, many are the arbitrations that are subject to state arbitration law rather than the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”). And one should never underestimate the differences between those regimes. For example, under the FAA, the grounds for vacatur of an award are few and narrowly construed. See FAA §10(a), (9 U.S.C. §10(a)). Accordingly, federal court doctrine permitting vacatur of an award on public policy grounds affords only a very narrow opening, including in cases of sexual harassment in the workplace. State law may be less limiting, however, concerning the significance of public policy in such cases.
Don Davis is a Practice Group Associate in the firm’s Washington DC office, focusing on dispute resolution and counseling concerning employment and labor issues. He has represented clients in a wide variety of cases with respect to employment contracts, wage and hour disputes, employment discrimination, disability accommodations, wrongful discharge claims, family and medical leave, defamation, and whistleblower rights.
The Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”), 9 U.S.C. § 1, et seq., does not contain an express preemption provision, nor was it intended to be the exclusive codified arbitration law in all circumstances. However, the United States Supreme Court has repeatedly taught that where the FAA applies, it is deemed to supersede state laws that are inconsistent with its provisions and purposes. Yet recent decisions by the highest courts of North Carolina and New Hampshire provide examples of continued efforts by state courts to chip away at the preemptive effect of the FAA concerning the interpretation and enforcement of arbitration agreements and the confirmation or vacatur of arbitral awards.
UPDATE: On February 8, 2017, the Supreme Court announced that it would delay until its October 2017 term oral arguments in the consolidated cases concerning the enforceability of class arbitration waivers in employment agreements. (This updates our Blogpost dated Jan. 31, 2017.)
Many anticipate that Judge Gorsuch will have been confirmed by the Senate by then, which likely explains the Supreme Court’s decision to delay oral argument. Because the Court granted certiorari based upon a Circuit split, it presumably hopes to avoid a possible 4-4 vote by the current Justices, which would permit the various Circuit Court rulings to stand, leaving the matter unresolved nationally.
While we expect that Justice Gorsuch, a reputed strict constructionist, will in effect be a pro arbitration judge, his questions during oral argument will offer a glimpse of how he might decide the particular issues presented here concerning employment class arbitration.
The Supreme Court is currently set to answer the question of whether employees must be permitted, if they choose, to pursue relief collectively in an arbitration proceeding. Is that “concerted activity” that is protected by the National Labor Relations Act, and does that statutory provision supervene the provisions of the Federal Arbitration Act and the right to contract freely? And specifically, is a waiver of class actions in an arbitration clause in an employment agreement enforceable?