Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Sometimes, It's Good to Be a Trucker . . .

Garrido v. Air Liquide Indus. U.S. LP, No. B254490 (D2d4 Oct. 26, 2015)

Before the U.S. Supreme Court stepped in with AT&T v. Concepcion, California state law more of less said that class action waivers in employment and consumer arbitration agreements are not enforceable. (Technically, there were multifactor tests, but most of the time they came out in favor of unenforceability.) Concepcion expressly reversed that rule for consumer contacts, abrogating a case called Discover Bank. And as the Cal. Supremes recognized more recently in the Iskanian case, the logic of Concepcion applies to employment cases too, thus abrogating their prior Gentry case.

But the whole reasoning of Concepcion depends on its reading of the Federal Arbitration Act’s preemption provision in 9 U.S.C. § 2. There are cases, however, to which the FAA, and thus its preemption rule, doesn’t apply. As the court recognizes here, in those cases, the logic of Concepcion shouldn’t control. Instead, in the absence of any indication that California state arbitration law has changed to reject the earlier Discover Bank and Gentry rationales on state law grounds, those cases are still good law when an agreement isn’t not governed by the FAA.

Notably, the FAA has an express carve out for “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.” 9 U.S.C. § 1. Courts have read the final "any other class of workers" catchall to mean only “transportation workers.” And since plaintiff here is a truck driver with an interstate route, the FAA does not apply to his contract. In the absence of that, the California Arbitration Act applies, and without the FAA to preempt state law, the old Gentry rule controls. Which means that the class waiver in plaintiff’s employment contract can’t be enforced.


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