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Epic Systems v. Lewis May Make Discrimination Cases More Difficult

On May 21, 2018, the Supreme Court handed down a decision in Epic Systems v. Lewis. At question was whether individuals with grievances against their employers may join to necessitate group arbitration rather than pursuing each case individually. In a 5-4 ruling, the court held that individual arbitration must be the order of the day, and that provisions at issue in the Federal Arbitration Act were “not designed to cover” labor contracts. This may pose a real problem for individual workers looking to seek redress from their employer, depending on the type of grievance.

The NLRA and FAA

The two major statutes at issue in Epic Systems v. Lewis were the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) and the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). In years past, a dispute has arisen due to seemingly conflicting language present in the two laws. The FAA expressly holds that individual arbitration agreements are enforceable unless there are grounds for the “revocation of the contract”. The NLRA, by comparison, upholds the right to collective bargaining. The majority opinion upheld individualized arbitration, and stated that neither the FAA’s other relevant provisions nor anything in the NLRA changed that.

The dissent stated that the FAA’s individualized arbitration agreements should not in theory apply, because more often than not, they are not a true contract. In other words, according to the dissent, they are not a meeting of the minds as most contract law requires. In the dissent’s opinion, individualized arbitration agreements are foisted upon workers as a condition of employment—and depending on the industry, it may not be possible to escape entering into one. This can be an issue because if multiple workers wind up in a situation where they are mistreated, they must all pursue arbitration individually, costing time and money.

What The Decision Means For You

Individual workers may experience the ramifications of the Epic Systems v. Lewis decision when they attempt to file complaints or grievances with their employers. If contracts that require individualized arbitrations must be honored as enforceable, this means that class actions against offending employers will be all but impossible to create.

This may go a very long way toward workers’ rights being infringed, but collective bargaining as a right is one of workers’ few tools to help ensure their grievances are heard. Without it, it is not impossible that many incidences of harassment and mistreatment will go unaddressed, since individual cases will very often seem too inconsequential to be taken up—or offer too little reward.

This does not mean that any attempt to have problems at work redressed is pointless. It does mean, however, that one must be extra zealous in trying to have your concerns heard. If reaching out to your employer’s Human Resources department is unsuccessful, filing a charge with an employment oversight body like the South Carolina Human Affairs Commission (SCHAC) or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is the next step. You are always able to do this, though only a select number of cases will be taken up for prosecution by the agency.

Call An Experienced Attorney For Help

While this new ruling may make future discrimination lawsuits more difficult to win, it does not mean that you are out of options if you have been mistreated or discriminated against on the job. It may mean, however, that working an experienced discrimination lawyer is more important than ever.

Attorney A. Christopher Potts is well versed in this area of law and is happy to help answer your questions on the subject. Contact Hitchcock and Potts today to set up an appointment.

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