California Labor &
Employment Law Blog

Mar. 9 2012

California Court Invalidates Another Arbitration Agreement

Topics: Arbitration Agreements, Court Decisions, Personnel Policies and Procedures

One of our last posts reported on a California court refusing enforcement of an employment arbitration agreement on unconscionability grounds.  Today we report on yet another example.  In Mayers v. Volt Management, the court invalidated an employee’s agreement to arbitrate his discrimination claims, finding the employer’s arbitration agreement too unconscionable to be enforced.  Why?  Because the arbitration agreement stated that arbitration would be conducted pursuant to the rules of the American Arbitration Association, but the employer did not provide the employee with a copy of those rules or direction on where the employee could access those rules.  Additionally, the agreement stated that the prevailing party could recover attorneys’ fees at arbitration.  The court found that this provision exposed the employee to greater fee exposure than he would face if proceeding in court (because a court would simply apply the statutory language of the applicable discrimination statute, FEHA, which for the most part only permits a prevailing plaintiff to recover fees).  The court refused to simply sever the offending fee shifting provision and instead invalidated the entire arbitration agreement, allowing the employee to proceed with his claims in court.

This is not the first California case to find unconscionable an agreement that incorporates rules published elsewhere without providing an employee a copy of those rules.  However, this has not been a predominant, or even common, basis for invalidating arbitration agreements in California.  The Mayers case serves to highlight that some California courts will look for any reason to invalidate a mandatory arbitration agreement.  California employers should strive to draft their agreements as cautiously as possible to avoid any such ground for a court to invalidate the agreement.

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For over 20 years, CDF has distinguished itself as one of the top employment, labor and immigration firms in California, representing employers in single-plaintiff and class action lawsuits and advising employers on related legal compliance and risk avoidance. We cover the state, with five locations from Sacramento to San Diego.

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About the Editor

Robin Largent has a regular presence in California state and federal courts and has been lead defense counsel and appellate counsel for large and small California employers in litigation (and arbitration) ranging from individual discrimination and harassment claims to complex wage and hour representative and class actions. She also leads the firm’s appellate practice, having substantial experience and success handling appeals, writ petitions, and amicus briefs in both state and federal court on issues such as class certification (particularly in the wage and hour arena), manageability and due process concerns associated with class action trials, exempt/non-exempt misclassification issues, meal and rest break compliance, trade secret/unfair competition matters, and the scope of federal court jurisdiction under the Class Action Fairness Act.
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