California Labor &
Employment Law Blog
Jun 15, 2015

Court Refuses Enforcement of Forum Selection and Choice of Law Clauses

Topics: Court Decisions

The recent published decision issued by the Fourth District California Court of Appeal (May 28) in Verdugo v. Alliantgroup, L.P. will make it more difficult for out-of-state employers to enforce forum selection and choice-of-law clauses in litigation with their California employees.  The defendant, Alliantgroup, is a tax consulting firm headquartered in Texas, with one of its eleven regional offices in California. The plaintiff, Rachel Verdugo, brought a class action against the company on behalf of past and present employees, alleging various hour and wage claims under the California Labor Code.  Upon being hired to work at Alliantgroup’s Irvine office, Verdugo signed an employment agreement that included a forum selection clause stating that Harris County, Texas would be the exclusive forum for disputes arising out of the agreement.  The employment agreement also included a choice-of-law clause, designating Texas law as governing any arising disputes.

California courts have traditionally held that they will not defer to a selected forum if doing so would violate public policy by diminishing the rights of California residents.  Furthermore, the courts have established that if the claims at issue are based on rights that California statutes have deemed “unwaivable,” the party seeking to enforce the forum selection clause bears the burden of showing that enforcement will not diminish the substantive rights afforded under California law in any way. In making certain rights “unwaivable,” the California legislature and courts are primarily concerned with providing California residents with all of the protections they are entitled to under California law. In Verdugo, the court ruled that California Labor Code rights are unwaivable.  In applying this rule, and the applicable precedent, the Court of Appeal held that defendant Alliantgroup could not enforce the forum selection clause or the choice-of-law provision in the agreement because it failed to show that the forum selection and choice-of-law clauses would not diminish plaintiff Verdugo’s statutory rights by requiring her to litigate her claims in Texas and under Texas law.  The court did not create a specific test for determining whether deferring to a forum selection clause will diminish an employee’s rights under the Labor Code.

Although it does not make forum selection and choice of law clauses per se unenforceable, the holding in this case is significant because it places the burden on the employer to show that application of the forum and/or choice of law clause will not diminish the employee's rights. 

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For over 25 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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