Supreme Court Rules on Arbitration Issues for Unions and Employees in Two Cases

Last week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued two decisions concerning whether particular issues had to be decided by an arbitrator or in federal court. One care arose in the traditional area of labor arbitration between companies and unions; the second arose in the ever-growing area of employer-imposed arbitration agreements on regular employees.
In the first, Granite Rock v. International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Court ruled for the company, as ScotusBlog describes:

The parties had reached a collective bargaining agreement (CBA), but they disagreed about both when the CBA was formed and who should decide that question. Today the Court, in an opinion by Justice Thomas, held that a court, rather than an arbitrator, should decide when the CBA was formed. The Court explained that under the CBA, arbitration is required only when a dispute “arise[s] under” the agreement – which a dispute over when the CBA was formed does not. The Court also held that the lower court properly declined to recognize a new federal common-law cause of action against the parent international union, which – according to the employer – tortiously interfered with the CBA.

In the second, Rent-a-Center v. Jackson, the Court sided with the employer, and held that the issue of unconscionability (a challenge to whether the arbitration agreement is valid in the first place), was to be decided by the arbitrator, as Workplace Prof Blog describes:

The Court held the issue was governed by the separability doctrine of Prima Paint: an arbitration agreement is assailable only if the arbitration agreement itself -- not the overall agreement of which the arbitration is a part -- is assailable on state-contract law grounds. So far, so good for Jackson -- until today, this separability doctrine has been applied only when an arbitration agreement was part of a broader ("container") agreement that was not related to arbitration -- e.g., an arbitration provision in a consulting-services contract or in a larger employment contract. Jackson's unconscionability argument was directed squarely at his arbitration agreement.
Today, however, the Court extended Prima Paint to hold that the arbitration agreement itself can be the container contract, and that unconscionability arguments must be directed toward specific provisions of the arbitration agreement. Jackson's unconscionability arguments, the Court held, were directed at the arbitration agreement generally, and therefore could not be grounds for voiding the arbitration agreement as a whole.

Read the whole post for its insightful analysis of how the Court erred, once again stretching the law to give a victory to employers over employees.

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