The Supreme Court may soon be taking on an issue that has divided several of the federal circuit courts. The circuits disagree on a fundamental question that relates to arbitration and labor law - whether an agreement to arbitrate is valid when an employee waives the right to bring claims against an employer as part of a class or collective. In other words, can an employee be barred from being part of a class action lawsuit where there is an agreement to arbitrate and a waiver of the right to pursue collective claims?
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals recently created a schism between the Circuits that may lead to the Supreme Court's intervention on an important issue: whether an employer may bar employees from bringing class action claims by requiring claims to be arbitrated. The 7th Circuit, in deciding that employers cannot do so, has diverged from the 5th Circuit, leaving a circuit split that the Supreme Court will now likely be compelled to resolve.
In the recent case of Fitzgerald v. The Chateau Restaurant Corp., No. 14-01990-J, 2016 WL 344155 (Mass. Sup. Ct. Jan. 4, 2016), a former manager at The Chateau Burlington and The Chateau Andover restaurants filed a putative class action against parent company The Chateau Restaurant Corporation, Inc. and several related corporations which owned individual Chateau restaurants in the Massachusetts Italian restaurant chain. In his complaint, the Plaintiff alleged that he was routinely denied the opportunity to take his off-site meal break--because of a company policy that if only one manager was on site, that manager could not leave the restaurant--yet he still had his pay automatically deducted to account for such a thirty-minute meal break. Id. at *1-2. Fitzgerald filed a putative class action on behalf of himself and other similarly situated hourly managers at any Chateau restaurant location during the six-year period preceding the commencement of the action, alleging violation of the Massachusetts Wage Act, violation of the Massachusetts Overtime Act, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Id.
In a recent case, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District handed down a decision involving the question of whether the court or the arbitrator decides if a case involving a class action can be arbitrated when the arbitration agreement is silent as to that issue. Specifically, the court asked: "Who decides whether an agreement to arbitrate disputes between the parties to the agreement authorizes class and/or representative arbitration when the contract is silent on the matter--the arbitrator or the court?"
Social media users are fuming over changes in the popular photo-sharing and social networking website Instagram's Terms of Service. The most talked-about change appears to give Instagram the right to sell users' photographs to third parties for use in advertisements: "...You agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos..., and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you." The backlash against that clause has been severe, but it isn't the only change Instagram made to its TOS. Beginning January 16, 2013, Instagram users will be obligated to arbitrate most disputes they have with the company and to waive rights to participate in a class action lawsuit or class-wide arbitration against Instagram, unless they opt-out of the arbitration clause in writing.