On December 7, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is scheduled to hear oral argument in a case of particular relevance to employers who use arbitration to resolve disputes with employees. The case, Chamber of Commerce of the U.S. v. Becerra, considers whether states can prevent employers from conditioning an offer of employment or receipt of employment benefits on an employee's agreement to arbitrate (rather than litigate) any future disputes with the company. In 2019, the State of California passed Assembly Bill 51 (AB 51)-a law that would have done just that. But a California federal judge blocked the law before it could go into effect, reasoning that the Federal Arbitration Act's (FAA's) pro-arbitration policy takes precedence over (or "preempts") the state law. The State appealed to the Ninth Circuit.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court has ruled that an arbitrator exceeds her authority only when "she awards relief beyond the scope of the arbitration agreement, beyond that to which the parties bound themselves, or enters an award prohibited by law." Conway v. CLC Bio, LLC, 2015 WL 9883907, Mass. App. Ct. No. 14-P-350 (June 12, 2015), at 5-6. The Court also reiterated that the Federal Arbitration Act ("FAA") requires enforcement of an agreement to arbitrate statutory claims "absent a question of arbitrability, countervailing Congressional command, or cognizable challenge to the validity of the agreement to arbitrate." Id., at 10.
Employers and employees everywhere should check their employee handbooks - if it has an arbitration provision, it is likely any disputes between the two will take place in arbitration rather than in court.