Calif. AG tells SCOTUS arbitration exemption key to enforcing labor laws

By | November 8, 2023
Calif. AG tells SCOTUS arbitration exemption key to enforcing labor laws

U.S. Supreme Court is seen in Washington, U.S., October 3, 2016. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

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  • AG says state can’t effectively enforce labor laws without private litigation
  • SCOTUS considering if “private attorney general” claims can be sent to arbitration
  • AFL-CIO, others also backing plaintiff

(Reuters) – A California law allowing workers to sue businesses for widespread labor law violations on behalf of the state is a crucial enforcement tool that would be wiped out if employees could be made to waive that ability, the state’s attorney general told the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The office of Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat, filed an amicus brief urging the justices to rule that cases brought under California’s Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) are not covered by agreements many employers ask workers to sign to bring legal disputes in individual arbitration rather than in court, because they are law enforcement actions and not typical class actions.

The brief was filed in an appeal by Viking River Cruises Inc of a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision that said workers cannot waive their ability to bring PAGA cases in court, agreeing with an earlier ruling by California’s top state court. The Supreme Court agreed to take up the case in December and will hear oral arguments on March 30.

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Bonta’s office said PAGA lawsuits are a critical way for the state to enforce employment laws. There are more than 1.6 million employers in California, and the state’s Labor and Workforce Development Agency only has the resources to investigate a tiny fraction of those businesses, the AG said.

“And the significant sums recovered in PAGA actions suggest that there is much enforcement to do,” the AG’s office said. The state has recovered about $400 million from PAGA cases since 2016, according to the brief.

The AFL-CIO, nonprofit Public Justice, and a group of law professors also filed briefs on Wednesday supporting Angie Moriana, a former Viking River sales representative who has accused the company of various labor law violations.

Viking, which has denied wrongdoing, told the Supreme Court last month that PAGA lawsuits are entirely controlled by private plaintiffs and not the state, and so the Federal Arbitration Act requires workers’ arbitration agreements to be enforced in those cases. The company is backed by briefs from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups.

The case is Viking River Cruises Inc v. Moriana, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 20-1573.

For Viking: Paul Clement of Kirkland & Ellis

For Moriana: Kevin Barnes of Law Offices of Kevin T. Barnes

Read more:

High court will review arbitration exemption under novel Calif. law

SCOTUS suddenly very interested in California’s Private Attorney General Act

Calif. employers perverting arbitration law, private AG plaintiffs tell SCOTUS

California’s Private AG Act is a scourge, employers tell SCOTUS

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