Kentucky Supreme Court: state law prohibiting employers from conditioning employment on an agreement to arbitrate is not preempted by the Federal Arbitration Act

The Kentucky Supreme Court's unanimous decision is Northern Kentucky Area Development District v. Snyder. The first two paragraphs of the court's opinion summarizes its reasoning:

Kentucky Revised Statute (“KRS”) 336.700(2) prohibits employers from conditioning employment on an existing employee’s or prospective employee’s agreement to “waive, arbitrate, or otherwise diminish any existing or future claim, right, or benefit to which the employee or person seeking employment would otherwise be entitled . . . .” When Northern Kentucky Area Development District (“NKADD”) conditioned Danielle Snyder’s continued employment on her agreement to arbitrate any dispute that may arise between them, that agreement violated KRS 336.700(2). As a result, the arbitration agreement between NKADD and Snyder—the enforcement of which is the basis of the case before us today—is unenforceable as a matter of state statutory law.

NKADD correctly asserts that the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”)’ broadly prohibits discrimination against arbitration agreements. It then argues that the FAA preempts the operation of KRS 336.700(2) under the facts of this case. But, rejecting NKADD’s argument, we hold that no such discrimination occurred here because KRS 336.700(2) does not prohibit arbitration agreements, limit the power of persons to enter voluntarily into arbitration agreements, or single out arbitration agreements in any way. Correctly viewed, KRS 336.700(2) is an anti-discrimination statute that prohibits employers from conditioning employment on an agreement to, not only arbitration, but also any waiver or diminution of the employee’s existing or future rights or claims for benefits arising out of employment. So, on discretionary review, we affirm for different reasons the Court of Appeals’ decision that affirmed the trial court’s order denying NKADD’s motion to compel enforcement of the arbitration agreement. And we remand this case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion

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