Private pre-dispute arbitration clauses and government enforcement of civil rights and consumer protection laws

by Paul Bland

Here is a terrific amicus brief written by Professor Walker of
Drake University and his co-counsel.

As some of you may know, in 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court held in
EEOC v. Waffle House that even if employees of a company had signed an
arbitration clause, that the federal agency could still pursue its statutory
mandate to enforce employment statutes against that company. A very rough
paraphrase of the Court’s decision was that arbitration is a matter of
contract, and even if the employees had agreed to arbitrate their claims, that
the EEOC had not agreed to arbitrate any claims, and so its statutory responsibilities
existed independent of the claims of any particular employee.

However, an Iowa state trial court has held that
where an employee has signed an arbitration clause, that the state fair
employment agency could not bring any action against the employer. I will
editorialize that the trial court has a certain amount of confused analysis and
background noise. (The trial court definitely gets the point that the current
majority of the U.S. Supreme Court really thinks exceptionally highly of arbitration
clauses and loves to enforce them.) Anyhow, the NAACP's amicus brief in support of the state agency is well worth reading.

This case bears watching. It would be extremely disturbing
if corporations can block government enforcement of laws on behalf of workers
and others by forcing the individuals to sign arbitration clauses.

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