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Friday, June 20, 2014

Lane v. Francis Capital Management: Court Discusses Labor Code Section 229 Prohibition on Compelled Arbitration

In Lane v. Francis Capital Management (3/11/14) --- Cal.App.4th ---, the plaintiff filed suit against his former employer, FCM, alleging (1) wrongful termination in violation of public policy; (2) breach of oral contract; (3) failure to pay wages; (4) unpaid overtime wages; (5) unpaid meal period wages; (6) waiting time penalties; (7) itemized wage statement violations; and (8) unfair competition. The trial court denied FCM's motion to compel arbitration, and FCM appealed. The Court of Appeal affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding as follows: 

The arbitration agreement encompassed all of Lane's claims. Slip op. at 6-7. 

Labor Code section 229 prohibits enforcement of arbitration agreements in individual actions for non-payment of wages under Labor Code sections 200-244. Slip op. at 7-12. The third cause of action for failure to pay wages fell within the scope of section 229, and the defendant could not compel arbitration of that claim. The first, second, fourth, and eighth causes of action did not assert claims under sections 200-244. The fifth cause of action for unpaid meal and rest period compensation was not an action for wages, but one for a failure to provide mandated meal or rest breaks. (See Kirby v. Immoos Fire Protection, Inc. (2012) 53 Cal.4th 1244, 1256-1257 (discussed here). The sixth and seventh causes of action for waiting time and check stub penalties also did not seek payment of unpaid wages.

The defendant failed to meet its burden to show that the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) -- and thus FAA preemption -- applied. Slip op. at 12-14.

The arbitration agreement was not unenforceable as unconscionable. Slip op. at 15-19. Although the agreement may have been a contract of adhesion, its provisions were "clearly within the reasonable expectations of the parties," and the required elements of oppression or surprise were not present. Further, the defendant's failure to attach a copy of the applicable arbitration rules did not render the agreement procedurally unconscionable.

The agreement also was not substantively unconscionable. Slip op. at 19-21. The fact that the agreement incorporated the arbitration rules by reference did not render it substantively unconscionable. Nor did the fact that it contained no express provision for discovery because such a right was set forth in the applicable arbitration rules.

The opinion is available here.

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