In a further erosion of workers’ rights, the Supreme Court held yesterday in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis that employers can require employees to sign employment contracts that include a provision stating that if a workplace issue arises the employee is prohibited from joining with fellow employees to pursue a class action lawsuit or other collective action and must instead pursue their claim through individual arbitration. It is estimated that 25 million workers in the U.S. have such a clause in their contracts.
This means that if a worker faces wage theft, harassment, or discrimination on the job, their only recourse is to pursue arbitration on their own, which can be prohibitively expensive, especially for low-wage workers. As Terri Gerstein and Sharon Block pointed out in today’s New York Times, one of the most efficient ways for workers to pursue justice is to bring class action claims alongside fellow workers, as it prevents any one worker from being targeted for retaliation and defrays litigation costs.
In a scathing dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision “egregiously wrong,” and forecasted from the bench that, “The inevitable result of today’s decision is that there will be huge underenforcement of federal and statutes designed to advance the well-being of vulnerable workers.” Justice Ginsburg’s fears are warranted, especially as government agencies dedicated to enforcing anti-discrimination laws—another legal avenue for workers to enforce their rights—face steep budget cuts. As we highlighted in a NY Daily News op-ed published today, this is happening right in our backyard as Mayor de Blasio proposes to cut the NYC Commission on Human Rights budget by over ten percent.
The Supreme Court may be willing to put workers interests second to business interests but we most certainly are not. We will continue to fight for fairness and safety in the workplace and to enforce workers’ rights across the country. If you or anyone you know is facing discrimination in the workplace, please call our free, confidential legal hotline. In these uncertain times, we are here to help.