Disability Law Index - Employment: Arbitration

Case Law:

Wright v. Universal Maritime Service Corp., 525 U.S. 70 (1998).

  • The petitioner was a longshoreman subject to a collective bargaining agreement and a Longshore Seniority Plan which both included an arbitration clause. When the respondent refused to employ him following a settlement of a claim of permanent disability resulting from job-related injuries, he filed a suit alleging discrimination under the ADA. The district court dismissed the suit and directed him to pursue arbitration.
  • The Supreme Court held that the CBA's general arbitration clause does not cover claims arising from the ADA.
    • The presumption favoring arbitration is that arbitrators are in a better position than courts to interpret the terms of a CBA .
    • The dispute in this case, however, ultimately concerns not the application or interpretation of any CBA, but the meaning of a federal statute. The cause of action asserted arises not out of contract, but out of the ADA, and is distinct from any right conferred by the collective-bargaining agreement.
    • An arbitration clause stating "the intention and purpose of all parties hereto that no provision or part of this Agreement shall be violative of any Federal or State Law" does not incorporate ADA claims by reference. "The ultimate question for the arbitrator would be not what the parties have agreed to, but what federal law requires; and that is not a question which should be presumed to be included within the arbitration requirement."
  • Therefore, not only is a statutory claim not subject to a presumption of arbitrability; any CBA requirement to arbitrate it must be particularly clear. "The right to a federal judicial forum is of sufficient importance to be protected against less-than-explicit union waiver in a CBA." [interpreting Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co. , 415 U. S. 36, 49-51 (1974)].

E.E.O.C. v. Waffle House, Inc. 000 U.S. 99-1823 (2002).

  • As a condition of employment, Waffle House employees have to agree that any dispute concerning employment would be settled by binding arbitration. Baker, a grill operator, suffered a seizure at work and was terminated. Accordingly, he filed a complaint with the EEOC alleging a violation of the ADA. The EEOC sued Waffle House in federal court seeking injunctive relief and victim-specific damages for Baker. The Fourth Circuit had ruled that the EEOC was limited to injunctive relief that benefit the public interest.
  • The question before the Supreme Court was whether Baker's arbitration agreement with Waffle House precluded the EEOC from pursuing remedies on Baker's behalf.
  • The Supreme Court held that the EEOC had authority to pursue victim-specific relief regardless of the forum that the employer and employee had agreed to resolve their disputes. Pursuant to the ADA, whenever the EEOC chooses to bring an enforcement action in a particular case (from the many charges filed each year), they may be seeking to vindicate a public interest, even when it pursues entirely victim-specific relief.
  • Following previous cases, the Supreme Court recognized that the EEOC's right to sue is not merely derived from Baker's rights. Since the EEOC is not a party to the arbitration agreement, it is not bound by it.

Weeks v. Harden Manufacturing Corp., 291 F.3d 1307 (11th Cir. 2002).

  • Manufacturer workers claimed that their employer had violated Title VII, the ADEA, and the ADA by firing them in retaliation for refusing to sign an agreement that mandated the resolution of employment discrimination claims through arbitration.
  • In order to prove retaliation under those laws, a plaintiff must show that (1) she engaged in statutorily protected expression; (2) she suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) the adverse action was causally related to the protected expression.
  • To establish that a plaintiff engaged in statutorily protected expression, a plaintiff must show that she had a good faith, reasonable belief that the employer was engaged in unlawful employment practices. A plaintiff must not only show that he believed that his employer was engaged in unlawful employment practices, but also that his belief was objectively reasonable in light of the facts and record presented.
  • The court reasoned that requiring arbitration of federal statute disputes is not an unlawful employment practice under those laws. Numerous court cases have endorsed the use of arbitration in resolving federal laws. The employees could not claim ignorance of the law as support for their beliefs being objectively reasonable.


Legal E-Bulletin - Supreme Court Limits Discrimination Claimants Access To Courthouse: Arbitration Agreements and Title I of the ADA