Epic Systems Corporation v Lewis; earnest & Young LLP v Morris; and National Labor Relations Board v Murphy Oil USA, Inc.

The Court granted review in these cases to resolve a split of authority among circuits and between Board and the Justice Department as to whether the Federal Arbitration Act and National Labor Relations Act bar contracts which prohibit class arbitration in the labor setting. The Court, 5-4, held such agreements are not barred. The majority held that the savings clause of the Arbitration Act does not prevent class arbitration bans because it only applies to defense against all contracts not just arbitration contracts and the employees in these cases only argue the Labor Relations Act bans the class arbitration provision, the Labor Relations act does create an irreconcilable conflict between the two statutes because the Labor Relations Act is silent on arbitration generally and class arbitration specifically and noted this is not surprising as class and group actions came into being after the two statutes were passed and further noted this outcome is consistent with Court precedent which has refused to read into general terms in other federals statutes limitations on arbitration and rejected arguments based on Chevron deference as board has not been given authority to reconcile the two statutes, the executive branch is divided in this case and there is no ambiguity to resolve. It rejected the dissent’s counterarguments holding worker collective bargaining rights are unaffected by this decision, the dissent’s disagreement with Court precedent in the area does not make the precedent not apply here, legislative history is not the law and in any event is silent on the issues here, the arbitration act is more directly on point and policy cannot overcome statutory text. Thomas added a concurrence arguing that illegality is not a ground for revoking a contract and thus the savings clause does not apply. Ginsberg, joined by Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, dissented arguing that the Labor Relations Act protects concerted efforts by employees to protect their rights including class actions and other group actions in court, the text and  structure support this reading, the absence of language about class actions and class arbitrations does not allow employers to cut off employee concerted actions to protect their rights, class or group claims were known since mediaeval times, the claims here are for wages which should mean class arbitration bans are illegal as interference with statutory wage claim rights, nothing in the Arbitration Act or court precedent requires the majority’s outcome here particularly as the Act was meant to apply in the commercial setting between parties of equal bargaining strength and the Court has strayed from this purpose, illegality is a defense to contact formation and thus a ground to not apply the Act here, the Labor Relations Act should be read as an implied repeal of the Arbitration Act as to labor contracts and the majority conclusion here will lead to underenforcement of workers right laws.