Access to Justice

Epic Systems Corporation, et al. v. Jacob Lewis, et al.

In Epic Systems Corporation v. Jacob Lewis, together with Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA, Inc., the Supreme Court considered whether employers can require their employees to forgo class and collective proceedings and instead resolve employment-related disputes through individual arbitration.

Case Summary

In each of the consolidated cases before the Court, the respective employers required their employees and job applicants to sign, as conditions of employment, binding arbitration agreements waiving their right to participate in any joint, class, or collective action against their employer relating to employment issues. Thus, when the plaintiffs in these cases tried to vindicate their rights under federal law by jointly filing class and collective actions in court, their employers moved to dismiss their actions and compel individual arbitration of their claims. The U.S. Courts of Appeals for the Ninth and Seventh Circuits ruled for the employees, while the Fifth Circuit ruled for the employer. The losing parties in all three cases asked the Supreme Court to hear their cases, and the Supreme Court agreed to hear all of the cases.

CAC filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Court to reject the employers’ argument that they may require employees to participate in individual arbitration. More specifically, our brief responded to the employers’ claim that the guarantee in the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) that employees may engage in “concerted activities for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection” does not encompass class actions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23 or collective actions under the Fair Labor Standards Act because neither existed at the time the NLRA was enacted. In our brief, we explained that group litigation has a rich history that long predates the enactment of the NLRA, and was codified in the United States by the mid-nineteenth century. Our brief also explained that both the Rule 23 class action and the FLSA collective action evolved out of that rich history. Thus, we argued, Rule 23 class actions and FLSA collective actions fall within the NLRA’s broad guarantee no less than the equitable forms of group litigation that existed at the time of its adoption.

The Court ruled, 5-4, that companies can force their employees to use individual arbitration to resolve employment-related disputes.  In dissent, Justice Ginsburg called the Court’s decision “egregiously wrong,” and, citing CAC’s brief, explained that the majority “painted an ahistorical picture” by ignoring the “rich history” of group litigation as a method of vindicating employees’ legal rights.

Case Timeline

  • August 17, 2017

    CAC files friend-of-the-court brief

    U.S. Sup. Ct. Amicus Brief
  • October 2, 2017

    Supreme Court hears oral argument

  • May 21, 2018

    Supreme Court issues its decision

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