May 21 (UPI) — The U.S. Supreme Court voted Monday to uphold employers’ right to use arbitration to resolve disputes, rather than allowing workers to join in class action lawsuits.
In the 5-4 vote, Justice Neil Gorsuch was joined by the panel’s other four conservatives in rejecting arguments that putting cases into private, individual arbitration violate federal labor law.
“As a matter of policy, these questions are surely debatable,” Gorsuch wrote for the majority. “But as a matter of law the answer is clear. In the Federal Arbitration Act, Congress has instructed federal courts to enforce arbitration agreements according to theirterms-including terms providing for individualized proceedings.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read her dissent from the bench, calling the ruling “egregiously wrong.”
“When workers charge their employers with unlawful conduct — in this case, violations of laws governing wages earned and hours worked — there is strength in numbers,” she said.
The case, Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, pitted two federal laws against each other — the National Labor Relations Act, which allows employees the right to self-organize, and Federal Arbitration Act, which allows employers to settle by arbitration.
Supporters of arbitration say it’s a cheaper and more efficient way to solve work disputes. Critics say companies are trying to strip individuals of important rights — including the ability to band together on claims too small to press individually.
“While Congress is of course always free to amend this judgment, we see nothing suggesting it did so in the NLRA-much less that it manifested a clear intention to displace the Arbitration Act,” Gorsuch wrote.
Steve Vladeck, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told CNNthe ruling is a “major blow” to employees’ rights.
“This is the Justice Gorsuch that I think most everyone expected,” Vladeck said. “Not only is he endorsing the conservative justices’ controversial approach to arbitration clauses, but he’s taking it an important step further by extending that reasoning to employment agreements, as well.”