On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court dealt a blow to workers who feel they’ve been discriminated against by their employers.
In a five-to-four decision, the court upheld workplace arbitration contracts that bar workers from banding together to challenge what they see as violations of federal labor law. Instead, they may be forced into arbitration instead of having the opportunity to file a lawsuit. And they won’t be able to join class actions against employers.
The opinion was authored by the court’s newest justice Neil Gorsuch.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote for the four dissenters, saying it will lead to a huge lack of enforcement of federal and state laws meant to protect the most vulnerable workers.
Both sides in the case have suggested Congress could step in to clarify the law, but it’s unclear that will happen.
Two local experts join Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson to react to this decision.
“Over the past couple of decades we’ve had this real explosion of the use of these arbitration agreements in these employment contracts,” says Samuel Bagenstos, professor of law, and a constitutional law and civil liberties expert, who teaches employment law and the University of Michigan.
“The employer often has the most impact on who the arbitrator is,” he says. “It’s not worth it for anyone to bring to court or to an arbitration individually, it’s only when the employees band together that it really makes sense to do it. And those cases probably aren’t going to happen to the same extent anymore.”
“If you can’t engage in class action suits, most people don’t have the wherewithal to take action,” says Marick Masters, director of Labor@Wayne at Wayne State University, where he is a professor of business and adjunct professor of political science.
“The benefits they might get may far outweigh the cost of going through an arbitration process,” says Masters. “So it’s really a lopsided thing.”
Click on the audio player above to hear the full conversation.