In Kinecta Alternative Financial Solutions v. Superior Court (wrd) held that a trial could improperly ordered a wage and hour class action to proceed in arbitration as a class action. The appellate court held that even though the arbitration agreement was silent on whether the parties agreed to arbitrate class claims, the fact that the agreement only referenced plaintiff’s claims against the employer (not other employees’ claims as well) the plaintiff could only bring her individual claims in arbitration.

The plaintiff signed an arbitration agreement that provided to arbitrate all disputes arising out of her employment. The arbitration agreement was silent on the issue of class arbitration. Plaintiff filed a class action complaint alleging various wage and hour violations including failure to pay overtime and failure to provide meal and rest breaks. The employer filed a motion to compel arbitration and a motion to dismiss plaintiff’s class claims. The issue the court addressed was whether the employer in this case could be compelled to arbitrate a class action when the arbitration agreement does not expressly provide for a class arbitration.

In agreeing with the employer, the Court held that even though the arbitration agreement was silent on class arbitration, it cannot be assumed that the parties agreed to arbitration class claims. Relying upon the recent United States Supreme Court rulings, the court held:

This petition is governed by Stolt-Nielsen v. Animalfeeds International Corp. (2010) 559 U.S. __ [130 S.Ct. 1758], which holds that under the [Federal Arbitration Act], a party may not be compelled to submit to class arbitration unless the arbitration contract provides a basis for concluding that the party agreed to do so. The arbitration provision in this case expressly limited arbitration to the arbitration of disputes between Malone and Kinecta. The arbitration agreement made no reference to, and did not authorize, class arbitration of disputes. Thus the parties did not agree to authorize class arbitration in their arbitration agreement, and the order denying Kinecta’s motion to dismiss class claims must be reversed.

The arbitration agreement in this case only made reference to the plaintiff, by referencing “I”, “me,” and “my.” The agreement never made reference to other employees or groups of employees. Under the Federal Arbitration Act a party cannot not be compelled to submit to class arbitration unless there is a contractual basis for concluding that they agreed to do so. The mere silence on the issue of class arbitration in an arbitration agreement cannot be interpreted to mean that a party agreed to class arbitration. Therefore, the court held that plaintiff’s lawsuit could only proceed on her own individual claims in arbitration.

Employers should carefully examine whether or not arbitration agreements are appropriate for their company. There are some negative aspects of entering into arbitration agreements, but the ruling in Kinecta is a good example of the enforceability of class action waivers in arbitration agreements.

For more information about arbitration agreements, and the enforceability of their terms, please see my previous post, Things You Wanted To Know About Arbitration Agreements In California, But Were Afraid To Ask.