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Jackson Lewis Will Represent Employer Before the Supreme Court: Private Arbitration Agreements

  • April 5, 2001

In another case involving mandatory arbitration of employment disputes, the United States Supreme Court will decide whether the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is entitled to seek monetary remedies on behalf of an individual who has signed an agreement to arbitrate any disputes that might arise with his employer. The Supreme Court will review the 1999 decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit holding that an individual's arbitration agreement bars the EEOC from seeking money damages or specific equitable relief on behalf of that individual. According to the court, when the EEOC files suit based on a discrimination charge filed by such an individual, the EEOC is limited to pursuing only broad injunctive relief. If the individual desires money damages, reinstatement or front pay, then he or she is bound by the terms of the arbitration agreement.

The EEOC has vehemently opposed mandatory arbitration and the concept that a private arbitration agreement could have any limiting effect on its ability to sue. In prior decisions, the Supreme Court has found that when the EEOC files suit, it is to vindicate he public interest in eliminating discrimination and not simply to recover money for the individual on whose behalf the agency initiated the litigation. In its decision, the Fourth Circuit acknowledged the public interest aspects of EEOC litigation, but also noted there was a strong federal policy to enforce valid arbitration agreements. To appropriately balance these competing interests, the court reasoned the EEOC could seek a declaration that discrimination had occurred and an injunction to prevent its recurrence, while the individual employee could seek money damages, in which the public interest is limited, through arbitration. The Supreme Court will decide whether accommodating these competing interests is required and, if so, whether the Fourth Circuit's approach provides the most appropriate resolution.

Jackson Lewis has represented the employer in this litigation since the case was filed in the South Carolina District Court in 1996, including the proceedings before the Fourth Circuit. The briefing in the Supreme Court will be completed by the end of June and the case should be set for oral argument in the Fall of 2001. Jackson Lewis attorneys David Gordon (Atlanta) and Steve Fisher (Greenville, SC) will prepare the briefs and present the employer's arguments to the Supreme Court. [EEOC v. Waffle House, Inc., Docket No. 99-1823, cert. granted 3/26/01.]

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