The Supreme Court’s conservative majority just made it a lot harder for millions of nonunion workers to collectively challenge their bosses in court over lost wages, workplace discrimination, sexual harassment and other disputes.
In a 5-4 decision on Monday, the court ruled that mandatory arbitration clauses in employment contracts do not violate federal labor law. Mandatory or “forced” arbitration agreements require workers to waive their right to file class-action lawsuits against employers if they want to get and keep their jobs, and instead enter into arbitration proceedings as individuals to seek justice and settle disputes.
The ruling was a major victory for employers in a case that pit labor and civil rights groups against big business and the Trump administration’s Justice Department, which flipped its position on the case after Trump replaced Barack Obama in the White House.
The ruling comes amid a national conversation about discrimination in the workplace as employees continue to speak out about sexual harassment despite non-disclosure clauses in forced arbitration agreements, which have been loudly criticized for silencing women and LGBTQ people.
For example, Uber recently announced that it would no longer require mandatory arbitration in private for sexual harassment claims after coming under pressure from the #MeToo movement, and Lyft quickly announced it would follow suit.
Mandatory arbitration agreements often prevent workers from coming together to file lawsuits against employers under the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Civil Rights Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and other laws meant to protect workers, according to Celine McNicholas, director of labor law and policy at the Economic Policy Institute.
Instead, workers are forced to air their grievances individually in arbitration processes set up as…