From the Consumer Law & Policy Blog: A divided Supreme Court today dealt a major blow to consumers and employees seeking to challenge arbitration agreements on the ground that they are unfair or unconscionable. Public Citizen was co-counsel in the case, Rent-a-Center v. Jackson, and will be spearheading efforts in Congress to curtail its effects.
In a 5-4 decision by Justice Scalia, the Court held that if a company’s arbitration agreement includes a clause delegating fairness challenges to the arbitrator, a court must enforce that agreement and send the matter to arbitration. The Court’s decision arose out of an employment discrimination claim brought by Antonio Jackson, an African-American Nevada man, against his former employer. When Mr. Jackson sued, the company invoked its arbitration agreement and claimed that, under the agreement, any challenges to the agreement had to be decided by the arbitrator.
Until today’s Supreme Court decision, consumers and employees had the right, under Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act, to go to court and ask a judge to find an arbitration agreement unconscionable or unfair and therefore unenforceable. Although most arbitration agreements are enforceable, court review weeded out the very worst abuses—like imposing exorbitant fees, forcing consumers or employees to travel great distances to arbitrate, or allowing a corporation to pick an arbitrator that is clearly biased in its favor. More