In late March 2022, the United States Supreme Court heard an employer’s challenge to the Private Attorneys General Act of 2004, which allows private attorneys to sue on behalf of thousands of workers – even if they’d formerly agreed to individual arbitration. It’s a defining case, serving as a measure of whether companies can hedge employment lawsuits with mandatory arbitration clauses that can forbid group or class claims.
The case was filed in May 2021 after Angie Moriana, a former sales agent with Viking River Cruises, alleged that the company failed to provide her last paycheck after quitting her position. Moriana soon became the lead plaintiff for a private case alleging that Viking River Cruises violated the wages of several employees. Viking Cruises requested that the LA County Superior Court block the lawsuit, as Moriana had previously agreed to arbitrate any employment-related matters, and had waived her right to “class, collective or private attorney general action.”
Viking expressed surprise when the judge and state appeals court refused to block the suit, declaring that California as a state was the real plaintiff in the case. However the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Viking’s appeal in December of 2021.
The case of Viking River Cruises vs. Moriana has raised a number of questions, including the origins of the Private Attorneys General Act. Enacted in 2004, the law came about due to California’s lack of staff to supervise the industries with the most labor law violations, such as agriculture, garments, and construction; 75% of any penalties won are returned to the state, with the rest distributed to employees and the private attorneys involved.
California employers who challenged the legislation told the court that now, PAGA has become a way for private attorneys and their firms to boost their earnings. According to Washington attorney Paul Clement, some attorneys will file up to 17 claims per day and demand penalties for thousands of employees and millions of dollars at a time.
However the biggest issue that this case raises for the United States Supreme Court is whether or not the Private Attorneys General Act supersedes the Federal Arbitration Act of 1925. This piece of legislation was originally meant to uphold arbitration agreements between companies who’d signed contracts to deliver goods by train or ship. Though as of late, the FAA has largely been used by companies to protect themselves against class-action claims. Over the past decade or so, justices have regularly ruled that businesses could enforce mandatory arbitration clauses which prevent workers from filing large, class-action claims.
Another issue that this case has presented is the potential for private arbitration to be nixed from the equation if states authorize large private lawsuits in its place. Workers’ rights groups remark how private, individual lawsuits are essential for employee protection, with 89% of Private Attorneys General claims alleging wage theft according to a report by the UCLA Labor Center.
Implications aside, the United States Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision on the case of Viking River Cruises vs. Moriana by late June 2022. Only time will tell how California’s PAGA will hold up against the Federal Arbitration Act in similar cases down the line.
For Angela’s insights on cases like these, follow her on Facebook and Instagram @iamangelareddockwright.com, LinkedIn at angelareddock-wright, and tune-in to her radio show KBLA Talk 1580’s Legal Lens with Angela Reddock-Wright each Saturday and Sunday at 11am PST, or catch past episodes on Anchor.fm/Spotify. For media inquiries for Angela, please reach out to email@example.com.
Experienced Employment Law Attorney, Mediator, Arbitrator, Investigator, Legal and Media Commentator
Twice-named a U.S. News Best Lawyer in America for employment and labor law, Angela Reddock-Wright is an employment and labor law attorney, mediator, arbitrator, and certified workplace and Title IX investigator (AWI-CH) in Los Angeles, CA. Known as the “Workplace Guru,” Angela is an influencer and leading authority on employment, workplace/HR, Title IX, hazing, and bullying issues. Furthermore, she’s been named a “Top 50 Woman Attorney” in California by Super Lawyers, a “Top California Employment Lawyer” by the Daily Journal and one of Los Angeles’ “Most Influential Minority and Women Attorneys” by the Los Angeles Business Journal.
Angela is a regular legal and media commentator and analyst and has appeared on such media outlets as Good Morning America, Entertainment Tonight, Law and Crime with Brian Ross, Court TV, CNN, NewsNation, ABC News, CBS News, Fox 11 News, KTLA-5, the Black News Channel, Fox Soul – The Black Report, NPR, KPCC, Airtalk-89.3, KJLH Front Page with Dominique DiPrima, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times, Forbes.com, Yahoo! Entertainment, People Magazine, Essence Magazine, the Los Angeles Sentinel, LA Focus, Daily Journal, Our Weekly and the Wave Newspapers.
Angela is a member of the panel of distinguished mediators and arbitrators with Judicate West, a California dispute resolution company. She also owns her own dispute resolution law firm, the Reddock Law Group of Los Angeles, specializing in the mediation, arbitration, and investigation of employment discrimination, harassment, retaliation, and other workplace claims, along with Title IX, sexual harassment, assault, and misconduct conduct cases, along with hazing and bullying cases in K-12 schools, colleges and universities, fraternities and sororities; fire, police and other public safety agencies and departments; and other private and public sector workplaces.
Reddock-Wright has also launched her own radio show, Legal Lens with Angela Reddock-Wright, airing on Tavis Smiley’s new KBLA Talk 1580 radio station on Saturdays at 11:00 a.m. PT with replays on subsequent Sundays. Listeners may tune-in by downloading the APP @kbla1580 and call the PowerLines at 1-800-920-1580. You can listen to past episodes on Anchor.Fm/Spotify.
For more information regarding resources for employers, businesses, and employees during this time, connect with her on LinkedIn for new updates, or contact her here. You may also follow her on Instagram.
This communication is not legal advice. It is educational only. For legal advice, consult with an experienced employment law attorney in your state or city.