Uber drivers suing the ride-hailing company have urged an en banc review of the Ninth Circuit panel’s recent decision that drivers must arbitrate their claims, including any challenges to that they might have to the arbitration agreements themselves. Plaintiffs-Appellees’ Petition for Rehearing En Banc, Mohamed v. Uber Technologies, Inc., et al., 15-16178, Gillette v. Uber Technologies, Inc., 15-16181, and Mohamed v. Hirease, LLC, 15-16250 (9th Cir. Sept. 7, 2016) (available here). The request to re-examine the decision stems from appeals by Uber in three proposed class actions in which drivers alleged that Uber misclassified them as independent contractors, rather than as employees, and violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act and analogous state statutes by running criminal background and credit checks on drivers without proper authorization and then improperly utilizing their consumer credit reports. The at-issue arbitration agreements were contained in two driver agreements, a 2013 agreement and a 2014 agreement, both of which contained opt-out clauses that none of the plaintiffs had utilized.
On September 7, 2016, a three-judge panel partly reversed U.S. District Judge Edward M. Chen’s June 2015 ruling that Uber’s arbitration agreements were unenforceable, and clarified that the 2013 and 2014 contracts clearly delegated the question of arbitrability to the arbitrator. Mohamed, at 6-7 (slip op. available here). The panel found that “[t]he 2013 agreement clearly and unmistakably delegated the question of arbitrability to the arbitrator except as pertained to the arbitrability of class action, collective action, and representative claims.” Id. at 14. Furthermore, “the 2014 agreement clearly and unmistakably delegated the question of arbitrability to the arbitrator under all circumstances.” Id. at 11. The panel also held that neither delegation provision was unconscionable, because the ability to opt-out of both agreements within 30 days essentially rendered both agreements procedurally conscionable, per se. Id. at 18. Indeed, although the panel acknowledged that it was likely more burdensome to opt out of the arbitration provision by overnight delivery service or in person (as required by the 2013 agreement) than it would have been by email (as allowed by the 2014 agreement), “there were some drivers who did opt out and whose opt-outs Uber recognized. Thus, the promise was not illusory.” Id. at 17. Accordingly, the court rejected Judge Chen’s finding that Uber’s arbitration provision was procedurally and substantively unconscionable on these grounds. Id. at 17-18.
In their petition for rehearing, the drivers first argue the panel’s ruling unlawfully permits otherwise unconscionable arbitration agreements to be upheld, so long as the agreement contains a “meaningful” opt-out clause, even where the terms of the clause are difficult to comply with or are purposely buried in the fine print to prevent an individual from opting out. Petition for Rehearing, at 4-7 (internal citations omitted). Second, they contend that the panel’s finding that questions of arbitrability be decided by an arbitrator conflicts with the U.S. Supreme Court’s requirement that valid delegations of arbitrability be “clear and unmistakable,” insofar as the at-issue delegation provisions contained exceptions, conflicted with other arbitration terms, and were generally ambiguous. Id. at 7-10 (internal citations omitted). Third, the drivers argue that the panel’s holding that the presence of opt-out clauses renders the agreements’ class action waivers lawful under federal labor laws is incorrect and conflicts with contrary holdings of the Seventh Circuit. Id. at 10-12. Specifically, in Morris v. Ernst & Young, No. 13-16599, 2016 WL 4433080 (9th Cir. Aug. 22, 2016), the Ninth Circuit recently held that class action waivers violate employees’ right to engage in “concerted action” under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). However, this panel (in Mohamed) held that the availability of limited and burdensome opt-out provisions rendered the class action waivers non-mandatory, and thus lawful. Mohamed, slip op. at 18 n.6. The plaintiffs point out that this conclusion conflicts with the Seventh Circuit’s ruling in Lewis v. Epic Sys. Corp., 823 F.3d 1147, 1155 (7th Cir. 2016), where the court held that an employee cannot prospectively waive the right to engage in protected concerted action under the NLRA, notwithstanding an opt-out provision. Finally, the drivers argue that the panel’s determination that a cost-sharing provision that would require drivers to pay substantial fees was negated by Uber’s mid-litigation offer to pay such costs, runs contrary to Sixth Circuit precedent which held such a provision unenforceable if it “deter[s] potential litigants, regardless of whether . . . the employer agrees to pay a particular litigant’s share of the fees and costs to avoid such a holding.” Petition for Rehearing, at 12-15 (citing Morrison v. Circuit City Stores, Inc., 317 F.3d 646, 676-77 (6th Cir. 2003) (en banc)).
It remains to be seen whether the Ninth Circuit will accept this petition for rehearing en banc.
Natalie Torbati, Associate
CAPSTONE LAW APC