Today, in a putative class action asserting various Labor Code violations, the Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division One) invalidated as unconscionable an arbitration agreement containing a “no class action or private attorney general action (PAGA) clause” in Franco v. Athens Disposal Company, Inc. (March 10, 2009).
The Court held:
“We conclude that the class arbitration waiver is unconscionable with respect to the alleged violations of the meal and rest period laws given “the modest size of the potential individual recovery, the potential for retaliation against members of the class, [and] the fact that absent members of the class may be ill informed about their rights.” (Gentry v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal.4th 443, 463 (Gentry).) In addition, because the arbitration agreement prevents plaintiff from acting as a private attorney general, it conflicts with the Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) (§§ 2698–2699.5) — an act that furthers Gentry’s goal of comprehensively enforcing state labor laws through statutory sanctions (see Gentry, supra, 42 Cal.4th at pp. 462–463).
(Slip op., at p. 2.) But you have to admire the employer for the sheer chutzpah of it. A “no private attorney general” clause? Bold, and daring.
The opinion is longer than you might expect. Several preliminary issues required discussion before the Court moved to the meat of the issues. And the Court provided an extensive discussion of both Gentry and the nature of PAGA actions. If this happens to be your bailiwick, the opinion is a must read. If you never confront arbitration agreements or wage & hour matters, move along - there is nothing to see here.