Ruth Bader Ginsburg has always been a fierce warrior for equal rights—so much, in fact, that her tenacity and determination has earned her the nickname of the “Notorious RBG.” On Monday, she lived up to her name and reminded everyone of her champion litigator skills by standing up to the Supreme Court’s majority opinion on allowing employers using arbitration agreements to block workers from coming together to file class-action suits, calling the decision “egregiously wrong.”
In a rare move, RBG read her written dissent from the bench, CNN reports, saying, “The court today holds enforceable these arm-twisted, take-it-or-leave-it contracts—including the provisions requiring employees to litigate wage and hours claims only one-by-one. Federal labor law does not countenance such isolation of employees.”
But what was this case really all about? Here are four things you should know about the ruling.
1. The Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis Case looked at how federal laws relate to workplace lawsuits.
RBG was all fired up over Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, which consolidated three cases where employees wanted to file group claims against their employers, despite signing contracts that contained arbitration clauses. Arbitration clauses are legal methods used to resolve disputes in private settings through a third-party, instead of in public court or through a collective claim in court. To the disappointment of many, including RBG, the Supreme Court ruled that a federal law gives employers the right to enforce these kinds of legal agreements and that they can use arbitration clauses in contracts to keep workers from banding together as a collective.
According to the New York Times, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling, which is estimated to affect some 25 million employment contracts.
2. Arbitration agreements have come under fire in the wake of #MeToo.
You may have been hearing a lot about arbitration agreements lately—they’ve inspired a lot of controversy in the wake of the #MeToo movement. Critics have pointed out that in cases of sexual harassment, arbitration agreements can force victims into silence by limiting the ways they can pursue and talk about their claims.
The latest headlines about arbitration agreements involved Uber. Several women who accused Uber drivers of sexual misconduct wrote a public letter urging the company’s board to release them of a mandatory arbitration provision found in the Uber app’s user agreement, partially so that they could join a collective claim against the company together. Uber revealed in a post that it would reverse the policy as it pertains to sexual harassment.
3. Critics think the Supreme Court ruling will affect survivors of sexual harassment and assault.
Although Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis was not specifically about sexual harassment, the Supreme Court signaled through their ruling that it would side with employers. The Cut writes that the ruling is a potential blow to the #MeToo movement—women and victims of sexual misconduct who sign arbitration agreements may not be able to fight sexual harassment together in the workplace. If their employer puts one of these clauses in the contract they sign as an employee, they’ll have to file individual claims and challenge their place of work on a one-on-one basis.
Additionally, they might also have to deal with non-disclosure agreements, which could prevent them from speaking publicly about disputes and corralling public support.
4. RBG says the decision has other implications on employee issues.
Justice Neil M. Gorsuch said the court came to their decision through a federal law that favors arbitration and the court’s precedents. But in her dissent, RBG was quick to point out specific employment issues that the majority opinion could lead to, suggesting that individual arbitrations may not offer results that are as impactful as class-action suits.
“By joining hands in litigation, workers can spread the costs of litigation and reduce the risk of employer retaliation,” she wrote.