Judge Barbara Crabb has denied a motion by Epic Systems Corporation to dismiss a class action for overtime wages brought by current and former Technical Writers and to compel these employees to arbitrate their claims on an individual basis.
Hawks Quindel, along with co-counsel Habush Habush & Rottier, filed a class action on February 10, 2015 against Epic on behalf of a group of employees who are not paid overtime wages. These employees are Technical Writers, who prepare documents like release notes and support guides accompanying Epic’s software. The lawsuit contends that these employees have been misclassified as exempt from overtime wages, and should be paid time and a half wages for all hours worked over forty. Hawks Quindel recently sued Epic for misclassifying its Quality Assurance employees, and settled that case.
During the QA litigation, Epic imposed an arbitration agreement that prevented its employees, including Technical Writers, from bringing suit in court to recover unpaid wages. This agreement also blocked employees from joining together to bring a class action case – an important tool for workers asserting their rights.
In response to the Technical Writer class action filed by Hawks Quindel, Epic asked the Court to dismiss the case and require the named plaintiff to arbitrate his case individually. Had Epic succeeded on this motion, each individual employee would be required to go through the arbitration process separately to determine whether Epic had compensated them properly, rather than allowing all employees with the same job classification to have this question decided in a single proceeding.
But Judge Crabb denied Epic’s motion on Friday, September 11, 2015. In her decision, Judge Crabb observed that an employee’s right to bring a collective action on behalf of a group of employees is “concerted activity” that is protected by the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). The NLRA does not allow employers to interfere with employees’ rights to engage in concerted activities. The National Labor Relations Board, in In re D.R. Horton, Inc., held that an employer violates employees’ rights under the NLRA when it imposes arbitration agreements that prohibit collective action by them, such as participating in class litigation or class arbitration.
Because Epic’s arbitration agreement bars its employees from acting together, a right protected by the NLRA, Judge Crabb determined that this part of the arbitration agreement was unenforceable and denied Epic’s motion to dismiss. Judge Crabb’s decision means the case will remain in court where the employees can pursue a class action. Epic has filed a notice of appeal to the Seventh Circuit.
This is an important decision for employees. Employees’ ability to fight collectively for their rights is an important one dating back to the passage of the NLRA in 1935 and the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938. Mandatory arbitration agreements that strip workers of this right have proliferated in recent years. Hawks Quindel will continue to push back against this tide and fight for the rights of employees.