Thousands of Chipotle Workers Could be Shut Out of Wage-Theft Lawsuit by New Supreme Court Ruling
A recent Supreme Court decision limiting the ability of some workers to join class action lawsuits against their employers is already having a real-world impact. Chipotle is attempting to keep thousands of current and former workers out of a class-action wage theft case against it, and the new ruling is likely to give the company an edge.
The original suit, according to Huffington Post labor reporter Dave Jamieson, involves around 10,000 workers who claim that Chipotle forced them to work without pay before or after clocking in. Chipotle, though, says that nearly 3,000 of those workers signed class-action waivers as conditions of their employment, which would prevent them from joining the suit.
The Chipotle case was first filed in 2014, but a Supreme Court decision issued last Monday fundamentally shifts the playing field. Ruling on Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis—also an underpayment case—the Supreme Court upheld companies’ right to make so-called ‘forced arbitration’ a condition of employment, meaning employees would have to pursue redress for mistreatment individually, even when violations are systematic or widespread. In addition to complaints about pay, the ruling will likely also impact sexual harassment cases.
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The decision, according to a minority dissent by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, will lead to “huge under-enforcement of federal and state statutes designed to advance the well being of vulnerable workers.” That’s in part because arbitration requires each worker to hire and pay for legal representation individually. The arbitration process itself may also be inherently unfair because it was originally designed to settle disputes between equally-powerful entities, as New York Times Magazine legal reporter Emily Bazelon recently suggested.
Though there has not been a ruling on the exclusion request in the Chipotle case yet, the judge last week invited the litigants to file supplemental briefs addressing the impact of Epic Systems on the status of the affected plaintiffs. According to Jamieson, the Supreme Court’s decision likely means that nearly 3,000 Chipotle workers who accepted arbitration as a condition of their employment will be excluded from the class action suit. They would instead have to enter individual arbitration, with legal costs that could easily exceed the wages they might recover.