Correia v. NB Baker Electric, Inc.Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs Mark Correia and Richard Stow sued their former employer, NB Baker Electric, Inc. (Baker), alleging wage and hour violations and seeking civil penalties under the Private Attorney General Act of 2004 (PAGA). Baker responded by petitioning for arbitration under the parties' arbitration agreement. The agreement provided that arbitration shall be the exclusive forum for any dispute and prohibited employees from bringing a "representative action." The trial court granted the arbitration petition on all causes of action except for the PAGA claim. On the PAGA claim, the court followed the California Supreme Court decision in Iskanian v. CLS Transportation Los Angeles, LLC, 59 Cal.4th 348 (2014), and the California Court of Appeal decision in Tanguilig v. Bloomingdale's, Inc., 5 Cal.App.5th 665 (2016). The trial court stayed the PAGA claim pending the conclusion of the arbitration. Baker contended the court erred because: (1) plaintiffs' response to its arbitration petition was untimely; (2) Iskanian was no longer binding as it was inconsistent with a recent United States Supreme Court decision, Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis, 138 S.Ct. 1612 (2018); and (3) the parties' arbitration agreement should have been interpreted to mean that if the representative-action waiver was unenforceable, the PAGA claim for statutory penalties remained subject to arbitration. The Court of Appeal determined the trial court acted within its discretion in considering plaintiffs' response to the arbitration petition despite that plaintiffs filed the response after the statutory deadline. Furthermore, Iskanian was still good law: "Although the Epic court reaffirmed the broad preemptive scope of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), Epic did not address the specific issues before the Iskanian court involving a claim for civil penalties brought on behalf of the government and the enforceability of an agreement barring a PAGA representative action in any forum." Therefore, the Court concluded the trial court properly ruled the waiver of representative claims in any forum is unenforceable. The Court rejected Baker's contention the court erred in failing to order plaintiffs' PAGA claim to arbitration. "We are aware the federal courts have reached a different conclusion regarding the arbitrability of a PAGA representative claim, but find these decisions unpersuasive because the courts did not fully consider the implications of the qui tam nature of a PAGA claim on the enforceability of an employer-employee arbitration agreement. Moreover, although we provided Baker the specific opportunity to do so, it failed to identify a sound basis for this court to apply the federal decisions on this issue."