Kec v. Superior CourtAnnotate this Case
The parties’ arbitration agreement purported to waive class actions and any “other representative action” (the representative waiver). There was no dispute that this representative waiver was broad enough to cover a Labor Code Private Attorneys General Act of 2004 (PAGA) claim, and was thus invalid. The arbitration agreement went on to provide that the provision containing the class action and representative waiver was not modifiable nor severable. The arbitration agreement also contained a provision that if the representative waiver was found to be invalid, “the Agreement becomes null and void as to the employee(s) who are parties to that particular dispute,” the so-called "blow-up provision." Plaintiff Nichole Kec brought individual, class, and PAGA claims against defendants R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Reynolds American Inc., and three individual employees at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, alleging in essence, that she and others were misclassified as exempt employees, resulting in various violations of the Labor Code. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company and Reynolds American Inc., moved to compel arbitration of plaintiff’s individual claims except the PAGA claim. The court granted the motion. The court reasoned: (1) because defendants had not asked the court to rule on the enforceability of the representative waiver, it had not found the representative waiver invalid, and thus the blow-up provision had not been triggered; and (2) the blow-up provision could apply only to the attempted waiver of the PAGA claim, not to the arbitrability of plaintiff’s claims under the Labor Code. The Court of Appeal concluded defendants could not selectively enforce the arbitration agreement in a manner that defeated its goals. "Had the parties intended to permit defendants to proceed with arbitration notwithstanding an invalid waiver of representative claims, they would have simply made that provision severable, like every other term in the agreement. But that is not what they did. Instead, by specifically making section 5 not severable, the agreement evinces an intent not to allow defendants to selectively enforce the arbitration agreement." The Court issued a writ of mandate ordering the trial court to vacate its order granting arbitration, and to enter a new order denying the motion in its entirety.