On February 15, 2023, employers in California regained the ability to enforce mandatory arbitration as the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that Assembly Bill 51 (AB 51), which prohibited “forced arbitration” as a condition of employment, was pre-empted by the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).
After years of litigation, the Ninth Circuit’s ruling upholds a federal district court’s preliminary injunction that temporarily blocked California from enforcing AB 51 and all but guarantees that AB 51 will never be enforceable. While California could seek review from the Ninth Circuit (en banc) or the Supreme Court of the United States, given the Supreme Court’s line of cases upholding FAA pre-emption, we think this decision will stand.
That said, US President Joe Biden’s Ending Forced Arbitration of Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment Act of 2021 (HR 4445) must not be ignored. Employers may include sexual harassment and sexual assault claims in a voluntary arbitration agreement, but an employee may choose to file these particular claims in court.