Court of Appeal: Arbitrate DLSE Wage Claim

So, can an employer require employees to bring wage claims in arbitration instead of at the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement? If the arbitration agreement is otherwise drafted properly, Yes.

As explained by the court,

Frank Moreno is a former employee of Sonic, which owns and operates an automobile dealership. As a condition of his employment with Sonic, Moreno signed a predispute agreement that required both parties to submit their employment disputes to "binding arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act, in conformity with the procedures of the California Arbitration Act (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. sec. 1280 et seq. . . .)." By its terms, the arbitration agreement applied to "all disputes that may arise out of the employment context . . . that either [party] may have against the other which would otherwise require or allow resort to any court or other governmental dispute resolution forum[,] . . . whether based on tort, contract, statutory, or equitable law, or otherwise." At some point, Moreno left his position with Sonic. In December 2006, Moreno filed an administrative wage claim with the Labor Commissioner for unpaid
vacation pay pursuant to section 98 et seq. Moreno alleged that he was entitled
to unpaid "[v]acation wages for 63 days earned 7/15/02 to 7/15/06 at the rate of
$441.29 per day."
So, why was the agreement enforceable even against the Labor Commissioner? The court of appeal decided that there was nothing precluding the substitution of the arbitrator for the deputy labor commissioner. The plaintiff argued that arbitration would not include the special stautory provisions regarding the de novo appeal to superior court after the hearing. But the court was unpersuaded. The court also found that the agreement complied with the protections of the California Supreme Court's decision in Armendariz v. Foundation Health Psychcare Services, Inc. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 83. The court did not analyze the agreement's provisions, though. So, we have to assume that this agreement was sufficiently "mutual," provided for the employer to bear the unique costs of arbitration, etc.

The case is Sonic-Calabassas A, Inc. v. Moreno, and the opinion is here.