The Supreme Court has agreed to weigh in on an employee class-action lawsuit against Epic Systems Corp. in Verona over overtime pay, in a case that could influence the way wage disputes are handled across the country.
The high court won’t be hearing the specifics of the case Lewis v. Epic, which involves the health care company’s system of classifying certain types of workers as overtime-exempt. The court will weigh in on a specific aspect of the case regarding individual arbitration agreements — contracts that dictate whether wage disputes can be resolved through class-action lawsuits in the first place.
Epic, like many U.S. corporations, mandates that its workers take up certain labor complaints individually in a private legal process known as arbitration, and not in the courts. Epic pointed to those contracts when the plaintiffs initially sued, claiming they rendered the case moot.
However, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed. It declared that the arbitration agreement was illegal under the National Labor Relations Act, and that workers had the right to pursue class-action litigation to resolve labor issues.
As the New York Times documented in a 2015 investigation, individual arbitration agreements have become an increasingly popular way for corporations to circumvent the courts system and prevent collective action from disgruntled consumers or workers. The Supreme Court has already upheld the right of corporations to use such contracts in consumer rights cases. Now, the question is whether the standards apply to labor disputes.
The court will take up other cases involving the same issue of arbitration contracts. In NLRB v. Murphy Oil, USA, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the contracts. In Ernst & Young v. Morris, the court overturned them.
“It’s one of those situations where the conflict between the various circuits was so apparent that it seemed likely to us that the Supreme Court is going to decide this issue,” said Bill Parsons, an attorney representing the plaintiffs in the Epic case.
He added that he was hopeful that the court would agree with the 7th and 5th circuits and render individual arbitration agreements illegal.
Epic Systems declined to comment.
The case is just one of three class-action lawsuits that Epic faces, all involving overtime pay policies. The only difference between the cases is the time periods over which the overtime pay may have been due, and the types of workers in the class.