Coblentz Files Amicus Brief to California Supreme Court in Support of Enforcing Employer Arbitration Agreements

“California courts must interpret arbitration agreements to give them their intended purpose and lawful effect to the fullest extent possible . . . . This is especially true when the agreement itself contains a severance clause, further demonstrating the parties’ intent to proceed with arbitration as their desired forum.”

On March 6, 2023, Coblentz submitted an amicus curiae brief on behalf of Employers Group in the Supreme Court of California in Charter Communications, Inc. v. Ramirez, Case No. S273802.

Employers Group is the nation’s oldest and largest human resources management organization for employers. Employers Group represents nearly 3,800 California employers of all sizes and in every industry, which collectively employ nearly three million employees. In the amicus brief, Employers Group advocates for a clear rule on the severability of provisions of arbitration agreements that do not affect the heart of the agreement. It also argues that such agreements should be examined under contract interpretation principles applicable to every other type of contract in California.

Ramirez involves an appeal of a 2022 Second District Court of Appeal decision holding that Charter Communications’ standard arbitration agreement was permeated by unconscionability, could not be severed, and was therefore unenforceable. The Ramirez holding directly contradicted a 2021 decision from the same appellate district: Patterson v. Superior Court (2021) 70 Cal.App.5th 473. In contrast to Ramirez, the Patterson court found the exact same arbitration agreement enforceable (as has many other state and federal trial courts), by interpreting an attorneys’ fee provision in the agreement to impliedly incorporate the Fair Employment and Housing Act’s “asymmetric” rule on awarding attorneys’ fees. In other words, Patterson used well-established contract principles to enforce the agreement, while Ramirez found that the agreement was unsalvageable.

Lower courts frequently come to differing conclusions under the current legal framework surrounding arbitration agreement enforceability, leaving employers with little certainty on whether a court will actually enforce their agreements. “The Court should,” the brief states, “issue an opinion that provides a robust rule on severability that offers certainty for the thousands of California employers and millions of employees who seek to enjoy the benefits of the arbitral forum as their chosen method of resolving common workplace disputes.”

Labor and Employment attorney Fred Alvarezprepared the brief. Other supporting amici included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which argued the Federal Arbitration Act preempts the Ramirez opinion. A copy of the amicus brief can be found here.