Rent-A-Center, West, Inc. v. Jackson
This case poses the question of whether a corporation can impose a contract that vests all power to decide the fairness and legality of an arbitration clause in the hands of the arbitrator. We represent Antonio Jackson, an African-American man who sued his employer, Rent-A-Center, for denying him promotions on the basis of his race in violation of federal civil rights laws.
Rent-A-Center argues that Jackson’s discrimination claim must be heard in arbitration, but Jackson argues that the arbitration clause cannot be enforced because several of its provisions are unconscionable under Nevada state law. However, the clause provides that the arbitrator, not a court, has “exclusive authority” to resolve any dispute, including a dispute about whether the arbitration clause itself is valid. The district court enforced the clause, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that under U.S. Supreme Court precedent, courts — not arbitrators — must determine the threshold question of whether an arbitration clause is valid and enforceable. The U.S. Supreme Court granted certirari, and the case will be argued April 26, 2010.
Jackson is represented in the Supreme Court by Ian Silverberg of Reno, Nevada (lead counsel); Public Justice staff attorney Paul Bland (lead author of our brief in the U.S. Supreme Court); Budd-Kazan Fellow Matt Wessler; staff attorneys Leslie Bailey and Leslie Brueckner; Executive Director Arthur Bryant; Goldberg, Waters & Kraus Fellow Amy Radon; Brayton-Baron Fellow Melanie Hirsch; Del Hardy of Reno, Nevada; and Scott Nelson and Deepak Gupta of Public Citizen.
affirming that arbitration clauses cannot be enforced against employees and consumers unless they comply with state unconscionability law, but sharply narrowing the historic role of courts in ensuring that arbitration clauses meet those basic legal standards.
Public Justice's brief argues that neither the Federal Communications Act nor the Federal Arbitration Act preempts Washington's unconscionability law; that AT&T’s choice-of-law clause is unenforceable; and that the class action ban in AT&T's arbitration clause is unconscionable under Washington law.