Northern District of Illinois Rules that Arbitration Clause in Employee Handbook is Enforceable

More and more businesses are utilizing employment agreements with new hires, and often those agreements contain arbitration dispute resolution clauses. As experienced wage and hour class action attorneys, Lubin Austermuehle is familiar with such agreements and our attorneys are always mindful of court rulings that affect this area of the law. The Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division federal court rendered a decision affecting employment arbitration agreements recently, and we wanted to make our readers and clients aware of the court’s ruling.

Brown v. Luxottica Retail North America Inc. pits a class of salaried retail, lab, and general managers against their employer Lenscrafters. Plaintiffs argued that they were non-exempt employees, and therefore were entitled to overtime compensation. The employees filed suit alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Illinois Minimum Wage Law (IMWL), and Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act (IWPCA) for unpaid overtime wages. In response, Defendant moved to compel one of the named plaintiffs to arbitrate her claims and stay the proceedings with respect to that plaintiff. Defendant so moved pursuant to a dispute resolution agreement contained within the employee handbook Plaintiff was given while still employed by Defendant. Defendant required Plaintiff to accept the terms of the handbook in order to continue her employment. The agreement contained a form to allow the employee to opt-out of the arbitration clause and instructions how to fill it out, but Plaintiff had failed to sign the form. Plaintiff objected to Defendant’s motion on the grounds that it was unconscionable and unenforceable.

In considering Plaintiff’s arguments, the Court evaluated the procedural and substantial unconscionability of the agreement. The Court found no procedural unconscionability because the arbitration language was “clearly set off” from the rest of the employee handbook and was easy to find by those who actually read the entire handbook. Next, the Northern District held that there was no substantive unconscionability due to the existence of the opt-out clause and the fact that the Plaintiff chose not to exercise her right to opt-out even though she signed a document stating she had read and accepted the terms of the handbook. Finally, the Court ruled that nothing in the FLSA precludes an agreement to arbitrate an FLSA claim, and granted Defendant’s motion to compel arbitration.

Lubin Austermuehle has a team of wage claim attorneys who focus on nationwide class action lawsuits and who have successfully handled many large disputes. Our Chicago overtime lawyers are intimately familiar with the issues that arise during wage claim litigation, and we know the laws that govern overtime cases well. Many employers misclassify employees as being exempt from overtime laws and pay workers salaries instead of hourly wages in order to avoid paying overtime. When workers do not receive the wages they should, a lawsuit may be the only way to recover the wages that are rightfully theirs. Lubin Austermuehle is based in Chicago, and represents clients throughout the country who have not been paid for the overtime hours that they worked. If you believe that you are owed overtime wages, contact one of our Evanston wage and hour attorneys by phone at 1 630-333-0333, or through our online form.

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