Arbitration and the California Supreme Court:  A Glimmer of Hope in Melendez

Corporations in recent years have made great strides in their efforts to hijack the American system of justice and force workers out of court and into mandatory arbitration.  Their hope is that arbitration is such a stacked deck (and often it is) that workers will choose not to try to enforce their rights.  They also hope that the “repeat player” phenomenon will give them a decisive advantage in terms of the results.  Sadly, all too often that is the case.

However, there are signs that some judges are beginning to realize exactly what is going on with mandatory arbitration-and what a travesty it is.

On April 25, 2019, the California Supreme Court issued an opinion in Melendez v. San Francisco Baseball Associates, case no. S245607.  The plaintiff in that case, security guards at Oracle Park in San Francisco, claim that they were entitled to be paid their wages immediately after every Giants homestand.  But the issue that reached the California Supreme Court was whether those claims were preempted (meaning that they could not be brought in court) because the security guards were covered by a collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

The California Supreme Court’s opinion was authored by Justice Ming Chin, who is typically seen as one of the more conservative members of the court.  Nevertheless, Justice Chin applied a very narrow view of preemption, noting that nothing in the CBA directly addressed the issue raised by the plaintiff’s claims.

Furthermore, Justice Chin wrote the following words:

“It is up to state courts, not an arbitrator, to interpret state labor law standards applicable to all workers.”

That could not be more true.  Among other things, arbitration awards cannot normally be appealed, so no sitting judge reviews them.  And usually these awards are secret, or at least not publicly available, so other workers have no idea if their employer is found to have violated the law.

These are just a few of the many problems with mandatory private arbitration of work-related disputes.  Let us hope that Justice Chin’s words are taken up by other jurists as the fight against arbitration continues.

If you are facing issues in your workplace and want to speak with an experienced employment lawyer, please feel free to contact Hunter Pyle Law and make use of our free and confidential intake process.  We can be reached at (510) 444-4400 or at