Clinic Brings 'Epic' Case to Supreme Court

Epic Systems Inc. v. Lewis May Decide If Employers Can Bar Employees From Collectively Enforcing Work-Related Rights
Supreme Court Clinic

Is it legal for a company to force employees to abide by an arbitration agreement that bars them from pursuing work-related claims collectively? The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic at UVA is helping to challenge the practice.

January 14, 2017

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a University of Virginia School of Law clinic case that could have far-reaching implications for class actions, collective bargaining and an employee's right to take his employer to court.

The high court granted cert on Friday in Epic Systems Inc. v. Lewis. The Supreme Court Litigation Clinic is representing Jacob Lewis, an employee of health care software company Epic Systems. Lewis was pursuing collective action against the company for overtime pay he says he and his co-workers were owed — this, despite having signed an arbitration agreement, per corporate policy, that denied him the right to pursue collective action. Lewis claims being forced to proceed individually violates his rights under the National Labor Relations Act and is unenforceable under the Federal Arbitration Act.

"The question is whether a contractual provision saying there will be no collective remedies — meaning everyone has to pursue their case on their own, they can't do so with people in similar circumstances — violates the act," said Professor Daniel Ortiz, the director of the clinic. "The stakes are really high for both employees and employers."

He said the right to have a case heard in the courts is also an important aspect of the case.

"Over the last 15 years, businesses have tried to force all consumer and employment disputes to arbitration on an individual basis, which makes it uneconomical for individuals to vindicate many of their rights," Ortiz said.

The case rose to the court's attention after the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled in favor of Lewis last year. The court, in granting the case, has consolidated it with two other similar ones: Ernst & Young LLP v. Morris and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil USA Inc.

Ortiz said the court will hear an hour of oral arguments related to all three, most likely in April.

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