California workers who have been subject to unfair or illegal employment practices by their employers may have several different routes to fight back against unfair treatment by employers. In addition to state legal remedies, such as a breach of contract claim, wronged employees can pursue federal legal and administrative remedies through federal courts or the U.S. Department of Labor. California has also passed laws allowing wronged employees to seek equitable remedies for mistreatment.
One such remedy comes through applying California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), which gives workers a separate cause of action to address unfair labor practices. The California Court of Appeals recently heard a case in which a plaintiff brought a claim of unlawful business practices under the UCL against their former employer, alleging that the defendant’s failure to pay the plaintiff’s due wages was a violation of the law. In the recently decided case, the plaintiff brought suit against the defendant for failing to pay sufficient wages under an employment agreement. According to the procedural history discussed in the appellate opinion, the plaintiff made legal claims for breach of contract based on unpaid wages and failure to reimburse business expenses and brought up equitable claims under the UCL with the same complaints.
The defendant responded to the plaintiff’s lawsuit by seeking to compel arbitration of the plaintiff’s claims as agreed to in the employment contract. The parties’ employment contract contained a provision that legal claims for wage loss would be handled in arbitration; however, the contract specifically stated that equitable claims under the UCL were not subject to mandatory arbitration. The plaintiff agreed to dismiss their non-UCL claims but sought to have the UCL claim heard in court, not at arbitration. Based on the language of the arbitration agreement in the employment contract, the trial court denied the defendant’s motion to compel arbitration, triggering the appeal.