- Up to 1,500 quality assurance and technical writers at Epic Systems may file wage and working hours claims through individual arbitration after the health IT company won a major Supreme Court labor law case that barred employees from filing a class action lawsuit over the disputes.
The ongoing cases involve unpaid overtime claims for salaried employees dating back to 2012, according to a report from WKOW.
Habush, Habush, & Rottier attorney Breanne Snapp represented the Epic employees in the October 2017 Supreme Court case. She told WKOW reporters the workers will continue to push for compensation as individuals rather than as a group.
The case was brought to trial by technical writer Jacob Lewis. Lewis alleged Epic failed to compensate him and other technical writers appropriately for overtime pay and filed a complaint against Epic in federal court. However, Epic motioned to dismiss the lawsuit and compel individual arbitration since Lewis had signed an arbitration agreement when he was first hired at Epic.
Employees sign arbitration agreements in order to work at Epic Systems. Workers consent to losing the ability to pursue work-related claims through class or collective action.
In May 2018, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Epic Systems in a 5-4 decision.
In the majority opinion, Justice Neil Gorsuch stated the employees could not file a class action lawsuit against their employer over individual wage and working hours claims because they signed arbitration agreements upon gaining employment at Epic.
In light of the Supreme Court ruling, Epic Systems employees may now pursue their wage and working hour complaints individually, Snapp told WKOW.
“Instead of the cases being resolved efficiently in one class action trial, we may have a thousand arbitrations instead,” she said.
While many workers who filed overtime claims against the health IT company still work for Epic Systems, several hundred have likely left for other opportunities, according to Snapp.
“Workers have begun filing unpaid overtime claims individually, some going back to 2015, but none have yet been paid,” she said.
Epic will pay for the individual arbitration and most of the filing fees, according to WKOW.
In 2014, Epic settled a similar overtime case that ultimately cost the health IT company about $5.4 million.
Epic has not responded to a request for comment from WKOW.
Beyond requiring Epic employees to file over a thousand individual arbitrations, Epic v. Lewis may also have big implications for workers’ rights to file class action lawsuits.
The case centered on whether the National Labor Relations Act permits employers to wave employees’ rights to pursue claims in a class action or collective action lawsuit in arbitration agreements.
“Should employees and employers be allowed to agree that any disputes between them will be resolved through one-on-one arbitration?” stated Gorsuch in the majority opinion. “Or should employees always be permitted to bring their claims in class or collective actions, no matter what they agreed with their employers?”
Epic Systems and its co-petitioners argued the arbitration waiver did not violate the National Labor Relations Act and is protected under the Federal Arbitration Act.
In agreement with Epic, Gorsuch stated the National Labor Relations Act “secures to employees the rights to organize unions and bargain collectively, but it says nothing about how judges and arbitrators must try legal disputes that leave the workplace and enter the courtroom or arbitral forum.”
“Far from conflicting, the Arbitration Act and the NLRA have long enjoyed separate spheres of influence and neither permits this Court to declare the parties’ agreements unlawful,” he continued.
The court’s decision could make it more difficult for employees to address workplace complaints in class action lawsuits in the future.