The California Attorney General joined a multistate coalition in filing an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse a lower court decision holding that only workers employed in the transportation industry can be exempt under the transportation-worker exemption to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA).
The multistate amicus brief supports the petitioners in Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC, et al 59 F. 4th 594 – Court of Appeals, 2nd Circuit 2023, who are truck drivers delivering baked goods to restaurants and stores for baking conglomerate Flowers Foods.
The Bissonnette case involved a dispute between two commercial truck drivers, Neal Bissonnette and Tyler Wojnarowski, and their employer, LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC. The drivers claimed that they were not subject to the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) because they were “transportation workers” within the meaning of the statute. The FAA excludes from its scope contracts with “seamen, railroad employees, [and] any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision that the drivers were not “transportation workers” under the FAA. The court reasoned that the drivers were not employed by a company in the transportation industry, but rather by a bakery that simply used transportation services to distribute its products. The court also noted that the drivers’ primary duties did not involve transportation, but rather the sale and merchandising of bakery products.
In their brief, the attorneys general ask the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that ruling because it is inconsistent with precedent that has rejected defining the exemption by industry, would be unworkable as a practical matter, and prevents states from effectively monitoring commerce and ensuring lawful workplace conditions.
California is home to over 1.5 million transportation workers. Of these workers, about 312,080 are truck drivers in a variety of industries, and many of these workers are directly related to the movement of goods, even if they do not directly work for a trucking company. For the many California workers in the sector, workable standards safeguard their access to the courts, lessening the probability they will be erroneously diverted to arbitration and abandon their claims.
The California Attorney General joins the attorneys general of Illinois, Colorado, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
The decision in Bissonnette has important implications for employers and employees in the transportation industry. The decision clarifies that the FAA does not apply to all workers who are engaged in interstate commerce, but only to those who are employed by companies that are primarily engaged in the transportation industry. This distinction could have a significant impact on the enforceability of arbitration agreements in the transportation sector.
The U.S. Supreme Court granted certiorari in Bissonnette on September 29, 2023. Thus the case is currently pending before the Supreme Court. The petitioners’ brief was filed on November 13, 2023. The respondents’ brief is due on December 15, 2023. The case is likely to be argued before the Supreme Court in early 2024.
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