Hill v. Garda CL Northwest, 179 Wn. 2d 47 (2013) (View Court’s Opinion)

The plaintiffs are armored car drivers and messengers who transport cash to and from clients and their banks.? The plaintiffs claim they are required to work without rest and meal breaks.? The trial court certified a statewide class but then ordered arbitration pursuant to labor agreements between Garda and its employee associations.

Both sides appealed.? Plaintiffs argued that Garda had waived arbitration by litigating their claims for over 18 months; that the labor agreements did not contain a waiver of the right to pursue statutory wage claims in court; and that the terms of arbitration were unconscionable.? The Court of Appeals affirmed the order compelling arbitration but ordered individual arbitration, holding that the contracts did not permit class arbitration.

The Supreme Court accepted review and WELA filed an amicus brief in support of the employee plaintiffs.? WELA argued that the labor agreements do not waive the right to bring statutory claims in court, and if they did, they would not be enforceable where they would result in a waiver of substantive rights.

The Supreme Court unanimously reversed the Court of Appeals and ordered remand to the trial court for trial.? It did not address the litigation waiver or contract interpretation issues but instead focused on the terms of arbitration, holding that they were so one-sided as to be unconscionable.? Applying several of its own precedents, the Court found that a 14-day filing deadline, a two- to four-month limitation on backpay, and a cost-prohibitive fee-sharing provision all were substantively unconscionable and so permeated the clause that it was unenforceable.

(view WELA’s brief)