ALF Argues That Arbitration Act’s “Transportation Worker” Exemption Is Narrow

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Section 2 of the Federal Arbitration Act (“FAA”) mandates that arbitration agreements “shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable.” 9 U.S.C § 2. Section 1 of the FAA, however, exempts “contracts of employment of seamen, railroad employees, or any other class of workers engaged in foreign or interstate commerce.”  9 U.S.C § 1. The Supreme Court has granted certiorari in Bissonnette v. LePage Bakeries Park St., LLC, No. 23-51, to address the scope of this exemption, which was enacted almost 100 years ago.  More specifically, the Court will decide whether the phrase “any other class of workers engaged in . . .  interstate commerce” is limited to transportation workers employed by common carriers, i.e., companies whose principal business is interstate transportation, or also includes workers—such as the Petitioner bakery truck drivers in Bissonnette—whose employers’ principal business is not interstate transportation.

On behalf of the Atlantic Legal Foundation, I was pleased to jointly file an amicus brief on this issue with the DRI Center for Law and Public Policy, which I currently chair. I assisted Sarah Spencer, who  authored the brief. Sarah is a member of The Center’s Amicus Committee, and is part of a growing cadre of appellate attorneys who have provided pro bono drafting assistance to ALF under my guidance.

The amicus brief argues that the FAA § 1 exemption is narrow, that it is limited to common carrier employees who actually are engaged in interstate transportation activities. To support this interpretation, the brief delves into the historical context underlying the FAA’s enactment in 1925, when interstate commerce was largely limited to merchant shipping and railroads. As the brief argues, when Congress enacted the FAA’s broad mandate that courts enforce private-party arbitration agreements as an efficient and less costly alternative to litigation, it only intended to exempt employees of common carriers.  The exemption does not apply to workers who drive trucks for companies such as bakeries, which are not common carriers.

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