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You get what you get with arbitration, holds Colorado Court of Appeals

Employers considering adopting arbitration agreements might be interested in a recent decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals. The Court’s ruling highlights some of the major differences between litigating in courts and arbitrating before a private arbitrator.

The case involved an arbitration agreement that required arbitration of claims “arising” under the parties’ contract. One of the parties brought a claim for violation of the implied duty of good faith and fair dealing, which is a separate claim that sounds in tort, not contract. The argument was that, because it is a tort claim not a contract claim, it was not subject to arbitration. Even though the arbitration agreement’s language was narrower than the more customary phrase, “related to or arising out of,” the Court held it was, nonetheless, broad enough to require arbitration of the tort claim.

Next, the arbitrator’s ruling was challenged on substantive grounds. The party contended the arbitrator had gone so far as to improperly re-characterize its claim, then deny the claim as re-characterized. The party felt it had never gotten a ruling on its actual, original claim. However, arbitration does not generally provide for a right of appeal. There are only very limited grounds for appeal. Additionally arbitration does not typically involve a court reporter being present, so there is generally no transcript of testimony. The Colorado Court of Appeals held that, even if the arbitrator had erred, there was no way for the Court of Appeals to analyze the arbitrator’s ruling, since with no transcript of testimony, it had no way of knowing what had occurred in the hearing.

We know from the arbitrator’s award that the evidentiary part of the hearing lasted two days, two witnesses testified, the arbitrator admitted about fifty-five exhibits, and the parties gave their closing arguments over the telephone. But we do not know what anyone said during the hearing. As a result, we must, as we have previously concluded, presume that the transcript would support the arbitrator’s award.

The case is a good reminder that, for all its advantages, arbitration comes with its own set of disadvantages. It isn’t just a quicker more private version of litigation. Companies considering arbitration agreements should carefully consider both the pro’s and con’s of arbitration.

Source: Digital Landscape v. Media Kings, case no. 17 CA 1111 (Colo.App. 9/20/18).

Individual liability possible for wage claims, in Colorado

In a 2003 decision, Leonard v. McMorris, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that the Colorado Wage Claim Act does not itself create statutory liability for individuals who own or manage a company. But what about other theories?

In a recent decision, Paradine v. Goei, the Colorado Court of Appeals held that Leonard does not foreclose personal liability. Rather, it simply held that the Colorado Wage Claim Act itself cannot be a vehicle for imposing personal liability. The Colorado Court of Appeals held in this case that there are, at least, two other “well-established” theories for holding an individual liable for the acts of a company: “peircing the corporate veil, and when an officer acts on behalf of an undisclosed principal.” Oversimplifying these two principles, (1) the first allows a person to be held liable for the acts of his entity if, in running that entity, he has not obeyed corporate formalities and ignored the distinction between the entity and himself; (2) the latter allows a person to be held liable when he seems to have acted on his own behalf but later wishes to claim, unbeknownst to the plaintiff, that he was actually acting behind an entity.

In this case the Court of Appeals held the plaintiff had adequately pled a case to pierce the corporate veil and was, therefore, entitled to seek discovery in pursuit of his allegations. In particular the court noted the plaintiff alleged that the individual collected the company’s money to be used to pay wages, used the company’s revenues for “his own personal use” and “diverted corporate funds” to pay his own expenses, including his “apartment lease” and “vehicle payments,” treating the company as his “alter ego” while commingling bank accounts and credit cards.”

Paradine will no doubt stimulate the filing of individual liability claims in Colorado wage cases.

Source: Paradine v. Goei, case no. 16CA1909 (Colo.App. 4/19/18).

When an “interstate” driver isn’t, but is …

Both federal law (the Fair Labor Standards Act, “FLSA”) and Colorado law (the Colorado Minimum Wage Act, the Colorado Wage Claim Act, and the Colorado Minimum Wage Order) exempt “interstate drivers.” Under FLSA, a driver can be considered “interstate” if she, like taxi drivers, is subject to the federal Motor Carrier Act, even where she drives only within the state. This means taxi drivers are not entitled to overtime under federal law.

In this case, the Colorado Court of Appeals affirmed the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment’s view that Colorado intended a stricter approach. According to the Court and the DOLE, Colorado’s overtime exemption does require that a driver actually drive across state lines as part of their job. Accordingly, the Court held, Colorado taxi drivers are entitled to overtime under state law, even though they would not be under federal law. As the Court explained, FLSA permits states to adopt stronger protections for employees than federal law. Here, the Court held Colorado did so because Colorado’s overtime exemption is worded slightly differently than FLSA’s.

Remaining issues include the applicability of this ruling to “gig” drivers, like those who drive through Uber or Lyft. Also, while this case has held that taxi drivers who don’t actually drive in and outside the state are entitled to overtime, it did not address whether other parts of Colorado wage law, including minimum wage requirements, also apply to such drivers.

Source: Brunson v. Colorado Cab Company, LLC, case no. 16CA1864 (1/8/18).