The Supreme Court made an important exception last week to its pro-employer position of compelling arbitration when it decided the case of New Prime Inc. v. Oliveira. Mr. Oliveira, a long-haul truck driver, had signed an arbitration agreement with his employer, New Prime Inc. When Mr. Oliveira tried to get his unpaid wages and expenses, New Prime invoked the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), to force Oliveira to arbitrate his claim.
Mr. Oliveira argued that the FAA does not apply to “contracts of employment” of transportation workers. New Prime, however, claimed that Mr. Oliveira was an independent contractor and that that the language in the FAA did not apply to his claims.
In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court held that “contract of employment” in the FAA refers to any agreement to perform work, including Oliveira’s work as an independent contractor. Specifically, Justice Neil Gorsuch discussed the meanings of the words “employment” and “employee” when the statute was enacted and how they differed from the words’ modern connotations. Based on that analysis, the Court concluded that “all work was treated as employment” in the FAA, and so the statute exempts transportation workers like Oliveira from the FAA and allows them to bring their cases directly in from of the courts.