The Ontario Court has confirmed that an arbitration clause in an employment contract is generally enforceable.
Much to the chagrin of Mr. Heller and his lawyers in the proposed class action brought against Uber, Justice Perell of Ontario Superior Court of Justice stayed the lawsuit against Uber. As a result, Uber drivers in Ontario that want to sue for their rights under the Employment Standards Act, 2002 will need to do so by way of Arbitration in the Netherlands.
In the lawsuit of Heller v. Uber Technologies Inc., Heller, the proposed class plaintiff for Uber drivers across Ontario, sued Uber for a finding that they were employees, not independent contractors. If correct, then Uber drivers would be entitled to all the benefits granted to employees under the Employment Standards Act. Uber brought a motion to stay the action in Ontario—effectively ending the law suit—on the basis that when Uber drivers signed up on the “Uber App”, they clicked accept to a long list of terms and conditions that included the following clause:
Except as otherwise set forth in this Agreement, this Agreement shall be exclusively governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of the Netherlands, excluding its rules on the conflict of laws. The Vienna Convention on the International Sale of Goods 1980 (CISG) shall not apply. Any dispute, conflict or controversy, howsoever arising out of or broadly in connection with or relating to this Agreement, including relating to its validity, its construction or its enforceability, shall be first mandatorily submitted to mediation proceedings under the International Chamber of Commerce Mediation Rules (“ICC Mediation Rules”). If such a dispute has not been settled within sixty (60) days after a request for mediation has been submitted under such ICC Mediation Rules, such dispute can be referred to and shall be exclusively and finally resolved by arbitration under the Rules of Arbitration of the International Chamber of Commerce (“ICC Arbitration Rules”) …. The Place of the arbitration shall be Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
After finding that the International Commercial Arbitration Act, 2017, applies the Court considered:
- Whether the Competence-Competence Principle applied? or
- Whether there was some other reason to refuse to send the matter to arbitration.
The Competence-Competence principle holds that in general “a challenge to the arbitrator’s jurisdiction should be first resolved by the arbitrator.” The Court found that this principle did apply and that there were no exception to rely on that would benefit Mr. Heller. The Court held that the arbitration provision was not illegal for being unconscionable.
In short, Mr. Heller’s argument was summarized as follows:
it would be an absurd result and contrary to public policy to enforce an arbitration agreement in an employment contract and thereby deny vulnerable non-unionized employees their rights and protections under the Employment Standards Act, 2000, which precludes employees contracting out of their rights under the Act.
The Court reasoned that it was their role to interpret statute and not enact it and the Employment Standards Act does not, unlike the Consumer Protection Act, preclude arbitration clauses. Therefore, the Court held that the class action lawsuit should be stayed as a result of the arbitration clause in the employment contract, “be the result absurd public policy or not.”
What is the take away?
The decision of Heller v. Uber Technologies Inc., 2018 ONSC 718, confirms that Arbitration clauses in employment agreements are generally enforceable.
Contact Justin W. Anisman
Justin W. Anisman is an Employment Lawyer at the Toronto law firm Brauti Thorning Zibarras LLP. Justin advises both companies and individuals in all aspects of employment law including wrongful dismissal, human rights and discrimination.