Justia Summary

Morgan, an hourly employee at Sundance's Taco Bell franchise, had signed an agreement to arbitrate any employment dispute. Morgan later filed a nationwide collective action asserting that Sundance had violated federal law regarding overtime pay. Sundance initially defended as if no arbitration agreement existed, filing an unsuccessful motion to dismiss and engaging in unsuccessful mediation. Months after Morgan filed suit, Sundance unsuccessfully moved to compel arbitration under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Under Eighth Circuit precedent, a party waived its right to arbitration if it knew of the right; “acted inconsistently with that right”; and “prejudiced the other party by its inconsistent actions.”

The Supreme Court vacated and remanded. The Eighth Circuit erred in conditioning a waiver of the right to arbitrate on a showing of prejudice. A court must hold a party to its arbitration contract just as the court would to any other kind and may not devise novel rules to favor arbitration over litigation. Federal policy is to treat arbitration contracts like all others, not to foster arbitration. Courts may not create arbitration-specific procedural rules. Because the usual federal rule concerning waiver does not include a prejudice requirement, prejudice is not a condition of finding that a party waived its right to stay litigation or compel arbitration under the FAA. The proper inquiry would focus on Sundance’s conduct. Did Sundance knowingly relinquish the right to arbitrate by acting inconsistently with that right?