Pizza

Pizza delivery is among the many jobs where arbitration deals have come into play.

Photo by Flickr user Kris (CC-BY)

A pending Supreme Court case involving Epic Systems, the Verona-based health care tech company, could have a far-reaching impact.

Among those who may be affected: pizza delivery drivers.

The Epic case has to do with arbitration, a legal procedure where conflicts are resolved in private and not in the court system. When former employees sued Epic over its overtime pay policies in 2015, Epic argued that those workers signed an agreement to settle wage-related complaints in arbitration, making the lawsuit moot.

As an Illinois law journal recently pointed out, a class-action suit involving St. Louis area Domino’s Pizza delivery drivers could hinge on how the high court rules. Attorneys for the Domino’s drivers say in their complaint that they weren’t reimbursed by their employer for “vehicular wear and tear, gas, and other driving-related expenses.” Because they had to pay for those costs themselves, the drivers ended up making less than minimum wage.

The defendant in the case is MBR Management, a company that operates about 80 Domino’s locations in the region. It claims that because the drivers signed an arbitration agreement, they can’t sue. The company has asked the judge to dismiss the case, or in lieu of that, to wait and see what kind of a precedent is set in the Lewis v. Epic decision.

The Domino’s legal battle demonstrates how common arbitration agreements have become across industry. Contracts barring workers from filing class-action lawsuits have been embraced by software companies, pizza chain franchisees, hospitals and musical instrument retailers alike.

The Supreme Court is weighing in on the matter in large part because federal courts are split. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago ruled last year in the Epic case that the arbitration deals are illegal. However, the New Orleans-based 5th Circuit had previously ruled otherwise in a case against the Arkansa company Murphy Oil USA.

The Murphy Oil case will be heard simultaneously with the Epic lawsuit by the Supreme Court.

Erik Lorenzsonn is the Capital Times' tech and culture reporter. He joined the team in 2016, after having served as an online editor for Wisconsin Public Radio and having written for publications like The Progressive Magazine and The Poughkeepsie Journal.