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U.S. Supreme Court

Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corp., 500 U.S. 20 (1991)

Gilmer v. Interstate/Johnson Lane Corporation

No. 90-18

Argued Jan. 14, 1991

Decided May 13, 1991

500 U.S. 20


Petitioner Gilmer was required by respondent, his employer, to register as a securities representative with, among others, the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). His registration application contained, inter alia, an agreement to arbitrate when required to by NYSE rules. NYSE Rule 347 provides for arbitration of any controversy arising out of a registered representative's employment or termination of employment. Respondent terminated Gilmer's employment at age 62. Thereafter, he filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and brought suit in the District Court, alleging that he had been discharged in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (ADEA). Respondent moved to compel arbitration, relying on the agreement in Gilmer's registration application and the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). The court denied the motion, based on Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U. S. 36 -- which held that an employee's suit under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 is not foreclosed by the prior submission of his claim to arbitration under the terms of a collective bargaining agreement -- and because it concluded that Congress intended to protect ADEA claimants from a waiver of the judicial forum. The Court of Appeals reversed.

Held: An ADEA claim can be subjected to compulsory arbitration. Pp. 500 U. S. 24-35.

(a) Statutory claims may be the subject of an arbitration agreement, enforceable pursuant to the FAA. See, e.g., Mitsubishi Motors Corp. v. Soler Chrysler-Plymouth, Inc., 473 U. S. 614. Since the FAA manifests a liberal federal policy favoring arbitration, Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital v. Mercury Construction Corp., 460 U. S. 1, 460 U. S. 24, and since neither the text nor the legislative history of the ADEA explicitly precludes arbitration, Gilmer is bound by his agreement to arbitrate unless he can show an inherent conflict between arbitration and the ADEA's underlying purposes. Pp. 500 U. S. 24-26.

(b) There is no inconsistency between the important social policies furthered by the ADEA and enforcing agreements to arbitrate age discrimination claims. While arbitration focuses on specific disputes between the parties involved, so does judicial resolution of claims, yet both can further broader social purposes. Various other laws,

Page 500 U. S. 21

including antitrust and securities laws and the civil provisions of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), are designed to advance important public policies, but claims under them are appropriate for arbitration. Nor will arbitration undermine the EEOC's role in ADEA enforcement, since an ADEA claimant is free to file an EEOC charge even if he is precluded from instituting suit; since the EEOC has independent authority to investigate age discrimination; since the ADEA does not indicate that Congress intended that the EEOC be involved in all disputes; and since an administrative agency's mere involvement in a statute's enforcement is insufficient to preclude arbitration, see, e.g., Rodriguez de Quijas v. Shearson/American Express, Inc., 490 U. S. 477. Moreover, compulsory arbitration does not improperly deprive claimants of the judicial forum provided for by the ADEA: Congress did not explicitly preclude arbitration or other nonjudicial claims resolutions; the ADEA's flexible approach to claims resolution, which permits the EEOC to pursue informal resolution methods, suggests that out-of-court dispute resolution is consistent with the statutory scheme; and arbitration is consistent with Congress' grant of concurrent jurisdiction over ADEA claims to state and federal courts, since arbitration also advances the objective of allowing claimants a broader right to select the dispute resolution forum. Pp. 500 U. S. 27-29.

(c) Gilmer's challenges to the adequacy of arbitration procedures are insufficient to preclude arbitration. This Court declines to indulge his speculation that the parties and the arbitral body will not retain competent, conscientious, and impartial arbitrators, especially when both the NYSE rules and the FAA protect against biased panels. Nor is there merit to his argument that the limited discovery permitted in arbitration will make it difficult to prove age discrimination, since it is unlikely that such claims require more extensive discovery than RICO and antitrust claims, and since there has been no showing that the NYSE discovery provisions will prove insufficient to allow him a fair opportunity to prove his claim. His argument that arbitrators will not issue written opinions resulting in a lack of public knowledge of employers' discriminatory policies, an inability to obtain effective appellate review, and a stifling of the law's development, is also rejected, since the NYSE rules require that arbitration awards be in writing and be made available to the public; since judicial decisions will continue to be issued for ADEA claimants without arbitration agreements; and since Gilmer's argument applies equally to settlements of ADEA claims. His argument that arbitration procedures are inadequate because they do not provide for broad equitable relief is unpersuasive as well, since arbitrators have the power to fashion equitable relief; since the NYSE rules do not restrict the type of relief an arbitrator may award and provide for collective relief; since the

Page 500 U. S. 22

ADEA's provision for the possibility of collective action does not mean that individual attempts at conciliation are barred; and since arbitration agreements do not preclude the EEOC itself from seeking class-wide and equitable relief. Pp. 500 U. S. 30-32.

(d) The unequal bargaining power between employers and employees is not a sufficient reason to hold that arbitration agreements are never enforceable in the employment context. Cf. e.g., Rodriguez de Quijas, supra, at 490 U. S. 484. Such a claim is best left for resolution in specific cases. Here, there is no indication that Gilmer, an experienced businessman, was coerced or defrauded into agreeing to the arbitration clause. P. 500 U. S. 32-33.

(e) Gilmer's reliance on Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co., 415 U. S. 36, and its progeny, is also misplaced. Those cases involved the issue whether arbitration of contract-based claims precluded subsequent judicial resolution of statutory claims, not the enforceability of an agreement to arbitrate statutory claims. The arbitration in those cases occurred in the context of a collective bargaining agreement, and thus there was concern about the tension between collective representation and individual statutory rights that is not applicable in this case. And those cases were not decided under the FAA. Pp. 500 U. S. 33-35.

895 F.2d 195, (CA4 1990) affirmed.

WHITE, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and BLACKMUN, O'CONNOR, SCALIA, KENNEDY, and SOUTER, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 500 U. S. 36.

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