Adolph v. Uber: The California Supreme Court Cements the Rights of Employees Faced With Binding Arbitration


Among California’s strong protections for employees, the case of Adolph v. Uber Technologies, Inc. has emerged as a significant milestone. This landmark case provides a crucial interpretation of the Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) and its relationship with individual arbitration agreements. The ruling has far-reaching implications for employees and employers throughout the state, allowing employees to maintain representative actions in court notwithstanding agreements to arbitrate disputes with their employer on an individual basis. This article will delve into the intricacies of the Adolph v. Uber case and explore its implications for the various stakeholders involved.

Understanding PAGA: A Brief Overview

The Private Attorneys General Act (PAGA) was enacted in California in 2004 with the aim of empowering aggrieved employees to sue their employers for Labor Code violations. PAGA allows employees to act as “Private Attorneys General,” seeking remedies not only for themselves but also on behalf of other employees and the State of California. These claims brought on behalf of other employees are known as “non-individual claims.”

Adolph v. Uber: The Basics

Erik Adolph, a driver for Uber Eats, had signed an arbitration agreement that required him to arbitrate almost all work-related claims against Uber on an individual basis. The agreement also included a provision that prohibited him from bringing a representative action under PAGA in any forum. Despite this agreement, Adolph filed a PAGA action against Uber, leading to a series of court decisions that ultimately culminated in a significant ruling by the California Supreme Court.

In his initial lawsuit against Uber, Adolph alleged individual and class claims based on his classification as an independent contractor. However, the trial court granted Uber’s motion to compel arbitration of Adolph’s individual claims and dismissed the class claims. In response, Adolph amended his complaint to seek civil penalties solely under PAGA. Uber then filed another motion to compel arbitration, arguing that Adolph was required to arbitrate his status as an aggrieved employee under PAGA. The trial court denied Uber’s motion, and the Court of Appeal upheld this decision, stating that PAGA claims were not subject to arbitration and that any agreement attempting to waive them was unenforceable.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s Intervention

In June 2022, the United States Supreme Court challenged California’s position on PAGA claims in the case of Viking River v. Moriana. The Court held that the Federal Arbitration Act preempted California’s rule that prohibited courts from dividing PAGA claims into individual and representative parts. As a result, individual PAGA claims could be compelled to arbitration under an otherwise enforceable agreement.

The California Supreme Court’s Response

Invited by Justice Sotomayor’s concurring opinion in Viking River, the California Supreme Court reviewed the issue of PAGA standing in Adolph v. Uber. In its ruling, the Court affirmed that a plaintiff who has filed a PAGA action consisting of both individual and non-individual claims retains standing to litigate the non-individual claims in court, even if their individual claims are compelled to arbitration.

The California Supreme Court’s ruling in Adolph v. Uber is a significant victory for employees seeking to enforce their PAGA rights. It confirms that even if employees are compelled to arbitrate their individual claims, they can still potentially continue with their PAGA claims in court. The decision also clarifies that an employee who has been compelled to arbitrate their individual claims can still pursue non-individual PAGA claims on behalf of other employees in court.

The Court relied on its previous decision in Kim v. Reins Int’l California, Inc., emphasizing that standing under PAGA is not affected by the enforcement of an agreement to adjudicate an individual claim in another forum. The sole requirement for PAGA standing is that the plaintiff is an aggrieved employee, defined as someone who was employed by the alleged violator and against whom one or more alleged violations were committed.

Implications for Employees

The Adolph v. Uber decision has significant implications for employees seeking to protect their rights under PAGA. It affirms that they can still pursue non-individual PAGA claims in court, even if their individual claims are compelled to arbitration. This ruling provides a pathway for employees to hold their employers accountable for Labor Code violations and seek remedies on behalf of themselves and other aggrieved employees.

Employees should be aware of the nuances of PAGA and the potential implications of individual arbitration agreements. It is crucial for them to understand their rights and consult with experienced attorneys who can guide them through the legal process. By pursuing PAGA claims, employees can play a vital role in enforcing labor laws and promoting fair treatment in the workplace.

Implications for Employers

The Adolph v. Uber decision also has implications for employers in California. It reinforces the enforceability of arbitration agreements and provides employers with the opportunity to stay non-individual PAGA claims during arbitration. If an employer successfully defends against an employee’s individual claim in arbitration, it can prevent the employee from pursuing a PAGA claim.

Employers should review their current arbitration agreements to ensure they are enforceable and contain the necessary language to maximize the benefits of arbitration for employment claims. They should also consider whether all or most of their workforce has signed the applicable arbitration agreement and assess the need for updated agreements, particularly for long-term employees.


In conclusion, the Adolph v. Uber decision in California has had a significant impact on the enforcement of PAGA and the rights of employees and employers. It clarifies that employees can still pursue non-individual PAGA claims in court, even if their individual claims are compelled to arbitration.

For employees, it reaffirms their ability to seek remedies for Labor Code violations and advocate for their rights and the rights of their fellow workers. For employers, it highlights the enforceability of arbitration agreements and the potential benefits of resolving disputes through arbitration.

As the legal landscape continues to evolve, it is crucial for both employees and employers to stay informed about the latest developments and adjust their strategies accordingly. By seeking guidance from knowledgeable attorneys, employees can navigate the complexities of PAGA, and employers can ensure compliance with labor laws while minimizing legal risks. The Adolph v. Uber decision serves as a reminder of the importance of fair and equitable treatment in the workplace and the role that PAGA plays in upholding these principles.

Legal Disclaimer: The content of this blog post is intended for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. The information provided herein should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional legal counsel. If you are seeking legal advice or representation, please consult with an attorney.

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