The Fourth Circuit found this week that the Dodd-Frank Act did not override all arbitration agreements betwen publicly-traded employers and their employees.  Santoro v. Accenture Federal Servs., LLC, 2014 WL 1759072 (4th Cir. May 5, 2014).  Instead, “where the plaintiff is not pursuing Dodd-Frank whistleblower claims, neither [section of the Dodd-Frank Act] overrides the FAA’s mandate that arbitration agreements are enforceable.”

This case involved the termination of a 66-year-old Accenture employee.  The employee sued for age discrimination and Accenture moved to compel arbitration.  The employee opposed the motion, arguing that the arbitration provision in his employment agreement was void under the Dodd-Frank Act.  The district court granted the motion to compel arbitration and the Fourth Circuit affirmed.

At issue is the interpretation of two sections of the Dodd-Frank Act (7 U.S.C. § 26(n)(2), 18 U.S.C. 1514A(e)(2)).  For example, the Act provides “no predispute arbitration agreement shall be valid or enforceable, if the agreement requires arbitration of a dispute arising under this section.”  7 U.S.C. § 26(n)(2).  The Fourth Circuit noted this clear congressional command is sufficient to override the FAA’s mandate to enforce arbitration agreements.  However, the Fourth Circuit found it did not apply to this employee’s dispute.  It analyzed the placement of the language within the larger statute and concluded that Congress intended only to prohibit predispute agreements to arbitrate whistleblower claims.  Because this employee was not bringing any whistleblower claims contemplated by the Dodd-Frank Act, his arbitration agreement was valid and enforceable.

[Note that all whistleblower claims are not necessarily exempt from arbitration, as one of my colleagues wrote recently — there are key differences between the Dodd-Frank and Sarbanes-Oxley statutes.]