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Rent-A-Center v. Jackson (U.S. Sup. Ct.)

Rent-A-Center v. Jackson is a case involving a pre-dispute arbitration agreement in an employment contract. When Antonio Jackson was offered a job at Rent-A-Center, he was required to sign an agreement under which he gave up his right to access the courts in the event of a future claim against his employer; instead, he must submit any and all future claims to a private arbitrator. Later, when Jackson believed he had been subjected to racial discrimination as an employee at Rent-A-Center, he sought to bring a claim in federal court under section 1981, a statutory provision originating in the Civil Rights Act of 1866 that prohibits discrimination in contractual relationships, including employment. Jackson argued that the arbitration agreement he signed was unfair and was forced on him by his employer, and that he had not meaningfully agreed to give up his right to go to court. Rent-A-Center argued that even this threshold question of whether there was a valid, fair agreement to arbitrate must be considered by an arbitrator, not a court.

On March 31, 2010, CAC, with a coalition of civil rights organizations—the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Alliance for Justice, the Asian American Justice Center, the National Partnership for Women and Families, and the National Women’s Law Center— filed an amicus brief on behalf of Jackson. Our brief emphasizes that forced arbitration of civil rights claims runs counter to the text and history of the Reconstruction-era civil rights statute at issue, which was written to give Americans a right of access to federal courts. Oral argument in the case was heard on April 26, 2010.

On June 21, 2010, the Supreme Court handed down a sharply divided 5-4 ruling against the plaintiff Antonio Jackson. The decision created a new rule of pleading that makes it difficult for hard-working Americans to seek justice in the federal courts to enforce their federal rights, including the right to be free of racial discrimination in employment.

Read more about the implications of the decision on Text & History.