Employment Law Alert Blog

New Jersey Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement that Fails to Designate an Arbitration Forum

New Jersey Court Invalidates Arbitration Agreement that Fails to Designate an Arbitration Forum

The New Jersey courts have consistently held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement is not present where the agreement does not sufficiently put the parties on notice that, by agreeing to arbitrate, they are giving up the right to have their dispute resolved in a judicial forum and are waiving whatever rights they might have to a jury trial. In Flanzman v. Jenny Craig, Inc., the New Jersey Appellate Division has now held that the mutual assent necessary to support a binding arbitration agreement will also be found lacking when the agreement does not designate the forum in which the arbitration will take place and otherwise fails to define the arbitration process. Background The plaintiff, Marilyn Flanzman, after being terminated from her position as a weight loss counselor for the defendant, a weight loss and nutrition company, brought suit in Superior Court, Law Division under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, alleging age discrimination and harassment. The defendant moved to compel arbitration based on an arbitration agreement into which the parties had entered during the plaintiff’s employment, which, in relevant part, stated: Any and all claims or controversies arising out of or relating to [plaintiff’s]...

Federal Courts Uphold Arbitration Agreements Via Email

Federal Courts Uphold Arbitration Agreements Via Email

Recently, federal district courts in New York and New Jersey turned aside employee attacks on arbitration agreements challenged on the grounds that the employer’s communication of its arbitration policy via email was inadequate. The courts in both Lockette v. Morgan Stanley and Schmell v. Morgan Stanley held that the employees’ assertions that they never saw the email forwarding the terms of the arbitration agreement were insufficient to overcome the employer’s evidence that the email had been delivered to the employees’ email inboxes. Lockette John Lockette sued Morgan Stanley in federal court in New York after Morgan Stanley terminated his employment in 2016. Lockette alleged he had been the victim of race discrimination and retaliation in violation of federal law. The company moved to compel arbitration. Prior to 2015, the company had in place an internal dispute resolution program entitled “CARE” (Convenient Access to Resolutions for Employees) for employees registered with FINRA, who could select, but were not required to select, arbitration as a means of resolving statutory discrimination claims. In 2015, however, the company expanded the CARE program to cover all employees and to require the arbitration of employment claims, including discrimination claims, among others. Under the terms of the expanded program,...

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

Arbitration Clause’s Punitive Damages Waiver Held Unenforceable Under the LAD

In Roman v. Bergen Logistics, LLC, the Appellate Division recently held that a plaintiff was required to arbitrate her claims of sexual harassment and retaliation with her former employer. The court also held, however, that the arbitration agreement’s contractual provision that barred the employee’s access to punitive damages was unenforceable. Background Plaintiff Milagros Roman was hired by the defendant, Bergen Logistics, as a human resources generalist. She signed an arbitration agreement at the outset of her employment. In addition to requiring Roman to arbitrate any and all claims related to her employment, the arbitration agreement compelled her to waive any claim for punitive damages. After her termination, Roman filed a complaint in New Jersey Superior Court alleging that her former supervisor sexually harassed her, created a hostile work environment, and retaliated against her in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD). The defendants moved to dismiss Roman’s complaint and compel her to arbitrate her claims. The Law Division found that Roman knowingly signed the arbitration agreement and that the agreement contained an unambiguous waiver of claims for punitive damages. Accordingly, that court held that Roman was required to submit her claims to arbitration and could not seek punitive...

Non-Competes – A Focus of New York Attorney General

Non-Competes – A Focus of New York Attorney General

Non-compete agreements clearly are the subject of scrutiny by the New York Attorney General’s office, which just issued guidance called “Non-Compete Agreements In New York State – Frequently Asked Questions” (“Guidance”). The Guidance, in the form of FAQs, generally describes New York common law regarding enforceability of non-competition provisions in employment contracts or standalone restrictive covenant agreements. It notes that a court has the ability to invalidate or modify an overly-broad non-compete. It also provides guidance to employees regarding whether to sign a non-compete, which it states is not a legal requirement but only a potential mandate of an employer. The Guidance includes a list of considerations for employees before they sign a non-compete. Further, it provides contact information within the New York Attorney General’s Office for individuals to obtain assistance to address unreasonable non-competes. Finally, the Guidance describes Attorney General-proposed legislation to prohibit non-competes for workers earning below $75,000 per year. The Attorney General issued the Guidance after a recent matter it handled in which it obtained prospective compliance by an employer regarding its use of non-competes. The matter is the subject of an Attorney General press release. It is imperative that employers who use restrictive covenants in employment...

Anti-Harassment Policies and Training: What New York Employers Need to Know Now

Anti-Harassment Policies and Training: What New York Employers Need to Know Now

New York State As part of the 2018-2019 New York State Budget (“the Law”), employers within New York State are required to implement an anti-harassment policy by October 9, 2018 and implement an anti-harassment training program for employees and supervisors. In connection with these requirements, the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL), in consultation with the New York State Division of Human Rights, recently released drafts of its model anti-harassment policy, complaint form, interactive training program, and FAQs (“Anti-Harassment Materials”). Employers may adopt these Anti-Harassment Materials or develop their own policies and programs, provided they comply with or exceed the minimum standards set forth in the Law for the model policy and training program. The NYSDOL accepted comments on the Anti-Harassment Materials through September 12, 2018. Final documents are expected soon. The seven-page template policy is extensive and covers the topics required by the Law, such as: a statement that sexual harassment is a form of “employee misconduct” an explanation of sexual harassment specific examples of harassing conduct details concerning external avenues of complaints for employees (e.g., local, state, and federal anti-discrimination agencies and the local police in cases of assault) prohibitions against retaliation reporting procedures supervisory responsibilities detailed...

New Fair Credit Reporting Act – Summary of Rights Forms

New Fair Credit Reporting Act – Summary of Rights Forms

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), the Federal agency that administers the Fair Credit Reporting Act (“FCRA”), just issued new Summary of Rights forms. An employer conducting a background check on an employee or applicant through a consumer reporting agency must provide such employee or applicant a Summary of Rights notice when first obtaining consent to conduct the background check — together with a written disclosure about the use of the background check — and when taking adverse action based on the background check. Starting today, September 21, 2018, the new Summary of Rights form must be used. The CFPB also issued forms called Summary of Consumer Identity Theft Rights that must be provided to consumers by credit reporting agencies when the subject of an identity theft. A new law also requires credit reporting agencies to implement a “national security freeze” at no cost to a consumer that restricts prospective lenders from access to a consumer’s credit report. Other changes include a one year (instead of 90 days) notification of a fraud alert in a consumer’s file. The notification informs a lender that the consumer may have been the victim of identity theft, for which the lender must take additional...

New York Employers Fall Review

New York Employers Fall Review

In 2018, employers in New York encountered several important changes, including in the areas of anti-harassment and scheduling, warranting a Fall review of current employment practices and preparation for next year’s developments. Employers should take the time now to review current practices and prepare for the imminent future. NEW YORK CITY’S TEMPORARY SCHEDULE CHANGE LAW New York City’s Temporary Schedule Change Law (“TSC Law”) became effective July 18, 2018, and requires private employers to provide eligible employees with an allowance of a “temporary change” to their usual work schedule for certain qualifying “personal events” for up to two occasions per year (i.e., one business day twice per year or two business days on one occasion). Eligible employees are those who work at least 80 hours a year in New York City and have been employed by their employer for 120 or more days, with limited exceptions, including employees covered by collective bargaining agreements waiving the law. Temporary schedule changes may include paid time off, use of short-term unpaid leave, permission to work remotely, or working hour swaps or shifts. Qualifying “personal events” include: (a) an employee’s need to: (i) care for a minor child or care recipient (i.e., a person...

Third Circuit Overturns Summary Judgment Based on the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Third Circuit Overturns Summary Judgment Based on the Faragher-Ellerth Defense

Employers who are sued for sexual harassment committed by a supervisor may be able to avoid liability, even if harassment had, in fact, occurred, by asserting the so-called Faragher-Ellerth affirmative defense, named after the two United States Supreme Court cases that first recognized the defense. An employer may assert the Faragher-Ellerth defense to supervisor harassment when no tangible employment action has been taken against the harassed employee and the employer is able to demonstrate (a) it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct promptly any sexually harassing behavior and (b) the employee unreasonably failed to take advantage of any preventive or corrective opportunities provided by the employer. Recently, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, in Minarsky v. Susquehanna County, addressed the requirements of the Faragher-Ellerth defense in the context of the assertion of a female employee that she acted reasonably in not taking advantage of the procedures made available by her employer to prevent or correct the harassment against her by her supervisor. In so doing, the Third Circuit reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment to the employer based on the Faragher-Ellerth defense and held on the facts of the case a jury should...

NYC Paid Sick/Safe Time Law Expands

NYC Paid Sick/Safe Time Law Expands

New York City’s Sick Leave Law was expanded on May 5, 2018, to include additional reasons for eligible employees to use NYC paid sick leave (called “safe leave”) including: to obtain services from a domestic violence shelter, rape crisis center, or other shelter or services program for relief from a family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking, or human trafficking; to participate in safety planning, temporarily or permanently relocate, or take other actions to increase the safety of the employee or employee’s family members from future family offense matters, sexual offenses, stalking, or human trafficking; to meet with a civil attorney or other social service provider to obtain information and advice on, and prepare for or participate in any criminal or civil proceeding, including but not limited to, matters related to a family offense matter, sexual offense, stalking, human trafficking, custody, visitation, matrimonial issues, orders of protection, immigration, housing, discrimination in employment, housing or consumer credit; to file a complaint or domestic incident report with law enforcement; to meet with a district attorney’s office; to enroll children in a new school; or to take other actions necessary to maintain, improve, or restore the physical, psychological, or economic health or safety of...

U.S. Supreme Court Issues “Epic” Decision for Employers Upholding Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers

U.S. Supreme Court Issues “Epic” Decision for Employers Upholding Arbitration Agreements and Class Action Waivers

On May 21, 2018, the United States Supreme Court resolved the split amongst several Federal Circuit Courts by finding the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) enables employers enforce class action waivers in arbitration agreements with their employees notwithstanding employees’ rights under the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) to engage in “concerted activity.” The Court’s 5-4 decision, with the majority opinion authored by Justice Gorsuch, was rendered in In Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis and companion cases Ernst & Young LLP et al. v. Stephen Morris et al. and National Labor Relations Board v. Murphy Oil, Inc. (all decided simultaneously). The Court ruled that Congress did not intend the NLRA to provide for class and collective actions, and although the NLRA provides employees the right to organize and bargain collectively, the statute does not dictate how claims must be adjudicated. Accordingly, the Court determined that the NLRA cannot be interpreted to provide employees with an implicit right to class and collective actions in contravention of the FAA, which explicitly confers upon employers and employees the ability to arbitrate and determine their chosen arbitration procedure. Instead, these laws must be interpreted consistently. The three companion cases involve employees challenging arbitration agreements containing class and...